In the Cheep Seats: Education’s Losing Battle Against Business

Education has become the whipping boy of the government and our business industry. Doubt that? Read the news on education for the last 20 or 30 years. Still doubt it? Consider the following questions.

Have you heard of:

  • standardized testing?
  • No Child Left Behind?
  • Race to the Top?
  • charter schools?
  • elimination of tenure?
  • elimination of teacher negotiations?
  • pay tied to test scores?
  • pay increases tied to test scores?

Education is in big trouble. With a capital T.

So you’ve heard of some of those things. Good for you. No doubt you’ve read a paper in the last few days on the teacher strikes in Chicago and the head-to-head conflict between the union’s head and the city mayor. Even if you haven’t, you might have been paying partial attention during the current and last presidential administration.

Well, that’s certainly a start.

The thing is–I don’t have near enough time,not to mention stamina, to go through the whole sordid process of how or why our public educational system is dying. That’s pretty extreme, you might say. Not really. 50 years ago a high school graduate could hold a job without a college degree AND balance their checkbook. Today’s college graduates can barely do either. So what does that say about our high school diploma-holders? Would you like fries with that? 

from the Born StoryTeller

My point is that someone with an education degree (and a flipping brain!) needs to come forth and talk about all this mess that’s going on with teaching these days. But a lot either let the union speak for them or they are just too scared of losing their job to dare say anything.

In my neck of the woods the local county legislative body is going so far as to consider an anonymous survey of the county’s teachers in order to get the real scoop. Why all of the sudden? There was a whole rally for millions of dollars for the school system and teachers were pretty mum about it. Even the local union didn’t offer a hip-hip-hooray!

The Business Side of Things

I honestly believe that business should have a say in what’s going on in education. After all, students will one day be employees and, hopefully, business owners. What they do after they graduate will affect the economy and business one way or another. So they should weigh in if they can’t find workers who can read, write, have comprehension, use basic math and reasoning skills.

However, business should not have all or most of the say because, frankly, none of those business leaders have stepped a foot inside a classroom to experience the teacher’s point of view. The people leading the national education department in D.C. have only a few years of experience put together. That’s like allowing a mortician to be the Surgeon General.

Examine your local board of education–are there any former educators listed? What about your state’s legislative committees–who makes the decisions there? At a time where more and more professionals are leaving their industry to teach in the classroom, why are those who make the legislative decisions for education without the background or experience?

The Education Side of Things

courtesy of Wikipedia

Having worked in education and in business, I’ve seen the gamut of student turnout. The extent of what teachers are being required to do on a whole can be compared with a doctor who is physician, receptionist, billing, nurse, radiologist and lab technician. Honestly, most people don’t go into education for the money (though some do it for the summer off), fame, power, or ambition. Yet, much of the blame for student turnout is placed unilaterally on them.

I highly recommend everyone read Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman. While it depicts the life of an educator in New York City in the 1960s, I would argue that not much has changed in education today. Classes full of students that equal 40:1. Then there’s a lack of chairs or lack of books. Teachers still being hired after the school year has started. Those things are commonplace, they are NORMAL.

CHA-ching, What it all comes down to

The real issue for education is money. Of all the publicly funded programs, it’s the one that doesn’t make any on its own. All lot of people (in business and elsewhere) think of education like a black hole for their taxes. Never to be seen again. And the business argument isn’t completely wrong–if this is supposed to be an investment, then where is the return? Shouldn’t the product (the student) produce a benefit to  us (the taxpayers)?

The Deal-Breaker—Technology

One of the biggest hot-buttons for education, especially from a legislative policy perspective, is the use of technology in schools. Smartboards, clickers, ipads, computers, media, etc. In fact, a selection portion of Race to the Top was focused on encouraging (though some would say extorting) teachers to use technology when they teach.

Well, guess what? Technology costs money.

Yes, grants (public and private) are available to fund technology in education. And that’s great on a case-by-case basis, but its rare for an entire system and its certainly not recurring.

There are three major problems with money and technology.

  1. Some systems have to choose between technology and more teaching positions (or raises, because even education needs to stay competitive).
  2. There’s always new technology on the horizon, and its always expensive. As soon as a school has ipads for each student, the newest tablet comes out with newer and more dynamic tools that are custom designed for education.
  3. For every piece of technology in a classroom, there is a teacher somewhere who has not been trained to use it. Part of this is due to time restraints. If the technology is a year old in the building, a new teacher has to rely on their colleagues for pointers. Other times, a teacher may have to choose between required professional development and (not required) technology training, guess which they pick?

Business Wins, Let me tell you why

In the end, the sad news is money talks. Cliché yes, but also true. Industry has the money and money=power. Guess who our legislators listen to? Which is why most presidents don’t nominate an educator to head the Department of Education. Of the nine secretaries of education, only 2 had actual education experience; one taught a year as a science teacher, the other taught P.E. for six years, and both were coaches (do not get me started). Most were lawyers and or business people.

The key to this resides with the development of charter schools. Private schools, run by businesses, funded with public money. That’s how they win. Do the taxpayers have a say–not really. How do I know they’ll win? Our current Sec. of Ed. was the former CEO of a charter school in Chicago. But that’s just the beginning because business is non-partisan and so are charter schools. With support from both parties, the trend will rise.


I know something they don’t know, that they can’t know, that they won’t realize until its too late. Something every other teacher who has been “in charge” of a classroom knows.

Kids don’t change because of the money. All of the issues that plague our public schools today also plague our private ones (of this I have personal experience).

They’ll see.

courtesy Jef Mallett


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