Getting Down to Business

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This year’s PBS Teaching and Learning Celebration featured a session presented by Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch. Their blog, Bridging Differences, has become a favorite resource of mine for thoughts on education. I enjoy their insights and the somewhat intimate tone of the letter writing format they have adopted.

At the conference, in what was dubbed “Bridging Differences Live,” they addressed the assertion of the Bloomberg administration running the Department of Education (DOE) “like a business.” What resonated most for me about the dialogue that followed was a statement Diane made to the effect of “schools not being businesses but communities” and a statement Deborah made to the effect of “the problem with the business model chosen for the city is that it is not even a good model.”

Among the painful consequences of the DOE’s current “business model” is its “one size fits all” approach to policy. I have joined parents though not forcefully enough in protesting ill-conceived policies regarding admissions into kindergarten and testing in Pre-K. These policies were formulated without the informed input of early childhood educators, parents, administrators and the communities at large.

It would be easy enough to vilify big business and multinational corporations but vilification doesn’t solve the problem. The mayor gained control of the public school system because the old system was not effective either. I can’t say that I am completely against creating a business model for public schools. I can say however, I am against the business model the current administration has adopted.

A recent Time Warner ad reminded me of how things could be. The ad that ran in the February 25 – March 2 issue of Crain’s depicts a child’s bare feet in the shoes of an adult. The text across the image reads: “In business, one size doesn’t fit all.” And continues to state: “That is why we tailor solutions for your business.”

If you visit Bloomberg L.P., the company that the mayor founded, it states: “The success of Bloomberg L.P. is due to the constant innovation of our products, unrivaled dedication to customer service and the unique way in which we constantly adapt to an ever-changing marketplace.”

Both Time Warner and Bloomberg cite customer service as the key to their success in their respective industries. I agree with Deborah when she says the business model chosen for the DOE is a poor one. What baffles me is why our business savvy mayor chose a business model for the DOE that directly contradicted the model of dedicated customer service that made his own company so successful?

I am no businessman. My wife tells a funny story of when I sold a DVD on Ebay. It ended up costing us money! I upgraded the shipping from its initial method because I was afraid the disc would take too long to arrive and might be damaged. The upgrade cost as much as I charged for the DVD.

I am a parent, however. And parents are the decision makers in their children’s welfare therefore they are the customers in any proper DOE business model. Unfortunately in the Bloomberg model parents matter even less than they did in the old system.

An administrator, a teacher, regardless of how many times he or she calls his or her students, “our children,” says goodbye to the child at the end of the academic calendar. It is the student’s parents who address the positive and negative effects of the child’s schooling throughout his or her life. It is the parent who has the greatest stake in the child’s education. It should be the parent who has the greatest say.

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