Part III: Parents and Tests Ruin Private Education

In Part I of this series, I laid out my argument for why privatization will lead to the formation of large private school companies and franchise like we see in Korea.  In Part II, I explained how big school companies will kill innovation in education and create a tiered education system. This week I’ll explain why these corporatized schools will overly focus on tests to the detriment of students’ educations and how parents controlling the purse strings of a school will result in them harming their own child’s education.

Privatization and Test Scores

images (5)Some privatization fans might concede that large schools will be one of the results of encouraging parents to walk away from public schools. However, they will cling to the notion that the free market will force schools to compete and, thereby, innovate. But this is where business practices come in because it is cheaper and easier to use the selection effect (only allowing in the best students) or teach to the test, play with the numbers, dumb down tests and placate parents than it is to implement a new system of education. And this brings us to the next problem with following the Korean example: test results being treated like quarterly reports.

Every education expert I have ever encountered has agreed that standardized tests are not the best measure of a student’s actual abilities. These kinds of tests only require rote memorization, which might work well in the short term for some subjects like science and math (two areas Korea excels at), but the tests do not work well for testing critical thinking or for subjects where there is more than one way to answer something like with language. This is to say nothing of the personal and social development that is also an important part of a young student’s education. Education, sadly, is not an easily quantifiable thing, despite what policymakers and business people might want you to think. However, the efforts to hold public schools in America accountable for their output like a business has already seen a huge increase in the number of tests students must take and the value placed on them, because in order to run education like a business there has to be something to quantifiable to measure and track.

The problem with this, however, is that some students are bad test takers, some aren’t good at memorizing information, and while others are great at it, neither ability is directly related to a student’s genuine understanding of the information or material they are being tested on. In Korea, ESL academies focus, to the exclusion of everything else, on preparing students for standardized tests. Without getting overly specific, I will just mention a few examples of how preparing for tests undermines the students’ ability to properly learn English. The students focus on learning useless vocabulary that is significantly out of their level to try to score higher on writing tests while ignoring more basic words they are much more likely to encounter and use. They focus too much on every aspect of grammar instead of learning the fundamentals of English, like how to use articles ( a, an and the) correctly, and they take test after test, usually multiple choice ones, and never get real feedback on their mistakes, only the correct bubble they should have circled in. Schools in Korea do this because –short term – it is a company’s best chance to get good test scores. To put it in economic terms, the upfront cost of giving the students a fundamentally sound English education would require them to take a short term hit on test scores. While, in the long run, providing the fundamental education would pay off more in terms of both giving students a better education and better test results, experience shows that current standard business practices focus almost entirely on short term payoffs, and the more competitive the marketplace is, the more schools will be pressured to show good test scores right away.

resits_1462719cThe increasing reliance on standardized tests has been derided by many education experts mostly because, like in Korea, schools start to worry more about the test than they do on providing students with an actual education. However, an increasing use of these tests goes hand-in-hand with privatizing schools. In a privatized school system, schools will need to be able to prove their school is better than another to attract customers…I mean students. And they will want to rely on test results to objectively prove their school is better. Furthermore, taxpayers and parents will want accountability for these private schools (be they large or small) and will insist on standardized tests as a way of holding schools accountable. It is also very conceivable governments will set minimum scores for private schools to be eligible to receive taxpayer money. Desiring high scores in order to compete, it is easy to imagine a world in which a private school, even more so than public schools do now, focus exclusively on “teaching to the test” by having students constantly prepare for tests while ignoring all other aspects of thorough education. After all, it is much easier to advertise good test scores than it is to advertise critical thinking development.

Regardless of how a school performs on the test, the end result will be the creation of a lot of students who only know how to take standardized tests. Very few schools will be willing to risk lower test scores to provide a more robust education that actually develop students’ analytical and critical thinking skills because the consequences of reporting a decline in test scores will be treated like reporting a decline in productivity. Parents and investors alike will flee a school that does not report good test scores, regardless of the soundness of the education actually being offered because the only thing that will matter in a privatized school system will be the quantifiable results of tests. What is already an over-utilized and significantly inaccurate measure of students’ abilities will become an all-important business tool to measure performance and set prices.

