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  • by Blaine Helwig

Repeating Failure Repeatedly

Most elementary school's State accountability performance ranking continue to demonstrate stagnant academic performance - school year after school year.

A principal is involuntarily moved to a different Title 1 elementary. At their former school, their results were not stellar, in the least. As a matter of fact, the results were static. At the new Title 1 School, the principal implements the same programs and systems that produced the anemic performance at their former school.

A fourth grade teacher implements the same mathematics lesson sequencing for ten consecutive years. A majority of their students exhibit the same mediocre student outcomes every school year.

This behavior – repeating failure – continues when unsuccessful teachers are in close proximity to a colleague teaching the same subject, but there is a significant difference in student achievement. It continues with campus administrators as well. For example, two demographically similar Title 1 elementary schools are geographically located less than two miles apart, but one of the Title 1 elementary schools performs 40 percent higher in student test results every school year – and the struggling Title 1 principal does not investigate the reasons or methodology for the other school's level of academic success.

Why would educators continue with pedagogy and implement curricular programs that consistently produce mediocrity and poor student outcomes?

The seat of the pants rationale for continuing poor performance methodology

It appears to be a common human trait in many ways. And, yes! All humans seem to be guilty of this behavior in varying levels in either personally or professionally or both. The more public the repeated actions of failure the more noticeable in comparison to more subtle offenders.

I am not and do not claim to have any expertise in psychology or scientific understanding to explain this human behavior. But, I am old, and I would like to think I have been paying attention for the last half a hundred years of my life. So, I have postulated several general reasons I believe may be at the root of this type of human behavior – either singularly or in combination with one another.

  • Human beings are generally risk adverse by nature. They ‘run with the herd’ for safety reasons rather than gamble on more profitable outcomes.

  • Insufficient knowledge on specifics to improve, so the known continues – regardless of outcomes.

  • There is a lack of accountability that affords a person a lack of incentive to change.

  • Change takes work – real work. A significant number of people are perspiration-adverse.

  • There is emotional comfort and financial security in the status quo. No change is personally safe!

  • Assigned responsibility for the change – if the change goes poorly, I am responsible. “Success has many fathers, Failure is an Orphan” – an old adage but highly accurate.

  • Appeasing superiors – promotion in public education does not come often to the innovators but to those that toe the company line or agenda.

  • Rationalizing poor performance by blaming external factors – poverty, parents or testing inequities.

As public educators, our actions have an influential and lasting and effect on the lives of young people’s futures. The most adversely affected in the school system are children of color and economically disadvantaged children. These children’s parents are implicitly and explicitly trusting public school officials to provide their children with an education that leads to a better economic life. When stagnant and chronic academic performance continues at a school due to ineffectual pedagogy and curricular programs there are moral implications –regardless of the root human failing.


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