The MicroSociety Approach: A teacher’s critical analysis

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Published: 06th February 2017
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The MicroSociety Approach: A teacher's critical analysis
José-Enrique Figueroa, Ph.D.

This is a critical examination of one of most idealistic conceptions used to hide, rationalize, or even negate problems within the education system. Among the wide variety of approaches claiming to be effective in "fixing" or "reforming" education, we also find the "Micro Society," a teaching method based on mimicking the world of government and commerce in the classroom. This approach, like many others, assumes that the potential for transforming our education system is present in the American society. The prevailing ideological rhetoric of the status quo permeates its descriptions and analysis. This approach tends to seek solutions to the education system's problems within the confines of the status quo. It does not offer a thorough analysis of the economic and political structure of the society. Based on my twenty-one years of teaching experience, I will make a critical analysis of this approach. How does this approach affect the process of teaching and learning? In academic areas such as language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science, what is the measurable impact of the MicroSociety model? How effective is it in terms of direct-measurable academic growth, independent of all other academic programs? How do other academic programs, independent of the MicroSociety approach, impact attendance, discipline and civic responsibility?

Those who pretend to bring about reforms to the education system tend to underestimate or completely ignore the relationship between it and the political economy. These reformers are generally preoccupied with offering "practical solutions" to education's failures within the confines of the social system; they hope to correct the education system in one way or another without examining it within the totality of the present social order.
These "practical solutions," radical reforms, or changes take the capitalist system for granted. They fail to examine the education system within the context of the capitalist world by placing all intellectual activities, including schooling, within the confines of a historical economic base. This by no means implies that we are speaking about economic determinism in which every societal institution comes about mechanically. Our approach is rooted on a global notion of human beings in which social interaction is always a process of social change filled with contradictions. And, of course, human beings are the main actors in this human drama. This doesn't mean that human beings are entirely free actors. How much freedom we possess depends upon the established boundaries of our historical moment. As such, the relationship between political economy and the education of future generations is integral to a historical totality. This does not negate the complexities within the entire education system that evolves out of our social life. Nevertheless, the complexities of the education system are produced within a social-historical order. So, how can we promote or even consider solutions to the education system's problems in isolation?
From this perspective, the study of how we educate future generations does not stop with the education system as an institution isolated from the present social order. We must examine this institution within a broad series of conditions that includes natural conditions, technical factors, social organizations, and a division of labor. We begin from the premise that the dominant class concretely establishes and enforces the ideas and institutions that prevail in a society. These ideas and institutions tend to benefit the controlling class: "Broadly speaking, the culture, law, and politics of class-society are bound up with the interests of the dominant social classes." In other words, society is a reflection of the controlling classes' needs and power. As such, to get to a deeper understanding of the education system's function, we must examine it as an institution within the totality of the capitalist system. We must locate "education" within an organic totality in which its elements are established primarily through the use of concepts such as "the means of production," "social formations," "the division of labor," and "class conflict." Any examination of or suggested reforms to the education system that do not do the above can only be considered, at most, a Band-Aid.
After concluding that many schools were failing to educate inner-city children, school reformers such as Ronald R. Edmonds developed the concept of "effective schools."
Edmonds believed that there was a lack of "equity" on the part of inner-city schools serving the poor. He defined "equity" as "a simple sense of fairness in the distribution of the primary goods and services that characterized the social order." Edmonds's sense of equity is not disturbed by the fact that "some of us, rightly, have more goods and services than others." He stresses:
Others of us have almost no goods and access to only the most wretched services and that deeply offends my simple sense of fairness and violates the standards of equity by which I judge the social order.

By formulating his argument in this manner, Edmonds opens the possibility of finding a way to reform the education system without reforming, changing, or even examining the entire social order. As such, progress is possible within a social system that allows sharp class, ethnic, gender, and racial inequalities. For him, "Equitable public schooling begins by teaching poor children what their parents want them to know and ends by teaching poor children at least as well as it teaches middle-class children."
Edmonds fails to question the social order and he rejects the notions of poverty and family background as obstacles to academic achievement. As such, he places the main emphasis on school environment: "Repudiation of the social science notion that family background is the principal cause of pupil acquisition of basic school skills is probably prerequisite to successful reform of public schooling for the children of the poor." Therefore, he concludes, "We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach the children whose schooling is of interest to us."
After comparing successful and failing schools, Edmonds identified certain characteristics that determine academic achievement. To him, the following conditions are necessary for an equitable-effective school:
(1) A strong administrative leadership. The principal, as leader, brings and keeps the keys to good schooling.
(2) High expectations or higher standards. Since it is assumed that all children can learn no matter what, no child is allowed to fall below a minimum standard.
(3) A safe, non-oppressive, and orderly school environment. This is the baseline needed for a school environment conducive to learning.
(4) An emphasis on the acquisition of basic school skills.
(5) Allocation of all energy and resources to the fundamental objectives of the school.
(6) Constant awareness of student progress among teachers and principals. This requires student progress to be frequently monitored.