Given the significantly increased importance test scores will play in a privatized educational market, it is not hard to imagine any one of a number of business-like scandals that might take place as teachers, fearing for their jobs and businessmen concerned about the well-being of their bottom line, will be put in situations where their finical security will rest entirely on the test scores of their students. In this scenario, it isn’t hard to imagine many schools and teachers deciding to, to borrow a phrase from HBO’s The Wire, “juke the numbers” (or whatever else it might take to help their students do a little better on the test and to keep their jobs). Outbreaks of systematic cheating have already occurred in public schools where teachers and principals, when faced with losing their jobs because they cannot meet unrealistic testing goals given their students’ abilities, have chosen to manipulate test results.

Parents Will Become Part of the Problem

Many will argue that none of what has happened in Korea will be allowed to happen in America and some will base that claim on the idea that parents will not allow it. Again, Korea’s example not only shows that parents will allow this to happen, they will actually be the driving force for much of what will go wrong in privatized education. As much as businessmen trying to applying business practices to education will silence to voices of education experts, well-intentioned parents having control over which school to give their allotment of taxpayer money too will only serve to amplify the need to run education like a business and to further silence experts.

360_wmoms_0131The parenting style of Korea can be likened to that of Tiger Moms. There are many stay-at-home mothers who focus exclusively on their children’s education and parents are very involved, as is demonstrated by the fact that so many families here send their children to multiple private afterschool academies to supplement the free public schooling their children receive.  Much of the praise President Obama has lauded on Korea has been in regards to how highly valued education is there and how engaged parents are in making sure their children receive as much education as possible.

There is no doubt that parents, both in Korea and in America, will have their child’s best interest at heart with any educational decision they make. Unfortunately, this is not the same as doing what is in the best interest of their child. Just like many might question the wisdom of the Tiger Mom child-rearing method, none would question the parents’ intent to do what they think is best for their child. Parents in Korea have been empowered by the fact that they control the purse strings of schools and are easily able to dictate school policy at private schools. Time after time the answer to what is best for the students’ education is answered with, “what will the parents want?” and “what will the parents think?”

Countless times, as a text book writer, developer and editor, I’ve seen good ideas for improving our educational materials that were formulated by education experts tossed out because parents did not see the benefit or purpose of it. Similarly, pointless and time wasting materials were added to curriculum because parents like them. Some of these concessions have been cynical like making a book appear bigger without adding any real content so the parents think they are getting more for their money. Other changes have been for the purpose of placating parents like adding more vocabulary instead of focusing on basic grammar because parents want to hear their children say big words, even if they’ll never have a chance to use them in a real-life conversation. To put it succinctly, because parents are the customers in privatized schooling, education must bow to their whims.

Still, there is another side to parents being treated as customers and being in charge of the money a school receives: bad and unethical business practices meant to trick and manipulate parents. Schools run like businesses and with a business mindset will try to play to the parents’ desire to give their children the best. One example of a corrupt business practices here in Korea are the instruction many teachers receive about how to grade students. I have heard countless teachers who work for hagwons (Korean private schools) talk about how grades are used to hide students who are performing well and those who are doing poorly. Why? For profit, of course.

2167-grading-testsIf a student consistently does very well then their parents will want them moved to an advanced class, the class might cost the school more, or, even worse, the parents might pull their child out to take them to a better, more challenging school. After all, if a student is really gifted, they might be able to go to one of the upper tier schools on scholarship. Similarly, the parents of poor performing students will either want extra help for their students, which might cost the school or will blame the school for their child’s poor grades (a modern phenomena) and change schools until they find one that will give their child the grades they want. The solution many Korean schools have come up with is that no one passes with the highest marks and no one fails. While I cannot provide any written documents announcing this as an official policy, there is no shortage of hagwon teachers who can attest to having been instructed to manipulate grades so the school can manipulate parents.

While I can see this happening in America, what I think is even more likely, given America’s more “industrious nature,” (and hatred of regulations) are schools setting up an afterschool program for struggling students where they can get some extra help at a nominal cost and then having schools instruct teachers to fail students to fill the program. Lots of little scams like this could easily be set up to the point education, that once was free, costs parents hundreds in little fees here and there similar to the way banks tack on small extra charges here and there to pad their profits. Outlandish you say? Well, just look at some of the schemes businesses have recently been caught doing in America. With potentially hundreds of billions of dollars at stake, can anyone really guarantee that only well-intentioned people with a passion for providing good education will get involved in the educational market? Or is it more likely that, like in Korea, a lot of people with no background in education and no previous interest in it will see money to be made and enter the market with the primary interest of making a profit Wolf of Wall Street-style?

