The DeHavilland Blog

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Operating like businesses

Wanted to share a letter to the editor being published in the 12/06 issue of The School Administrator, a monthly magazine of the American Association of School Administrators. It’s in response to an article written by Larry Cuban titled ”Why Can’t Schools Be Like Businesses,” published in their 2/06 edition (link here).

Operating Like Businesses

In his article “Why Can’t Schools Be Like Businesses?” (February 2006), Larry Cuban does a disservice to your readers by portraying business leaders as hamhanded autocrats who wish to reshape public education in their own image – a group to be both discounted and avoided, at least based on his description.

Had he spent some time actually exploring the perspectives of business leaders toward public education rather than making assumptions, he may have come to some different conclusions about their motives and methods and would have encouraged readers to realize the substantial benefits of partnering with business.

Businesses are concerned with more than just workforce capabilities (although those are of course a key interest). People who are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to live in the modern world make the best employees, the best customers, the best shareholders, the best citizens and the best neighbors. They are the people who businesses want to see graduating from our high schools. So when high school graduates became increasingly disconnected from society’s needs and expectations, the business community looked more intensely at public education to find out why.

The American business community has become the strongest in the world thanks to its focus on productivity, accountability, proven methodology and a continuous desire for improvements generated through research and innovative experimentation. So consider business leaders’ reaction when considering the public education system’s generous per-student spending and its comparatively low outputs; its disregard for rigorous research; and its lack of accurate reporting on student performance.

It’s no surprise that the business community continues to support the accountability requirements of No Child Left Behind. After all, without information there can be no diagnosis, and without diagnosis there can be no improvement. However, I know of no businessperson who believes NCLB represents “mission accomplished.” It is widely considered to be a critical first step.

Contrary to Cuban’s assertions, business leaders are not ignorant of the multiple functions public education serves nor do they oppose them. He is also incorrect in contending the principles of business are not applicable in schools. As best-selling author Jim Collins has said, the principles of great organizations apply to for-profit and nonprofit organizations alike, even if their desired outcomes are different.

I encourage your readers to begin developing relationships with their business communities. While they may have a different approach, they desire the same outcomes as you, and given the opportunity could be a tremendous asset in school improvement efforts.

BRETT PAWLOWSKI
President, DeHavilland Associates,
Founder, Business/Education Partnership Forum,
Charlotte, N.C.

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