Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The business of education?

Ever since I left ‘big business” and started working in education, I have thought about how to apply efficiencies of a business environment top help make ‘the business of education’ more effective. When I started teaching, I was advised to ‘put my patience hat on’ and not make waves. It was so frustrating to see that decisions made based on what has always been done or not done. Rather than find all the reasons why we can’t do something (RtI, CCSS, implement new technologies, etc.) I prefer to figure out how we can do it.

A lot of that attitude comes from a business background. I believe my background and experience make me a better teacher than I would have been without it. Notice I did NOT say I am a better teacher than anyone without the experiences, just that I am a better teacher because of it. The work and travel that I did have given me a perspective of skills needed beyond education. Yes, you can get through a day without knowing how to diagram a sentence! I can communicate with parents in a language they understand and I am open to improving my practice by learning new ways to do things, and using latest technologies. I have actually heard teachers say, “why do I have to do to this training, I am already a good teacher?”
In what other world can a worker say, I know enough, I don’t need any more training on new products or ideas? I am always learning.

Of particular interest to me when looking at how to apply business acumen to the field of education is how to fairly evaluate and compensate teachers. As a new teacher, I regularly have been re-assigned or even laid off in favor of teachers with more years of teaching experience. Merit didn’t matter, time did. There has to be a better way. I have read what I can on the subject, looked at proposals from the ‘experts’ and still nothing rings true. If we were creating widgets, sure, you could say I get paid on the quality and quantity of widgets I produce. But we are teaching children. They come to us with their lifetime of experiences, abilities and knowledge, and hopefully they leave us, 9 months later, with more. But if Johnny didn’t learn ¾ or a year of knowledge from me, can we say for sure it was because I was not a good teacher? Of course not.

One idea from business might work - a 360 review. In business, I received evaluations from my boss, my peers, my employees and my customers. All of those inputs were considered in determining my compensation. We did not all work the same and we were not all compensated the same.

Anthony Cody writes in Education Week’s blog, “The Nine Most Terrifying Words in the English Language: "I'm From Big Business, and I'm Here to Help"

There are two overriding problems with the help our business buddies want to offer us. The first is their primary motivation tends to be whatever will benefit their bottom line, not what will help our students. So they are willing to market solutions that are not truly helpful. They want an ever larger share of the education dollar, so they have, in effect, put the various moneymaking ventures in competition with classroom teachers for scarce resources.

The second is that the policies they advocate place education in a highly competitive framework, as is demanded by their market-based paradigm. This drives us towards the overuse of test scores as a means of measuring performance, so that we can determine winners and losers...Students who do not test well should not be liabilities to their schools or teachers...The market system demands winners and losers, and the biggest losers of all are the students who find themselves left behind in schools that are unprofitable, or because they are more difficult to educate, and thus are liabilities to whatever schools they enroll in.

There is no simple, pat answer to how big business can help education. Educators can stop waiting for someone to save them and we can continue to do what we have always done (and this one I agree with)…do what is best for our students!

How funny - this was just posted to CTA's facebook page today

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