Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | November 20, 2012

Schools as Business

     A letter in the Wall Street Journal the other day got me thinking.  It was in response to an op-ed piece making the point that Public Schools ought to be run more like businesses.  The letter writer took the challenge.  She said, okay;  if a school is a business, it has top-level executives, whom she identified as administrators.  Then the managers would be the teachers, and the students the workers.  Having set up the trope, she posed questions such as, how successful would a business be if it increased the workers any given manager was supervising from 25 to 35 or 40 or more?  How successful would a business be if it didn’t reward its managers with adequate compensation and benefits?  Or how about if it required its managers to work with fewer resources and support?  If it required its managers to provide out of their own pockets the material their workers need to do their jobs?

     Okay, yes, I got it.  The answer for each question posed was the same:  not very successful at all.

     I took her point for what it was worth, only it would have been worth much more were there a real world equivalency between business and education.  What militates against the equivalency is the purpose of business: to make money;  while the purpose of education is, well, education.  I suppose the letter writer would argue that what education produces is educated citizens, but then we’d need to identify who or what the consumer for that product might be, and how much might the education industry expect such a consumer to pay for an educated citizen. 

Part of the data states require from each public school system is in effect an annual price tag for each student.  According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, per pupil expenditure in Connecticut for 2009 was $13,959.  Let’s round that up to $14,000 and say then that the cost to educate a high school student from 2009 to 2012 was $56,000.  Add four years of college for another $100,000.  So the price tag on the product education is selling – adding fairly modest amounts for text books, commuting, or rooming and boarding costs – is on the order of $200,000.  Who or what is going to pony up that for each young man or woman who our colleges and universities graduate each year?  According to CBS News, in 2010, 5.9 million people were awarded post-secondary degrees.  Say that 2.9 million where either foreign students or post-graduate students.  Then the cost to the as yet unidentified consumers of the newly minted and educated citizens for one year would be six trillion dollars.

     If you would argue that Public Education should be run like successful businesses, you must also be willing to see the end result as the artifacts those businesses are producing.  As the paragraph above makes clear, however, the notion is preposterous.  Still, suggesting there are practices that successful businesses follow which could be incorporated into Public Education is worth considering, but in that regard, simplicity is best.  How about this?  What doesn’t work needs fixing;  what does work needs to be left alone.


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