A discredited zeitgeist of the past or a vital document needed for success?
At the DeKalb Board of Education’s last meeting (6/3/13) members discussed the status of their strategic planning process (Item E.1(a)). AdvancEd/SACS’ required action eleven directs the district to “re-implement its strategic planning team for the purpose of effectively implementing the DeKalb County School District’s Strategic Plan to guide the direction of the district.”
It appears that action eleven assumes the existence of a strategic plan and requires the district to implement it. It is confusing that the DeKalb Board seems poised to initiate another process to develop a new strategic plan. Your tax dollars paid for outside consultants, recognized across the states and by SACS, to assist DeKalb in developing the existing plan. Click here to read about some of the process. If they are going to go down the road to produce another plan, I hope they’ll look over the copious data and input that has already been collected. It’s just as relevant and timely as ever and, best of all, it won’t cost the taxpayer another penny. I do worry that once the district selects a permanent superintendent, we’ll find ourselves, once again, developing another strategic plan for/by a new chief and their new team of administrators. It seems one of the hallmarks of being the head of a school district is the development and imprint of one’s “vision”, separate and apart, from previous administrations. Speaking of a permanent superintendent, has the board begun a search?
While our board and administrators scurry about, planning and discussing the finer points of strategic planning, I will interject this fact:
Strategic planning is a waste of time and money. It was an idea that didn’t work well in business and continues to be unhelpful in public education. It did not produce returns for businesses in the private sector and it has not improved educational outcomes in public schools.
I am a pragmatist. Call me old-fashioned but I want results, not more talk or “process”. If we are wasting our time and dollars on a product or project that does not improve the educational lives of our children, I say cut your losses and move beyond this tired and fruitless idea. You may be wondering why I would say such a thing about “strategic planning”. Isn’t it a necessary? Don’t we need this to become better and guide our district? Simply put, no. In fact, The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning and Strategic Planning in Education was published in the Harvard Education Review about this very subject. The article reviews one of the important works on the topic of strategic planning and states, “While Mintzberg’s book focuses primarily on strategic planning in business organizations, it represents an important resource for educators who encounter the education version of strategic planning and assume that this management innovation rests on a solid foundation in the private sector. If strategic planning’s effectiveness in business turns out to be a myth, educators might well wonder about its prospects as a management tool for school improvement.” The article goes on to share that, “In their 1989 study, Vicki Basham and Fred Lunenburg found an ‘inconsistent and weak’ association between district participation in strategic planning and student achievement, as measured by standardized test scores in reading, language arts, and mathematics in grades 3, 5, 7, and 10. Basham and Lunenburg wrote in their review of prior research that ‘no other study shows a direct tie-in between strategic planning in school districts and school district performance on standardized achievement tests,’ and they can add their own work to the list.” So, as I stated earlier, I want results and strategic planning does not drive results.
In his critique of strategic planning, Mintzberg tells us that, “Because analysis is not synthesis, strategic planning is not strategy formulation.” He adds that, “Ultimately, the term `strategic planning’ has proved to be an oxymoron.” It is not that Dr. Mintzberg believes that strategy is some sort of myth. He simply believes that it wasn’t something that was generated out of the formulaic “process”. (Warning – anytime the word “process” is used an alarm should sound. It is overused by today’s bureaucratic class and generally signals more of your tax dollars will be spent with little to no results.) I appreciate the way an article in Forbes Magazine described how Mintzberg sees strategy – “…..strategy emerges over time as intentions collide with and accommodate a changing reality.” Indeed.
In my quest to provide value to taxpayers, I’ll end with this. If DCSS pushes forward with the old plan or develops an entirely new one, I have a money-saving tip for them. The Harvard Education Review found a “remarkable sameness pervading….plans.” So do us all a favor and use the banal “composite mission statement” that David Conley of the University of Oregon came up with:
It is the mission of ________ School District to enable all students to become responsible citizens and lifelong learners in a changing global society. This will occur in an environment where diversity is valued and the potential of each student is developed to the fullest, with an emphasis on excellence in all endeavors. This can only occur as a result of a partnership between and among the school district, parents, and other community members and agencies.
Unfortunately, I predict we’ll spend more money on consultants, have more “stakeholder engagement sessions”, learn the latest edu-babble vocabulary and nothing will change. The consultants and bureaucrats will have once again syphoned money away from children and classrooms perpetuating the hamster wheel of the modern public school district. Mission Accomplished.