The Business of Education

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By the time you read this, President Obama will have given his jobs speech to a joint session of Congress. I hope that his jobs plan includes funds to hire more teachers. I have to admit that I do not like thinking of schools in these terms, but today the profitability of schools appears to be just as important to everyone as the profitability of businesses. The only way I can hope to get a job is if legislators and other stakeholders come to understand that larger class sizes and teachers who cannot give equitable attention to their students will not benefit students, parents, teachers, or the rest of the country. Currently, the education business has received more attention in terms of how to streamline, stay lean, and raise test scores to prove that the aforementioned tactics are working.

I remember the dismay I felt when the top employee of the school district in which I grew up changed from a superintendent to a CEO. The district then became a division of a large educational corporation. People spoke of students’ performance in quality-control terms, and test scores became education’s equivalent to a return on investment. I wondered how long before they would figure out the gross profit percentage for each investment in a student. It would not be surprising if they have those figures handy now.

The problem with running education as a business is that businesses promote their most profitable products and people, invest the most in their most profitable products and people, and abandon projects and people that are not making them money.  Apply that metaphor to the education system today.  I don’t think that I need to say anymore for you to understand that running education as a business benefits only a chosen few, leaving so many others behind.  Jonathan Kozol illustrated the dire consequences of such an approach in his books Savage Inequalities and The Shame of the Nation, both of which illustrated for their readers how many students, teachers, and schools have been left behind, abandoned.  In both books, those who received the most needed it the least and vice versa.  While this seems to work for most businesses, this model fails miserably when applied to the public school systems in this country.  Frankly, it should be the other way around.  I am not saying we should “throw money” at anything.  I’m saying we should use our money intelligently and fairly.  Some districts around here need federal, state, and private funds more than others, but never seem to receive their fair share.  They have been, I say again, abandoned.

As I contemplate what President Obama is going to say tomorrow night and I dread the reports of the Tea Party debate tonight (I’m certainly not going to watch it), I pray that someone will see that the changes made in many school districts in this country are wrong.  I know there are many others out there who feel the same way.  Turn around the trend toward larger classes and bring in more teachers!  Invest in schools that need repair!  Provide technology to those schools that need it!  Make sure they have current textbooks that are not falling apart and have enough for each student!  Most importantly, make sure that each child’s physical needs for food, shelter, and clothing have been met.  It is atrocious that in this country so many children go to school each day hungry or have a myriad of other issues.  It can be avoided.  Hell, it can be stopped!

If schools (the staff, the administration, the community stakeholders) are supposed to model good citizenship, why are we plagued with such problems?


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