These characteristics became the foundation of the "effective school movement." Immediately, according to Tomas and Bainbridge, "An army of educational consultants who adhered to Edmond's principles began to take the message to the streets by selling their services to schools as assessors and advisers." Furthermore, critics such as Tomas and Bainbridge question the so-called characteristics of "effective schools." They see the reforms of the effective school movement as "potentially harmful policies being implemented in school today." Another critic, Michael E. Dantley, takes his criticism even further. To him, the proponents of effective schools "fail to take into consideration the social and economic realities of the urban poor schools and students."
As we have seen, the effective school movement tends to isolate schools from the larger social order. The proponents of the movement take the current social-economic system for granted. To them, structuring a healthy learning environment can correct the wretched living conditions of poor students. Social class and ethnic and racial inequalities are irrelevant to academic success. Almost as if by magic, all children can learn, no matter what. All they need, supposedly, is an effective school.
Next let's examine how I experienced many of these controversial ideas in a particular school environment employing the MicroSociety approach.

An Inexperienced Teacher Creates MicroSociety: An uncritical top-down approach

In the late 1960s, a Yale University graduate began his career as a fifth-grade teacher in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. George Richmond had no teaching experience. To deal with his predominantly Puerto Rican and African-American students' lack of discipline, he invented the "micro-economy" game, based on Monopoly.
Richmond began by seeing the "traditional classroom" as a feudal social order. To him, the teachers were the "fief holders" who received their authority from the principal—in this analogy, the king. The teachers then granted or distributed some authority among "student monitors." These monitors had some advantages over their peers, making them "petty vassals." As such, according to Richmond, "the most precious liberties" required the teacher's permission. Richmond concluded, of course, that there was no "private property, no private wealth, and no political competitors" in his classroom. Furthermore, "trade among citizens and between 308 [his classroom] and other classrooms was nonexistent … The tenant of the classroom identify with a social caste determined by his physical and political prowess … The mixture of authority roles that summed up my role in the classroom—lord, judge, lawmaker, policeman, and cleric—added a final touch."
One day, after weeks of unsuccessfully dealing with classroom discipline, Richmond arrived at school prepared to challenge the "traditional classroom" notion. He violated the "social and economy anonymity fostered by school" by asking the students, "How many of you are poor?" There was complete silence. Behind this question was the idea, according to him, that poor children begin the race to abundance from a disadvantage. In the final analysis, the world is not really ordered in terms of merit.
After a discussion about property, Richmond asked, "How many of you want to know how the rich get rich?" He then told them that some people get rich by using other people's labor, and others get rich by using other people's money.
He used two examples to illustrate his point. First, he explained, a person buys a piece of land and pays someone to build a house on the land. This person sells the house and property for more than what he spends, and he makes a profit. The second example was about a bank that paid interest for money deposited. The bank lends the money deposited by others at higher interest than it pays to depositors, and the difference is the profit.
This oversimplified explanation of the creation of wealth doesn't explain or consider the exploitation of labor by the owners of the means of production. Neither does it include a critical and insightful discussion of the unequal distribution of capital and class struggle. Nevertheless, based on the board game Monopoly and taking the economic system for granted, Richmond introduced his invention, the micro-economy, to his fifth-grade class.
After defining the term micro, Richmond went on to define the concept of economy: "a system of stores, jobs, goods, things you wear, eat, or drive, houses, factories, movies, everything. An economy makes it possible for you to be housed, fed, go to school, find a job, and be entertained." This uncritical and simplistic definition conveniently forgets to add, in line with poor children's experiences, that a capitalist economy also makes it possible for "you" not to be properly fed or to be completely unfed, not to attend adequate schools or major universities, not to be employed or to live without a proper living wage, and to live in a place where counting mice and roaches is the only means of entertainment.
Then our inventor introduced the students to his micro-economy game. Richmond created a currency called soul dollars and established the rules by which the students could make and spend them. He also introduced the "auction" and the "marketplace," where students could buy and sell using their soul dollars. Richmond explained, "Well, some of them [parents] do [work]. They trade their work for dollars. Then they trade their dollars for food that somebody else's work produced. Well, you work too, but in school. And I'm going to pay you for your work because it's valuable to me. Then I'm going to bring stuff—candy, soda, and other things—and you'll trade your work for food just the way your parents do."
All this becomes more interesting when we compare it to the author's critique of the "traditional classroom." In a sense, he is spoon-feeding the students every aspect of the micro-economy game. He determined the tools and rules to be used in the game in advance, all of it based on an uncritical vision of the larger economic social order. A powerful force above the students shapes the micro-economy game: the teachers are bringing the outside world into the classroom. Richmond proclaims, "As simply as I can say it, our job is to create a society in the school! We will start by generating an economy." Richmond eloquently explains to other teachers,
We want to expose students to fundamental economic concepts, to financial operations: check writing, banking, savings, interest, making change, building houses, concepts of capital investments, contracts, exchanging assets for debt, the functions of money. We also want to integrate each activity in the school with every other—we want to make what happens here a bit closer to the real world. You will determine what happens. You will decide what kinds of work your students will be paid to do, and how much to pay them for what.

