Run Schools Like Businesses? Absolutely!

Business Plan in a Day book
Image by Raymond Yee via Flickr

I’m about to say something radical.

Okay, it may not seem so radical to you but to the people who have known or read me for some time this will be startling.

Schools SHOULD be run as businesses.

I ran a business for almost 20 years so I think I understand some things about how to do it.

The business leaders who complain that schools should be run more like businesses don’t get it.

They don’t get it so much that I don’t understand how they stay in business.

The people who oppose running schools like businesses also don’t get it.

They think that schools run like businesses will be even more like factories than schools are already.

Here’s the problem in a nutshell: the folks talking about running schools believe their customers are their product.

All businesses have at least one product. It may be cars, or widgets or accounting services, whatever.

All businesses that want to stay in business also have customers who buy or rent those products.

It is essential, in business and in the rest of life, that products and customers, both essential for business survival, are not the same thing.

Any smart businessperson will be able to tell the product and the customer apart.

Actually, there are a lot of not-so-smart business people who can also tell you what their products are and who their customers are.

It really isn’t that hard to do.

But, somehow, the people who insist that schools should be run like businesses can’t.

They think their customers are their product. I have no idea who they think their customers are.

The school-as-business advocates cling to an industrial model of school.

This industrial model emerged in the last part of the 19th Century and the early-to-mid parts of the 20th century to teach children who grew up on farms, children who grew up in other countries, and the children who grew up on farms in other countries how to be good, obedient, factory workers.

The industrial model of schools taught and teaches how to be in place at the assigned time, not a big farm skill but essential in industry.

The industrial model teaches how to follow directions, also useful in industry.

The industrial model also teaches how to produce on a rigid schedule, and we all know that assembly lines move on a rigid schedule.

Despite all the talk that schools are bad, they actually are exceedingly good at doing what they were designed to do: take in raw youths and produce compliant, punctual workers.

The problem is that our schools are designed to feed students into the industries that America no longer has.

All those jobs that initially moved to Japan and more recently to China, Vietnam and India not only led to the decline of industrial centers like Detroit, Youngstown, Ohio, and Gary, Indiana, they have led to the obsolescence of the American model of education.

Now there are various efforts to “reform” schools in some way.

Most of these efforts, charter schools and the like, are small adjustments in a model that more and more people say needs a major overhaul at the minimum.

In any case, these charter schools have come into existence to give students, guided by their parents, choices about where to go to school.

Competition, it is claimed, will force public schools to become better.

In other words, public schools, private schools, parochial schools and charter schools are all competing for the same student just like McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s and Five Guys are all competing for the same stomach.

Those folks who say schools should be run like businesses still think of the student as their product even though their customer, industry, has fled to the hinterlands and is unlikely to return no matter how compliant the students schools create.

The student who used to be the product of the school system is now the consumer, the customer.

So I think it is now essential to run schools like businesses.

Schools-as-businesses now need to focus on the student, figure out what the student wants, how much of it they want, in what kind of package, and where they want to buy it.

Schools and school systems need to sell themselves to their customers the same way Chevy, Ford and Toyota have to sell to drivers.

Now the problem of keeping students in high school is a marketing and management problem, not a legislative one.

Now creating schools that students want to attend will take more than new packaging and other tweaks.

It will take new products, new formulas and new locations.

This is big.

It’s like the day after Thanksgiving for retailers, now get the customers to come to your school.

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45 Responses to Run Schools Like Businesses? Absolutely!

  1. I also came from the business world to teaching. I think schools should be run like schools in terms of efficiency, streamlining processes.
    However, I’m not sure I agree with you regarding who the customers are. In private schools where parents pay fees, parents are the customers and they are the ones who are looking for a particular end product.

    Shani

    • Shani,

      I think the same model holds for public education.

      The Parents are the customers. The most successful business are those that manically focus on improving the customer experience. Apple, Google, Costco, Zappos, Amazon and Starbucks come to mind.

      It’s a shame that education in general tends to demonize “business” There is much to learn for them.

      What if a Public School, especially in poor communities had a maniacal focus on improving the parents experience?

      • Deven Black says:

        Perhaps the parents are the customers in elementary school, but in any school beyond that the customers are the students. This is particularly true in high school where the customers, dissatisfied with the product, its delivery system, or convenience, are walking out the door in droves.

      • Deven, You point is well taken. But I think an under appreciated fact is that a kid that makes believe he’s a “gangsta” is really just a momma’s boy.