Conclusion: 

The people who have been advocating for the privatization of public schools have not been honest with themselves or with the public. They would have us believe that we can utilize every positive element of business to improve education while keeping every negative aspect of business out. However, there can be no question that with billions of dollars at stake, bad actors and reprehensible business practices will become involved in our education system. As Korea has shown, small private schools will become large corporations, innovation will cease, and millions that could have gone toward education will go to advertising, administrative fees and other investments wholly unrelated to learning. Preparing students for tests will become the sole focus of schools since test scores are the easiest things well-intentioned but ill-informed parents can understand when deciding where to send their kids to school. And many of these same parents will be manipulated, mislead and lied to all for the sake of someone trying to maximize enrollment and thereby their profits. So just remember, the next time a business scandal breaks out and we find out a company has been cooking the books for months to hide the fact its products were defective, the next time those “products” might be your kids.

Author: Brian M. Williams

Brian is the author of the recently published travel memoir "Stranger in a Stranger Land: My Six Years in Korea." (Click this profile for more information.) He's also a law school grad with Southern charm and Virginia roots. He recently returned to America after nearly seven years traveling and working abroad. He loves dive bars, international travel and foreign accents. He's particularly good at small talk and was the first person to notice there's no "I" in "team."

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14 Comments

  1. There were quite a few things that you’ve said that I would like to speak to, Brian.

    First as you said yourself, education is not an easily quantifiable thing. The unfortunate reality is that, be it for the purposes of formulating government policies or knowing whom a business can employ, quantifiability is a necessity. There is no easy way to quantify critical thinking. As such, there isn’t even an easy way to prove that one has learned how to think critically. That is why, though imperfect as they are, standardized tests are relied on.

    Second, you seem to be saying that the privatization of schools will result in greater reliance on standardized test to which I can only respond with one question: What is the alternative? Furthermore, private schools did not invent standardized tests. Standardized testing is centuries-years old, and is not a modern problem that sprang out of nowhere.

    Third, again, as much as I hate to defend standardized tests, we have to admit that it has been around for as long as it has because it works. We should be careful to learn from history. The People’s Republic of China abolished all exams in 1967. Standardized tests were reinstituted in 1977. The Soviet Union attempted to adopt something similar to the Dewey education system in the 1920s. They, too, reinstituted standardized tests.

    Fourth, you mentioned that businesses don’t want to take a short-term hit to pay for the upfront cost of giving students a fundamentally sound English education despite the fact that it pay off more in the long-term. Firstly, how do we define “sound?” Secondly, how long exactly is the short-term or the long-term? Everyone has bills to pay and those bills come with due dates. And, “sound” or otherwise, education takes a very long time. How long can businesses, or anyone else for that matter, wait to see a return on their investments?

    Fifth, you said that it is conceivable that governments would set minimum scores for private schools to be eligible to receive taxpayer money. Now as I have said before, the privatization of profits and the socialization of costs is NOT privatization. It is nothing more than another government pork sandwich. But putting that aside, governments already do that. The privatization of education was not necessary for legislators to politicize and infuse education with money. They did that all on their own.

    Sixth, your arguments about parents’ sending their children only to schools with the best scores is based on the assumption that test scores will be the parents’ only motivation. Though it might certainly be an important sticking point for many parents, it is not the only motivation. You seem to be insisting that it is.

    Seventh, though I will agree with you to a point that what the parents think is best for the child might not actually be the best for the child, again, I have to ask: what is the alternative? Let the experts run education the way they see fit? Like as though the experts are all-knowing, infallible beings? People like Dewey, W.H. Kilpatrick, and Michelle Rhee were/are supposedly experts. Do you see yourself trusting them? I don’t.