Doesn't an exciting micro-economy game, in which the teachers determine the rules and the students play as instructed, sound a lot like the "traditional classroom teachers" that Richmond rightly criticizes?
My approximately eight years of experience with the MicroSociety game gives testament to this uncritical, top-down approach.
During a late-September, Wednesday-morning staff development meeting, teachers sat around the room drinking coffee, eating breakfast, and talking about their students.
The principal, Mrs. Monjica, handed out the meeting's agenda. After a few announcements and technical concerns, we began discussing the main item on the agenda: changes in how we implemented our MicroSociety.
Mrs. Monjica began with what I considered a premeditated, well-rehearsed sermon on MicroSociety. Some teachers looked at one another with empty expressions, concealing their thoughts as much as possible. No one uttered a word. Soon, we would increase the time spent on MicroSociety from three to four afternoons per week, and we would have "market day" every Wednesday. Every "venture" was expected to make at least one product for sale. Teachers received a detailed plan on how students were supposed to participate. With the exception of a few clarification questions, we were not saying much.
The principal reminded us of our previous staff development. At a staff development meeting as recently as September 2, 2010, a consultant from MicroSociety Inc. explained how its educational approach is based on the idea "that children of poverty lack organizational skills and middle-class values." Supposedly, poor children don't learn from their families that education is a key to success. Therefore, our presenter continued, "we must not only teach poor children organizational skills but also middle-class values." In other words, since they are totally immersed in a culture of poverty, we must exorcise from our poor children all traces of this inherent evil if we expect them to become successful. As such, poor children enter the school setting at a disadvantage. Everything seems set up for them to fail. I felt a great discomfort. William DiFazio's observation attacked my soul, "the poor are seen as incompetent and/or mentally challenged, i.e., constitutionally lazy. Then poverty is their own fault …"

Finally, a daring soul broke the silence. "Why do we need to spend so much time on this? Why four times per week?"
Another teacher added, "Our children need plenty of math and reading … are we forgetting all the testing?"
Another teacher agreed: "Why waste so much time?"
Mrs. Monjica's facial expression tightened. I had to swallow my laughter—I was enjoying this microscopic, defiant moment.
"I'm the instructional leader of this school," Mrs. Monjica erupted. "The district superintendent appointed me because I possess years of experience with the MicroSociety approach. Like it or not, I'm here to implement this educational—"
Mrs. Addison, who was always uncomfortable with confrontation, interrupted, "Mrs. Monjica, my dear, I think that there is a great misunderstanding …"
"Don't you ever, ever call me dear!" snapped Mrs. Monjica. "My name is Mrs. Monjica. Mrs. Mon-ji-ca. So, don't you, or anyone else, dare call me dear!"
Mrs. Addison was stunned; her noble intentions of bringing about harmony and civility had backfired. Humiliating silence blanketed the room.
At last, the principal slowly continued, "We are going to do Micro four afternoons per week. That's our program! If you don't like it, feel uncomfortable, or disagree, I advise you to find another school—or better yet, leave teaching altogether. That's what I would do."
As the principal finished her threat, I heard an internal scream: Yes, this is a MicroSociety … full of authoritarian abuses…
A week later, a staff development meeting dealt with another aspect of the MicroSociety: the distribution of students to each venture. The original idea was that the students would send their curriculum vitae to their preferred ventures. Each venture would go through the interview process and pick those best qualified. This never happened. Each teacher ran one venture, so they just kept their own students in it. This was good for teachers with no hard-core discipline problems. Many teachers felt that the structure of the MicroSociety did not help much with the problematic students.
In the lower grades—pre-school through first grade—the students were not independent enough for Micro. The teachers needed help from other adults or upper-grade students.
To eliminate these problems, the principal decided to equally distribute students from first-to-sixth grade in every venture. The idea that each child would choose three ventures and, after an interview process, be placed in one of their chosen ventures was a myth. A teacher questioned whether the children had any real choice: "Under such organization, were the students really choosing their places of work?"
The principal offered an elaborate explanation about how the students were choosing three ventures, and how they might get one of their choices.
Since the students were placed in ventures based on grade distribution, I saw extremely little choice for them. The distribution system was implemented for the sake of the lower-grade teachers and for the sake of teachers with students with behavioral problems rather than for the sake of the students.
I tried to explain my point of view: in real, concrete terms, the students did not have a choice. The principal dismissed my observation as an "intellectual-philosophical discussion" to be "debated at a university."
The MicroSociety model also claims that students learn about civic duties through the process of electing a student president, a vice president, and representatives—and by establishing and running the affairs of a student government. On the surface, this sounds like an extraordinary learning experience—but under examination, the MicroSociety's student government is just an illusion. The students don't have any real power to govern; they cannot create laws or policies. The real center of power resides with the teachers, the principal, the district, and the State of New York.
The MicroSociety model developed at our school can be loosely analyzed as a "micro-colonial-society," in which the students and their government serve as colonial subjects while the principal represents the interests of the colonizer. All power is with those imposing the MicroSociety model on the students. As in colonized societies, those at the top keep a tight grip on laws and policies. Ironically, these Hispanic and Afro-American children, whose ancestors suffered the cruelties of colonialism, were now submerged in a learning environment that recreated those experiences. So is it not deception to tell children that their so-called student government possesses the authority to create substantial laws to influence, to modify, or even to change the entire school's affairs? Does the student government have the power to establish laws that would triple playtime, or to decrease or eliminate time spent on reading and math? Do they have the power to eliminate homework and New York State testing?

