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Sunday, February 25, 2018
How Is The Third Program of the USSR Communist Party Related to Education Reform in the USA?
How Is The Third Program of the USSR Communist Party
Related to Education Reform in the USA?
On October 31st,
1961, the XXII Summit of Communist Party of USSR unanimously accepted The Third
Program or the Party (communist historians say that the first one was completed
when Bolsheviks took over the Russia, the second one was completed when the
USSR developed a solid economical fundament).
For three years before
the Summit more than a hundred of the top USSR scientists, historians,
sociologists, and party officials had been working on the Program.
Months before the Summit
the draft of The Program was published for a public discussion. Almost forty-four
million people participated in open discussions on the local levels. Almost
thirty thousand comments had been received and more than five thousand of them
had been published as examples of what people say about The Program.
The program starts from
the description of Communism as an ideal society which will be achieved in the USSR within twenty ears.
We all know that that
did not happen.
I know about this
because when I was a university student I had to take “Scientific Communism”, a
subject designated for describing what Communism is, why it will inevitably
replace all current societies, and how to achieve it; the study included
reading all major Party documents.
Nothing was scientific
about it. It was purely ideological subject mostly based on communist
propaganda (neither Marx, nor Engels or Lenin left many details about
Communism, and Soviet philosophers had to write about it almost from scratch).
Nowadays, every time
when I read a document describing pathways
for education reform in the U.S. I have a Déjà vu.
It is filled with words
like “envisioning”, “developing”, “emerging”. It gives a shiny description of
an ideal teacher, a perfect teaching environment, an exemplary social
We can read that
“Effective teachers and principals are career-long learners”, and “Effective
educators have high standards of professional practice and demonstrate their
ability to improve learning” (didn’t we know this ten or even thirty years
Long story short, the
document states that:
1. We need to have many
more good teachers and principals;
2. In order to attract
top talent we have to respect good teachers, pay them more and offer a career
3. Communities should be
involved in education;
4. Teachers should work
5. We need effective
teacher preparation programs.
6. We all – teachers,
officials, parents – should share responsibility for advancing education and
provide leadership in doing that.
7. To achieve all that
we need more money (specifically, five billion dollars).
Anyone familiar with
many reports on education issued over the past two – three decades would find
these seven points very familiar because in one form or another they are being
repeated again, and again, and again, and again.
In a way they have
become a mantra, or a slogan, or a banner for most of the reformers.
All reports share the
same logic: “Other countries do better, we suck, this is what is wrong, this is
what we want, we need more money”.
There might be some light
deviation in the views on “what is wrong” and “what we want”, but the end the
solution is always the same – more money to education.
And I am not saying that
education does not need more money – it does, but the result of the use of
those money does not depend on its amount, but on its distributing (how it is
Evidently, the current
distribution is not effective.
Since NCLB billions of
dollars had been spent on education and now reformers call for spending more
If we stop chanting the
mantra and take a look at the facts “we have to make a conclusion that the
amount of money invested in education does not matter as much as the way it is
spent (i.e. distributed). If we want to avoid another decade(s) of spending
hundreds of millions of dollars and not seeing a significant improvement in
learning outcomes of students, we need to analyze the reasons for not having a
significant improvement in the past.” (“Becoming a STEM Teacher”,
In a way, all reformers
acknowledge the importance of an efficient money distribution, for example,
when talking about establishing more charter schools, or pushing for a merit
pay for teachers, or investing in more efficient teacher preparation programs.
The reason that many
charter schools do not show any advantage over regular public schools is that
all strong teachers have been already taken by the schools demonstrating good
results. The rest of the teachers who work in the rest of the schools (charter
or public) need serious help with their professional growth.
But when reformers talk
about teacher professional development, the first thing they want to do is to:
“assess the professional development needs of teachers and school leaders at
all levels and provide them with targeted feedback, professional learning, and
This is my prediction
for the result of the implementation of the latter approach.
1. Millions of dollars
will be distributed in grants to universities and colleges, to non-profits and
for-profits for developing a “comprehensive list of important criteria” used to
asses and evaluate different teacher professional development programs (this
cannot be done, of course, without having many meetings, roundtables, and
conferences needed to ignite and wide-spread discussions, where scholars will
be arguing about the current state of teacher professional development and how
to improve it).
2. Then even more
millions of dollars will be spent to conduct numerous surveys (including
developing questionnaires distributed in a printed or electronic format,
developing computerized analytical tools - which by the way every state will be
doing on its own, collecting and analyzing data, and of course, more round
3. Finally, all these
activities will lead to publishing numerous papers and reports, to interviews
and documentaries. In the end, some of the teacher professional development
programs will be noted as exceptional, some as adequate, others as poorly
structured. The latter ones soon will change their names and will rebrand
themselves. The system will spit out an enormous amount of “research results
and recommendations”, but nothing really will change for teachers in the field
of teacher professional development. New reformers will be working on new
documents to promote new approaches which will require new money.
