Sunday, March 4, 2018

Charter Schools: The Small Group Orientation

This post is a follow-up from a previous through experiment applying education as an adaptive group theory to charter schools.

Part 1 - Framing the situation
Part 2 - Large group orientation
Part 3 - Small group orientation
Part 4 - Evaluating other approaches


This post has been sitting in the editing pile for a while. It followed up on a discussions about how charter school scenarios can be framed in terms of Education as an Adaptive Group theory. The gist of this theory involves interpreting charter school tensions via multi-level selection theory and it's large-group vs. small-group orientations.

Advantages of this perspective are:
  • It is based on an underlying causative structure that is empirically verifiable (in principle).  Standard educational perspectives rely on descriptive analysis which suffer many of the dogmatic problems associated with soft social sciences.
  • It elevates the role of dynamic tension.  In doing so it provides a causative model for education's inferred complex orientation behaviour.
  • It makes falsifiable predictions about charter school evolution patterns.
  • It provides a full explanation of why (and when) a charter school can be considered a rational agent rather than just an amalgamation of individuals.

Large Group Orientation Review

My last post on this subject flushed out the large group orientation.  This involved charter school orientation to large-group (i.e. public education) moral mission.  While public education's moral mission resists precise description, it may be reasonable to speculate that it encompasses something touching on social equity.

Large group orientation means a charter school does not engage in nor justify niche focussed behaviour at the general population's expense.  Innovation may stretch the bounds of acceptable large-group sacrifice, but, in vernacular terms, a large-group oriented school won't say "we have no duty to worry about your type here".  A large-group oriented charter school may certainly say, "you may be better off elsewhere,".  However, even this type of response is unlikely.

Large group orientations are represented by behaviour which is generally fitness enhancing for the large group.  This occurs either by maximizing average individual fitnesses (MLS2), or by maximizing the fitness of the group itself (MLS1).  While nested groupings are possible (and likely), this post will try to keep things as simple as possible.


Small-group (individualistic) orientation in charter schools seems to have two modes of expression:

  1. A focus on the school's fitness.
  2. A focus on individual teachers' fitness.  
For simplicity I won't delve into individual teachers' fitness: the extra nesting just makes discussion longer. The school itself is the unit of analysis (just like last post). Therefore, small-group orientation is characterized by doing what is best for the school with minimal regard to (institutionalized) education as a whole.

Freeloading therefore involves superficial compliance with public education's boundaries.  This enables large-group benefits to continue accruing (e.g. funding, accreditation, etc.).

These actions need not be purposefully deceitful.  Indeed, self-rationalization has been shown to be a good tool to prevent freeloader detection. However, self-deceptive rationalization also tends to create background anxiety and guilt (at least if you're not a sociopath).  There are a couple of steady state solutions to this tension:

  • Rationalize away freeloading effects by minimizing their severity on others (downloading that torrent really doesn't affect the movie company because I was going to wait till it came on TV anyway).
  • Devalue the targets of freeloading (The people in my church are so lame. They're lucky to have me. Too bad for them if I don't contribute to any church funds.).  Self separation from a group minimizes the chances you'll get caught freeloading

What We'd See

Going-it-alone for a charter school would involve antipathy to the constraining norms and taboos of traditional public education practice (the large-group).  As norm deviation increases, freeloading is challenged and intentions are tested for moral mission compliance.  Ultimately large-group benefits are revoked.  Revocation might include public funding losses, accreditation losses, or simple ostricization.  Going-it-alone increases selective pressure on the charter school (small-group).  Under high selective forces, adaptation is required.  This might involve niche specialization or direct competition.  Direct competition at the group levels specified involves competition for followers.
    1. Niche specialization means that the charter school isn't seen as a real competitor for the resources sought by the large group.  An example might be a madrassah.  Madrassah practices and memberships doesn't seem to be of much interest to North American institutionalized education.
    2. Direct competition would mean the charter school must be able to offer a product which is of equal or greater value than that offered by the large-group (or in this particular case, a product which is similar but significantly "cheaper").  The competing product may be an alternative accreditation similar in value to that offered by public schools. It could also involve providing their membership with an equal chance of getting into post-secondary school or getting a job.  It should be noted, if norm deviation is large enough, or large-group vs. small-group competition is fierce enough, institutionalized education can curtail alternative post-secondary entrance paths and many job paths from small-groups with devastating effectiveness.
    3. The selective pressures associated with going-it-alone suggests that if small-group amalgamation is possible, it is likely to be favourable.  Thus one would expect to see charter schools which forgo niche specialization bubbling together.  The process need not be fast.  It could simply involve greater levels of interaction between schools, followed by strategic partnerships, followed by small collective action,... until formal or practical unification occurs.

Extra notes

List & Pettit address the locus of responsibility argument by saying that though actions are committed by individuals within the group, not by the group agent itself, the group agent is responsible for biasing certain eventualities, increasing the probability that its intentions get carried out.  An easy analogy is the extent to which Hezbollah is responsible for any single terrorist bombing.  The group has a clear moral mission which is certainly biased toward such acts.  Leadership may facilitate such acts without ever having to ever pull them pin themselves or do all the planning.

Therefore, in terms of a charter school, emotional and cognitive turmoil could be expressed by the charter school's behaviour (if it is an adaptive group).  According to List & Pettit's exegesis, a group agent's behaviour is mainly centered on a single moral mission formed by its laity.  Actions

List & Pettit argue that group agents are rational, seek information,  distinguish right and wrong, and they can and should be held morally responsible for their actions.  In effect, they see rational group agents as a semi-intoxicated dullard who may be slow on the up-take but ultimately knows what is happening and can distinguish right from wrong (based on its own values and in terms of the social environment in which it acts).

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