An insight

I’m sitting here rereading some posts and comments thereunto (yes, I do that), and I had a sudden insight.

This springs from a comment on my Charter Systems post about how perhaps the push for the charter systems movement is coming from the corporations that run some charter schools, and that the whole thing is to push for the vast profits these corporations stand to make if we all go charter.

I had snarkily replied that if it were possible to make vast profits from a school, wouldn’t we be doing that? And I’ve been thinking: are we so wasteful of the taxpayer’s dime that we can’t see how to make money doing what we’re doing?

And I’ve decided, no, we’re not. There was a headline this week about how our school system is under budget, thank goodness, and won’t have to tap into the reserves. Well, yes we are, and do you know how? Spending was frozen in August. The amount sent by the state to this county for my media center, and which is entailed upon it, has been frozen.

Our checkbook balance looks good, but it’s the “good” we all see at the first of the month: lots of cash on hand, but every single bit of it is already marked for bills. My point is that the only way we can beef up the assets column is to choke the actual education process.

No, my dears, education is a rathole. You just have to keep shoveling money into it, and is that any way to run a business?

No, it’s not. Here’s my insight: education is not a business, and you cannot run it like one, or at least run it like one and expect business-like results. Education is a farm.

You plant, you water, you fertilize, you tend, you weed, and with any luck at all, you harvest. But some harvests are big ones, and some are not. You have no way of knowing, although of course you do have to use the right fertilizer and the right techniques. But one thing is for sure: you still have to pour money into the process. You have to buy the fertilizer and the tractors and the combines and the irrigation, and you have to maintain them. Because if you don’t, then you will get no harvest at all.

And I think it’s a better metaphor, at least to bring us back around to the profit motive, if we regard our farm as the source of our own food, not as crops to sell for profit. I’m not going to explicate that one; think through it yourself.

As for funding these nourishment-providing farms of ours, the History Channel had an absolutely intriguing show the other night about agricultural technology. We saw cotton farmers in California using satellite technology to identify which areas of their fields were ready to be sprayed with a saline solution, and with how much, as they flew over them with spraying helicopters. We saw rice farmers using satellites and computers to tell them which areas of which fields needed fertilizer or pesticides.

These were compared, of course, to developing nations where it’s all done by hand.

Now, which farms were feeding the world? Yes, I know it blows my metaphor about food vs. commodities, but you get my point.

3 thoughts on “An insight

  1. Dale, this is a crass capitalistic attempt at replying to your well thought-out premises in both charter-related postings.

    So far as I know, there are no EMOs (education management organizations) working with any of the chartering districts, though I can’t be sure of that. I think the charter district idea is so new that none of them have figured out how to incorporate it into their business models, which are very specific toward building one school at a time.

    Coweta is wary of the EMO that is starting the charter in Senoia, too. Boards of Education and EMOs don’t have a history of working together, in my experience. Or at least working together well, and certainly they don’t trust each other.

    As for your insight, I look at it from a completely different perspective. I agree with your insight that some districts may want bigger classes and lower paid teachers, and no doubt that will happen in some districts, not because it is the right thing to do, but because it is the only choice these districts and Superintendents have. The system has painted them into a corner.

    Lest some misunderstand me, a businessman who does educational consulting in the charter world, I must say without reservation: I have no problem with professional educators, including you and my dear middle brother, and for anyone to question either the dedication or competence of certified educators would be an insult of the highest order, and also a mistake. The vast majority of teachers I have met are comparable to saints in their dedication and application of what they have learned and how they perceive their mission. So the problem is not there. But there is a problem.

    The taxpayers’ money is being wasted, in my opinion, which I am happy to have challenged. Wasted not by teachers, but by the system. The teachers are as much victims of the system as are the students who all too often fail. Our educational system is hampered by many assumptions, not the least of which is that public education must be a system that serves all equally well to an equivalent end result. That denies the realities of the human condition. To quote our Savior, “you will always have the poor with you.” Not that that is good, or necessary. It just IS. It is truth, and we should embrace truth and do the best we can to work within its practical confines. We should do our best with every student, but we can never (and should never) assume we can control all the variables – parents, siblings, church, neighborhood, friends, and jobs. And thus we should never pretend guarantee the end result, either. We can hope for it, and work toward it – but guarantee it? That is ultimately up to the student. One hopes we inspire each student to realize that truth and have a reach that exceeds his or her grasp. I think that is the best we can do.

    I believe people of good will at all levels are working to improve the system. I wish them well, and I will support them as I can. Hopefully I am also working to improve it. But I think that the system needs more than tweaking – it needs an overhaul.

    I have no problem with profit, or with privatizing all or part of the public education system if (and only if) such privatization makes it more likely that the system will work.

    Given my context above, I do think we need to do some work as a nation deciding what exactly we expect successful educational outcomes to be. I don’t think test scores have any real connection to what those goals should be. There is research, for instance, that shows there is no correlation between high scores on the SAT and later success in life.

    My own opinion is that the goal of K-12 should not be to get kids ready for college (unlike the answer most educators when polled tell you they perceive their mission to be). I submit that our mission should be to “produce” accomplished citizens, whether or not they attend college (and most won’t earn a four year degree, as they don’t now). Central Educational Center is Coweta’s impressive beginning at improving educational outcomes along this different path, and the thinking behind CEC has taken root in this state, but if you read Dr. Joe Harless’ book that started it all in 1997-98, you will realize that CEC is merely the tip of a very large iceberg.

    http://www.amazon.com/Eden-Conspiracy-Educating-Accomplished-Citizenship/dp/0966501004

    Food for thought. And what a great blog!

  2. I would suggest, to borrow you farm metaphor, that part of the problem is that too many folk think education is like a farm in which the crops are the ones deriving all the benefit. If, perhaps we could have a bit more awareness of “community” as the “consumer” of all those educated minds, we might be more collectively dismayed when mismanaged, ill-funded, or mis-guided “farms” weren’t “producing” enough “product” to “nourish” the communities into which they were feeding. The farm metaphor offers lots of interesting ways of batting about this issue.

  3. Believe it or not, Russ, I agree with almost everything you’ve said here. It is nonsense to believe we can guarantee results.

    Alas for us, No Child Left Behind [blessed be its name] has other ideas: every child will be performing at or above grade level by 2014. Damned liberals and their idiotic dreams of a perfectable mankind. Oh wait…

    Kidding aside, my charter school (and yes, I have a notebook) will feature a student mission statement, which even now is posted on my media center wall:

    I am here today to learn to
    read,
    write,
    do math,
    find and use information,
    solve problems,
    and work with integrity.

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