New guide on schools says businesses should oversee teacher evaluations, curriculum, school boards

business-schools-runIt’s a question that has come up recently thanks to a national movement towards school reform: “Should schools be run like a business?” According to a new guide released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation (USCCF), it’s time for local businesses to do more than fund “backpacks and pencils”: It’s time to manage the school board.

The “School Governance Guide,” released as part of USCCF’s Education Reform Summit, urges businesses to “financially support school board candidates,” and “monitor board activity,” among other recommendations.

According to the guide, businesses can help in:

  • The hiring process for school superintendents;
  • Managing large school budgets; and
  • Managing school vision and policy, such as choosing curriculum, negotiating staff contracts, and developing teacher evaluations on “objective data.”

The guide also urges businesses to encourage “competent individuals” to run for school boards, publicly support the school board when it makes “controversial” decisions, question the board when it makes “bad” decisions, and “educate the public on education issues.”

USCCF says the guide was created in response to America’s mediocre ranking in the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) scale.

(Share your thoughts on this new guide by taking our poll on Page 4. Next page: A video campaign for ‘corporate’ school reform—and criticism of this campaign)

“Though there are a few exceptions, American public schools are generally producing fewer students with the skills they need for long-term success,” said USCCF in a statement. “According to the OECD, proficiency in fundamental disciplines is slipping. Among the 34 leading industrialized countries, the United States ranks 14th in reading literacy, 17th in science, and 25th in math.”

“Our country continues to fall further behind other developed nations when it comes to educating our kids, which is a losing proposition for students and the economy,” said Cheryl Oldham, vice president of education policy at the U.S. Chamber. “Ensuring that students are college- and career-ready when leaving high school will save the nation billions of dollars in remediation costs and supply American businesses with the talent necessary to compete globally.”

USCCF also released Profiles of Change, a video campaign featuring education reform leaders telling the stories of how they “pushed for change in the education system in their communities.”

The videos highlighted in the campaign focus on increasingly popular yet controversial reform measures, such as school choice, encouraging charter schools, and the expansion of the Teach for America program.

“The Profiles of Change videos show the public that there are people in their communities who are working tirelessly for kids,” said Oldham. “We hope that these videos will inspire more individuals to get engaged and become change-makers in their schools.”

The first video features former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush discussing the major modifications he implemented in Florida schools that “challenged the status quo in his state.”

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Not surprisingly, the USCCF’s campaign has generated criticism from some educators.

Research from the federal Education Department suggests that U.S. charter schools perform no better, on average, than traditional public schools. And critics argue that the movement to expand the choices available to parents ends up hurting the most disadvantaged students.

Should schools be run like businesses?

Seth Rosenblatt, a school board member in San Carlos, Calif., who also serves on the board of the San Mateo County School Boards Association and is a strategy and marketing consultant for technology companies, said USCCF’s guide is extremely naïve in its suggestions.

“Every school board is different, because all schools are different. It’s a national guide, so I understand it has to be generalized, but public schools are entities of states, not government, so they vary incredibly,” said Rosenblatt.

(Next page: Why education is not like business)

Rosenblatt cited school board structure, saying that some school board members are appointed by the mayor in some cases and not all boards are formed based on public vote.

“Just this fact, that school boards across the country are formed differently, speaks to the vast generalization of this guide,” he said. “You can’t make over-arching suggestions and have them be useful to the general public.”

Rosenblatt also noted that although “business input can be beneficial in the form of funding for school equipment, working with schools for job placement and opportunities, and community engagement, just because businesses may be good at handling their operation doesn’t mean they know anything about school procedure.”

He added: “Promoting school boards to the community is great—that’s just good civics. But it’s this mentality that, just because you went to school when you were younger, you now know how to run a school, that’s detrimental. In my previous life, I worked as an investment banker, but I can tell you: I didn’t know a thing about managing a school budget.

“People not in education tend to overstate their expertise, and it needs to stop,” he continued. “Take Google, for example: They support education, provide technology, offer internships, help fund school initiatives—but they’re not sitting on any school boards.”

For more on Rosenblatt’s position on schools as businesses, read “Why education is not like business” and “Having gone to school doesn’t mean we all can run a school.”

When asked if USCCF believes the ultimate goal of education is to help the U.S. economy by creating qualified workers for businesses, Oldham replied: “The U.S. Chamber Foundation believes our education system is essential to building an informed, thoughtful, and participatory citizenry. It is also vitally important to our members, and to the economic well-being of the country, that we have a pipeline of talent with the skills needed to compete in a 21st-century global economy.”

(Next page: A ‘reform war’ on schools)

“The U.S. Chamber has a long history of making up scary statistics, inventing crises, and otherwise using its influence to advocate for pro-business policies at the expense of public school systems, educators, and children,” said Scott McLeod, director of innovation at Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency 8. “[USCCF]’s recently-released school board governance guide and videos must be viewed in this light.”

He continued: “When the Chamber and its corporate members spend tens of millions of dollars advocating for policy mechanisms that have been proven to be harmful to kids and schools, as citizens we must ask the hard question of ‘who benefits?’ Unsurprisingly, corporations benefit tremendously from all of the Chamber’s proposals, usually at the expense of children, families, teachers, public schools, and our society at large.”

McLeod cited what he calls “the private profiteering and fraud” that have been uncovered around school choice, charter schools, and deregulation.

“Hiring Teach for America and other alternative preparation program graduates as ‘temp’ or ‘scab’ workers often is a union-busting ploy,” he explained. “Teacher evaluations based on supposedly ‘objective’ data—evaluations that actually turn out to be statistically invalid, operationally unreliable, and legally questionable—are merely attempts to implement destructive corporate ‘stack ranking‘ techniques and further disenfranchise front-line employees. Public schooling is a trillion-dollar enterprise. The Chamber and its members want as big a slice of that pie as possible.”

For more on McLeod’s position, see “How the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wages war on public schools.”

When asked what USCCF thought of these opinions, Oldham replied: “The U.S. Chamber has long been a supporter of public school choice. School choice tells parents that they have the option for a better school and that their child is not destined to fail because of their ZIP code or how much money they have in the bank.”

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Meris Stansbury

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