        If moma knew early enough to intervene, I’ve found it amazing how fast they stop acting like jerks.

        No doubt the experience is sub optimal. but I think the only hope for these kids is if they show up regularly. If they don’t it’s almost impossible to make a difference for them.

  2. Ben K. says:

    Wow. So much to think about here.

    If we think in terms of customers, then we need to think advertising. That brings so many issues. How do we effectively advertise our program to students and parents? How do parents who didn’t like school choose a school? Most of my parents send their children to our school because it is the closest school, not because they really chose that school.

    If students are the customers, then we must advertise to them (and that brings up media and children issues). However, students don’t know what they want and even more importantly, what they need. Given a choice the majority of my middle school students would gravitate to the easiest schools/classes.

    They students that would take on a challenging school/class, have parents that tell them they need this.

    So, in my opinion, the family is the customer. We do need to market to them. However, we need to realize that the majority of the customers will choose the school closest to them.

    I wonder what would happen if schools really started making commercials. I’ve seen schools sponsor events and even shows but never really commercials. Would that sway the customers? And what would happen if the school was really successful? Businesses take all the customers they can, they need to make money. However, schools are not making money and don’t have room for everyone. Should schools be a for-profit entity?

    I must be energized this Monday morning. Great post. Thanks for reading my ramblings.

    • Deven Black says:

      All good questions and important ones to ask. The ‘student’ or ‘family’ customer base is huge so any school that would market itself has many, many questions to answer and decisions to make.

      Too often the first question people who want to sell something is “What can I sell?” when they should really be asking “What do people want to buy?”

      • Here. Here. What do Parents want to buy? A safe place for the kids to learn. Actionable information on how the kids are doing. If junior has a problem Parents need to know early enough to help. Not at the end of the marking period or for the next 10 minute student teacher conference.

  3. [...] People who run schools like businesses have got it right, writes one blogger. [...]

  4. ceolaf says:

    Who is the customer?

    The students? Their parents (i.e. the ones who make most of the decisions about where they go to school)? The taxpayers generally (i.e. those who pay the bills)?

    What about politicians, who so often make the budgeting decisions with regard to funding schools?

    It’s all fine and dandy to say that students are customers. But it’s not clear that that really is the case.

    However, WERE it really the case, it would have many important implications. If students are the customers, then schools should give them what they want — not what is good for them. Frito-Lay pays attention to customers, as does McD’s and the Coca-Cola Company. What about all the entertainment companies, who pay attention to their customers, too?

    So, what would students want out of their schools? Have you ever spoken to them about it? Well, **I** have. Let me tell you, giving them what they want is not going to accomplish what **you** are talking about.

    • Deven Black says:

      You seem to have some confusion about what a customer, or consumer if you prefer, is. The politicians who fund (or underfund) schools are not customers. If any analogy could be made it might be that they are the business owners.

      Taxpayers as customers? Perhaps. I imagine they would want to slice schools to the bone if not chop off a finger or two.

      The paternalism you express about what students need is precisely one of the things most wrong with schools. You seem to have contempt for students. My students want quality educations, interesting experiences, and inspiring teachers, but because they are individuals they differ among themselves as to what those things look like.

      Paying attention to the customer like Coca Cola or McDonalds is precisely what I am advocating. You can be sure that successful companies like that have a very clear idea who their customers are. Schools need to follow their example of form fitting purpose, something else schools fail at.

    • Jacovny says:

      One major problem we have in many districts is that all too often, administrations follow that advice and allow students to dictate the terms of their education to adults. Thing is, children aren’t really QUALIFIED to manage their own educations; if they were, they wouldn’t need US to educate them. We’ve spent so much time and money trying to make school more like a video game because that’s what the little dears want, and now data is telling us that it’s not helping, that their test scores are actually regressing as a result. The answer is not to “just ask THEM”, but to analyze data and make common-sense, grown-up decisions.

      • Deven Black says:

        If you don’t think that students haven’t always managed their own education, what do you think all that inattention and acting out one sees in classes is all about other than a bald-faced rejection of the education management being provided by the supposedly qualified people in the room.

        And since you are reading old posts here, I suggest you read a couple more here and here to get the full picture of what I think of the data you recommend.

  5. Mr. Harris says:

    First of all, the students as customers argument is certainly not a new one. And, while there is truth to the idea that many schools are still designed to churn our efficient workers for a factory system that no longer exists, it was the business leaders at the turn of the century who advocated for this design. Who decides how schools are designed to function today? Well, that would depend on where the school is located and which stakeholders hold the decision-making power. Your argument rests on a premise that somehow schools are all similarly being run the wrong way – and that’s just not accurate.

