Education as a Business?

Our lunch bunch–self-monikered as the Joint Chiefs–discussed the failings of those who wish to run education as a business enterprise. Not one member of the Joint Chiefs believed education could be run as business, but we all acknowledged that our state’s and nation’s leaders believe this is the way to go.

Today I read an editorial that summed up one of my favorite reasons why the process of making education a business is not even being run as such from the beginning, a sad hypocrisy in itself. What business improves by firing all of the workers? In a Politico editorial by Representative Judy Chu, she writes that:

How often do U.S. enterprises — public, private or nonprofit — try to fix performance issues by firing all their staff and replacing them with new, inexperienced workers? Or by closing up shop and shelving the dreams of their owners, employees or shareholders?

That is not a recipe for business success — and it shouldn’t be for our nation’s schools.

Yet this is what current school reform proposals call for. This is the folly of continuing down No Child Left Behind’s punitive, overly prescriptive path to education reform.

This starting point in education destruction reform is a failed practice and an illogical one at that. Even though reward is a more effective incentive than punishment, the entire system is beginning with the ultimate punishment–the firing of teachers–rather than creating incentives for improvement or continued success. I posted about this event, the Rhode Island firings, previously.

I could easily discuss the illogical notion that teachers are solely responsible for students’ education but the easiest to hold accountable, but you’ve heard all of that before.

However, I’d like to switch gears to an idea that I believe is often given short-shrift: creating a system based on a business model guarantees winners and, more importantly, losers. While reading John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath a number of my students latched onto the idea that the economic system we use creates winners; of course, the system must have losers if there are winners. Most of my students then decided that any system that guarantees winners must also take care of the those who lose.

Relate this to education. If the system guarantees that some schools win (get extra resources, remain open, draw the best students, etc.), then other schools must be losing. This is where I feel the business model self-destructs. The oft-repeated statistic that 50% of all business fail in the first year cannot be allowed to be true of education.

Warning: Didactic Moment Ahead!

I don’t like how coercion is now being employed in schools, how culture change is attempted outside of the classroom, how poor leadership is allowed to flourish, or how teachers are asked to do less to bring up the numbers.

If you are not actively involved in changing the culture of your school or district, now is the time. If you do not like what is happening nationally or at the state level, write, call, and e-mail your representatives. Repeatedly. And then again. Educate them.

No matter how you do it, keep in mind that education is not a business and should not be run as one. It’s a system that guarantees failure and creates a competitive rather than collaborative environment. Those not in education don’t get this and need to know it.

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