The rules of engagement are handed down to both the teachers and the students. Some might see this as a consequence of bringing the outside society into the school setting. This is without question wrong thinking. The superintendent and the principal, with little or no input from teachers, imposed the MicroSociety. The MicroSociety consultants, paid well by the district, brought with them binders full of detailed documents on how to run a MicroSociety. They handed down to the teachers and the students the ideological, philosophical, methodological, and instructional foundations of the approach. The consultants and the principal kept insisting that there was not just one way to implement a MicroSociety. Still, their binders were full of details on how to "effectively" implement one. The teachers had two "choices": do as you are told, or find another place to work.
On the other side, the students, assigned to ventures without much say, became "micro-dollars" salary workers. As salary workers, they had to conform to the established rules—most of which were non-negotiable. Any violation would result in withheld salaries. The students were expected to produce a service or a product—a commodity—for sale or exchange. The "profit" went to the venture, not the producer. And the managers of each venture received a higher salary than the rest of the workers.
Our MicroSociety also uncritically encouraged a culture of consumerism. During "Market Day," students jumped from venture to venture, using their "micro-money" to blindly buy what others produced. These students, well-trained consumers, bought whatever they liked without thinking of need: The point was to buy with complete abandon.
After over 400 years of colonialism, slavery, oppression, and exploitation, we were crafting not only a society of blind consumerism, but also the equivalent of a colony in an urban school setting. We had taken children from a historical, colonial experience to a colonial MicroSociety.

Literature on MicroSociety: Effective or Not?