    For example, you make the point that “public schools, private schools, parochial schools and charter schools are all competing for the same student just like McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s and Five Guys are all competing for the same stomach.” But that’s not even close to being accurate. Each of the examples you give is competing in its own corner with other schools like itself. In fact, each school services a different level of the socio-economic strata. Private schools on the Upper East Side of Manhattan are most certainly are not competing with either charter schools or public schools a few blocks north. Parents who can afford it will send their children to a private school, plain and simple. The analogy you want to make is that all these different schools are like McDonalds, TGI Fridays, and Peter Lugers competing for the beef consumer. Of course when phrased that way it sounds absurd (which, of course, it should) because Peter Lugers isn’t competing with McDonalds for beef consumers, it’s competing with other restaurants in its strata.

    Another inaccurate point you make…”All those jobs that initially moved to Japan and more recently to China, Vietnam and India not only led to the decline of industrial centers like Detroit, Youngstown, Ohio, and Gary, Indiana..”

    This sounds true except when you consider that the car manufacturing that used to exist in the U.S. cities you mention now exists in places like Mexico where the labor is cheaper. Conversely, many foreign (Japanese) auto makers like BMW, Honda, and Toyota now manufacture automobiles in the U.S. in places like Tennessee and Georgia. And while we lost manufacturing jobs to China and Southeast Asia, do you really want to use their labor practices and pay scales as an example lost American efficiency?

    Also, the notion that “schools-as-businesses now need to focus on the student, figure out what the student wants” ignores a central truth about what successful education stills looks like in this country. The schools’ job is to allow the student to figure out what they want [to do] with the rest of their lives. Where do their talents lie? In which direction should they go? Students enter schools as children and, for the most part, leave as children. Expecting them to make decisions the way a consumer makes decisions would be irresponsible at best, harmful at worst. Businesses want consumers to spend money, more often then not on products they don’t need and with money they really don’t have (witness the expanding average household debt in this country) all in the name of liberal, free-market fundamentalism. Is this the way schools should be headed?

    Finally, Thomas Jefferson and others of his generation believed that public education was the responsibility of a participatory Republic. We don’t educate our children because they WANT to be educated; we educate our children because they HAVE to be educated. We can make the experience enlightening, progressive, regimented, or redundant. But let’s drop the business comparisons. Schools, unlike businesses are a public good. We have them precisely because they’re function is for the betterment of society as a whole, not solely for the betterment of the self-interested individual.

    Of course for the consumer of education, there’s always the $30,000 private school tuition and no responsibility to the Republic.

  6. Michael Fiorillo says:

    I’ve got news for you: the 21st century corporate ed deform model (which your post is but a mild modification of) is still factory-based. It’s just that the factory is now located in an office, the production line is a grid of cubicles, and its inputs and outputs are words, bits and bytes. However, it is just as crimped and authoritarian as the old model (in fact, with its electronic surveillance and de-unionization, it is in many ways more authoritarian) despite its superficial emphasis on “teamwork” and other such B-school/Human Resources/organizational psychology bullshit.

    In their highest potential, public schools are vehicles for the development of both the individual capabilities , and civil, democratic culture. Your emphasis on marketing and advertising, no matter how well-intentioned, merely keeps schools and students where autocrats have traditionally wanted them: in the grip of the Boss.

    • Deven Black says:

      Apparently my writing was not as clear as I hoped. What I was trying to say, however clumsily, was that thinking of the student as the customer forces school leaders to focus on that student’s individual needs. That kind of focus should be the antidote to the factory model, not a continuation of it.

      Far from being in the grip of the boss, the locus of control shifts from the autocratic man behind the curtain at the top to the individual consumer of education.

      I did not talk about teamwork, collaboration, or any particular methodologies because what I envision is not prescriptive in the sense that any one, or any group, of methodologies could be right for any individual student and it is not for me or for anyone else to say that this one or that one is what will work for all.

      This is a market economy. The schools or other education systems we create have to confront that reality in some way. One possible way of doing that is to use its tools against the current market. I am sure there are other approaches and would be interested in hearing your ideas of how change can be created. Me, I’m generally in favor of tearing down the system and starting over but I;m aware of the many, many reasons why that is not going to happen. While I maintain my high ideals which, incidentally, seem very similar to yours, I am pragmatic enough to know that change needs to be presented in analogies and metaphors to which people can attach their hopes and dreams and that waving the high and bright flag of purity, while admirable, is not greatly effective.

