From Donna Garner -- 6.18.09 -- My experiences with the Delphi Technique:

[Friends, you might find my article interesting. Some of you have been discussing the Delphi Technique lately because Organizing for America in its facilitating of the healthcare meetings around the country has been utilizing the Delphi Technique. The RAND Corporation actually developed it in the late 1960's -- -- to provide a model in which a "group of experts could come to some consensus of opinion when the decisive factors were subjective and not knowledge-based."

This technique was used in Texas in the early-to-mid 1990's to produce the Texas standards (TEKS) in every subject area. Thankfully the State Board of Education adopted new English / Language Arts / Reading TEKS in May 2008 and new Science TEKS recently. [Since I wrote these comments in 2009, new Social Studies and Math TEKS have also been adopted by the SBOE.]

A new day came to Texas when Gov. Perry appointed Commissioner of Education, Robert Scott. He is a fine man and has set a new tone for the TEA. Most of the TEA staffers who participated in the Delphi Technique back in the mid-90's are no longer employed at the Agency; however, during the hostile debates that occurred with the adoption of the new English / Language Arts / Reading TEKS in May 2008, I learned that some of the same Delphiers from the mid-90's were poisoning the public against the good work of the conservative SBOE members and myself. This is why there was such instant vitriol that erupted when the Substitute Amendment (i.e., TAD) was brought forth for consideration at the February 2008 SBOE meeting. These TEKS Delphiers are still around, and I have an idea that some of them have influence that reaches into the Texas Freedom Network, the Austin American Statesman, and the Texas Legislature. -- Donna Garner]

"The Delphi Technique in Texas"

by Donna Garner

December 13, 2004

When the Texas Education Agency orchestrated the writing of the public school curriculum standards (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills -- TEKS -- adopted in July 1997), the Delphi Technique was used on the writing team members. I, as one of the writing team members for the English / Language Arts / Reading (ELAR) standards, experienced the Delphi Technique up-close-and-personal.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff was trained in the Delphi Technique by the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) -- Marc Tucker, Hillary Clinton, Ira Magaziner, Gov. Cuomo -- at a price tag of $1.5M. The Texas State Board of Education never approved the large expenditure by the TEA to NCEE.

A professional consensus-builder from Washington, D. C. was hired to manipulate our English / Language Arts / Reading writing team. Representatives from the Chief State School Officers were brought in to our meetings, plus there were other various and sundry individuals at every table -- to the right of us, to the left of us, all around us. We never really knew who these people were, but they would hardly let us go to the bathroom by ourselves.

The "lightning rods" (such as myself) were immediately located, and we were put through various psychological strategies. First, the facilitators tried appealing to our egos. When that didn't work, they tried peer pressure. Then we were labeled as "the bad guys" and were treated with disdain and downright antipathy. Soon the other writing team members didn't want to be around us because we were considered the troublemakers.

By the way, who were the other writing team members? They had been carefully chosen from the TEA's favorite organizations who held the same educational philosophies as the TEA staff: whole language, holistic scoring, inventive spelling, no grammar instruction, constructivist/performance-based/subjectively assessed curriculum.

At my first meeting, I counted 7 out of approximately 45 people who were current classroom teachers, and the parent representatives could have been counted on one hand. The rest of the members were reading coordinators, curriculum directors, bilingual coordinators, special education directors, and various other non-classroom educator types.

The interesting thing was that most of the other writing team members all knew each other and knew the TEA staff. Supposedly the TEA chose the members based upon their applications. Strangely enough, only certain professional organizations had been notified of the application process for writing team members. At that time, there was one conservative professional organization in Texas (ATPE), and it was completely left out of the loop undoubtedly to make sure that none of its more traditional educators applied for the writing teams.

Obviously, the whole agenda was stacked from the very beginning and was done so with careful intent on the part of the Texas Education Agency et al. (It was a miracle that I was placed on the writing team because I certainly did not fit the TEA's prototype. The reason several of us were added to the writing team is a long story that basically evolved because I managed to get an important political figure to take my concerns over the "stacked" writing teams seriously.)