    Eighth, yes there are bad and unethical businesses that will try to trick and manipulate parents. But in what universe is there a complete absence of such people? If that were reason enough to oppose the privatization of education, then every single country in the world ought to nationalize their entire economies. Furthermore, there are bad and unethical people in public education, too, and for all intents and purposes, there seem to be a lot (though that is not to say that they are the majority). The difference is that in the private market, assuming that the unions are nowhere near as powerful as present-day Teachers’ Unions, such individuals are easier to fire.

    Also, it would seem that your argument about “millions that could have gone toward education will go to advertising, administrative fees and other investments wholly unrelated to learning” is something that has already happened a long time ago.

    Ninth, education was never free. Just because people don’t pay tuition directly to schools does not mean that their taxes have not been appropriated by the government. And if we really look into that, education is certainly not free if we consider the fact that the yet-to-be-born, who will some day be taxpayers themselves, are already in debt considering the massive deficits that public schools have been running.

    Tenth, I do not know which right-wing nut who drank too much of the Kool-Aid that you’ve been speaking to but I have never met any advocate of privatization who have claimed that the privatization of schools will utilize every positive element of business to improve education while keeping every negative aspect of business out. As I said before, the main argument is choice.

    The last line about the kids being the “defective products” sounds like an attempt at scare-mongering, though I am not sure if it was intentional on your part. As we both have agreed before, education is an imperfect market because of the emotions and the irrational thoughts that people have over the subject.

    But then again, there is no such thing as a perfect market. Keeping schools public or letting the experts run things hardly seems like it would be a solution. I doubt that there is such a thing as an ideal solution. But at least privatization gives people the chance to experiment until they find something that works for them.

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    • Well, look, if I raised all the concerns I have about education being treated and run like a business and you saw virtually nothing i said to be correct then I’m not going to debate you. I will say you misread several things I said, but I doubt me pointing them out would do anything to change your opinion, so I’ll save my breath.
      You don’t seem to have much respect for teachers or for the notion that there is such a thing as education experts and you also dont seem to have any issues with people with no background in education applying business practices to education despite me now having spent 5,000 words explaining how some of that will go down and proving it by pointing to Korea. Even the small handful of concerns I raised that you conceded still didn’t give you any pause, so again, there really isn’t anything more for us to talk about.

      But just because I like to debate: critical thinking can be taught and graded. Otherwise there would be no law school. It can be done at lower levels but not with standardized tests because it requires people to explain their thought process but the contribution of non-education experts to publics schools has been to get away from anything that can’t be quantified so this type of education cannot be done. But get kids thinking critically and they’ll do just fine on any other test.

      Also, I didn’t say standardized tests were evil or should be done away with entirely, I said schools already are and will continue to overly focus on them because it is the easiest and cheapest way to get data (and data gathering is more of a business concern more than an education one, but public schools have already been forced to run too much like businesses).

      You also really seem to have little respect for teachers because one of the biggest problems in America is the fact teachers aren’t trusted to teach anymore. They have to be checked on constantly via these tests. And I have no clue what you’re talking about when you say a lot of teachers are as bad and as unethical businessmen. Are you serious with that? What does that even mean? Who goes into teaching with idea of ripping people off or even getting rich? How would what even work? One of the main reasons running a school like a business will fail is because the kind of people who teach are motivated by something entirely different than people who go to work on wall st. Tons of studies show this starting with just the number of sociopaths in the two professions. One has the highest number and one has the lowest, Ill let you figure out which is which. People dont get into teaching to become rich, so i ask again, A LOT of BAD and UNETHICAL teachers!?! Numbers that rival Wall St? What are you talking about!?

      And yes, some parents will want whats best for their kids and do know what that is, but Korea shows very well A TON of parents dont know what’s best for their kids, so yes, listen to education experts starting with the trained teachers who is in the rooms with the kid in question everyday.

      Also you’re good questions about what is the measure of short term costs and long term costs all go to my point SCHOOLS SHOULD NOT BE RUN LIKE BUSINESSES. Education being talked about in these terms is exactly what I’m warning about because it proves businessmen are running schools and not people who know about education. In education the concern should not be about what will attract and lose students (because that’s what my hypothetical was talking when it was talking about costs), but only about what works!

      That schools cost taxpayer money is irrelevant to the conversation, really it is. Save that for a Teaparty website.