    • Actually what people seem to think is that business models going forward is about flexibility, resilience and agility. The numbers of “free lancers” have been growing steadily even through the recession.

      The uber trend in “business” is the tele commuter. Business is searching for be self starters, participate in teams, and have the ability to keep learning.

  7. Michael J says:

    Now you’ve done it. This gets at the core. Student as customer? “Students are not capable of knowing what they want. I know what they want.” 50% dropout/ pushout rates? It’s the student’s fault. The families fault. Societies fault.”

    To make it much more complicated the edu world has mostly never run a business. I think I remember you once ran a bar. I ran a printing company. Anyone who has run a small business knows they come back for value, not because of “advertising or marketing.”

    One problem is that not that many teachers have the experience of running a small business. They think McDonalds or GM is “business.” Sort of.. But over 80% of the jobs in America come from small business. In a small business, where the owner faces the customer every day, it’s a different game.

    There is no whining in any successful small business. You just get up every day and do what works, deal with the inevitable disruptions, and do it again the next day.

    The irony is that “marketing and selling” are facing the same problem as education. As customers have more choice, 20th century business models hav e to be reinvented. Consider General Motors. They lost their focus on producing great product as they came from a history of “owning” the market. As we all know, they went bust.

    My take is that for those schools that don’t get it, they will also disappear. You might want to take a look at this view of education in 2029 from the National Association of Scholars http://ilnk.me/NAS

  8. Deven Black says:

    Thank you all for your comments and engagement with my ideas. I wanted to stimulate thought and conversation and, apparently, I did.

    Let me try to respond to some of the points raised by Michael J and Mr. Harris.

    1. I never claimed to be creating a new idea. The particular POV I took was new for me and, though the overall idea of schools run on a business model of some kind is not new, it may be new to some people not as worldly or experienced as you and I. Also, one doesn’t need to re-invent the wheel to make a better tire.

    2. Anyone who has looked at school buildings with a critical eye can pretty much look at any school building and tell within ten years when it was built. Because local authorities building schools want to do it as inexpensively as possible, they hire specialist school architects who, to maximize their profit, generally do not create each school in a unique style or shape.

    3. Ask the owner of Peter Luger’s whether he competes with McDonalds and the answer might surprise you. I spent 20 years in the restaurant business and I competed for EVERY stomach I could get and so did EVERYONE else in the biz. We may create different menus, different types of places to capture some particular niche in the market, we are all competing all the time. As far as Upper East Side (a generally ritzy area, for those not in NYC) private schools not competing with parochial or public schools, look around you. As the economy has gone south parents who once put their children in pricey private schools are looking for less-expensive alternatives. That’s why a great many private schools have smaller enrollments this year than at any time in the past ten or more.

    Try to get past stereotypes of how the world is based on how it once was and you’ll be surprised at some of the things that open up for you.

    4. Students make decisions about their schooling every day at the minimum. The reason no one notices is that they are either not paying attention or blaming the student for the way the decisions are expressed. All behavior is communication. Those disengaged students, the unruly ones and all those dropouts are trying to tell the education something and we are not paying attention. I think what they’re trying to communicate, however inarticulately, is that the schooling they are receiving is not meeting their needs in one or more ways. That is precisely the message I was trying to convey both times I dropped out of high school.

    The people who discuss school policy, who make school policy and who criticize school policy largely have one thing in common: they were good at school. Not only that, many are angry at their former classmates who were not good at school and may have disrupted classes or otherwise interfered with the good kid’s education.

    Don’t blame the victims of bad schooling by saying they are incompetent to make decisions about their own lives. Dropouts occur for many reasons but almost none of them are within the control of the student. Would it be better if students were more adept at communicating their needs? Of course, but as teachers are so often told by administrators, we ‘have to deal with the kid(s) in front of us’ even if they don’t read well enough to follow the coursework.

    5. I agree that students need to be taught. That teaching should not only occur in schools and may not need to occur in schools at all for some children. Children learn all the time and everything they see, hear, taste smell and/or touch is a teacher. The size, shape and conduct of our national government teaches, what they see on TV or on the internet teaches, what school looks like, how it operates and the condition of the building all teach. Teachers, the professional kind — not the incidental ones, carefully plan lessons and deliberately moderate our individual behaviors, modes of dress and speech because we’re conscious of the strength of lessons taught through modeling. Would that the rest of society be as careful.

