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Unrealistic Education Reform Goals: A Business Perspective

May 20, 2011

wrong wayToday’s guest blog post comes from a new teacher and new member of the Accomplished California Teachers network.  Dave Reid is about to complete the Stanford Teacher Education Program and become a high school math teacher.  He already holds an MBA from Santa Clara University, and comes to teaching from a career in business and technology.  This post is excerpted by permission from Reid’s own blog, and the rest of the post can be read by following the link below.

Education Policy – Ideals versus Goals

As with all too many well-intentioned, but misguided, efforts, Superintendent John Deasy of Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) conflates management science with philosophy.  Hence, while his recently announced performance goals are laudable as ideals, something for which each district in America should strive, as goals, SMART[1] or not, they are unattainable.  Something which the federal Department of Education should understand about No Child Left Behind (NCLB), as the mandates in that act are likewise unreachable.

Why is this so?  For both NCLB, and LAUSD, there are simply too many factors outside of the control of the district, said district encompassing everyone and everything from the superintendent to the classroom.  As many experts in operations management or manufacturing processes know, meeting quantitative quality goals without controlling raw material, or process inputs, is impossible.  Ask any businessperson selling any product or service if they can apply a process, or processes, to any input and consistently obtain uniform results; it is impossible.  This fact applies to education as much as it applies to any industry.  How corporate reformers from successful industries overlook that fact as they seek to “modernize” education using SMART goals, like Superintendent Deasy’s, is beyond explanation.  As the following report published in 2002 by ACT[2]reveals, even implementing the gold standard of quality management, the Baldridge Performance Excellence Program, is questionable as it applies to education.  Note how the fears mentioned below persist today, nine years later.

Critics fear that too much emphasis on measurable performance factors may inhibit creativity and that factors such as a love of learning and the enhancement of curiosity—considered by many the most important outcomes of education—are in fact not measurable (Holt, 1993b).

ACT (2002). The Promise Of Baldrige For K–12 Education.

Reaching out to the community, involving parents, and motivating students are all critical and necessary to improve academic achievement, attendance and safety; they will yield significant advances in primary and secondary education.  However, the blind adoption of arbitrary, albeit just sounding, quantitative targets is foolish at best, and tremendously harmful at worst.

— This post continues at Dave’s blog, MathEquality.

For additional thoughts on the application of business thinking in education practice and policy, please see “Making Schools More Like Business” – and related posts on InterACT.

[1] Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely
[2] formerly known as the American College Testing Program

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