      And of all the other things I could take issue with, Ill only address “best parts of business” quote. I did not say that was taken from anyone, i said that is the way the argument is presented because when has anyone advocating for private school so much as even mentioned the fact they’ll grow to be huge or any of the other very legitimate issues I’ve raised. They only talk about the good while ignoring a business has to run like a business.

      And choice is exactly what allows all these issues to come into play. If you agree a lot of parents dont know whats best for their child (again, look at Korea) and that “some” bad businessmen will get into the market, then what the hell good is choice going to do overall? Fix what we have instead of blowing it up for what is at best, according to available data, moderate improvements that drop after the first few months. This is especially true given all the potential and very likely to occur downsides I have laid out.

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      • Oh, come now, Brian. You seem to be feeling a tad overly defensive, and in haste, have imposed certain positions on me that I never took. For one thing, I would hardly say that I don’t have much respect for teachers or for education experts.

        For one thing, I said that there are a lot of bad teachers. I didn’t say that the teaching profession is worthless. I also pointed to three education experts, who happened to be (overly) influential individuals who have shaped and still shape education policy much to the detriment (or at least displeasure) of a not insignificant portion of society. Again, I didn’t say that education experts are all worthless.

        Now this is important, because in the private market, no matter how influential an educator may be, his/her influence is limited to that portion of the market. But in the case of those educators that I mentioned, especially those who rise to the position of setting policy, their influences are very far-reaching.

        Gathering data is a business concern. Not just for schools, but also for everyone else. After students graduate from schools, they’re going to have to find work. As much as people would like to, not everyone is able to keep studying into perpetuity. Employers need to quantify their prospective employees. As such standardized tests have been used. Even if schools somehow internally do away with all the business activities of running a school, they still have to prepare their students for the job market.

        Now I don’t recall saying that the teachers are as bad as unethical businessmen. They’re apples and oranges. Unethical businessmen, for example, are the types who put profits over quality of their products, who prefer to swindle their clients and shareholders, etc. Obviously that is bad.

        As for bad teachers, I never said that they go into business to get rich. With the exception of very few outliers (like that one Korean hagwon teacher who makes a six-figure annual income), no one else in the teaching business goes into it for money. And of course teachers have different motivations than businessmen. But does that mean that there are no bad teachers? Of course not. And of course, by bad teachers, I do not mean those who try to make a buck, but those who have no passion for the job, those who abuse and/or neglect the children, etc. Though teaching is generally a noble profession, let us not turn every teacher into a saint.

        Now your point about how schools should not be run like businesses, though certainly full of ideals, perplexes me. If not run like businesses, then how are schools going to be run? Will anyone and everyone come and go as they please? Will wages be voluntary? Every expert in whatever field that they are experts in seem to think that they don’t need the business side of whatever job that they hold until the need for the business side of things arises.

        Your protestations about schools and educators being the only ones who care about what works and the businesses only caring about profits, damn the torpedoes, seems overly one-sided. Profits are more than just gross revenues minus costs. They are also indicators of where to steer the business. Businesses will emphasize what sells and deemphasize what doesn’t sell. You seem to be implying that the only thing that will sell are the shiny bells and whistles. That seems like an overly simplistic view of things. Will there be some bells and whistles being sold? Of course. Just like how universities, both private and public, often boast of their football programs. But suggesting that businessmen are not at all concerned about what works is wrong. Yes, at the end of the day, they only want profits. But what leads to profits? Consumer demand. Now, as we both agreed, consumers don’t always know what is best all the time. But it goes back to that old saying – “You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time.”

        (By the way, you seem to be also ignoring the fact that some of these for-profit businesses could also be run by, and staffed by, education experts as well.)

        And of course those who advocate privatization, especially the politicos, will always emphasize only the good bits of privatization. They’re fighting for a cause. Just like how those who support public education hate to talk about the negative aspects of public education. If you are listening to only the politicos, and not everyone else who really has no direct conflict of interests, then I think you might need to enlarge your information sources.

        It’s really not choice that brings this all about. If choice were the problem, then we should eliminate choices from everywhere else. Everyone should drive the same car, use the same soap, eat the same burger, have the same health insurance, etc. If the fact that there are customers who don’t always know what is best for them and the fact that there will be some bad businessmen are reason enough to think that there would be no good overall, then again, we should just nationalize everything and hope that the government that we get is very, very benign AND supremely wise.

