Joe’s Journal: Focus, Focus, Focus

“Organizations are special-purpose institutions. They are effective because they concentrate on one task. If you were to go to the American Lung Association and say, ‘Ninety percent of all adult Americans suffer from ingrown toenails; we need your expertise in research, health education, and prevention to stamp out this dreadful scourge,’ you’d get the answer: ‘We are interested only in what lies between the hips and the shoulders.’ That explains why the American Lung Association or the American Heart Association or any of the other organizations in the health field get results.”

–Peter F. Drucker

Peter Drucker is trying to tell us that in social sector organizations, if you do diversify too far away from your mission it destroys the performance capacity. In education, for example, if you compare public schools to parochial schools what you often find is that the public schools are forced under law and regulation to do a number of things that pull them away from their main mission, which is to educate children.

[EXPAND More]So, private schools are delivering significantly better results now. And sure, there’s some self-selecting that comes from parents applying pressure and paying tuition, but basically the private schools are dedicated to delivering just education and not dealing with all sorts of other social issues.

Schools have gotten distracted. I think we need to get back to minimum levels of literacy, and we need to find ways to help students discern their strengths and to build on the strengths.

I am still not convinced that teaching English as a second language is the right thing to do for the waves of Spanish-speaking immigrants. The reason I’m not convinced is because it seems difficult to make people fluent in two languages (both speaking and writing), and English is a tough language in and of itself. We need to at least get that right since it is the global language. In earlier waves of immigration, people wanted the next generations to learn English and let the old languages go. Of course, Spanish is a little different because of the proximity and connections to family in Spanish-speaking countries.  While it is wonderful to be multilingual, I just worry that ESL teaching is an example of how our schools are being forced to deal with a lot of problems and dynamics that are redirecting them away from getting the basics right.

–Joe Maciariello[/EXPAND]