What did I do to break out of the Delphi? I tried to work very judiciously with the other members, only disagreeing on those issues about which I felt strongly. Next, I refused to be sidetracked whenever I asked a question. I insisted on going back to my original question whenever the facilitator tried to Delphi me.

At the first meeting, I was very forthright and announced that I wanted quite badly to work in concert with the other members but that I would reserve the right to vote my convictions. I said that if that right were taken from me, I would then be forced to submit an alternative document and/or to contact the news media about my concerns. I also stated that since the TEKS writing teams were funded out of Goals 2000 and other public funding that I would insist on following the Open Meetings Act and make our deliberations known to the public.

I said that there was an epidemic in our schools -- children could not read. We needed to do what doctors do when an epidemic occurs. They study the research, set up a protocol, go back to their local settings and implement the protocol, and then come back later and share their results. I said our ELAR team needed to do the same thing, beginning with studying the latest reading research.

I made sure that I attended every social occasion that the writing team members had outside our formal meetings. I deliberately sought out people who had similar concerns to mine, and we managed to build a small but effective coalition. We enlisted help from outside education experts and utilized their expertise. (Some of the most well-known education experts in our country today willingly and graciously offered their help because they knew the importance of writing quality standards.)

I asked the TEA staff if I could deliver an oral report on a piece of outstanding reading research which I had obtained from California; I was denied the opportunity. I ran off the research and passed it out to the writing team members anyway. I kept telling the members about the NIH reading research under Dr. Reid Lyon and kept referring members to Marilyn Jagger Adams' book.

All of us in our little coalition tried to offer positive suggestions, and we tried to work cooperatively with the other members. Unfortunately, a few in our little coalition gave up because of the peer pressure which was very uncomfortable. It was no fun being lied about for the two years it took for the TEKS process to be finalized.

Almost all of us in our little coalition were classroom teachers. We didn't have secretaries and other resources to step in whenever we needed to work on the TEKS project. We taught all day and then performed our TEKS duties after hours.

When TEKS meetings were scheduled by the TEA, we classroom teachers had the added pressure of getting our classes ready for a substitute teacher; and when we got back from the meetings, we had discipline problems to handle and additional papers to grade.

For two years, this process went on; and our little coalition had little-to-no support from administrators. I found out later that our own administrators were communicating behind our backs with people at the TEA. I was given the worst teaching assignments, the worst students, the least disciplinary support from the office, and on and on. We certainly were never validated by our local administrators even though what we were doing was to impact the future of every public school student and every public school educator for the next ten years in Texas.

One positive step which I took was to provide writing team members with the Virginia standards which were far superior to the sample standards our team was given by the Texas Education Agency. The Virginia standards were based upon academic, knowledge-based elements which could be objectively tested. The state standards which the TEA provided our writing team were examples of grade-cluster, constructivist, performance-based, subjectively assessed elements; and, unfortunately, this is the style in which the final Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills document was written.

Those of us in our little coalition who did not give up eventually submitted an alternative document -- the Texas Alternative Document for English / Language Arts / Reading -- because in all good conscience, we could not endorse the miserable TEKS standards. We TAD writers had the help of many wonderful people who contributed to our document, and we gave credit to them in our document whenever possible.

The end result was that the TEKS vs. TAD controversy became too politically hot to touch by those running for higher office, and the TEA-produced TEKS became the law in Texas for ten years. The TAKS tests were later written to align with the TEKS.

Donna Garner

And here's another piece of good advice from Michael Dullea:

I believe the most powerful strategy of Delphi is the break down into groups. During the early process when folks speak out revealing their positions, such is noted by the facilitator. Those identified as not supportive are put into groups where they will be outnumbered and outvoted. When the groups reconvene to present their vote, the majority of each group supports the Delphi agenda, having neutralized resistance by the wise placement of the trouble makers across the groups therefore each group leader reporting support for the Delphi leader's agenda. In other words if 49% of the trouble makers are wisely dispersed the final vote shows 100% support not 51%.

My suggestion is to plea for no group break outs and not deprive most participants of wisdom and critical thinking that will be shared in other groups the majority will never hear.