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The Normal Accident Theory of Education

Why Reform and Regulation Won’t Make Schools Better

Andrew K. Milton

Much of the current debate about education too often resembles the blind men describing an elephant--apprehending only a particular part of the situation or the process, many analysts tell an evocative but incomplete story. The so-called ‘reform’ discussion proceeds with a lack of depth about the nuances and realistic limitations in the institutional order of school.

This book argues that as regulation of schools moves further up the bureaucratic hierarchy (first to state departments of education then to the national department of education) the legal and institutional requirements get more intensive but less concretely useful in class rooms. This bureaucratization serves to ‘tighten’ the organizational environment, thereby increasing the risk of normal accidents. The increasing governmental management, in other words, makes it more likely that schools will ‘fail’ to meet their goals.

Analyses of education are too often developed for public consumption in a fast-moving political world. This book examines some of the deeper organizational reasons why things don’t work so well in school, as well as a look at some of things that do work. Most importantly, the book will explain how the social and cultural expectations of what schools can do may create unrealistic hopes. We, as a society, and schools, as institutions, embrace these unreasonably high hopes at our collective peril.

Check out Andrew's latest interview with Seattle Radio- http://kiroradio.com/listen/9972862/

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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 146Size: 6 3/8 x 9 1/2
978-1-4758-0657-1 • Hardback • April 2014 • $58.00 • (£39.95)
978-1-4758-0658-8 • Paperback • April 2014 • $28.00 • (£18.95)
978-1-4758-0659-5 • eBook • April 2014 • $26.00 • (£17.95)
Andrew K. Milton has spent his entire professional life working in schools and universities. He has taught 8th grade English in Steilacoom, WA for 7 years, and he has taught university-level political science, at several institutions, for 15 years.
Chapter 1: The Problem with Public Schools
Chapter 2: Why Schools have Normal Accidents Routinely
Chapter 3: The Social Climate and Expectations of Schools
Chapter 4: How School Organizational Culture Militates Against our Social Expectations
Chapter 5: How Standardized Testing Makes all this Worse
Chapter 6: Standardized Tests Might be too Simple to Assess the Complexity of Learning
Chapter 7: Technology Adds Another Layer of Complication
Chapter 8: Markets Aren’t the Answer for Education
Chapter 9: Where We Go From Here
Andrew K. Milton presents a provocative analysis of the reasons that the accountability movement is doomed to failure, despite the unprecedented fanfare associated with its implementation.
Walt Gardner, writer of Reality Check blog for Education Week

AT LAST, a teacher has explained why all the mandates, programs, and reforms handed down from on high (usually by a group less educated or skilled than the teachers themselves), really won't--can't improve education.
Margaret Kirn, teacher, Puyallup, WA

This eighth-grade English teacher from Washington state explains why centrally mandated reforms on teachers, students and schools, imposed by federal and state governments, create unintended failures in complex public school systems. Reversing this trend, by giving teachers, parents and schools more flexibility and more local control, is the better way to improve schools. As Mr. Milton wisely says: ‘The degree to which a school can learn, then, will affect the quality and character of that school. More personal involvement, more collaboration, more trust---a better school will result. No amount of state or federal programs, regulations or mandates will ever replace or transcend that.
Liv Finne, director for education, Washington Policy Center

Finally; a book about educational reform that exposes the institutional realities inhibiting past and present efforts at reform, told through the clear eye of an insider. Even more importantly, the author provides the best prescriptions for going forward. A must read for any parent, teacher, administrator and policy maker who wants to achieve reform and not just talk reform.
Michael Jankanish, National Board Certified Teacher, Tacoma, WA

Check out Andrew's latest interview with Seattle Radio- http://kiroradio.com/listen/9972862/