Education as a Business Model
This is a speech which began it
s rounds at the Education Forum in Arlington.
For the last 40 years or so, there has been an ongoing philosophy of treating public education as a business model. This began with the advent of standardized testing, brought about by H. Ross Perot…who made a tidy profit by bringing it in. The claim of a business model is that competition makes for a better product. I’d like to spend a little time exploring that concept and how it devalues children. You see, when you look at a child as a product, you give that child a set market value. There is a certain amount of worth to that child, and no more. How do you feel about your own child? Is there a limit of money or resources that you would not spend to better your child? When put into personal terms, looking at a child as a thing with fixed value and a propensity for profit is offensive. Should your child be placed into a box as a resource, or should your child be nurtured to grow? There is another fallacy in using a business model. The analogy varies according to the teller, but basically, what is says is this: if I own a company making widgets, in my business model, I have to purchase raw resources, put them through a manufacturing process to create my product, then market that product. Using the business model that competition makes the market stronger, I know this…that if my supplier of raw resources provides me with a poor quality supply…say, shop grade lumber instead of the A grade which I require, I can refuse to accept that shipment and move to another supplier. Children are the raw element. If we follow the business model, I, then, should be able to tell anyone who attempts to supply me with a defective raw resource...say a child with a learning disability, a child with a behavior problem, a child with a physical defect…then I should be able to reject that child as defective and not put them through the manufacturing process of education. I cannot think of an idea more repugnant, more un-American than that. This is the model that politicians, businessmen, and others who do not understand education attempt to equate public education to. The model is wrong. It creates high stakes testing which is used in a way for which it was never intended. It takes the fun out of both teaching and learning, and forces teachers to skim the surface of their subject matter rather than spending time examining things in-depth. It treats children as data points. We have one grade level in our schools which is not a number. Kindergarten. This is actually a German word which means, literally, “Garden of children.” I would argue that education is more akin to a garden than a business model. A garden cannot be put on a set schedule. Fruits and vegetables grow on their own calendar, not ours. A garden cannot be completely put on a routine. I can water a garden at a set time every day, but if I continue watering and weeding, yet miss the fact that pests have invaded my garden and address that, I will lose the harvest. You cannot simply plant a garden in the soil and expect all plants to grow equally. Some plants will need fertilize or ph adjustments to thrive in the very same soil in which other plants thrive. Schools are akin to gardens. You can attempt to have routines, but each child has unique needs which must be met in an identical environment with others. Outside situations can act as pests to a child, and they must be dealt with to help the student learn. Finally, while every child can learn, every child does not learn the same way, or at the same rate. They will grow at the pace for which they were designed. Regrettably, we now live in a time when school shootings are a matter of fact. We see the story over and over again, and we comment that it didn’t used to be this way. “Every truck in our parking lot had a rifle and a shotgun in it, and no one did this!” I would ask you, then, what changed? There are many factors which go into the creation of a school shooter, but I would argue that one factor is a system which treats children as a data point and not as children. We cannot dehumanize people, then act surprised when they act in an inhuman way. Think of this…when my generation was in school, we, as all teenagers do, searched for our personal identity. I was a very average student, so my self-identity and self-worth was not determined through academics. I was a scrub athlete, but I loved sports, and I was very good at acting. I identified with those roles, not academics. In fact, if it had not been for theatre, there is a very good chance I would have dropped out of school, as we moved to a new district my freshman year, and I did not fit in at my new school at all. Our current system does not allow children to identify their self-value like this. In fact, it expressly says that you may be an outstanding athlete, actor, musician, artist, computer programmer, mechanic, or something else, but if you cannot pass an academic test, you and your teachers are failures. Nothing else matters. Those who can pass the test are “College and Career Ready” and will be productive citizens. The rest of you are a weight on society. How, exactly, are we surprised, then, when a student cannot take the pressure and breaks? We create our own monsters, and we must stand up and hold our legislature accountable to what they have done to our children. Even the current privatization movement shows once more that they are more concerned with money than our children. They wish to create tax-financed white flight from public schools rather than fix the problems that we have because they do not understand, nor do they wish to understand, that their entire model is a leading cause of the financial, academic, social, and psychological problems faced by schools today. You must become active. You must stop listening to sound bites and start working at research. When a politician says he wants to give a $10,000 raise to teachers, that sounds very nice, but do your due diligence by doing the math and asking questions. A $10,000 raise has a $4 billion dollar price tag. What is his plan to raise that many tax dollars? When a politician gives your school an F, go take a look at what is really going on in that building. Do you see failure, or do you see students growing in many ways, most of which cannot be measured? Stop accepting things at face value and be the thinking individual you were educated to be. Most of all, you must vote for people who will have no agenda with public education other than doing what is best for kids. Do your research. As to education, we are trying to make research easy, as Texans for Public Education researches and documents everything we can in regards to a candidate’s stance on public education. All you have to do is go to our website at www.texansforpubliceducation.com to see voting records, campaign platforms, media statements, and anything else we can find. Thank you for coming today. God bless you for caring enough to come to an education forum, and God bless the great state of Texas.