A business built on failure

After 37 years with NPR and PBS, John Merrow claims he’s leaving the non-profit world to go into the remedial education business.

I know it’s going to be a gold mine. All I need are failing kids, and I don’t see any signs that the supply is drying up.

He’s not serious, but many readers missed the satire. I think it’s because his fictional business makes a lot of sense. He writes:

I have some definite advantages over schools: (1) the technology to diagnose deficiencies and create specific programs that address those shortcomings and measure accomplishment; (2) a population of (finally) motivated young people who realize they need certain skills if they want to find decent jobs; and (3) powerful financial incentives that encourage me to teach them quickly.

He proposes self-paced modules, instead of semesters. “Learn it, prove you’ve learned it, and you’re done.”

Students will be motivated to learn so they can move on to the world of work. He’ll be motivated to help them do that.

Unlike today’s educators, I will get paid only when the students succeed. Should I fail, I get hurt where it matters: in the pocketbook. In most education systems, failure is blamed on the students. And then their failure is usually ‘punished’ by promotion to the next grade.

He won’t use the word “remediation,” which is a downer. Instead, he’ll “certify” his students’ skill levels.

If Merrow could teach useful skills to failing students — and be paid only for success  – he’d deserve to earn a profit. Of course, it may be harder than he thinks. And, if it’s not, he’d have lots of competition.

The fact that businesses make money supplying books, tests, technology, desks or pencils — or tutoring,  training and consulting — to schools  is not a problem, if those supplies and services are worth the cost.

 

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