    6. Yes, jobs moved to Mexico, too. Also Indonesia, Guatemala and several other counties. I did not think it necessary to list them all. No, I don’t advocate competing for those jobs by paying Americans as little as the workers in those countries get. That Honda, BMW and other car manufacturers find it less expensive to open factories in and hire the workers of Tennessee and Georgia is testimony to two things: how little power unions have today and how much the US has become a second-world country.

    7. Thomas Jefferson was absolutely correct that education is the responsibility of a participatory republic; if you see one passing will you kindly flag it down and tell it to do its job. (see my #5).

    There is a contradiction in your argument. On one hand you say children can’t be expected to make the kind of economic and social decisions that older and, perhaps, more experienced people make, then you say that those older consumers “more often then not [spend money] on products they don’t need and with money they really don’t have (witness the expanding average household debt in this country). My experience is that children are generally living within their allowances or minimum wage paychecks and not running up a lot of debt. In my book, and using your argument, the evidence suggests they’re more capable of making reasonable competent decisions than their parents.

    I could go on, but I have to teach. Let me close by saying that my post was clearly not a fully thought-out idea. I do not pretend to have all the answers and may not have any at all. I just have my brain and these complex problems need more thought power than it alone can muster even when working at full efficiency without distraction. Asking the question is the most important part of finding the answer (probably that assertion will also find dissenters…bring it on). I will continue to ask questions and stumble around trying to think of potential answers. I hope you’ll help me from time to time in the future just as you have now.

  9. Mitch says:

    Just a few quick questions:

    In a free market, is there such a thing as compulsary consumers? Is a businessman required to provide free and unfettered access to compulsary consumers even if that consumer behaves inappropriately, violently, and lewdly in his/her place of business? If a costumer doesn’t buy a product in a person’s business, is that businessman/woman responsible for that customer winding up in Jail? On welfare? Do we want our schools to be academic institutions or social institutions? If we want them to be both, shouldn’t we fund them and judge them accordingly? Isn’t an apple an apple, not an orange?

    • Deven Black says:

      Your comment raises an important issue: the compulsory attendance at school. Do you know why compulsory attendance started? Why is was expanded to high school? Perhaps that is the first part of reinventing school that should be considered.

      As for that inappropriate, violent and lewd behavior, have you considered that school, not the student, is the problem? I firmly believe that all behavior, down to the color of one’s underwear, is a form of communication. How would you communicate if you were forced for 6+ hours a day, five days a week for ten months, to be somewhere you don’t want to be or that isn’t working for you, where the first rule is compliance? I’m a pretty gentle and mild-mannered guy but I’m sure I be hurling an invective or a chair in protest.

      Everything I say, write and do is based on the belief that children learn all the time, that they want to learn, and that they understand they need to be able to rely on someone to answer their questions and guide their efforts. That is my religion.

      My second belief, as I’ve already stated, is that everything we do, everything we wear, every aspect of our being is communication. The person communicating may not be able to articulate or even understand that that is what they are doing and the rest of us may not understand what is being stated, but it is still communication. I thought I started wearing pink shirts to school because I think I look better than usual when I wear one, but I quickly found out that my students were getting a message from my shirts. I learned that when one boy commented that pink shirts were for girls. He was getting a message from my shirt. He got a very different message when I responded, “Not when I wear one.”

      Let me also address your question of whether I want schools to be academic institutions or social ones. I don’t think there is a choice. There is no such thing as any kind of learning, academic or otherwise, that is not social unless you have classrooms where a single student pours over texts in isolation from teachers or other humans,

      Schools are social places that operate in the midst of the overall whirl of society. The primary purpose of school, its most essential role, is to teach how to live in that society. This is true for all people whether born here or having arrived from some other place. This is so important that academics are a distant second. Want proof? You can choose what academic path to follow but functioning in society is so important that there is no different track, just wider or narrower parameters.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I hope you will continue to be an active reader.

  10. Knaus says:

    This is an amazing discussion.

    Here’s my take on the last couple of comments. Academic or social, schools are part of society. Society has rules called laws. If laws are broken in society, the law breakers are arrested and punished.

    Too many times in school, laws are broken and nothing happens. I’m not talking about school rules, I’m talking laws. For instance, two students fight. They both get a suspension. Great. However, I’d argue that they shouldn’t be suspended or have any school consequence. They broke a law. The authorities should be called and society should deal with them. (Let’s not get into the issue of classroom management because is another issue. Another that I feel passionately about too.)

