Thursday, October 02, 2014

DESE: Facilitating the control of your education

Show Me MO Shame!
I spent two days last week in our state capital of Jefferson City, becoming a member of one of the work groups tasked with rewriting our states educational curriculum standards over the course of the next year. While I was there I learned a nice lesson in self governance, and the consequences of its abandonment, a lesson that was willingly taught by DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education). Their lesson was very instructive, in one part teaching how to use chaos to control the sale, and in the other part how it is just as important what you do not to do, and not allow to be done, as is what you offer to and intend to do.

If you want to understand this lesson yourself, as well as how you and your children's education is being sold down the river by it, then there are five key issues that need to be addressed:
  1. Why do we have work groups to write our curriculum standards.
  2. Were the work groups convened with an eye towards success.
  3. If not, why.
  4. What does DESE need for a win.
  5. What does Missouri need for a win.
1) The issue here is that the state of Missouri recently passed a law, HB1490, to undertake the significant task of rewriting our educational curriculum standards.The sole reason why this law was passed, was because of DESE's ham-fisted and incompetent attempts over the last several years to roll-out their pet Common Core standards by steam rolling them over any and all questions, debates, and opposition. That behavior infuriated both parents and teachers alike and caused the Missouri Legislature, Left and Right, to pass HB1490 into law, stating that our curriculum standards will be written by representatives from across the state of Missouri, selected from experienced teaching professionals and parents selected by Missouri's Governor, Lt. Governor, Speaker of the House and Senate Pro Tempore.

2) To successfully lead large numbers of people, departments, divisions and other entities who may have either no history of working together, or worse, a history of working poorly together, there's a common practice to follow. To getting all members working towards a unified goal, the formula would be to,
  • Kick it off by gathering all parties together in one place for a launch meeting,
  • giving leaders from the various stake holders involved an opportunity to set the general tone and key points for the project;
  • clarify your project's purpose and getting understanding and buy in from the various departments and people involved.
  • let participants know who they'll be working with and making them aware of any slots yet to be filled,
  • establish clear channels for coordinating efforts and preserving communication between the several groups,
  • informing all of who will be attending meetings, who to contact with questions,
, and so forth.

It's not rocket science, it's just common sense. So much so that when such a project does not start off in that way, or when major pieces of it are ignored or misunderstandings are spread or even inflamed, people don't just suspect incompetence upon the part of those organizing the project, but a hidden agenda and even deliberate sabotage of the project.

That hidden agenda was not so hidden, even weeks before it was to begin, and when a number of us complained that the upcoming meetings were clearly being organized for DESE's benefit, rather than for the success of the project and compliance with the law, the Speaker's office, and that of the Senate Pro Tem President, reminded DESE of their position and of the intent of the law, and the Thursday prior, they agreed to revise their plans so as to proceed more as above; to include a plenary kickoff meeting, and to arrange for all the work groups to meet in the capital building. However, by Monday morning they'd reneged on their deal and reverted to scattering us around the capital with no meetings or communications established.

IOW, not only did DESE not approach the start of this project in such a way that was likely to lead to success, but they did quite the opposite:
  1. they refused to have a plenary 'kick off' meeting,
  2. they refused to allow the meetings to be convened in a manner conducive to unity and success,
  3. most of those involved were given last minute notification - if at all - that they were being called together from across the state of Missouri to attend two days of meetings in Jefferson City (The MO House & Senate leadership deserves heavy criticism for their lack of leadership in this area as well).
  4. there were no clarifying speeches or discussions,
  5. there were no introductions of the different teams to each other,
  6. there were no clear explanations of what it was we were to accomplish,
  7. the posted meeting places were in multiple buildings around the capital and were even moved, without notice or note, at the last minute, leaving the members to track down the correct meeting room after having been directed to the wrong one.
3) We don't need to turn the clock back very far to figure out why they might not want HB1490 to proceed according to the intent of the law. Try looking at the 'talking tour' they conducted across the state last year, this format of 'permitting' people to speak under very controlled circumstances, and breaking people up into groups without allowing the comparing of notes or receiving direct answers to questions, was and is standard fare for DESE: to divide, to take control of communication and so conquer, which is the same strategy they employed last week, and show every sign of intending to continue.

4) DESE has made clear what standards they would like for Missouri, and that's Common Core, and they've invested a great deal of time, money (yours) and prestige into imposing them. Is it likely then that DESE will see it to be in their interest to have independent work groups successfully writing their own standards?


As one of the legislative assistants sent round during our 1st day of contentious meetings pointed out, if these work groups fail, then Missouri's curriculum standards will fall to DESE to choose what will be used and implement. Is it ever seen as being in the interests of a political body to have others revise or rewrite their core material? No! So why would the legislative leadership permit DESE to have any involvement in re-writing what they have a stake in remaining unchanged? Who's governing who?

