Options in Educational Decision Making

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Everyone needs to make decisions all their lives, so we think we know how. We do it everyday: what to wear to school / work / social events; what to do with our free or free time; when to spend or save money; what purchases are necessary or frivolous. We make decisions about objects (cars, clothes, books, websites, etc.), situations (how to behave in various social contexts) and abstractions or untouchables (attention, love or concern for others and their perceptions or feelings about us).

The problem with decision making is that no one specifically teaches us how to make “good” or appropriate decisions. This is because decisions usually involve recognizing options or choices of a series of actions leading to a specific goal. Most decisions are routine: when, where, and how to buy food, car repairs, clothing, etc. We are cradled by security in our decision-making process.

We are challenged to make decisions when stress increases. Researchers have found that people perceive fewer choices or options available and that we tend to use traditional or customary choices in making our decisions. Unfortunately, this means that new solutions to problems will not be seen, recognized or understood when the decision maker (s) is / are in crisis or under stress.

Approaches to educational reform are prime examples of the perception of limited options for decision making. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and its replacement guidelines have an extremely narrow focus: All children are to learn the same content at the same pace using "scientifically researched" materials. Gone are the observational discretionary powers of teachers. No more experimental approaches or innovative materials or methods. Gone are the information relating to centuries of child development knowledge and preparation skills. Gone are the days of what worked in the past. Now teachers have to use what an academic study (or publisher-sponsored) has proven to be effective.

Educators should take teacher preparation programs. Including an undergraduate degree and professional training, this equates to at least 4-5 years of college education. Additionally, most states require teachers to complete a master's degree (1 to 2 years to complete) within a certain period of time. This means educators know a lot, but they are not allowed to use what they have learned in their classrooms unless it is packaged in "scientifically researched" material.

The main thing is that the knowledge and wisdom of teachers is ignored; yet, they are responsible and accountable for the decisions that others, usually non-educators, have made. Decision makers trust traditional approaches, not innovation or creative options. By narrowing their view of the issues, they rule out options that could work much better, easier, and for much less money than what they are currently prescribing.