    I want my school to function like society. I want students to held accountable for their actions. They learn and they move on. They fight, they leave.

    Now, we can talk about changing the role of education in society but that is a much bigger discussion. In my view, education is necessary for productive citizens in the future. We can also debate what schools should look like for educating productive citizens.

  11. Mitch says:

    Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.

    Just some clarifications. My point in asking the question regarding behavior in one’s business is that in a free market, regardless of the communication issue, if a customer behaves inappropriately in one’s business, the owner has the right not to do business with that person. It’s the business owners’ right, not the customer’s. This is one of the ways in which, I believe, the analogy between schools as businesses begins to break down. The prinicpal of a school does operate in a free market, and therefore, does not have the rights and latitude that a business owner does.

    Which brings me to the second point I wish to clarify–society wants schools to be “social institutions,” not businesses. Public schools are expected not only to educate, but to eradicate most, if not all, of society’s ills and imperfections. Private schools, parochial schools, and charter schools (to date), have not been given this mandate. In fact, when private schools and parachial schools can’t meet the challenges their student provide them (economic or otherwise),it’s up to the public schools to pick up the load.

    Public schools can only be judged fairly when the totally of what they do, both social and academic, is taken into account.

    Again, thanks for your time. I have enjoyed our conversation.

  12. Michael J says:

    @Mitch “if a customer behaves inappropriately in one’s business, the owner has the right not to do business with that person.”

    Fair enough. That’s one of the underlying stresses that is leading to more and more charter schools. The best of the charter schools are saying, “I can serve those kids/customers” better than the regular school. I read today about a Parochial school in Milwaukee that has an 18% better grad rate than the public schools at almost half the cost. http://ilnk.me/17e0

    But, I don’t think Public Schools can have it both ways. If you want to kick out the kids, fine. But don’t expect more public money to do that.

    Can you imagine a business that had a failure rate of 30% (those who dropout) ?

  13. Mr. Harris says:

    Devan,

    You made a point in one of your responses that bare repeating – that the primary purpose of a school is to teach people how to live in a society.

    I ask you – and this is really the crux of the whole discussion – are businesses the best places to teach people about how to live in a society? Are the goals of a society aligned with the goals of a business? Isn’t there a reason why economists and historians from Smith to Marx have sought fit to distinguish between the two?

  14. Michael J says:

    Mr Harris,

    Hate to jump in here, but “are businesses the best places to teach people about how to live in a society?”

    If you take “business” to mean entreprenuerial and family run enterprises or those companies that have learned to do well, by doing good, I would argue that they are much better environments than most of the schools which I’ve attended or taught at.

    For example, do you think one might learn more about life at Apple, Google or Amazon than at University? All to one side is that the overwhelming majority of the people in the world, do “business” in the sense of making a living.

    The under appreciated fact is that any business enterprise that is not informed by a culture of empathy and facing real competition will eventually fail. The smaller ones very quickly, but as we’ve seen even the largest face the same fate in a competitive global marketplace.

    As for Smith and Marx, it’s not that place but I have to disagree with your reading.

  15. Deven Black says:

    The best place way to learn about living in society is by living in society. All of society teaches all of the time.

    Just to be clear, I did not say schools should be businesses. I said they should be run as if they were businesses in that they should focus on their “customer.”

    A student is clearly not a real customer. It was a metaphor, as is school as business.

    Kapish?

  16. Mr. Harris says:

    Metaphor, comparison, analogy – I think what’s being forgotten here is that, over the last 250-or-so years we’ve settled on, slowly at first, a free-market ideal of how our economies should be run. In the last 30 years we’ve become convinced of the correctness and superiority of this free-market liberalism in our economy. We now assume that consumers should have choices and that the market is this purely functioning system lat should be feft alone.

    Well, history has a different take on this and our founders, well versed in the nature of the market-based society, understood that the ideas of the market should not corrupt the ideas of the civic (government).

    Schools are a function of the local government and to that end should remain separate from the corruptibility of the free market. Any analogy or comparison – no matter how loose – veers into dangerous territory.

  17. Deven Black says:

    Apparently a discussion of whether business school MBA seekers are students or customers has been occurring in academic circles. This NY Times article has five accomplished academics comment on the question:

    http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/01/03/are-they-students-or-customers/

  18. Deven Black says:

    I want to thank Michael J for pointing me to that article.

