Home > Essays > NYTimes Article on Remote Workers Being “Left Behind” ASSUMES That “Getting Ahead” is in Every Employees Best Interest. Is It?

NYTimes Article on Remote Workers Being “Left Behind” ASSUMES That “Getting Ahead” is in Every Employees Best Interest. Is It?

August 5, 2021

Early in my career I was hired to lead a school district in the NH Seacoast region. Upon arriving in the district, I learned that our schools had received an anonymous $10,000 grant to institute a gifted and talented program with the proviso that we hire Joseph Renzulli to help us design and implement the program. At the time I was unfamiliar with Dr. Renzulli’s work, but after working with him and his team of consultants from University of Connecticut for three years I was sold on his approach to offering gifted and talented programs.

At our initial meeting, Dr. Renzulli asked me what I hoped to accomplish during my tenure as Superintendent and how I thought a gifted and talented program would help attain that goal. As an incoming Superintendent with a mathematical bent, I had spent some time examining the test scores of the schools I would be leading. I told him that I wanted to boost our Iowa test scores which were statistically “lower than expected” at some grade levels and in some schools, lower than some of the nearby districts with comparable demographics, and hovering at roughly the 85th percentile. I hoped to boost the scores to the 92nd percentile and hoped a gifted and talented program would help pull them higher by increasing the number of high scoring students.

Dr. Renzulli asked why I wanted to get higher test scores. I was astonished at the question. Surely he understood that a higher score was better than a lower score. Surely he knew that in order to move the percentiles to a higher level I’d need to have more children scoring in high percentile levels. In the conversation that followed, I came to understand that Dr. Renzulli saw giftedness through a broader lens than test scores. In fact, given the chance to do so, I sensed that Dr. Renzulli would abandon test scores as a metric and rely on teachers to identify the giftedness that each child possessed and adjust the content and rate of instruction to match the interests and abilities of each student. Test scores were a convenient and inexpensive way to measure learning, but they were a deeply flawed construct for identifying gifted students or “school success” because they failed to capture some of the most important qualities of students or schools.

This exchange in the early 1980s came to mind when I read Sara Kessler’s NYTimes Dealbook article titled “Will Remote Workers Get Left Behind in the Hybrid Office?” The article described how the recent phenomenon of businesses offering its employees the option of working remotely was affecting promotions. Early data collection indicates that on-site workers get more attention from managers than remote workers and, since college educated women are more likely to work from home they are less likely to return to the office, they were being “left behind” in terms of opportunities for promotion.

But… what if “getting ahead” is a flawed construct for measuring success? What if seeking a higher salary or higher position on the organization chart is as meaningless as boosting test scores from the 85th percentile to the 92nd? What if our culture valued caregiving to children, family members, and each other the same way it values the accumulation of wealth or a high-level position in an organization? What if well-being was our culture’s North Star instead of consumption, competition, and comparison?

And here are two related questions that are applicable to this blog:

  1. How does the structure of schooling contribute to our current cultural norms and suppress the North Star of well-being?
  2. How would schools be re-structured if they focussed on well-being instead of competition and comparison?

I may be wrong, but I have a sense that more and more workers are wrestling with work-life balance after the pandemic. Spending time alone or with just one’s family, being away from schools and their emphasis on competition and comparison, being away from offices where extra-hours are valued over spending time on self-care and family nurturance, and away from the commuting and the intense personal schedules that accompany the busy-ness that goes with being outside of one’s home environment, workers have time to consider what is REALLY important and, in some cases, it isn’t getting more money or getting ahead.

Categories: Essays Tags: ,
%d bloggers like this: