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Education as a Complex Adaptive System: Contingencies and Continuity in Educational History. John R. Shoup, Ph.D. And Susan Clark Studer, Ph.D. California Baptist University. Organization for Educational Historians 2010 Annual Conference September 17-18, 2010.

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M. C. Escher “Night and Day”


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    1. Education as a Complex Adaptive System: Contingencies and Continuity in Educational History John R. Shoup, Ph.D. And Susan Clark Studer, Ph.D. California Baptist University Organization for Educational Historians 2010 Annual Conference September 17-18, 2010 M. C. Escher “Night and Day”

    2. Agenda • Brief Overview of Complexity Science • Brief Overview of Contingency and Continuity in the American Educational System • Implications for Education • Q & A

    3. In 2002, the U. S. Department of Education commissioned the Washington Center for Complexity and Public Policy to examine how complexity science is being used “with special attention to implications for its use in understanding and influencing the complexities of our educational system” (Sanders & McCabe, 2003, p. 5).

    4. The challenges of the 21st century will require new ways of thinking about and understanding the complex, interconnected and rapidly changing world in which we live and work. And the new field of complexity science is providing the insights we need to push our thinking in new directions. Sanders and McCabe, 2003, p. 5

    5. In the last twenty years, rapid advances in high-speed computing and computer graphics have created a revolution in the scientific understanding of complex systems. We now have the ability to move beyond the old paradigm; to look at whole systems; to study the interactions of many independent variables and to explore the underlying principles, structure and dynamics of complex physical, biological and social systems. Sanders and McCabe, 2003, p.5

    6. "I think the next century will be the century of complexity." Stephen Hawking

    7. “Today’s complexity is only expected to rise, and more than half of CEOs doubt their ability to manage it” (p. 8) IBM (2010). Capitalizing on Complexity: Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Study. Somers,NY:IBM Global Business Services. This study is based on face-to-face conversations with more than 1,500 chief executive officers worldwide. (p. 1)

    8. Scientists have recently discovered that various complex systems have an underlying architecture governed by shared organizing principles. (Barabasi & Bonabeau, 2003, p. 50).

    9. How Successful Leaders Think By Roger Martin June 2007 (60-67)

    10. “We look for lessons in the actions of great leaders. We should instead be examining what goes on in their heads-particularly the way they creatively build on the tensions among conflicting ideas.” (p. 65)

    11. “We often don’t know what to do with fundamentally opposing models. Our first impulse is usually to determine which is ‘right’ and, by the process of elimination, which is ‘wrong’.” (p. 62)

    12. “Integrative thinkers don’t mind a messy problem. In fact, they welcome complexity, because that’s where the best answers come from.” (p.66)

    13. 1 Determining Salience Focus only on obviously relevant features Seek less obvious but potentially relevant factors 2 Analyzing Causality Consider one way, linear relationships between variables, in which more of A produces more of B Consider multidirectional and non linear relationships among variables 3Envisioning the Decision Architecture Break problems into pieces and work on them separately or sequentially See problems as a whole, examining how the parts fit together and how decisions effect one another 4Achieving Resolution Make either-or choices; settle for best available options Creatively resolve tensions among opposing ideas; generate innovative outcomes Conventional Thinkers Integrative Thinkers (p. 65)

    14. Kliebard (2002) states “The term pendulum swing has become the most widely used characterization of this phenomenon, implying, of course, that educational reform is nothing but a series of backward and forward movements with, in the end, everything remaining in place. Whatever the merits of pendulum swing as the controlling metaphor for the course of educational reform, it reflects a profound disillusionment with the enterprise” (p. 1).

    15. Often education reform is naively characterized as the newest fad in a series of fads and summarily dismissed.

    16. Such limited explanations are consistent with the traditional, rational and linear models of framing change in what are, in essence, complex and dynamic systems. Unfortunately, such perspectives distort the true nature of reform, limit the ability to anticipate or forecast educational reform and often sabotage reform efforts before they even have a chance to accomplish their intended effect.

    17. According to Cusick (1992), “Schools are never sufficiently individualized, equal, excellent or efficient. So education’s reform mill never lacks grist” (p. 179).

    18. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. George Santayana

    19. Complexity theory reveals that history cannot be help repeat itself, on some scale. • The values (strange attractors) and patterns that shaped the past at work in the future.

