Like a Business? What Kind of Business?

Posted: 2011/03/02 in Classroom Teacher, Education, Education Reform

Most high school students take four years of math but never see a checkbook or learn to keep records of a checking account. They learn sentence structure but never learn to write a succinct office memo. And where’s the class to teach teens how to leave a phone message for a job interview?

Start with any list of what employers look for in employees. Then compare that with a list of everything students learn when preparing for standardized tests. Not much matches up.

But never mind the students. When businesses and politicians complain that education should be run like a business, they’re talking about the way schools operate, how they’re managed.

But what’s the business model? What business serves the function of a public school? What business has the mission of a public school? (No, the answer is not a private school. Public schools have legal obligations to serve all young people.)

I recently received an email with “The Blueberry Story.” A successful businessman, producer of “the best ice cream in America,” lectured an audience of educators about how schools ought to be more like business. He was challenged by an older teacher who asked what he would do if his ice cream factory received a shipment of damaged blueberries. “I would send them back,” the businessman confidently said.

The reply to the businessman was obvious: Public schools must accept and teach every student. We can’t send back the damaged ones. If schools were only required to teach the “premium” students, the ones prepared to study, eager and confident, who already learned good citizenship in stable secure homes, what a smooth business model we could operate then.

Here’s the business model I came up with: A Broken Toy Repair Shop — a shop that isn’t allowed to toss out any of the toys; a business that will be judged on how well these toys turn out, no matter how damaged they were when they came in the door. Show me how to make that business successful and then maybe we’re on to something.


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