2010-10-01 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Do You Really Want Business People Making Educational Decisions?
Commentary By Howard Schwach

I don’t understand how anybody could believe that the business model is the best way to manage schools or that business people are best-equipped to make the educational decisions necessary to make a school successful. I mean, look around you.

The business people who run the medical service companies have declared war on the new health care bill, raising prices all across the board to beat the deadline.

It’s the profits, stupid.

The business people in the stock market who invented derivatives and used them to destroy our economy were focused only on large profits and even larger bonuses.

It’s the money, honey.

Do we really want those people owning our schools and making those vital educational decisions?

I think not. Even Congressman Anthony Weiner doesn’t believe that the business model is best. “The problem is, there are relatively few moving parts in education,” Weiner told Wave editors at a interview last week.

“The final moving part is the kids and their education does not lend itself to the business model. We are not making widgets here. Teaching is more art than science.”

Weiner should know. His mother is a retired teacher, who worked for many years in the New York City public schools.

“It’s clear that basing everything on standardized tests, including teacher tenure and paying teachers, does not work,” he added. “Teachers wind up teaching to the test and everything else is ignored.”

As to charter schools being run by businesses such as Victory Schools, Weiner said that “they want to do the right thing, but they are naïve and don’t understand education or its challenges.”

“You can’t use the business model [to make educational decisions] because you can’t quantify the population at the beginning,” the Congressman said, adding that he is not opposed to charter schools and is “willing to try anything to improve education.”

Should “anything” include turning the schools over to the business people?

That has not been working, although the proponents of charter schools, especially those who would profit by having more of them, have been active politically.

Most recently, the educational titans targeted several politicians that they considered “anti-charter” or “prounion” in the primary elections.

That’s what it has come to.

If you question the efficacy of charter schools, you are branded “pro-union” as if the union and the teachers who make up the union are the problems.

They are not. The politicians and those who want to profit on the backs of kids, particularly poor and at-risk kids, are the problems.

One of the politicians who was targeted by the educational business community (I hate that term, but that’s what it is), was Bill Perkins of Harlem.

By the way, 15 percent of the school kids in Harlem are in charter schools as opposed to three percent citywide. That should tell you something.

The Wall Street crowd, the one that destroyed our economy and sees the possibility of big-bucks in the school market, bankrolled a candidate to run against Perkins, pouring millions into the campaign to unseat him and show everybody that it was not good form to oppose them on the charter school question.

Perkins badly beat his opponent.

“Most people will instinctively be suspicious of efforts by the wealthy dogooders to intervene in their own schools, neighborhoods and families,” wrote Errol Louis, a rabid charter school proponent in his Daily News column. “For better or worse, education reform has attracted the modern equivalent of what were once known as limousine liberals – people with good intentions, fat wallets and insufferable arrogance.”

What charter schools really do is never questioned by those involved in the educational power structure.

As long as Bloomberg and his bigmoney friends are in power, they will never be questioned

For example, at the Harlem Village Academy charter school that has become the darling of the liberal educational reformers, the one that is in the new movie, “Looking for Superman,” one of its two middle schools started the fifth grade in the 2006 schools year with 66 students. In the eighth grade this year, however, only 19 kids took the standardized tests.

That’s a drop of 70 percent. What happened to all of those students during the intervening three years?

Did they drop out? Did they move to other communities and other schools? Were they forced out because they did not meet the school’s criteria for parental involvement? Were they hidden by the school and refused the right to take the test because their teachers knew they could not meet the passing standard?

The schools answered by saying that many of them were still there, but needed an additional year to graduate.

The school is proud that every student who took the test passed, but keeping the 70 percent of the kids who cannot pass from taking the test does not sound educationally sound or like an educational success to me.

The bottom line here is really the bottom line.

Do you want educators to run the school system or the business people who have shown they care for nothing by profits?

That is the fundamental question.

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