What does DESE need to do for a win? Nothing. And they need as much of nothing as they can possibly get. They don't even have to 'get a sale' - they've already purchased their preferred product - Common Core - they only need to be able to retain it. So what do they need from these work group meetings? They only need to:
  • control the narrative,
  • minimize objections,
  • make the objections and those objecting seem unreasonable,
  • control the presentation of how the standards are discussed, enabling them to retain as much of the Common Core standards as possible,
  • If the standards work groups fail, DESE will implement the standards they choose - Common Core.
To accomplish that, and subvert HB1490, DESE took immediate control of the narrative with their first 'press release' for the upcoming work groups, securing a controlling role for themselves, while minimizing the perception of the power those in the work groups would have, in relation to DESE. This line in particular sums it up:
"The meetings are open to the public; however, seating is very limited. Spectators will be provided comment cards if they wish to leave feedback. Only members of the work groups will be given the opportunity to speak during the meetings."[emphasis mine]
Members of the work groups were to be 'Given', the opportunity to speak?In our own meetings? So you tell me, reading that, does it seem to you that DESE's intention is to see to it that autonomous work groups will be convened so as to define the standards that DESE would then have the job of implementing? Or does it seem more as if DESE intends to see these groups as working under the control and guidance of DESE? Add to that the fact that they scheduled the eight work groups in different buildings around the capital, keeping the members as far apart as possible and with as little awareness of each other and those they would be working with, of who and what to expect, and who best to ask questions of, other than DESE themselves, and it's clear that they mean to be the only ones in control of the process.

They've been masterful at minimizing objections and at making those with objections seem unreasonable, and by the end of the first day of meetings it became apparent just how well they'd done so. By convincing some of the legislative leadership to 'be fair' in appointing members (how could it be 'fair' to place people on committees that are opposed to the intent and spirit of the committees and the law which formed them, is something only a politician comfortable with losing, could comprehend), those interested in rewriting our curriculum standards were out numbered on their own work groups - most of which were only half filled (shame on you Missouri!) - and on top of that, DESE took it upon themselves to install their own facilitators to run the meetings, hamper dissent, and limit unwanted discussion from taking place.

But don't let my wording conjure up images of frothing Drill Sargent's shouting down and riding rough shod over their work groups, if you do, you'll not only miss what they're doing, and risk being controlled yourself.

For example, on hearing how they had their objections cast aside. I, and a few of those from our work group, History grades 6-12, which had a somewhat better go of it, assuming that this group hadn't been forceful enough, we offered up our oh-so wise words of wisdom:
"Well you should have done what we did, we said ___"
, and they stared at us in annoyance and answered "We did!". And to each additional
"Oh, well then did you ___?"
of ours, they answered "We did!"

How could this be? How could they not have succeeded if they'd done the same thing? What made the difference? I found the answer on reviewing the recordings from the morning sessions of the other work groups. They did indeed make most of the same points that we did in our meeting, and in some cases they made them better than we did. The only real difference between what we did, and what they did, was what happened in the first few seconds of the meeting. They politely waited for the meeting to get underway before making their points, while we, somewhat rudely, refused to allow the DESE facilitators to begin their presentation, and we refused to allow them the position of recognizing who would speak and when.

This is key: they raised their objections after the meeting began and we did so before it could get started.

That might seem a small point, but small and subtle are two very different things, and very often the more subtle trumps the more bold & brazen. Those who know how to manipulate a group are able to take nearly complete control of that group, if they be allowed to begin speaking from a position of power and control.

Because we refused the DESE facilitators the opportunity to even begin their presentations, or to ask for introductions, or to even finish a sentence, because we asserted from the start that non-work group members would be granted permission to speak only when the business of our work group was at a suitable point for listening to them, DESE's facilitators never had a position of power from which to control the session from.

The videos from the other sessions bear this point out. Where the DESE facilitator was allowed to begin the meeting, to ask for introductions, to lay the 'norms' for the meeting, to direct that questions be written down, and define how they they as oh-so helpful facilitators would politely recognize who would speak and for how long... they accomplished in the first few seconds, and solidified in just a few minutes, their complete control over the meeting for the rest of that day and the next.

Take a look at these two videos. The first lays it out the points you should be looking for, and in the second video, the second shows it in real time action, how difficult it is to prevent their taking control, even though you know what to look for.

Watch the Social Studies K-5, 9/22/14 AM session, and I'll bet that you won't see what's being done to the participants until it's already been done - it was decided in the first minute of their meeting, by letting the DESE facilitator start their meeting. They assumed the sale, took possession of the floor, and having taken the floor, it became theirs.
They began their presentation, nicely, politely, asking for introductions, walking participants through their slides... and so assumed and kept control of the meeting from that point on. Despite the valiant efforts of the two members who had no other connection to MO Ed than being parents - indeed, because of their opposition - the nice facilitators gained more power with every objection they made, seeming more and more reasonable, while the objections, and those making them, seemed more and more small and unreasonable.

