If Only Schools Were More Like Businesses

Every once in awhile, it’s important to inflict pain on yourself. Builds character. Run a marathon. Fast for a day. Do your taxes. Watch a Wayne LaPierre press conference. Or most painful of all, listen to politicians and business people talk about what we need to do to reform education in the United States.

Their message—breakdown the government monopoly on schools by infusing them with business principles. Most importantly, competition. Between teachers, schools, and districts. Highest standardized test scores win. Their unquestioned premise is that the business community has its shit together. The pro-business propaganda is so steady we start to believe it.

Yeah, if only schools were more like businesses.

Lots of schools would close every year. But I guess we could just tell the affected families that “creative destruction” is just a natural, even healthy part of the business cycle. They’ll understand. Yeah, if only schools were more like businesses.

And teachers would start relating to students the way my local bankers and insurance agents routinely do, from behind websites, and sometimes via the telephone. Last week I received birthday cards from my bank and my insurance agent. I recycled both cards without opening them. No one at my bank or insurance agency would know me if I walked into their offices. We have no personal relationship, only an economic one. The best teachers know their students individually, and something about their families, their interests, their hopes for the future. But maybe all that effort to connect with students is misguided. Maybe teachers should be more like my banker and insurance agent. Just design some websites where students can get assignments and submit their work and mail out computer generated birthday cards once a year. Yeah, if only schools were more like businesses.

And every school would ace every state assessment whatever the form. Because that’s the way my car dealership works. When I take my car in, I’m told they have to get perfect scores on the evaluation they mail to me afterwards. Heaven for bid if they get any “9’s”. It seems like gaming the system to me, but I guess it’s just an advanced form of assessment thinking, everyone getting perfect scores all the time. Yeah, if only schools were more like businesses.

Most importantly, the best thing about business people is they’re always accountable for their performance. Regular performance reviews ensure it. That’s what teachers need most of all, more business-like accountability! Or maybe not. Here’s Nassim Taleb blowing that fallacy apart:

Those who have the upside are not necessarily those who incur the downside. For example, bankers and corporate managers get bonuses for “performance,” but not reverse bonuses for negative performance, and they have an incentive to bury risks in the tails of the distribution – in other words, to delay blowups.

Read the history of Wall Street from 2007-2008 for sordid example after example. Five years later, in the U.S., there’s a sure-fire way for business people to avoid accountability. Climb the corporate ladder as high as possible. Yeah, if only schools were more like businesses.

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4 thoughts on “If Only Schools Were More Like Businesses

  1. Hmmm. You seem to detest business people, who happen to have improved humans’ quality of life more than most other groups in human history. Maybe you could try surviving without businesses? Just reflect on that one for a while.

    Anyway – seriously? “The best teachers know their students individually, and something about their families, their interests, their hopes for the future.” Whatever happened to the best teachers being the smartest, the most proven, the most intelligent? When did being a kid’s friend become being a great teacher? I think I’d feel much safer with unfriendly but competent teachers than the opposite. In fact, I wonder if your attitude helps explain the horrible failure of the public school system to educate anyone properly. If you haven’t read young children’s “writing” lately, please take a few moments to read the content of some average Twitter users to witness their complete lack of even the most rudimentary academic knowledge. We’re raising idiots, and our school system is partly to blame.

    Yes, thank goodness bad schools would close. It would be a welcome relief from bad schools continuing to receive money for being failures to children.

    By the way, I can’t speak for you, but I’m childless by choice. I did not sign up to be paying for children’s education. I opted out. If more people made this decision (i.e. used their head before they had kids), perhaps this debate would be quite different.

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