My critical account of MicroSociety shouldn't be misconstrued as an indictment about the model's effectiveness. It is not my intention to prove or disprove its impact on academic learning. Still, a few important questions remain. In academic areas such as language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science, what is the measurable impact of the MicroSociety model? How effective is it in terms of direct-measurable academic growth, independent of all other academic programs? How do other academic programs, independent of the MicroSociety approach, impact attendance, discipline, and civic responsibility?
In "a meta-analysis review research" published in 2003, Borman, Hewes, Overman, and Brown studied the specific effects of comprehensive school reform models. They wanted to discover which school reform programs were most effective in positively impacting students' achievement. Comprehensive school reform models are defined as programs used to improve student achievement throughout an entire school. They entail an innovative approach to instruction and curriculum, all-encompassing staff development, measurable goals and standards, and an emphasis on parental involvement. Outside organizations develop and support these models.
These researchers examined 232 studies for twenty-nine comprehensive school reform models. By reviewing and evaluating the research, they tried to measure the effectiveness of each school-reform strategy. A whole-school reform model needed to fit the following criteria and include (a) a design of reform for the entire school; (b) at least one prior, negative or positive, study that can be used for review; (c) distribution by an external agency; and (d) implementation in ten or more schools.
After an elaborate statistical analysis, the comprehensive school reform models were classified into categories of effectiveness:
(1) Strongest Evidence of Effectiveness
(2) Highly Promising Evidence of Effectiveness
(3) Promising Evidence of Effectiveness
(4) Greatest Need for Additional Research
These four categories were based on three criteria:
(1) Quality of evidence: high-quality research with control-group studies and third-party research.
(2) Quantity of evidence: large numbers of studies and observations.
(3) Statistically significant and positive results: the evidence finds the effect of the reform on achievement to be positive and statistically significant.
Although the researchers encountered limitations on quantity and quality of research, they concluded that "in appearance they [the reforms] seem promising." Among all the comprehensive school reform models examined, three had a "combined quantity and quality and statistical significance" beyond the others. These three reform models were identified as Strongest Evidence Effective: Success for All; Direct Instruction; and the School Development Program. These models had ten or more studies across the United States, and also showed statistically significant and positive achievement effects using comparison groups.
This meta-analysis research review only found three unpublished studies of the MicroSociety model: one done by Kutzik and two by MicroSociety Inc. Borman et al, placed the MicroSociety model in the lowest category of effectiveness, or in "Greatest Need for Additional Research." The study concluded, "The category ‘Greatest Need for Additional Research' included reforms with only one study or those that did not have evidence of statistically significant positive achievement effects from comparison or third-party comparison studies … However, there are a number of models, including the Center for Effective Schools, Community for Learning, Co-nect, Core Knowledge, MicroSociety, Onward to Excellence II, and Talent Development High School, that have promising early data but need several more rigorous evaluations to establish a stronger research base." Beyond this brief remark, not much is said about MicroSociety.
In 2007, Robert E. Slavin published another review of the literature on comprehensive school reforms. Slavin confirmed Success for All, Direct Instructions, School Development Program, and Expeditionary Learning/Outward Bound as the most successful models. He doesn't even mention the MicroSociety model. Slavin cites two other studies published by the Comprehensive School Reform Quality Center and the American Institute for Research (2006a, 2006b), neither of which include the MicroSociety model.
In 2008, the U.S. Department of Education published a report evaluating the implementation and outcomes of comprehensive school reform programs. Once more, based on its lack of mention, we can deduce that the MicroSociety model was not even considered for evaluation.
So-called private, not-for-profit corporations develop and administer most comprehensive school reform models. These corporations send representatives to convince school districts of their so-called, "research-based," "effective" programs. The more school districts "buy into" a particular model, the more money the corporation generates.
There are, of course, many competing comprehensive school reform models. As such, each model must find the means to demonstrate that it holds the key to students' academic success. To do so, many of these organizations conduct their own or employ others to conduct "research." If earning potential depends on it, can we trust self-conducted or commissioned "research"?
In December 2003, Christman, Goldwasser, and Kutzik prepared their report on the MicroSociety model for MicroSociety Inc. They state, "In 1999, MSI engaged Research for Action and Kutzik Associate to conduct a three-year evaluation of MicroSociety programs … MSI staff was interested in assessing the effectiveness of the MicroSociety approach …" They designed a qualitative and quantitative study to measure the impact of MicroSociety on "student achievement as measured by test scores, student attendance, and students' attitudes toward school…"
During the study, the researchers realized that they were unable "to make strong claims about the MicroSociety program's impact on student achievement based on test scores." They conveniently modified their initial focus questions for two reasons: (1) they did not have comparable test scores for the students engaged in MicroSociety learning; and, (2) since the MicroSociety approach "is not aimed directly at improving test taking skills it would have not generated increases in the standardized test scores." Furthermore, since students' jobs were their central experiences in the program, the researchers refined "the research method [to] focus squarely on what students were doing in their jobs." Finally, they admitted their lack of concern with students' achievement as measured by test scores: "Because of the limitations of the test score data available to us we were not able to make a definitive assessment of the degree to which participation in the MicroSociety program enhances schools' capacity to improve achievement by standardized tests." They went on to find a way to broaden the definition of "achievement" by placing emphasis on how MicroSociety affects student motivation and engagement, as well as civic and social behavior.
It is interesting to note that MicroSociety Inc. was founded in 1991, and almost ten years later these researchers found "limitations of test score data." Since they modified the research design, why were they unable to examine other schools, if any, involved with the MicroSociety since its foundation? Instead, using their own "measure of intermediate outcomes," these authors went on to demonstrate the so-called effectiveness of the MicroSociety approach. They drew heavily on what students told them and as verified by "key adults." Interesting enough, none of this was supported by any academic achievement test-score data.
In a survey, conducted by Sarah Pearson, of twenty-eight leading school-reform models concerned with an "innovative teaching methodology that integrates community service with academic study to enrich learning, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen community," Pearson presented positive test achievement data from three different Micro schools. Using Kutzik's 1998 report, Pearson claims that the implementation of the MicroSociety program improved student performance in mathematics, language arts, and reading. However, Pearson's report heavily relies on the reports of others, not hard data.
Absent from Pearson's report and other studies of the MicroSociety are insightful examinations and discussions as to the effectiveness of other academic programs within MicroSociety schools. What language arts, reading, mathematics, social studies, and science programs have been successfully implemented within the school? How effective, as measured by test scores and independent of the MicroSociety, are these academic programs? Which programs, academic vs. MicroSociety, have the greatest impact on achievement as measured by standardized test scores or any other academic measuring tools?
Sheryl Dunton (2006), a principal at a Seattle, Washington, MicroSociety elementary school, gives testimony about how "students thrive when we respect their need to connect learning with life." In describing a typical school day, Dunton presents a picture of "business owners," "new advertisements," "bumped-up consumer interest," "management trainees," a "bank loan officer considering an application for a new business loan," and so on. She explains, "Three afternoons each week, every student in our school participates in a for-profit business, a government agency, or a nonprofit organization." Then, she explains how the students participate in the so-called "democratic process."
Dunton presents us with an uncritical, yet elaborate, account of her MicroSociety school. She is not concerned with critically examining the outside world the MicroSociety pretends to bring into the school. As such, the approach takes for granted the social order of which the school is a part and product. Class, race, and gender inequalities and injustices magically cease to exist. The children, in fact, are playing a "make-believe game" that completely negates profit-making through the exploitation of others.
Dunton claims that student achievement continues to grow: "students' scores improved 14.3 percent in math and 11.6 percent in reading." Since the emphasis of the MicroSociety goes far beyond academic achievement, there is no further discussion on this matter. Dunton, like Pearson, fails to include a perceptive examination and discussion of the impact of the school's other academic programs. At the risk of sounding repetitious, I must ask, how did this academic growth actually happen? What other factors, if any, contributed to it? What other academic programs impacted the students' academic performance and growth? We start from the notion that there is always a need to deeply examine and evaluate the impact of all implemented school programs, both together and independently. These questions, among others, need to be answered with greater care and profundity.
Cassia, Minola, and Criaco conducted a study in which the deeply rooted capitalist ideology and the failure to examine the impact of other academic programs, independent of the MicroSociety model, are clearly exposed. This was not the intention of the researchers and it is not explicitly stated, so how did I arrive at this conclusion?
The purpose of this study was to "shed light" on the complex phenomenon of youth entrepreneurship by investigating school programs that intended to develop entrepreneurial skills and competencies in young people. The primary goal was to come up with a "broader framework" that would allow for the systematic contrast and homogenization of different programs. The researchers emphasized that environment is an important factor for any entrepreneurship program's success. Their main objective was to develop a "tool that assists policy-makers in the act of choosing youth entrepreneurship support programs and further measuring their output."
Cassia, Minola, and Criaco are not interested in a critical analysis of the present social order. Based on this study, we can conclude that they are believers in and defenders of entrepreneurship, individual profit-making, individual accumulation of wealth, and a class society. They seem primarily concerned with developing "entrepreneurial aptitudes and capabilities" in young people—that is, advocating for individual success within the capitalist form of production.
Employing their own measuring tools, they evaluated and compared various programs. For a program to be successful, it had to foster an "enterprise culture" and develop an "entrepreneurial" spirit. They argue, "In a city that enjoys a flourishing economy and thrives on its entrepreneurial spirit, elementary school children are an appropriate target." Accordingly, Talbot Hill Elementary School "applies MicroSociety programs to promote entrepreneurial mindsets in young people." The students in the MicroSociety—a make-believe world—run businesses, banks, a marketplace, and a government, earning "symbolic cool cash." Don't they sound more like representatives of MicroSociety Inc. than independent researchers?
I should note that Casia, Minola, and Criaco did not engage in firsthand research of the MicroSociety model. They evaluated the program simply by relying on information provided by MicroSociety Inc. They then concluded that the students were improving their entrepreneurial skills and responsibilities. Although the "program [is] still is in its early stage," they also conclude that it "had a positive effect on their school performance in regular subjects like math and reading." The authors conveniently fail to support these conclusions with their own independent, firsthand data.
In 2004, Cary Cherniss and Daniel B. Fishman conducted another "research study" of MicroSociety that emphasized enhancing, rather than "objectively" examining, the approach. After an uncritical explanation of the goals and structure of the program, the researchers presented some of the program's accomplishments. Again, this explanation lacked information on the program's impact on academic success or growth. In other words, there is little insightful examination of the effectiveness of academic programs independent of MicroSociety. Although "a Micro program is generally designed as an ‘add on' to the usual curriculum," that curriculum is never mentioned. This creates the illusion that academic growth and success are directly linked to the MicroSociety approach.
Cherniss and associates research goal was "to develop best practice guidelines for improving program implementation." The researches were not interested or concerned with developing a "new theory per se, or the testing of specific causal, theoretically derived hypothesis." The main goal was to help individual MicroSociety schools implement their programs. Cherney explains, "Over time, however, my views toward the program became even more positive, and I became less concerned about remaining neutral. I hope … I was better able to do my job, which was to learn how to best implement it [MicroSociety]."
Cherniss and associates research goal is very clear: instead of evaluating the Micro program, all his efforts went into enhancing it. The researcher went so far as to promise individual schools that under no circumstance would he "develop material harmful to their reputation." He was well aware of his predicament, dangerously walking on the edge of an advocacy abyss. Since Cherniss was committed to enhancing the Micro program's effectiveness, he failed to keep at least a minimal level of "healthy" neutrality. As such, he became a robust advocate, a broker of the MicroSociety's bloated positive image.

