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Topic: Teaching Is Not a Business
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
Teaching Is Not a Business
Posted: Aug 17, 2014 6:50 PM
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From The New York Times / Sunday Review, Sunday, August 17, 2014.

Teaching Is Not a Business

By David L. Kirpaug

TODAY'S education reformers believe that schools are broken and that
business can supply the remedy. Some place their faith in the idea of
competition. Others embrace disruptive innovation, mainly through
online learning. Both camps share the belief that the solution
resides in the impersonal, whether it's the invisible hand of the
market or the transformative power of technology.

Neither strategy has lived up to its hype, and with good reason. It's
impossible to improve education by doing an end run around inherently
complicated and messy human relationships. All youngsters need to
believe that they have a stake in the future, a goal worth striving
for, if they're going to make it in school. They need a champion,
someone who believes in them, and that's where teachers enter the
picture. The most effective approaches foster bonds of caring between
teachers and their students.

Marketplace mantras dominate policy discussions. High-stakes reading
and math tests are treated as the single metric of success, the
counterpart to the business bottom line. Teachers whose students do
poorly on those tests get pink slips, while those whose students
excel receive merit pay, much as businesses pay bonuses to their star
performers and fire the laggards. Just as companies shut stores that
aren't meeting their sales quotas, opening new ones in more promising
territory, failing schools are closed and so-called turnaround model
schools, with new teachers and administrators, take their place.

This approach might sound plausible in a think tank, but in practice
it has been a flop. Firing teachers, rather than giving them the
coaching they need, undermines morale. In some cases it may well
discourage undergraduates from pursuing careers in teaching, and with
a looming teacher shortage as baby boomers retire, that's a recipe
for disaster. Merit pay invites rivalries among teachers, when what's
needed is collaboration. Closing schools treats everyone there as
guilty of causing low test scores, ignoring the difficult lives of
the children in these schools - "no excuses," say the reformers, as
if poverty were an excuse.

Charter schools have been promoted as improving education by creating
competition. But charter students do about the same, over all, as
their public school counterparts, and the worst charters, like the
online K-12 schools that have proliferated in several states, don't
deserve to be called schools. Vouchers are also supposed to increase
competition by giving parents direct say over the schools their
children attend, but the students haven't benefited. For the past
generation, Milwaukee has run a voucher experiment, with much-debated
outcomes that to me show no real academic improvement.

While these reformers talk a lot about markets and competition, the
essence of a good education - bringing together talented teachers,
engaged students and a challenging curriculum - goes undiscussed.

Business does have something to teach educators, but it's neither the
saving power of competition nor flashy ideas like disruptive
innovation. Instead, what works are time-tested strategies.
Continue reading the main story

"Improve constantly and forever the system of production and
service": That's the gospel the management guru W. Edwards Deming
preached for half a century. After World War II, Japanese firms
embraced the "plan, do, check, act" approach, and many Fortune 500
companies profited from paying attention. Meanwhile, the Harvard
Business School historian and Pulitzer Prize-winner Alfred D.
Chandler Jr. demonstrated that firms prospered by developing
"organizational capabilities," putting effective systems in place and
encouraging learning inside the organization. Building such a culture
took time, Chandler emphasized, and could be derailed by executives
seduced by faddishness.

Every successful educational initiative of which I'm aware aims at
strengthening personal bonds by building strong systems of support in
the schools. The best preschools create intimate worlds where
students become explorers and attentive adults are close at hand.

In the Success for All model - a reading and math program that, for a
quarter-century, has been used to good effect in 48 states and in
some of the nation's toughest schools - students learn from a team of
teachers, bringing more adults into their lives. Diplomas Now
love-bombs middle school students who are prime candidates for
dropping out. They receive one-on-one mentoring, while those who have
deeper problems are matched with professionals.

An extensive study of Chicago's public schools, Organizing Schools
for Improvement, identified 100 elementary schools that had
substantially improved and 100 that had not. The presence or absence
of social trust among students, teachers, parents and school leaders
was a key explanation.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, the nationwide mentoring
organization, has had a substantial impact on millions of
adolescents. The explanation isn't what adolescents and their "big
sibling" mentors do together, whether it's mountaineering or
museum-going. What counts, the research shows, is the forging of a
relationship based on mutual respect and caring.

Over the past 25 years, YouthBuild has given solid work experience
and classroom tutoring to hundreds of thousands of high school
dropouts. Seventy-one percent of those youngsters, on whom the
schools have given up, earn a G.E.D. - close to the national high
school graduation rate. The YouthBuild students say they're motivated
to get an education because their teachers "have our backs."

The same message - that the personal touch is crucial - comes from
community college students who have participated in the City
University of New York's anti-dropout initiative, which has doubled
graduation rates.

Even as these programs, and many others with a similar philosophy,
have proven their worth, public schools have been spending billions
of dollars on technology which they envision as the wave of the
future. Despite the hyped claims, the results have been
disappointing. "The data is pretty weak," said Tom Vander Ark, the
former executive director for education at the Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation and an investor in educational technology companies. "When
it comes to showing results, we better put up or shut up."

While technology can be put to good use by talented teachers, they,
and not the futurists, must take the lead. The process of teaching
and learning is an intimate act that neither computers nor markets
can hope to replicate. Small wonder, then, that the business model
hasn't worked in reforming the schools - there is simply no
substitute for the personal element.
David L. Kirp is a professor at the University of California,
Berkeley, and the author of "Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a
Great American School System and a Strategy for America's Schools."
A version of this op-ed appears in print on August 17, 2014, on page
SR4 of the New York edition with the headline: Teaching Is Not a

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