Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Bad Breath of Business

This morning I read
an article in The Atlantic entitled Teacher Satisfaction Hits a 25 Year Low.

If you read the article you'll find a link to the actual MetLife study. 

Among the topics the study probed were leadership, stress, and professional development. As an educator of 19 years, I empathize with my peers who took the study, and I understand. What the study does not present overtly, but you'll see when you read the findings of principals (their job has become too complex) is the fact that education has been ground beneath the heel of the language of business.

Over the past twenty-five years, where teacher job satisfaction has declined steadily, the language of the business model began kicking us in the teeth.

And I left today asking the simple question--why?

Businesses fail every day. 

Businesses compete to put the other guy out of business every day.

The heartlessness of competition and cold reality of failure are embedded in any business model.

But back to bad breath of a 1996 study published in the Journal of Small Business Managment, the findings state that 64.2% of businesses fail over the course of a 10-year period.

What is debatable is how many startup businesses go belly-up in the first year or even the first five years. I have read from 50% through 90%. The numbers are debatable--absolutely.

Failure is an ugly reality of business irrespective of the model.

One might assume that businesses follow a "business model" for success. Yet, many fail. A "business model" approach is not a foolproof means of turning your cupcake shop, tap room, or pencil factory into a personal ATM machine. Nor is it the answer to education, even though the tentacles of competition and grave reports of our failure make headlines and policy more than we care to understand.

Yet, the "business model" or at the very least the language of the business model continues to be a twenty-five year trending idea for a wounded American education system.

Why? Why? Why?

Rod Paige, George W. Bush's Secretary of Education, said an interview, 

"There was a period in time when businesses were not doing very well. ... And they went to the social psychology literature, they went to the literature of organizational dynamics and organizational behavior, and they found methods of doings things, which really converts to the question of, 'How do you arrange for the human beings in the organization to be more productive?' So they benefited from this. ...
Now we say, 'This is business.' It isn't actually business. This is social psychology, and how you create more dynamic movement in the organization that is pushed forward by people. So I don't consider this to be business practices. I consider this to be good practices based on the discipline of organizational behavior."

The reach back to business alarms me because our biggest and brightest can not seem to help themselves from using the language of business, the language of widgets and profits. Paige said, "arrange for the human beings in the organization to be more productive."

Can there be any colder a view of education, young people, or educators?


When current Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, spoke about Renaissance 2010 (another education event attended by big business where no education scholars were present) said,  "I am not a manager of 600 schools. I'm a portfolio manager of 600 schools and I'm trying to improve the portfolio."

The language is there, it is all around us, and as an educator of nineteen of the past  twenty-five years of tumbling job satisfaction across the nation is troubling, and the reality is it does not appear to be changing anytime soon.

Just keep reading the news and you'll find the answers every single day.

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