When confronting the so-called lack-of-achievement crisis, as well as the substantial gap between minority (Hispanic and Afro-American) students and white students, "the main policy response has been to emphasize accountability." Policies stressing accountability hope to indirectly impact instruction, curriculum, and social organization. Notwithstanding some advances, these policies have failed to bring about considerable improvements. So, what's the alternative? How can we bring about "genuine reform"?
According to Robert E. Slavin, "genuine reform in American education depends on a movement toward evidence-based practice, using the findings of rigorous research to guide educational practices and policies." The main problem is that decision makers have supported programs that lack extensive scientific evaluation. In other words, they have supported un-researched, un-evidenced programs.
To Slavin, practitioners and policy makers must go beyond the limitations of accountability, which doesn't "change the materials, methods, and capabilities of front-line educators." Slavin advocates for strong, research-based policies -envisioning "genuine reform"- without critically examining the present political-economic social order. In other words, absent in his "research-based reform" is a critical conception of the political-economic order that gives birth and existence to the educational institution he hopes to reform.
Taking the present political-economic system for granted, the researcher defines "rigorous research" as studies that meet the following criteria: (1) they "compare an experimental treatment to a control group"; (2) "the experimental and control treatments had to be equivalent before the treatments were applied"; (3) the study should last no less than at least ten weeks, "preferably at least a year"; (4) "quantitative measurement of academic achievement had to be used"; and (5) "programs had to be evaluated with disadvantaged and minority students."
Slavin goes on to review extensive research for the most-used reform models. There is no discussion or examination of those models without extensive research. Nevertheless, he concludes, "There is a particular need for more randomized, large-scale studies done over meaningful periods of time to evaluate promising programs." Although not explicitly stated, we might assume that the MicroSociety model is in need of these "randomized, large-scale studies."
Let us now briefly apply Slavin's definition of research to Maggie McKenna's study on MicroSociety, which she prepared for the organization Burst for Prosperity. Did McKenna's research on the MicroSociety model, as implemented by Burst for Prosperity, hold to the standards of research defined by Slavin?
McKenna's study covered the implementation of the MicroSociety approach in an after-school program from October 2009 to June 2010, plus the summer program. Renway MicroSociety started in the late fall of 2008 and was modified in 2009. There were fifty to sixty elementary and middle school students participating every month, with more than one hundred participating during a year. Around fifty-three percent of the students were African Americans, eighteen percent were White, nine percent were multiracial, and six percent were bi-racial.
To evaluate the program, the researcher obtained information through interviews and questionnaires. McKenna interviewed: (1) the Boys and Girls Club Director and Program Director; (2) youth participants; (3) board members; and (4) community partners. The researcher also used two questionnaires: (1) a MicroSociety questionnaire for younger elementary students; and (2) the regular MicroSociety questionnaire. These interviews and questionnaires basically measured the opinions, understanding, ideas, and attitudes expressed by participants and those in charge of or implementing a MicroSociety.
This study has no control group, as Slavin's definition demands. Although the goals of the program were (1) for students to acquire entrepreneurial skills and capabilities, and (2) to support and complement participants' academic achievement, neither goal included an objective, quantitative measuring tool.
The population—that is, the number of participants—in this study was extremely low: only thirty-two participants filled out the baseline questionnaire. The post assessment received forty respondents: nineteen elementary and twenty-one middle-school students. According to the researcher, more than one hundred students participated in a year, which means the respondent rate was only forty percent. Sixty percent of those who participated were not included in the study.
Based on this very small sample, McKenna concludes that the program saw "positive results from the participants in skill development and an increase in entrepreneurial knowledge." The researcher also noticed a high proportion of students articulating their intent to graduate from high school and to go to college. An increased number of students applied what they had learned in MicroSociety to school work and vice versa. McKenna gives the non-committal, "there might be changes observed," when referring to improvements in attendance and behavior.
Basically, the small-size population, the lack of quantitative instruments to measure academic achievement and entrepreneurial skills, and the absence of a control group negate or at least call into question McKenna's findings. According to Slavin's definition of "rigorous research," this study fails miserably.

