Who wants schools run like businesses?

“Today’s education reformers believe that schools are broken and that business can supply the remedy,” wrote David Kirp in a New York Times op-ed.

Don’t beat up the strawman, responds Andrew Rotherham on Eduwonk. The only people who think schools should run like businesses are business people. It would be more accurate to say that “reformers believe there are lessons to be learned from other sectors, including business, the non-profit sector, the military, medicine, and other professions.”

Kirp also writes, “High-stakes reading and math tests are treated as the single metric of success, the counterpart to the business bottom line.”

Who says this? asks Eduwonk. It’s not reformers.

To varying degrees reformers believe that accountability systems can’t capture everything that matters about schools and the best way to capture those other elements is by giving parents choice.

. . . the only people essentially arguing that test scores or similar metrics alone are the only way to judge schools are those (who) . . . believe that more centralized systems, like those often found in Europe, provide more coherence and that choice is a distraction.

You won’t find those people in the reform world, he writes.

“Structural reform” is “a way to increase the quality of relationships that educators have with each other – and with their students,” writes Neerav Kingland, who also urges mercy for strawmen.

About Joanne


  1. Ann in LA says:

    “Like a business” is a nice, vague term that should be defined. For example, we could describe business operations like this:

    1) Businesses seek to keep hold of and reward excellent employees and jettison poor performers.

    2) Businesses monitor the effectiveness of their employees and procedures, provide support and training where it is seen as cost-effective.

    3) Businesses employ a test-of-change system, which tests a new practice and, if it is proven effective, rolls it out more broadly.

    4) Feedback loops are fostered and encouraged to bring front-line employees’ observations and suggestions into managers’ decision making.

    5) Managers communicate both up and down the chain of command, listening to and advising both those below them in the hierarchy and those above.

    6) Businesses constantly monitor the cost-effectiveness of their procedures, seek to limit extraneous expenses, and require a proven rationale for expenses.

    7) Businesses keep an eye on their market, looking for shifts in demand and product evolution. Those shifts are analyzed and changes are made to the product to make sure it continues to meet the market’s needs both locally and globally.

    What parts of that would be objectionable if applied to K-12? There are schools out there today showing great improvements that have adopted some of these procedures.

    The schools that constantly monitor student achievement, heading off students who are slipping and providing support to get them back on track would be one example.

    Contrary examples would be the flood of non-teaching, non-classroom staff in the school system. Many of those positions would never have been created in a business environment.

  2. Mike in Texas says:

    “Run like a business” means profit over anything else.

  3. “Run like a business” used to mean “operate efficiently” – to mock this concept as “profit over anything else” is missing the point, no? Who wants schools full of waste and idleness?

    Ann’s above remarks are something schools should strive to emulate, not denigrate ~

  4. tim-10-ber says:

    Ann, well said! Thank you! I agree completely!

  5. PhillipMarlowe says:

    If we had had these business principals back in the 40s, maybe that generation of scientists would have been able to get us to Mars, instead of the moon in 1969.

    • Probably. God knows nothing important’s changed with regard to running school districts in the interim.

      • PhillipMarlowe says:

        Thanks for agreeing to my point.
        BTW, one of your other internet obsessions, Jim Hoft, has been directing his readers to KKK symp sites for information on Michael Brown.
        Interesting group of people you follow.
        Atleast one is pretty.

  6. Private, independent schools follow Ann”s 7 habits. Admittedly the top of the academic/school pyramid, they have to convince the (high) cost of their school is worth it. The father of one of my son’s teammates was headmaster of a private school that catered to those looking for serious academics and I remember conversations with him on a number of those issues. This was in the mid-90s, and computer use and availability were big issues; what to expect the kids to have at home, what was at school, how the technology was to be used and making sure teachers knew how to do this. Because of a serious problem-teacher issue at my son’s school, we talked about how differently hiring/firing was handled at his school. (That abusive, incompetent teacher would have been out the door as soon as his rolodex produced a long-term sub- the headmaster network could make this happen fast)