Underwear bombers and Ed Schools

Back in 1997, a defense analyst wrote a paper called "The Coming Intelligence Failure." It's on the CIA website. Eerie stuff. Without mentioning Al Qaeda, he does predict exactly the intel breakdown that we saw on 9/11.

The year is 2001...Bureaucratic politics have forced a division of analytic labor...We do not provide sufficient warning of a… terrorist attack. The data were there, but we had failed to recognize fully their significance and put them in context. No agency was postured to conduct truly integrated analysis.

Remember the "solution"? It was supposed to be intelligence coordination. But nobody in DC really had the juice to hammer things together, even after 9/11. CIA, FBI, DIA, embassies, TSA, etc etc...still all have their own turf. That's why the Underwear Bomber was able to almost blow up a plane.


I think about this when US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan calls on Ed Schools to "transform."

In this speech, he asks:

Now the obvious question arises, why have teacher preparation programs historically been difficult to reform?

Duncan lists a number of factors. Not among them, however: the basic power structure at an Ed School.

Tenured faculty -- both as individuals and organized in departments -- are strong. Just like the CIA, FBI, DIA, etc. Deans have relatively little power.

Presumably, lots of individual profs have ideas on how the institution should change. There's not a failure to throw out ideas. There's a failure to choose the best of those competing ideas, to fully reject others. That would mean "winners and losers" among tenured faculty. So nothing gets done, except at the edges.

If you think it's hard to pass a health care law in Congress, or hard to overhaul our intelligence gathering, then ask some Ed School deans about trying to overhaul their institutions. Near impossible. They're able to get cordial and spirited conversations going, but when it comes down to brass tacks, Big Pushback.

Secretary Duncan would do well to think of how to help change this power dynamic if he wants Ed Schools to transform.