Thursday, April 13, 2006

Returning to the Core Competency

A few years ago, Jim Collins wrote a book called Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, where Collins and his team examined matched pairs of companies and determined why some companies did so much better over time than their counterparts. Collins’ research found that those companies which proved successful had several key matters in common and those features are what made them successful.

I have long advocated for schools to begin thinking like businesses and use clues and cues from the business world to be successful in delivering their service—that of educating our children. Collins’ research seemed to be the best roadmap for success out there since the companies Collins’ examined were established companies, not flash in the pan entities. These ideas have been embraced by at least one school district in Arizona.

One of Collins discoveries was that the companies that succeeded had stripped themselves down to the bare bones mission of the company. Thus they focused solely on the core business, even if that meant shedding profitable side businesses in the quest for a core competency. No matter what anyone can say about the state of American education, we can agree that somewhere in the shuffle, the core competency of the school has been lost.

Part of the educational flotsam and jetsam littering our schools lies in the concept that schools can be or should be agents of social change. Such a mindset has led our schools into doing things they are not suited to carry out, such a providing some kinds of social services in the interests of “social justice.” But these social services, including emotional counseling, after-school programs and other matters not focused on actual education of kids, sucks down limited resources, expending time and money in efforts not designed to educate kids.

I propose a rather radical course of action. Let us begin shedding irrelevant programs. In order to focus on the core competency of our schools, educating children, it is necessary to define that education. Education is the imparting of academic skills and knowledge necessary to allow students to be capable of managing their own lives and provide them with a solid grounding in what used to be called the liberal arts and sciences. Thus, the core curriculum should focus on reading, writing, math, hard sciences, social sciences, history, literature and the arts, and physical education. Anything that is not directly engaged in one of those disciplines should be examined.

What might those programs to be examined be? First to go is any sport that is not self-supporting. Admittedly, many schools should take great pride in their athletic prowess, but how is that prowess manifesting itself in the classroom? Additionally, most students play club sports as well and those outlets certainly are not suffering from a lack of participation. Next, all those social programs designed to “level the playing field” for minority and poor students. (I can feel the screams building). But these programs do not provide help for the students where they need it most—in the classroom!!.

Any program that is being examined for removal from the school’s budget should be examined from the bias of cutting the program. Each program needs to justify not only its existence, but its budget and its pending habits. Oh by the way, elimination of programs also means that many, many bureaucratic jobs can be eliminated, saving millions of dollars a year for an average sized school district.

The savings created by this budget cutting means one thing—more money for the actual classroom. Bu focusing on the core business of schools, that of education, we can actually achieve more. Simply look at those Arizona schools—they did with a 40% plus minority and poor population—surely such successes are worth replication.

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