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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Education as Business

I'm fascinated by the topic of education. In fact, I probably should have been a teacher, except that I rather dislike other people's children. (Some of you will now be saying, well none of my teachers liked kids either, so what stopped you?)

So, I keep up on education. But with all my reading and high level of interest, what I've never understood is why schools aren't run after business models. Jay Matthews, at the Washington Post recently did an article discussing Schools of Education (or Ed Schools, as they are referred to). He writes
[A]growing number of educators say ed schools fail to give teachers enough background in their subject matter, fail to prepare them for the difficulties of urban schools and fail to recruit the best students.

Matthews goes on to say that principals are, by and large, dissastisfied with the level of preparation achieved by their recent ed school graduates and some are looking towards people who come from other sources.

This is where business models seem to scream out to me, "try this for education!" Think about your current job. Then think about your undergraduate experience. How many of your classes directly relate to your current job? (And for my brother-in-law, the accountant, just be quiet, you'll ruin my whole theory.) My bet is, not very many.

Oh there are areas (such as accounting) where specific data is critical. And if you want to be an engineer, you better know some math. And I'm definitely not saying that medical school is not necessary for doctors. But, I am talking about the majority of the white collar workforce.

Being in Human Resources, I have access to data about all employees, including information on their degrees. It's all over the map. There are English majors in Finance and Finance majors in HR. There are nurses in marketing and liberal arts majors in IS. How on earth did all these people get proficient in their jobs without a specific education? They learned on the job.

My first HR job, my boss pointed to a woman and said, "She's the head of HRIS." I nodded, but had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. (For those of you, not in in HR--HRIS is HR Information Systems--it's the techy side of HR, where I have made most of my career.) I had to ask what an "exempt" employee was. Did I know the rules regarding records retention? Absolutely not. I learned it all on the job.

When I hired people that were to report to me, my criteria was that they were smart and willing to learn. I didn't require a degree from a specific school in a specific major. In fact, the job postings said "Degree in Business, Human Resources, Social Sciences, Computer Science, liberal arts or similar." Can you get any more open and inclusive then that? I got great employees that way.

So, back to ed schools. Teach For America sends teachers with minimal training into schools. My question, is how do they compare with the the teachers trained by ed schools? If it's the same or better, then why are we spending money on ed schools?

And then there is the money factor. First of all, I am not in any way advocating that more money be spent on education. We are all going broke paying for public education. What I want is a re-allocation of money. We average $8,287 per student in the US. At 22 students per class, that $182,314 per year. Give me that much money, I'll pay a teacher a great salary, build a school, buy textbooks and still have enough left over to give me a nice little bonus.

Unless you either a. loved children more than anything in the world or b. couldn't get a job doing anything else or c. had other sources of income, why would you teach? Admins in my department (college degree not required) make more than new teachers. Any business person will tell you that you have to offer the right salary to attract the right people.

Business people will also tell you that you need the ability to fire. Teachers are notoriously difficult to fire. (Read this if you don't believe me.)

I admit, I don't know everything there is to know about education. And yes, I've read the blueberry analogy and I think it's a false one. And please note, I have said nothing about test scores. That's for another post on another day.


Anonymous said...

Ooo, I smell controversy brewing.

As a degreed and certified teacher I say you are RIGHT ON.

I can't even tell you how many times during student teaching, my mentor/cooperating teacher would say, "I know this is what they taught you, but this is what really works."

Anonymous said...

Teach for America is able to attract many top students because the commitment is only 2 years. Studies show that they compare favorably with other new teachers. But of course they would, they are ambitious and idealistic recruits. The problem is that teaching takes at least a few years to master. It is important to expect a longer commitment from anyone choosing to enter the profession.

Evil HR Lady said...

Anonymous at 1:55--I thought this might be controversial as well. Glad to hear a teacher agrees with me.

Evil HR Lady said...

Anonymous at 9:00

But if they are doing as well as the ed school grads, doesn't that show that ed school isn't critical? And of course they don't stay long--the pay stinks and it's a really hard job.

If it paid more comparably with the jobs they leave TFA for, you might get longer retention. I'd be interested to find out.

But, in following the business model, it's very rare for a company to demand any time lenght committment. The only time you hear about it is when sign on bonuses or relocation is involved.

Mean Aunt said...

My daughter's math teacher is a retired banker. He teaches because he a. loves teaching and b. is a retired banker and can afford to teach. He is awesome and the kids like him, too.

What is the "blueberry analogy"?

Mean Aunt said...

I found out the blueberry thing. I also found this article on it that seems to agree with you. (sorry for the url, I don't know how to link)

Evil HR Lady said...

Mean Aunt, I'm impressed that you found the blueberry analogy. I'm also impressed with your daughter's teacher.

A friend of ours is a retired Marine Lt. Colonel (he used to fly Marine One--the helicopter the president flies in). Anyway, he now teaches high school in the Bronx. He loves it. I bet he's great for the students as well.