        For too many reasons, rational and irrational, education is one of those commodities that people will never be happy about. Are there downsides to privatization? Yes. Are there downsides to public education? Yes. There are downsides to both sides. By giving them choice, people can at least choose their destiny rather than being forced into a one-size-fits-all policy, which might or might not work for everyone.

        By the way, I didn’t say that critical thinking cannot be taught or graded. But how is it going to be objectively proven? Not easily without standardized tests. That is why students have to take the LSAT before going to law school, and after they graduate and want to become layers, they have to take the bar exam.

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        • The only thing I’m going to say in response to all this, other than I must be doing something right if you have to reply with comments longer than my articles, is that you talk as though I simply made predication about what will happen without providing any supporting evidence.
          “Your protestations about schools and educators being the only ones who care about what works and the businesses only caring about profits, damn the torpedoes, seems overly one-sided. Profits are more than just gross revenues minus costs. They are also indicators of where to steer the business. Businesses will emphasize what sells and deemphasize what doesn’t sell. You seem to be implying that the only thing that will sell are the shiny bells and whistles. That seems like an overly simplistic view of things.”
          It is simplistic and it is correct and you dont have to look any further than Korea. An ESL industry that is profitable, failing students and steers education in the direction unknowing parents want because that is where the money is. I have worked in the head offices of three companies leading this industry here and am telling you this is EXACTLY what is going on. This is not a prediction, this is a report of the current state of affairs. Korea proves almost everything I said.
          I also said companies here are currently manipulating grades for business reasons. I noticed you didn’t touch that. John, this article wasn’t just predictions.
          Oh, and the LSAT is a test to determine a person’s inherent analytic thinking skills and is in no way an indication of how good of a law student or lawyer someone will be. The Bar is not a standardized test because again, those tests can’t measure that kind of thinking. So without ever objectively proving anything, we have this whole field full of well-educated and intelligent people because we trust the education process and professors’ individual ability to assess things. Oh, the horror!

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          • Firstly, as I’m sure anyone who is familiar with my writing style should know by now, I’m wordy. No one has ever accused me of brevity.

            Secondly, of course I had to write back long responses. The themes that we’re discussing are complex issues which cannot be limited to 140-character responses without being asinine.

            Thirdly, of course the ESL industry in Korea has been doing a horrendous job. If the amount of money invested ought to return a proportional return on investments, Koreans ought to be one of the best English-speaking people in the world. However, money alone does not solve such issues, does it? And neither does business, naturally. Money and private enterprise, though important, are not sufficient enough. Having been in the ESL business in Korea for as long as you have, you also know that Korean society itself is not very conducive to learning a foreign language for cultural and social reasons. Blaming those failures on businesses alone fails to look at the larger picture.

            Therefore, though your assertions may be true about the ESL industry in Korea, your main argument is against the privatization of education in general, or as you like to say – “schools should not be run like businesses.” You are letting your experiences in one problematic niche market in one country with its own unique cultural/socio-economic woes affect your views about the entire subject of privatizing education.

            I decided not to mention anything about your comment about people manipulating grades for two reasons. Firstly, I have no cause to doubt you on that. Secondly, it’s not a phenomenon that is exclusive to private schools. “No Child Left Behind” proved that it can and does happen everywhere else.

            The definition of a standardized test is any test in which the same test is given in the same manner to all test takers. So regardless of what it is that the LSAT or the bar exam are trying to measure, yes, they are both standardized tests.

  2. I purposely limited my article to not talking about Korean culture because the aim of it was to relate the Korean experience to America. Obviously talking about how Korea’s culture hurts ESL is not relatable. That is why I focused on universal business practices and economic principals since they relate to both countries. I pointed to specific business practices that result in bad education results.

    And I addressed cheating scandals in public schools: “Outbreaks of systematic cheating have already occurred in public schools where teachers and principals, when faced with losing their jobs because they cannot meet unrealistic test results given their students’ abilities, have chosen to manipulate test results.”

