During the 1990’s, business schools and management gurus gushed over the virtues of managing chaos. As the money masters of Wall Street made millions buying and selling companies or shifting manufacturing overseas, managers and rank-and-file workers were urged to learn how to thrive in quixotic, ever-changing times.
In the 2000’s, managing chaos has been replaced with managing ambiguity.
Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas says that managing ambiguity has become one of his biggest challenges. For example, Vargas says that he supports teacher-led schools, where teachers and schools operate with as much autonomy as possible. But with greater autonomy with operations and programs comes greater accountability, says Vargas.
“Teacher-led schools, in my definition, would mean maximum autonomy, maximum flexibility, and maximum accountability,” he says. “I won’t make the mistake of the past. I won’t agree to give them autonomy and not accountability.”
Innovation and the risk-taking that innovation naturally involves are rewarding when they work, Vargas says, but there must be consequences when they don’t. Accountability could take several different forms, he says, including denial of tenure for teachers or principals.
Everyone says they’re in favor of accountability, Vargas says, until it happens. He says that when he tries to deny tenure, the resistance is fierce.
Managing ambiguity or ambiguous management, whatever Vargas sees as his biggest challenge, there's no denying that the district has suffered from serious management problems. But another thing is also clear: Gone are the days when educators are given the leeway or the benefit of the doubt because they work with people — and people have quirks — every day.
Urban education, in particular, has rapidly pivoted to formulaic solutions. The ambiguity caused by issues like poverty, truancy, and low parental engagement may have unpredictable, but not excusable outcomes.