  19. Michael J says:

    Mr Harris,

    Just a note regarding “Schools are a function of the local government” The fact is that actually depends on the country and the specific historical. The way I see it, it’s a form that worked for a while, but in a changing world has to adapt to new realities.

    From wikipedia,
    The rise of the high school movement in the beginning of the 20th century was unique in the United States, such that, high schools were implemented with property-tax funded tuition, openness, non-exclusivity, and were decentralized.

  20. Mike Jacobson says:

    To all of those experts out there:

    The business world is always trying to hold the world of education to their standards. As educators we believe that it is time to hold businesses to the same standards that we are responsible for upholding.

    So from this moment on, this is what we expect from the business world! We would like your business to be held accountable for the success of other businesses that purchase your product.

    When you are selling your product to other businesses we demand that you are accommodating the needs of your customers so that you can meet the demands that each of your customers have. We would like you to design your sales presentations to fit the needs of nonreaders, visual buyers, auditory buyers, kinesthetic buyers, deaf people, blind people, people in wheel chairs, people with all physical and mental handicaps, people that speak every other language other than English.

    We would like to base your pay and your compensation on how successful the people that use your product are! It is your job to prove your success with real sales data and numbers.

    We would like you to find a way to sell your product to all customers regardless of their income, their intelligence, and how successful they are in using your product. And we are mandating that you must do this for all of the above mentioned people and make it against the law if you do not fulfill these conditions.

    We would also like to hold you accountable for selling your product to people that have no use for your product, and that have told you right up front that they have no use for your product. And we mandate that you must make up your sales presentation to all customers that do not show up to your sales meeting regardless of the excuse such as family emergencies, personal health issues, or any other reason even including that they just didn’t feel like it!

    We demand that you must try to sell your product to other companies even if the boss of their company thinks that you are a complete joke and have no value to anyone! We also demand that you try to sell your product to customers that have unrealistic expectations as to how your product should work or actually does work.

    We demand that you must consider the input of your customers even if they tell you how to run your company and you know their ideas are bad ideas!
    We demand that you have no choice who you can sell your product to.

    We say that it will be OK if the public distorts the truth about how your company works and that it is OK to put these distortions all over the media in anyway that the public chooses and they may release these opinions for every one to see. There shall be no connection to reality when it comes to spreading opinions and it should make no difference how inaccurate these opinions are because that is the freedom of speech and it is exactly what our forefathers would have wanted!

    If someone with no knowledge of how your product actually works or is produced, you must let their opinion take priority over what you know as an expert on your product even if you have been building and selling your product for more than 20 years!

    We demand that you must try to sell your product to customers that are not even having their basic needs met. You must try to sell your product to starving people, people with no shelter, and to people living in horrific living conditions. We demand that you sell your product to people that are abusive, that are criminals, that could care less about anything but drugs and alcohol!

    Your performance rating on all of the above conditions will depend on how you well you meet all of the above stated conditions! And lastly your pay will be determined by your success! In addition, any additional costs that may be incurred meeting these conditions shall not be reimbursed, you must take it out of the company budget!

    This is the world as an educator sees it and maybe people would have compassion for educators if they could see the world through the eyes of a teacher!

    A concerned teacher in 2011!

  21. Deb White Groebner says:

    WOW. Mike Jacobson, you did an excellent job of putting this issue into perspective. Thank you!

    What about adding “Your business is expected to increase the number of products and their performance to 100% proficiency after having the company’s funding resources slashed by 20% or more. If you are not able to do so in a given year, no matter what the circumstances, you will be punished by having more resources taken away until you are able to meet the standards of a distant oversight group that has only read about your business and has little, if any, experience with your product. At no time will you be permitted to turn a profit.”

    Another teacher

    • Deb,

      It’s interesting that “business is expected to increase the number of products and their performance to 100% proficiency after having the company’s funding resources slashed by 20% or more.” is actually pretty similar to the challenge that business is facing since the Financial Meltdown.

      In the best businesses it has lead to extra ordinary efficiencies through clarity of purpose.
      In some business they couldn’t make the grade.

      IMO, the same pressures are now moving through public education. Many schools and school systems are making the transition. Some are not and management is being replaced. The particular mechanisms of changing management depend on the specifics. In most cases the pressures come from the Feds. In some cases, like Detroit, it’s being driven by local government and changing demographics. In other cases, it’s being driven by the spreading Parent Trigger.