Final Remarks:
I reviewed the literature on the MicroSociety model to answer a few very important questions about effectiveness. What is the measurable, direct impact of the MicroSociety approach on academic areas such as language arts, mathematics, and social studies? In terms of direct, measurable academic growth, how effective is the MicroSociety model, independent of all other academic programs? How do other academic programs, independent of the MicroSociety model, positively impact attendance, responsibility, and citizenship? How effective, as measured by test scores and independent of the MicroSociety, are the academic programs?
The literature falls short of answering the above questions. Many studies on comprehensive school reform models done since 2000 only vaguely mention MicroSociety or ignore it altogether. Those who mention MicroSociety, such as Berman et al, Slavin, and the U.S. Department of education, classify it as needing further research.
MicroSociety studies fall short again and again. One study conveniently modified its research design because it didn't have comparable test scores. This made them, Christman et al, unable to assess how MicroSociety impacted academic improvement.
Dunton's study merely offers an uncritical, elaborate account of a MicroSociety. The study also lacks a critical examination of the outside world the MicroSociety pretends to bring into the school. It takes for granted the social order that brings about class, racial, and gender inequalities and injustices.
Some studies were deeply rooted in a capitalist ideology, with researchers, Cassia et al, who seemed to be great believers and defenders of capitalist entrepreneurship. Their purpose was to find ways to develop a capitalist, entrepreneurial spirit in young people. These researchers did not directly engage in firsthand, authentic research on the MicroSociety model; they simply relied on the information provided by others to claim the model's success.
Another study, Cherniss emphasized enhancing or improving the implementation of a MicroSociety. This researcher doesn't even seem to attempt neutrality. Instead of providing an independent evaluation of the MicroSociety, all efforts went into enriching implementation of the MicroSociety model.
I agree with Slavin's assertion that some reform models lack extensive scientific evaluative evidence. He developed a definition of scientific standards to evaluate studies on comprehensive school reform models. A simple application of Slavin's standards reveals the failure of most studies done on the MicroSociety model. The MicroSociety model still urgently needs more rigorous research, independent of all financial ties to MicroSociety Inc., without unnecessary constraints, and by third-party researchers. Furthermore, this type of scientific research should not adopt an uncritical vision of the larger society and of the MicroSociety model. Can we critically examine the effectiveness of any educational approach without being well-grounded in a critical conception of our political-economic system? Are we going to educate or indoctrinate children?