    20. Chaos: Making a New Science By James Gleick (1987)

    21. How Colleges Work: The Cybernetics of Academic Organization and Leadership By Robert Birnbaum (1991)

    22. Leadership and the New Science By Margaret J. Wheatley (1999)

    23. School Leadership and Complexity Theory By Keith Morrison (2002)

    24. How Nature Works: The Science Of Self Organized Criticality By Per Bak (1996)

    25. Ubiquity: The Science of History--or Why the World is Simpler Than We Think By Mark Buchanan (2001)

    26. Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos By Mitchell Waldrop (1992)

    27. Managing the Unexpected: Assuring High Performance in an Age of Complexity By Karl E. Weick and Kathleen M. Sutcliffe (2001)

    28. Chaos Theory in the Social Sciences: Foundations and Applications Edited by L. Douglas Kiel and Euel Elliot (1997)

    29. The Edge of Organization: Chaos and Complexity Theories of Formal Social Systems By Russ Marion (1999)

    30. Order (Linear) Complexity (Non-linear) Disorder (Anti-linear) Complete rationality Bounded rationality Complete irrationality Total certainty Limited certainty Uncertainty Limited Predictability Predictability Unpredictability Linked causes and effects Causality is indeterminate Causality is meaningless Evolutionary change Chaos (Indeterminism) Determinism The Comparative Theme of Complexity Theory Geyer, Robert & Samir Rihani (2000). Complexity and the Challenges to Democracy in the 21st Century.

    31. Complex Structures • Riots • Federal Govt. • International Business • Urban Cities • Thermostat- Office Complex • State Govt. • National Business • Public Schools • Suburbs Linear Processes Nonlinear Processes • Local Govt. • Thermostat- Single Dwelling • Playground • Rural Towns Factors Influencing Degree of Complexity Number of Internal and External Demands Organizational Size and Layers Amount of Feedback Speed of Feedback • Private Schools • Small Businesses • Peaceful Demonstration • Classroom Simple Structures

    32. Characteristics of all Nonlinear Systems • Strange Attractors • Cybernetics / Feedback • Homeostasis / Equilibrium / Change • Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions • Symmetry Across Scales (Fractals) • Emergence • Self-Organized Criticality

    33. Simple Complexity 74° 70° 72° Strange Attractor Homeostasis Cybernetics / Feedback Thermostat

    34. Learning Student Expectations / Needs Teacher Expectations / Needs Staff Expectations / Needs Parent Expectations / Needs Community Expectations / Needs Order • Metz, Mary Haywood (1978). Classroom and Corridors. • Pauly, Edward (1991). The Classroom Crucible: What Really Works, • What Doesn’t, And Why. • Powell, Farrar and Cohen (1985). The Shopping Mall High School. • Theodore Sizer (1984). Horace’s Compromise.

    35. Learning Student Expectations / Needs Teacher Expectations / Needs Staff Expectations / Needs Parent Expectations / Needs Community Expectations / Needs Order

    36. Sources of Expectations and Demands in Educational Context • Teachers • Students • Parents • Superiors • Board Members • Community • State • Federal • Spouse • Children • Adversaries • Confidants • Neighbors • Friends

    37. According to Cusick (1992), “Schools are never sufficiently individualized, equal, excellent or efficient. So education’s reform mill never lacks grist” (p. 179).

    38. Non Negotiables Excellence Equality / Accessibility Efficiency Choice / Liberty

    39. Features of Complexity

    40. Features of Complexity Strange Attractors – (Dynamic Attractors and Repellors) Recursive patterns that maintain homeostasis or equilibrium in the system. Dominant values in the system are the strange attractors in complex social environments.

    41. Features of Complexity All systems are dynamic and possess self-correcting and referencing feedback loops Cybernetics = steersman Volume and rate of Feedback has grown exponentially Systems grow in the direction of heeded feedback

    42. Features of Complexity Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. (French Proverb) “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” Emerging Homeostasis Change is necessary for continuity

    43. Complexity theory legitimizes reforms as reiterations or patterns of dominant values education. The French proverb “the more things change, the more they remain the same” explains why reform in public education is cyclical, continuously sought and why external parties play such a critical role.

    44. When education policy and practices take off too much in one direction, another reform will come along to bring it back to the center; and when that reform takes policy and practice too far off center another reform will bring it back to center.

    45. Similar to a thermostat, when a social policy fluctuates in any direction at the expense of other social policies, reform triggers appropriate adjustments or corrections to the system for the desired equilibrium.

    46. The homeostasis of the American educational system appears to hover around four basic and often competing beliefs and values consistent with a democratic society (Marshall, 1991; Cusik, 1992; Stout, Tallerico and Scribner, 1994).

    47. Continuous reform around the “meta-values” maintains a relative homeostasis that allows a public school system to effectively educate while accommodating the diverse values and beliefs surrounding education.

    48. Features of Complexity Butterfly Effect Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions Strategic small changes can have a big effect and creative transformative contingencies.

    49. Contingencies • 1848 – Egg-crate school, Grade-level placement, Bell Schedule – Imprint is such that future reforms are constrained (Tyack, 1974) • Factory model still prevalent – Superintendent Sergiovanni (1994) astutely posits that changing the metaphor changes the theory and practice