Should customers run the store?

My wife said that I have several flaws in my following post which she stated will be pointed out in the comments “wholeheartedly”…but hey…every once in awhile you need a post full of holes so people can fill them with their thoughts…so feel free to poke holes in my post of some random thoughts about mixing business and education.

I try my best to stay up with the skills and tools that are currently being used in businesses…you know…”the real world.”  I try to stay atop of future trends and the needs of employers  and entrepreneurs.  I stopped reading books aimed at teachers a couple of years ago, and instead have enjoyed many aimed at business leaders.  When I meet new people I try to ask questions  so that when my kids are ready to sit down across from someone doing the hiring, they will be ready. And of course I listen intently as my kids interview business people on their podcast.  One action I recently took was to attend a PodCamp in New Haven, CT.  It attracted many small businesses, entrepreneurs, and other folks who were interested in harnessing the power of social media to grow their businesses.

I have always been intrigued by business (or military) people  coming into a school system and taking charge, or school systems adopting business models to improve schools.  After sitting through a day of sessions I think that both sides have a lot to learn from one another, and both could benefit from sitting down and listening to one another.  There were numerous times that the business folks asked questions that I know teachers have already solved.  As I sat and listened I could not help but continuously think about what seemed to be the greatest difference between the businesses and schools.  Businesses don’t need everyone one in their community as customers.  Their message and methods for attracting customers can fail 90% of the time and they would still be considered successful.  They create a product for an incredibly small audience, one who is already prone to listen to their message and buy their type of product.  The internet has allowed them to fail even more and still be successful. Social media allows them to get their message out to a much wider, larger audience.  Businesses can leave a customer left behind and not be worried about

In schools right now the focus is on the students that are failing.  The kids who aren’t passing take up nearly 100% of the meetings and new initiatives.   Essentially, schools have to get every single student to buy their “product” or they are considered a failure.  Businesses simply can’t imagine that, CEOs can’t imagine that.  Any CEO or entrepreneur whose product is being purchased by 10% of the population would probably be considered a hero in the company, they are not judged on the 90% not buying it.   Schools are judged by the percentage of kids not “buying” their product (let’s just pretend it’s a good product, not going to debate that in this post).  What would happen if businesses spent all their time catering to people who are not buying their product, and zero time on keeping their current customers happy?  What would happen if Apple spent all of its time designing products for people who don’t want their products?  Imagine…they introduce the iPad, but then the government forces them to ignore it and only create new products for people who don’t want their stuff.  Doesn’t sound far fetched when you realize that is exactly what is happening in schools.  10% of my alumni can go on and win Nobel Prizes, but I would still be considered an awful teacher if 10% of my kids failed.

I wish Microsoft was judged on how well they sold Windows 7 to people without computers.  Unfortunately common sense in business does not work in education, and common sense in education doesn’t work in business.  I once had a job that allowed me the opportunity to watch many successful business people attempt to become certified teachers.  It was amazing how these business savvy folks, some with decades of successful business experience under their belts, would get totally and completely get crushed by 12 year olds.  The rules and skills that made them successful leaders in their field, the rules for making money, simply did not transfer to the classroom.  They can’t just force everyone to “buy” their lesson.  Also, every year on career day I watch as professionals come into our room and crash and burn.  Yes, 10% of each class does pay attention.  The other 90% politely wait until it is over.  They walk in and expect everything to operate just like it would at their place of business.

Mr. Gates, Mrs. Winfrey, and Mr. Zuckerman…if you really want to make a difference pay off some teachers mortgages, buy some oil for us this winter, or finish our car payments.    Then we would have a lot more time to worry about our kids and be able to have a lot more energy each day to tackle the problems that you are ignoring.  Of course Mr Zuckerman, if Mr. Gates gets hired by Newark, NJ, your $100, 000,000 donation would not even cover his mortgage.

It does seem as though business will win out in the end…to many outside of education much of what we hear from Gates, or Duncan, or Rhee just seems like common sense.  But we do live in a strange little world in schools, don’t we?  We do work in a field that just because someone was a “customer,” they think they have the know-how to run the store.  I have been a patient, but I am not qualified to tell doctors how to run their offices.   I am afraid that in education the ex-customers will take over the store.   After all, “Waiting for Superman” is in theaters, and “Race to Nowhere” is only being shown by some sympathetic PTOs and College Education Departments.  And active internet educators have spent a lot of their time worrying about how Kathie Black, the chairwoman of a magazine company, will be replacing Joel Klein as the next Superintendent of the New York City public schools…I think they should be more worried about where Joel Klein is going (Do you know who his new boss is?  I’ll let you search for that one).  Many schools spend a lot of time worrying about their kids having time to watch Channel One News…I think they should spend more time worrying about why it’s even in the school and the people behind putting it there.  Even when many business ideas, and standardized testing come into a building, I don’t hear people fighting them on principles, but rather the procedures of their implementation.

By the way business folks, money doesn’t motivate me, performance pay won’t help me to increase test scores…if money motivated me I would have your job, not mine.

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