Eagleton, Terry. Why Marx Was Right, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011.
Edmonds, Ronald R. (ed.) Effective Schools and School Improvement, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1989.
Ibid., 2
Ibid., 2
Ibid., 2
Ibid., 9
Ibid., 9
Tomas, M. Donald and Bainbridge, William R. "The contamination of the effective school movement," School Administrators 58 (3): 55-59, March 2001.
Ibid., 1
Dantley, Michael E. "The ineffectiveness of effective schools leadership: An analysis of the effective schools movement from a critical perspective. Journal of Negro Education, 59(4): p585-98, fall, 1990. 585.
Richmond, George. The MicroSociety School: A Real World in Miniature, New York: Harper and Row Publishers. 1973.
Ibid., 15
Ibid., 23
Ibid., 26
Ibid., 61
Ibid., 61
DiFazio, William. Ordinary Poverty: A little food and cold storage, Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 2006. 134.
Borman, Geoffrey D.; Hewes, Gina W.; Overman, Laura, T.; and Brown, Shelley: "Comprehensive school reform and achievement: A meta-analysis," Review of Educational Research, 73(2): 125-230, summer, 2003.
Kutzik, D. M. "MicroSociety Program: Impact on standardized test performance." (Not published), Drexel University. 1998.
MicroSociety. "1998-1999 Blue Ribbon School Program: Sageland Elementary MicroSociety School. (Report not published). 1999.
"2000-200 Blue Ribbon School Program: Davidson Elementary MicroSociety School." (Report not published). 2001.
Borman, Geoffrey D et al. "Comprehensive school reform and achievement: A meta-analysis," p. 162.
Slavin, Robert E. Comprehensive School Reform. Washington D. C.: Institute of Educational Science. 2007.
Comprehensive School Reform Quality Center: CRSQ Center Report on Middle and High School Comprehensive School Reform Model. Washington D.C.: American Institute for Research, 2006a and 2002b.
U.S. Department of Education: "Evaluation of the Comprehensive School Reform Program Implementation and Outcomes, Third Year Report," Washington D.C.: Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development and Policy Program Studies. 2008.
Christman, Jolley Bruce; Godwasser, Mathew; and Kutzik, David.: "Capitalizing on MicroSociety: How students profit from real-world learning," Philadelphia: Research for Action. 2003.
Ibid., 5
Ibid., 5
Ibid., 6
Ibid., 7
Pearson, Sarah S. "Finding Common Ground: Service-Learning and Education Reform: Survey of 28 Leading School Reform Models." (Washington D.C.: American Youth Policy Forum. 2002): 2.
Dunton, Sheryl. "Building a MicroSociety," Educational Leadership: 63(8):56-60, 2006: 56.
Ibid., 57
Ibid., 60
Cassia, Lucio; Minola, Tommaso; and Criaco, Guisppe.: "Youth entrepreneurship: Proposal of an assessment scheme for policy initiatives," Washington D.C.: International Council for Small Business: 2011.
Ibid., 2
Ibid., 20
Ibid., 5
Ibid., 24
Ibid., 17
Cherniss, Cary and Fishman, Daniel B.: "The Mesquite ‘MicroSociety' school: Identifying organizational factors that facilitate successful adoption of an innovative program," Evaluation and Program Planning. 27:79-88. 2004.
Ibid., 82
Ibid., 83
Ibid., 83
Ibid., 86
Ibid., 87
Slavin, Robert E. "Evidence-Based Reform: Advancing the education of students at risk," (Washington D.C.: Center for American Progress and Institute for America's Culture. 2005): 1.
Ibid., 1
Ibid., 4
Ibid., 7-8
Ibid., 22
McKenna, Magie. "Renway MicroSociety Evaluation Report: After school and summer program conducted by the Rento/Skyway Boys and Girls Club." (Washington State: Burst for Prosperity. 2010).
Ibid., 5
Ibid., 36

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