As both a former teacher and a MBA, I’m struck these days by two things: first, the ubiquity of “business thinking” in today’s education reform strategies; and second, the complete absence of the sort of business thinking we actually need to be heeding.
I see that President Obama listed education as a core aspect of his overall National Security Strategy. It reminds me of a great piece my former boss and mentor Charles Haynes wrote less than three weeks after the September 11 attacks.
As Charles wrote: “Over the course of this long struggle, the most effective answer to training camps of hatred and terror will be schools of freedom and democracy. While Osama bin Laden and his ilk use tools of indoctrination and propaganda to teach blind obedience, our schools must use democratic principles to instill an abiding commitment to universal human rights.”
This is, of course, as true today as it was then. And yet I wonder — in what ways are our current policy prescriptions addressing this particular challenge, either implicitly or explicitly?
There’s a lot of talk these days about the growing support for a privatization of America’s public school system, and what it augurs over the long haul.
Typically, that’s as far as the conversation gets before breaking down into myopic talking points that force people to pledge allegiance to one of two camps: these days you’re either pro or anti-charter, pro or anti-union, or — the most insulting — pro-adult or pro-kid.
I can’t predict how it’s all going to play out, but I can see that these binary frames are misleading distractions that work great as sound bites, and prevent us from addressing the primary challenges we face as a nation. I can also suggest an illustrative tale worth paying attention to, on from the other side of the globe where the exact opposite push — a public-ization of the school system — is taking place.
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I’m a lifelong Red Sox fan, so as this year’s trading deadline approaches, I’m wondering once again what Theo Epstein, the GM of my beloved Boston Red Sox, will do to improve his team’s chances of winning their third championship in six years — after not winning one for eighty-six.
I’m also a lifelong public education fan, so with the Department of Education’s Race to the Top Fund poised to provide billions of dollars in competitive grants, I’m wondering if Arne Duncan can do for public schools what Theo Epstein has done for the Red Sox — take a maligned institution known more commonly for its failures than its successes, and turn it into a perennial winner.
Duncan should start by asking himself a simple question —What Would Theo Do?
Want to imagine a different path to improving public education in this country? Take my 15-minute challenge.