I know I drew a very
It is because I
always want to be prepared for the worst-case scenario (I prefer to be
pleasantly surprised if that scenario turns out to be wrong, but this kind of a
surprise does not come very often, maybe one time out of seven).
If I know the worst-case
scenario I can start thinking about what to do to increase the probability of
avoiding it (in this particular situation all I can do so far is writing and
warning about what will happen unless more people get actively involved in
stopping it from happening).
Now probably is a
natural moment to take a pause and to say why do I feel a Déjà vu when I read various
reports, i.e. what do all those reports have in common with The Third Program
of the USSR Communist Party?
The answer is simple;
all those documents (including the Program) ignore the fact that in ordinary circumstances ordinary people
are not led by visions or ideas, but led merely by “a carrot and a stick”,
like having more money or not being fired (FYI: this
is one of the reasons that all dictators always depict the outside world as
filled with enemies – to keep people feel danger and being threatened, hence
“there is no place for a simple and ordinary life, we all must be heroes!”).
We may sincerely agree
with what we hear about “current crisis in education” and how “we all
responsible for making it better”, but when given a choice between taking a
useless course to get a certificate which brings some professional development points
toward the next evaluation (hence, money), or spending extra time after classes
with students who are falling behind, the natural choice for the most of us is
taking a useless course.
Many of the courses
offered to teachers as an instrument for professional development are ineffective.
If that was not a case
we would not have the problems we have now (first and foremost – the low quality
“The key problem of
contemporary education is not an insufficient teaching, it is an insufficient
teacher preparation. Effective, productive, sufficient teacher preparation will
result in effective, productive, sufficient teaching.”
So, (A) what is wrong
with the proposition to “assess the professional development needs of
teachers”, and (B) how is this related to the distribution of money within a
teacher professional development system?
(A) Since the inception
of various teacher professional development programs and courses, teachers
(almost) always have been put into a position of passivereceivers of the
knowledge and wisdom provided to them by a “Scientist”. Those “Scientists”
firmly believe that they know very well professional development needs of
teachers. Asking the same persons to “assess the professional development needs
of teachers” is the same as asking them to assess their own work; and I do not
expect many of them would say: “Oh man, we did so poor job with those teachers,
let’s give our grants to someone else”.
One might ask: but who
should be assessing the quality of professional development courses if there
are no other professionals in the field?
My answer is: teachers have to play the central role in
assessing the quality of teacher professional development courses and programs.
In order to make them taking that position we need to answer question (B).
(B) Since the inception
of various teacher professional development programs and courses the most of
the money went directly to developers and providers of those courses and
programs. The said providers are not responsible for the quality of the course
they offer, but merely for having teachers passing the course. The standard
scheme is simple; a provider advertises its courses and if the number of
teachers subscribed to the program reaches some officially established minimum,
the provider gets financing from various funds. So far, this approach has not
helped to boost professional growth teachers en masse.
Instead of giving any
money directly to providers, that money should go to teachers (maybe through
the unions) and teachers should choose which professional development program
to buy. Eventually the word of mouth will weed out providers which programs
will not help teachers to improve the results of their everyday work (this is
where the government can help by helping teachers to spread the word).
I would suggest that out
of 90 % of the money currently spent on research in education, 60 % of it
instead should be diverted to teachers and offered to them as a means for their
Of course, this approach
will only work when the most of our teachers will be hunting for effective
teacher professional development programs. But it is an illusion to think that
a merit pay alone would force teachers into this position. Among many reasons
discussed in various publications, I only mention one, namely, a merit pay stands in a contradiction with
another favorable by reformers proposition such as teamwork.
If not a merit pay, than
The answer to this
question is provided by the General Theory of Human Behavior, or GTHB (also
known as General Theory of Human Activity, or shortly, the Activity Theory).
GTHB states that humans
are social animals and have a strong desire to be accepted as a member of a
group, including a professional group. On the surface professional groups are
formed by sharing similar duties and responsibilities (every member of the same
group has the same title – “a teacher”), but the core attribute of each
profession is a shared result of the
actions of each group member.
In education: the
results are student outcomes, and sharing means having those outcomes open to
In general, for every
teacher learning outcomes of his or her students have to be routinely made
available to (embrace yourself!) everyone in the world.
“Imagine what a strong
motivation to do the best he/she can would a teacher had if at the end of every
year everyone could see how his/her students performed comparing to the rest of
To make this approach as
efficient as possible, (a) learning outcomes of student taking the same course
(e.g. 6 grade math) should be measured
using comparable scales (even if
the students go to different schools in different states), (b) every classroom
has to have a live web camera (we gradually come to an understanding that a
policeman should wear a camera, but a teacher also does not have anything to
I would suggest that out
of 90 % of the money currently spent on research in education 40 % of it
instead should be diverted to developing technical infrastructure for making
teaching uniformly assessed and publicly opened as described above. This is in what
the government and philanthropist have to heavily invest – of course, only if
they really want to make a difference.