      In my opinion, just as GM is now doing fine once the Board of Directors was replaced by the Federal Government, a similar trend is playing out in Public Education.

  22. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by jm. jm said: RT @ToughLoveforX: Run Schools Like Businesses? Absolutely! http://ilnk.me/6473 Interesting comment thread. #ecosys [...]

  23. [...] and our core values at the forefront of public discourse. 12 0 As an example, consider the Industrial Education Frame that is setting the scope of education policy in America today. This frame places emphasis on a [...]

  24. Ezla says:

    When schools start treating students as customer’s, attention is taken away from individual needs, and towards the mass of students – what students want/ need from a school in general. McDonald’s doesn’t care if you will benefit from eating their greasy burgers. In fact, they will try and persuade you into thinking you will benefit. Just like how schools and universities advertise on tv today (in Australia where In live anyway) saying how what the offer is definitely what you need. Schools compete for the masses, striving to get as many in their doors, rather than offering a quality education. I think my university is run much like a business, and it’s quite problematic. There are more buildings dedicated to administration than to class rooms, computer labs and so on. I am studying drama, and they turned 2 out of the 3 theatres into admin buildings! Plus, uni is expensive! It’s not about actually gaining knowledge, or exploring concepts or even developing ones ourselves, it’s about getting the piece of paper at the ends that says ‘This person has a degree in blah blah blah….’ It doesn’t really matter how valuable your educational experience was to you personally, it’s more about whether the university was efficient in pumping out doctors, therapists, nurses, etc, just like a factory. Whatever happened to the days way back when (I’m talking hundreds of years ago, mainly in Europe) when education meant actually exploring new ideas and concepts, not be coerced into a school and being churned out the other end with only a piece of paper and no money left?

  25. Ezla says:

    Anyway, since when has education been about learning about our role/ the rules of society? I though education was meant to open our minds, make us more insightful, not turn us into law obeying robots. Well, I know it’s definitely useful to have a strong sense of how one should behave in society, but only when it is reasonable to do so. Education should also open our minds to be able to see when something is unjust, or when the government or law enforcers and being corrupt – to think for ourselves. It is not always the best thing to blindly obey societal rules.

  26. Ryan Babue says:

    While you make many valid points,there is a flaw with this method.I work for a school district,and it is run like company and the people suffer who work there.Im a janitor and my department is the least important in the minds of these superintendent’s.We have a cordinator that is tasked with running a simple task of running a custodial department but lacks any kind of experience to do so.Wanna know why?Deals made behind closed doors that are putting unethical inexperienced people in prominent positions.My mother is a janitor as well and went through some terrible ordeals such as sexual harrasment,worked to Injury,and has gone to people just under the superintendent for help.Nothing was ever done and if not for Documentation with human resources she would have been fired.Its happened to countless female employes.I knew two of them that went to the chief superintendent himself and where both fired.One of these employes had enough evidence that she won a lawsuit against the district and no one was fired over it,and I can assure you countless said incidents had occurred beforehand.Where is my rant going you ask?I live in the heartland of America Kansas..I’ve worked for the bluevalley school district for eight years.Ive seen some horrible people that where never accountable for terrible crimes all due to one simple motto.”Education beyond expectations”these people value there reputation like a company,and it would seem their bussines ethics match that of a “American business”.

    • Deven Black says:

      I do not support running schools like businesses, and I think that is clear from the blog post. I agree that there are many people in the system who are taken advantage of or otherwise abused. This is why I am a major supporter of unions.

      • Ryan Babue says:

        I thank you for your response.Im afraid of where our country is headed when some public schools are in the same shape as our government.

  27. Nicel Zepeda says:

    Yes! I’m grateful you have posted this kind of argument. I really need this stuff ‘coz my thesis study is about student attrition and I’m a marketing student. I have to defend that schools are like businesses and that students are customers. Thank you so much Deven!

    • As you work on your thesis, I think it’s very important to distinguish what kind of business you mean. Is it like WalMart, Costco, or Google? On attrition keep an eye on patterns of attendance. The single best predictor of dropping out is patterns of being absent. If you look at absenteeism as a student “voting with their feet” as a “customer” decides to use or not use a business service, I think it might get interesting.

      Another thought is to frame it around it around the “customer experience”. A good student experience will tend to attract. A bad student experience will repel.

      In the context of marketing, you should know that P&G just changed the official title of Marketing to Brand Manager. Getting into how one creates and manages a good brand should show you how to connect business and schools in an interesting way.

      Good luck on the thesis!

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