Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Irony of Business Intervention in Education

One of the most noticeable trends in education over the past 5-10 years or so has been the increasing role of business-think in schools. People from the business world have become involved in schools and education policy in a myriad of ways: from businessman superintendents (e.g. in NYC and Pittsburgh) to for-profit schools to supplemental educational services to accountability to performance pay, school choice, and many others. As with any trend in governance, the business perspective has brought both good and bad to education.

As a crass generalization, people who argue that schools should be run more like businesses tend to also argue that schools are wasteful and inefficient, that the market should play a larger role in education, and that success and failure can be measured.

The irony is that if schools were run just like the private sector, the changes would infuriate many proponents of business-think. More specifically, think about spending patterns.

Think of the differences between walking into, say, a law firm vs. walking into a typical public school. Which one has a ridiculously expensive conference table? Which one pays for employees to stay in upscale hotels and eat fancy meals? Which one gives employees expense accounts?

It's widely expected that schools (and pretty much all public organizations, for that matter) are supposed to forgo luxury items, make do with second-hand goods, and generally sacrifice and cut corners at every turn. And that's fine in a lot of ways, but it's something that businesspeople tend to forget. If schools were run more like businesses, I find it hard to believe they'd be any more thrifty. If schools were truly run like businesses I think a lot of current critics would be red-faced with anger over their wasted tax dollars. In short: be careful what you wish for.

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