Article Review: Improving Educational Productivity: Putting Students at the Center by Benjamin Levin
In recent years, there has been unending criticism about the state of Canadas education system. According to media reports, our schools are failing; more and more people are looking at the teachers to place blame. There is a general call for schools to do more with less. We are asked to teach a diverse population to higher standards than ever before. Levin (1994), author of the article "Improving Education Productivity: Putting Students at the Center" believes that these debates on student productivity have focused our attention on how to organize schools for the best results. Unfortunately, Levin (1994) claims that in the debate of productivity, former contributions have missed the critical element of the student.
The author states, "that students are at the centre of creating educational outcomes and must therefore be at the centre of our analysis of productivity in education" (Levin, 1994, p. 758). All reforms in education must be made with the first objective being for the benefit of the student, not for financial nor social gains. Some of the reforms taken under the name of site based management were instigated with a financial motive rather than student betterment. The real test of reform is in long term student productivity; little changes that happen in some site based managed situations may only show novelty not permanent improvement.
According to Levin (1994), much of the research done on productivity to this point has not been useful. Most researchers focus on negative findings, which may indicate that people are at the venting stage of reform; they only complain and place blame on each other for collective downfalls. To correct our failing system, Levin (1994) recommends abandoning the factory system of education; no longer should our assembly line style of treating students like raw materials prevail. This approach to change must change because students are not on a production line and education cannot be done to them. Levin (1994) expresses that "education is a unique kind of production, because it requires learners to create knowledge and meaning in the context of their own lives" (p. 759). Thus, students are active in the education process; they must do the learning for themselves. It is our job as teachers to assist students in this process.
The fact that students are active in their learning implies that they are also intentional and "they can alter their actions in accordance with their developing understanding of a give situation" (Levin, 1994, p.759). Students are able to make decisions and unfortunately many are making decisions not to come to school; for Native populations in Canada, dropping out of school is terribly common. Levin (1994) asks readers to carefully consider the issue of motivation and how it applies to restructuring of schools for better productivity. Motivation is critical if students are responsible for their own production of learning (Levin, 1994). Putting students at the centre of restructuring means giving voice and choice to those most affected; considering student needs first provides an outlet for students to take ownership of their learning and be more involved.
Levin (1994) attacks the various sides of the debate over restructuring, intensification and professionalization. The author defines intensification to be a strategy which is "making them learn whether they want to or not" (Levin, 1994, p. 760) by setting stricter curriculum requirements, having external examination and more. Professionalism is a policy which intends to give more power to teachers but it assumes that teachers have "a tremendous store of pedagogical knowledge that they are waiting to unleash with dramatic effect as soon as they are freed from the shackles of bureaucratic restrictions" (Levin, 1994, p. 760). Levin (1994) believes that neither of these ideas are valid.
Instead, Levin (1994) encourages educators to make reforms for the purpose of betterment for the student. Because it is up to the student to do the learning, it is time to treat students as competent people and utilise their interests and knowledge while involving them in setting goals for their ways of learning (Levin, 1994). The author believes that by giving students significant influence on their education, students will be motivated to learn more and be more productive.
For the Native population, this recommendation is long past due. For many years, Native students have been required to ignore their unique history and ways of learning. Assimilation into the majority population has resulted in pushing many Native students out of the learning arena and they drop out. As Levin (1994) suggests, it is time to make changes to the education system that will motivate all students to work on their education and thus society will see schools as productive and valuable.
The article debates restructuring schools as a whole but it appears to underestimate the value of individual teachers making positive changes in classrooms. Once classroom teachers put students in the centre, they will witness an increase in the productivity and motivation of their students. Policies and documents can advocate all kinds of restructuring forms but is the actions and attitudes of teachers who make the changes successful. Our teachers are the front line when it comes to treating students as participants in educational experiences. Teachers need to buy into the philosophy just as much as (or perhaps more than) the administrators planning the restructuring of schools.
Levin (1994) presents his argument clearly and incorporates analogies to the factory system that challenges readers to consider their own beliefs in restructuring. The article strikes down the intensification philosophy that has been prevalent in the media as the cure to the education system. The article also brings a sense of reality to those who advocate the professionalization of teaching. Levin (1994) argues logically towards considering the issue of motivation when discussing the productivity in education.
Much of what Levin (1994) has to say in this article is well supported by researchers studying Multiple Intelligences and brain based learning. Multiple intelligences with respect to education is based on the idea that all students learn differently and must have the opportunity to learn in appropriate ways. Schools cannot expect each student to progress in the assembly line fashion through their education. Putting students in the centre is necessary because productivity begins and ends with them, their decisions and their motivation. This article was a welcome beacon in the darkness of educational restructuring.
Levin, B. (1994). Improving educational productivity: Putting students at the center. Phi Delta Kappan. pp. 758 - 760.