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Run schools like a business? Flip that theory to see flaws

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teacher photo with ideas 7-20-14

Guilford County teachers applaud the school board's stance against the elimination of tenure in February 2014.

By Lisa Woods

In response to Donna Martinez’s July 6 column, “North Carolina teachers have something we don’t,” I would like to posit a scenario where “job performance and value” are based on the following objectives and conditions:

* You are meeting with 35 clients in a room designed to hold 20.

* The air conditioning and/or heat may or may not be working, and your roof leaks in three places, one of which is the table where your customers are gathered.

* Of the 35, five do not speak English, and no interpreters are provided.

* Fifteen are there because they are forced by their “bosses” to be there but hate your product.

* Eight do not have the funds to purchase your product.

* Seven have no prior experience with your product and have no idea what it is or how to use it.

* Two are removed for fighting over a chair.

* Only two-thirds of your clients appear well-rested and well-fed.

You are expected to:

* Make your presentation in 40 minutes.

* Have up-to-date, professionally created information concerning your product.

* Keep complete paperwork and assessments of product understanding for each client and remediate where there is lack of understanding.

* Use at least three different methods of conveying your information: visual, auditory and hands-on.

The “criterion” for measuring your “worth and value” is that no less than 100 percent of your clients must buy and have the knowledge to assemble and use your product, both creatively and critically, and in conjunction with other products your company produces, of which you have working but limited knowledge

Only half of the clients arrive with the necessary materials to be successful in their understanding of your product, and your presentation is disrupted at least five times during the 40 minutes.

You have an outdated product manual and one old computer, but no presentation equipment. Your company’s budget has been cut every year for the past 10 years, the latest by a third. Does this mean you only create two-thirds of a presentation? These cuts include your mandatory training and presentation materials (current ones available to you are outdated by five years).

You have no assistant, and you must do all the paperwork, research your knowledge deficiencies and produce professional-looking, updated materials during the 40 minutes allotted to you during the professional day. You cannot use your 30-minute lunch break. Half is spent monitoring other clients who are not your own.

Your company cannot afford to train you in areas of its product line where you may be deficient, yet you are expected to have this knowledge and incorporate it into your product presentation in a meaningful way.

You haven’t had a raise in eight years and your benefits have been purged, nor do you receive a commission for any product you sell. Do you purchase all the materials needed so your presentation is effective? Will you pay for the mandatory training necessary to do your job in a competent and professional manner?

School is not a business

Does this business model seem viable? Of course not.

Nor would it be appropriate for me to come to your job and evaluate you on a set of standards for which I have no experience or knowledge beyond use of your product (assuming from your presentation that I understand it). This is an absurd comparison, yet schools are continuously compared to a business model, which, when reversed, would be considered stupid by those in “business,” for there would be little if any profit, and the expectations of 100 percent success are delusional at best.

Think about what is provided for you to succeed at your job and imagine how you could meet your goals with the conditions described above.

Is “100 percent high quality” an adequate and realistic assumption for the quality of your workforce? Does your company have any poor employees? If an employee shows promise but needs help, is it provided, or is she fired immediately? Are the same criteria used at all levels of employment for all people? Must your employer have a reason to terminate an employee or can it fire someone it doesn’t like?

There are so many blanket statements made implying that most teachers are incompetent and only want more money. This is offensive.

Reality check: Most teachers do so for their love of learning and children and to make our community and beyond a better place. None would ever delude herself into thinking there is a lot of money in this career. For most, it is a vocation, not a job.

Bad teachers don’t stay

Because our state provides no right to collective bargaining, tenure is job protection. In my 30-plus years as an educator, I have rarely seen ineffective teachers remain long on the job. Are there some? Sure, but basic statistics will tell that a 10,000-employee company (Guilford County Schools) will have a statistical spread where “average” and “high average” is the largest chunk, and hopefully the smallest percentage is the “least effective.”

Does it bother me when I know there are less-effective teachers making the same pay I do? Sure, but complaining about it won’t make my compensation commensurate with my value and work product. Look at the current teacher assessment instrument. While it needs improvement, I can’t imagine that someone who is incompetent and showing no improvement would last long.

Tenure is not granted willy-nilly at the “magic” four years. Nor does it guarantee a job.

If a teacher’s evaluations are not up to a specific standard, the teacher is put on probation. And if no improvement is made, goodbye! And, with the continuous cuts and diversion of funds through vouchers to parochial schools, who knows how many public school teaching jobs will be left?

Tenure does not guarantee quality teachers, but applying the business model to schools is as absurd as applying the “school reality” to business. Until a better and fairer assessment and compensation structure is created, those “in the trenches” are actually consulted, and the reality of our working environment is considered and remedied, the symbolic little gesture of tenure will be an important one to insure that excellent teachers remain in North Carolina.

Lisa Woods, a master teacher at Weaver Academy for the Performing and Visual Arts, has taught in the Greensboro and Guilford County school systems since 1989. She holds an MFA and National Board certification and has completed all coursework for a master’s in education. She was on the national faculty for the National Paideia Center in Chapel Hill and has taught studio art from grade school to the college/graduate level.

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