Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Public Education Is A Business Deal--Parents Are Becoming Better Consumers

Teacher Leader Network member Renee Moore, highlights an interesting issue related to high stakes testing and the concern she has for the "de-professionalization" of teachers.
There is mounting evidence that many of the strategies broadly adopted in response to high stakes, low quality testing around the country are shrinking the curriculum and actually causing U.S. students to regress rather than progress intellectually. More subtle, yet equally disturbing, is the growing realization that those same ill-conceived reforms can ruin good teachers (those that aren't driven out of the system entirely).
One of the scenes Moore reveals happens when teachers move from high needs schools, which tend to be quite rigidly organized with a very controlled curriculum, to more "suburban schools" populated by professionals with a very high interest and engagement in their children's education.
From M.R.-- "While I wish it was as easy as many people think it is, teaching in the suburbs comes with its own specialized skill set. Without that skill set you are shark bait. Except in my environment it is the parents that will eat you up. They are accomplished professionals in their own right and they are used to their children performing at the highest levels. If the kids stumble, there is heck to pay. They want technology integration, differentiated instruction and individualized lesson planning everyday, every hour...(T)his is how they lead their professional lives 24/7, and they treat teachers just like someone they would interact with on a business deal. You better know your stuff, be able to explain it, defend it and advocate for it. If you can't, they'll demand that their student be moved (and the request will always be honored) to another teacher's classroom who can...
"When the teachers from high-needs schools transfer to my environment, they don't know how to react to micro-managed parental involvement..."(emphasis added)
Admitting that there are some parents who take their involvement in their child's education to an (unhealthy) extreme, I don't think there is anything wrong with hyper-invovlement and no parent should be embarassed by it. I am not and refused to be placated on such matters.

However, the highlighted text above indicates something interesting. Moore and (I assume M.R.) are accomplished teachers at the top of their profession. Yet what I find puzzling is their belief that parents who ask teachers to "know their stuff, be able to explain it, defend it and advocate for it" are somehow causing the "de-professionalization of teachers." What I read implicitly in the highlighted and bolded text above is that M.R. knows of teachers who view this characterization of public education as a business deal as somehow distasteful, beneath the dignity and nobility of public education and otherwise just contrary to how they view their employment.

Parents who are invovled in their child's education may be treating teachers like the other side of a business deal--and what is wrong with that? Of course, education is a business deal; it is the payment of money in return for services--the quintessential definition of a business deal. In a private school setting, the exchange is explicit and two-way. No private school teacher could reasonably expect not to be questioned by a parent about the services that teacher provides. Any such private school teacher who was not responsive to parental inquiries and demands would likely find themselves looking for a new job.

But somehow public school teachers have forgotten that they are the service providers in a business deal. The fact that the exchange of money (via taxes) for the return of educational services involves the government having multiple levels in between does not diminish the exhange of money for services--a business deal. That some parents with children in private school have caught onto this fact and are beginning to demand the same type of service and responses from public school teachers as they do of other service providers. The business deal is a little more complicated in a public school setting, in that the transaction is circuitous on the payment end, but direct on the service end. Just because the payment is circuitous doesn't mean the consumer is going to abstain from ensuring they get top quality for their payment.

Parents are paying for the right to send their kid to a school through taxes, etc. Is it any wonder that these parents then want answers? The fact that the exchange invovles a third party, namely the government, does not lessen the exchange.

Instead of Moore's worry that such activities lead to the de-professionalization of teachers puzzles me. It would seem to me that the exact opposite should be happening. Professionals of all stripes, lawyers, doctors, dentists, accountants, engineers, what ever, must be able to "know their stuff, be able to explain it, defend it and advocate for it." Very few people simply assume a doctor is right just because he is a doctor and we routinely question a doctor's actions (and they themselves routinely review their own activities to improve their service). If a doctor or lawyer does not provide you answers to your questions or defend their actions to you in a reasonable manner, the assumption is that the doctor is a) incompetent, b) doesn't care or c) a combination of the two. The result is that in a marketplace of service providers, you go somewhere else.

The problem of course is that in a public school setting, the marketplace does not exist to move your child to a different service provided, except for the demand to have the child moved to another class. This is even more true in the suburban setting among professionals who cannot afford to send their kids to private school and the choices for alternatives to their local public school are limited. So these motivated and business like parents exercise the only choice they have, a demand for a different teacher. They are playing by standard business rules within the constraints of the system.

Teachers, who argue vociferously that they too are professionals, that react poorly to such demands by parents to explain, defend and advocate for their choices are the cause of the de-professionalization of teaching. The sooner that more parents, teachers and administrators realize that public education is just as much a business deal as private education, the quicker we will see that "professionalization" of the teaching force and the improved delivery of public educational services.

Hat Tip: Blogboard

1 comment:

loonyhiker said...

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