Friday, April 22, 2011

The Lure of the Market

Market reforms have a certain appeal to some of those who are accustomed to "seeing like a state." There is something comforting about the belief that the invisible hand of the market, as Adam Smith called it, will bring improvements through some unknown force. In education, this belief in market forces lets us ordinary mortals off the hook, especially those who have not figured out how to improve low-performing schools or to break through the lassitude of unmotivated teens. Instead of dealing with rancorous problems like how to teach reading or how to improve testing, one can redesign the management and structure of the school system and concentrate on incentives and sanctions. One need not know anything about children or education. The lure of the market is the idea that freedom from government regulation is a solution all by itself. This is very appealing, especially when so many seemingly well-planned school reforms have failed to deliever on their promise.

The new corporate reformers betray their weak comprehension of education by drawing false analogies between education and business. They think they can fix education by applying the principles of business, organization, management, law, and marketing and by developing a good data-collection system that provides the information necessary to incentivize the workforce - principals, teachers, and students - with appropriate rewards and sanctions.
Diane Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, (New York: Basic Books, 2010), 11.
Very, very interesting argument regarding using market-based reforms and ideas to solve the woes of education. Can ideas aimed at cut-throat, bottom-line, make a dollar goals truly help educate young men and women into the adults we desire them to be? Education is more than simply getting kids to pass tests. It is about developing their thought process, helping them socially connect with a variety of peers, challenging their personal beliefs, developing their work ethic, building character, and learning about subject matter that is crucial to their overall well-being as citizens. Market based thought eliminates this, though, and makes test scores the only authority on success within the classroom. As a teacher in that system I become far more focused on test results than student care. In the business world, the customer and their needs does not matter. What matters is that I make money - generally speaking by any means necessary. Pushing that type of thought process into education might produce higher test scores but cuts short on our development of tomorrow's generation(s).

In addition, how do incentives and merit based pay help make me a better educator? I guess the answer to that question is tied into your stance on what education should be doing. If I am only trying to get a test score, tying my pay up into the level of those scores seems like a great idea. I will push and push and find whatever means necessary to get the test results to boost my salary. However, if my goal is to produce more well-rounded citizens...I quickly lose sight of that goal when it becomes obvious that I am not being measured on it. There is some validity to encouraging teachers through incentives - however, it must be tied up into how well a teacher is producing the type of student and young adult we want to build the future of America upon. So what is your view of what success in a classroom is? What type of student do you want to see? And do you believe the cut-throat mentality of the corporate world will somehow, someway produce those results?

Do oil companies care about ordinary citizens?


Ryan Russell said...

I personally know an oil guy, he was the top guy in fact at a major company and he cares deeply about his community. He has donated 90% of his lifetime salary... but that's a different topic.

You are a better thinker than your last couple of articles. It isn't as simple as black and while.

Yes, I do want well rounded, thoughtful, careful, intellectual teachers challenging my kids to learn, grow, explore and be excellent in academics. But, these days we have entrusted so mich more to you in our society that now has a wild proliferation of single parent homes and selfish parents. And yes, as you point out, during this same span we have come to focus more on test results and less on the human development... such is the shitty decaying world we live in.

So my challenge to you, be you in teaching, ministry or working at starbucks... continue to make the world a better place because YOU care to, not because you are a rat who is going to be induced by a treat!

Landon said...

I am not saying it is black & white. My point is that society is pushing education away from developing & molding young men and women towards a system of passing tests at all costs. My worry is that people do not see this happening and worry for our sake as a society.

I am not the rat - I am choosing to still enter into this field and choosing to still fight for and stick by what I believe my true job in education is. However, I am fighting upstream against a mentality that has begun to damage the very foundations of my field.

What else are you looking for me to say?