It happens that easily.

At one point in the second video, one of the other participants, tsk-tsk'ing the objectors, states that
"The DESE facilitator cannot control this meeting, we of this work group will do that..."
, but that is in fact exactly what happened. Having been able to start the K-5 session, the DESE facilitator didn't just take control, they were assumed to have it, and those who work in one aspect or another of the state schooling industry, felt themselves to have the upper hand along with them, and they never let it go.

It is incredibly easy for that position to be taken and held! That technique, whether you attribute it to Delphi Technique or any number of others, is one that is familiar in office politics, sales and elsewhere, and it really amounts to simple power dynamics and manipulation, which enables one party to take and keep control over another.

If these tactics seem remote to you, I'll bet that you've had more experience with them than you might imagine. Have you ever allowed a salesmen into your home, and found yourself being shown to your own kitchen table, to listen to their presentation? Do you know why? Because that is the way a strong (not pushy) salesmen goes about 'taking control of the sale'. They not only take over your own kitchen, but walk you through their presentation, not answering your questions right off but suggesting that you hold them till the 'appropriate' time, they nicely refuse to give you a price: "Well I can't give you a price until I know the features you're interested in", and it just so happens that knowing the features you're interested in is what they need to manipulate you into buying what they want to sell you.

Whether you call it 'Delphi Technique', or simply using power to control groups, DESE was serving their own interests, not those of Missouri. They 'took the kitchen table', by selecting the meeting places, and staffing the work groups with their own 'facilitators', who were there to direct and shape the meetings, their context and their content and progress, in a manner that led to what DESE had chosen to sell - something that could not be accomplished if there had been a kick off meeting explaining the purpose of HB1490, DESE's lack of authority in the process, and the forbidden nature of Common Core in rewriting our standards.

There came a joint statement from the Lieutenant Governor, Legislative leaders Issue Statement Clarifying HB1490 Work Groups, and it was welcome when it came the next day, here it is,
“HB1490 was designed to vest in the Education Work Groups the power to shape recommendations for academic standards absent influence from bureaucrats and politicians. Under the law, after DESE convened the initial meeting, the power shifts to the groups alone to guide themselves each month with the goal of delivering their best academic standards recommendations by Oct. 1, 2015. There exists no authority in the statute for DESE to dictate the deliberations of these work groups, nor even to guide their deliberations after the initial organizing meetings held yesterday, unless invited to do so by individual work groups.”
, but really, it was no more helpful than the work group participants questions and statements.

5) As long as DESE is allowed to maintain control over the work groups, which were created to undo what DESE has been so intent on doing, then our work groups will not be able to do what they were convened to do.

Call, write, email your representatives, and let them know that DESE needs to be barred from the proceedings of the work groups, not because they are obstructing our efforts, but because they are leading them, oh so sweetly and firmly, to exactly where DESE wants them to go. And as DESE's poor judgment and proven disrespect for the opinions and rights of those they were established for and hired to serve, they should have no further part in these work group proceedings.

The work of the work groups, while it will be hard work, and it will take time, it is good work, and it doesn't require partisan efforts. Despite DESE's claims, this is not a politically Left/Right issue, or a parent vs. teacher issue - there are many people working to roll back Common Core who are politically on the left, right and center, and many teachers as well. Our work group, the 'Social Studies, 6-12' group, is, I think, split 50/50 politically, but once the manipulators were moved out of the way, we were able to discuss the actual issues of standards, listening to and thinking upon what each had to say, and so were able to make good progress.

We just needed to get DESE out of the way.

If Missouri is to have worthwhile Curriculum Standards for the education of its citizens and future voters, then the Legislature and the Governor need to remove DESE from participating in the process in any way, shape or form. They are the reason why the current process is in disarray, having paid millions for something we do not want, need or have any reason to believe will be successful for any one other than assessment companies.

And perhaps more important than anything else, is that you, if you live in Missouri, then you must insist to your state legislators, and to yourselves, your neighbors, and your teachers, that the remaining number of seats on the work groups - nearly half are unfilled - must be filled as soon as possible. Self Government is but a joke, if no one in a state is willing to take some responsibility and action for governing themselves! There's no pay in this, there's no thanks in this; I'm not getting either money or time off granted for this, it is coming, very painfully, out of my time and our already depleted bank account, and it hurts. But if I, and you, are not willing to do such things... then shame on us for the mockery we've made of 'We The People', and if that is okay-dokey with you, then you can rest assured that you will be getting even more of what you deserve in the coming years, as yet another generation is raised up knowing little or nothing about what self governance is or means.

You will learn the lesson. The only choice you've got is whether you learn it the 'easy way' or the hard way.

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