Monday, June 25, 2012

Why Business Leaders Make a Mess When They Are Put In Charge of Schools- A Personal Reflection

Every time I have a conversation with someone who has been successful in business- something that happens more than you might think because of the sports I play, tennis and golf- it strikes me they have no understanding of what motivates a teacher. As people who have marked their own success in life through the accumulation of income, investments and property, they find it hard to respect people whose personal satisfaction comes largely through non-material rewards. They think it odd that a person as competitive as I am on the court could possibly devote myself to a field which has no chance of making me rich and look on most teachers and professors with a bemused contempt that I only get an exemption from because of my sports skills. This is why it is frightening that business leaders have taken charge of education in the United States. Because the only things they take seriously as motivation are material rewards and fear of losing one's job or business they are convinced that schools in the US can only be improved a business style reward and punishment system is given primacy. They love the idea of performance evaluation based on hard data ( with student test scores being the equivalent of sales figures and/or profits), of merit increments for those who succeed, and removal of those who fail. However, because they fail to understand how much of a teachers job satisfaction comes from relationship building and watching students develop over a lifetime, they create systems of evaluation which totally eliminate such experiences because they cannot be reliably measured. The result, sad to say, is that measurement trumps real learning. The inevitable results are massive demoralization of the teaching force,(teacher morale is now at the lowest in recorded history),a narrowing of the curriculum to constant test preparation, and a "brain drain" of talented teachers from high poverty schools to those located in more prosperous neighborhoods Why we actually allowed people who are successful in one field to be given control of a field in which they have no experience and no track record is a question historians of the future will need to ponder, but the results, so far, have been near catastrophic. All across the country, we have more and more teachers who hate their jobs because their job security has been destroyed, and more and more children who hate school because of the constant testing It's time to change course.The Great Recession should have shattered once and for all the idea that the measurement and motivation systems of American business are superior to those in the public sector ( eg Do we want the same quality of teacher ratings as Moody's and Standard and Poors applied to mortgage based derivatives?) American business needs to clean up its own act, not applied its flawed methods to other fields. If we continue on the path we are on, we may well see the American Education system become as corrupt, and unstable as the Global Financial System.


Ilyse Kazar said...

thanks for expressing this key point.

I wrote up some thoughts on this just the other day and posted them this a.m. at

The goal is not to foster original thinking; if anything, the goal seems to be to stamp it out. And the intent of the educational model that still forms the foundation of public education was never to build a sense of the power of individuals and communities; it is to develop a class of workers and consumers whose skill-set, manipulability and sense of their own place in the scheme of things will benefit the profiteers. Institutionalized public education cares not about teaching people how to think, it instead tells them what to think; and cares not about what passions and talents are native to individual learners, but instead draws a box around what a student is expected, and allowed, to know.

Mr. Cantor said...

So many education "reform" groups are made up of hedge fund managers, investment bankers and real estate developers. It's interesting that Chicago's appointed school board is made up of people with the same business background. Even our mayor who is single-handedly in charge of education policy in Chicago was an investment banker.

Please watch & share this 2 min video that we made to respond to a 200K ad buy by DFER, an "edreform" group run by investment bankers.