    This happened because business standards and ideas of accountability are being applied to something that is not a business. Teachers who are not motivated by greed and a desire to get rich and therefore do not need a salesmen incentives to work hard. A study by Vanderbilt University has already shown financial incentives offered to teachers for getting their test scores up didnt work because teachers, unlike business people, are already working hard with the money incentives. However, threatening them with losing their job if they don’t meet unrealistic educational goals for their specific students set by some suit in a boardroom or DC office will cause them to cheat.

    I will make one very important concession, my issues with standardized tests is specifically with multiple choice tests and high-stakes tests (i should have said that was what i was talking about).

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    • We are both in agreement that faking test scores exist in both private and public schools. But I’m not sure if it is accurate to say that that is because business standards are being applied.

      Obviously business plays a role in the private schools, as you have pointed out. But as far as public schools go, it would appear that it was not so much a business decision as it was a political decision.

      So it is something that exists in both sectors, albeit due to different motivations.

      But the thing that perplexes me is your insistence that teaching is not a business. Teachers wouldn’t be teachers if they were not remunerated, no?

      As you pointed out, teachers already do work hard. So as you said, extra financial incentives might not work to get them to work any harder than they already do. Obviously any “carrot-and-stick” approach applied to teachers will therefore be to focus on “results,” which does lead to unintended consequences that we both agree on.

      But again, that seems to be a similar decision that is made by both the private and public sectors for business and political reasons respectively.

      Now as to your point about multiple choice tests, again I agree with you that it is indeed problematic. But that seems like it is due to the problem of sheer numbers, no? Unless there is a significant investment of hard money, which would be unpopular in boardrooms and town halls alike, there just does not seem to be enough time/resources to be able to grade the subjective test scores of tens of thousands of students while maintaining minimal margins of error. Exams like the SAT and the GCE come to mind. Perhaps it is my inability to imagine, but unless we drastically change the way we think of schools and how they ought to look like (again, something that I lack the imagination to picture), I don’t know if there is a reasonable alternative to it that the majority of people would accept.

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      • You are correct about it being a political decision to implement things like no Child Left Behind, but that political decision was to bring a business mindset to schools with result driven accountability (all business lingo).

        And while teaching, just like any job, fits some definitions of “business,” I would hope it would be very clear from these articles that Im talking about for-profit. As it is, schools have no paying customers and no incentive to make a profit. This makes them very distinguishable from all traditional notions of business. Yes, they have budgets, accounting and personal management but are no more a business than a government is. My articles warn about the perverse incentives created in education from profit and the harm parents will cause when they have more say than experts (I’m calling trained teachers, among others, experts).

        I too will not pretend to have all the answer on how to improve America’s education system. However, I cannot see anything that justifies turning 500 billion dollars over to private companies given the mediocre results (at the very best) we’ve seen from school vouchers and charter schools, Korea’s example and the very real potential for an education industry that becomes run just like any other industry for the reasons I laid out in my articles. Allowing Wall St and DC lobbyist into education will make education as dysfunctional and corrupt as Wall St and DC. To me this is all crystal clear starting with investment and lobbyist groups already clamoring to get into this market.

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        • I’m not entirely sure if it is a business mentality when a politician tries to garner votes by appeasing to worried parents that they will somehow find a way to make sure that someone is educating their children properly. But we shall agree to disagree.

          As for public schools not being for-profit, it would seem that the big difference here is the lingo that we are using. Though public schools might not get paid directly by customers, they do get money from the government. Obviously some schools get more than others, but for-profit or otherwise, money is heavily involved, which lead to (perhaps not that entirely different) incentives of their own, no?

          The way I see it, you seem to be saying that though your side is not perfect, it does things better. I, on the other hand, am saying that both sides mess up and are hardly perfect. So why not just give people the ability to choose?

          Of course, that being said, though I am pro-privatization, that in no way means that I support charter schools or voucher programs. If we are going to privatize it, we should privatize it completely and get the government and the lobbyists out. But that’s the Free Market romanticist in me.

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          • Yeah, 500 billion and no lobbyist….I’m still laughing. Schools get guaranteed funding (well, they did before NCLB) and some get more than others because funding is partially drawn from property taxes which is one of the major problems in America’s schools. We are one of the only developed countries to fund schools with poor kids less. And this brings up the point that there are a lot of commonsense things we can do without blowing up a school system that was once the envy of the world for something that is horrible unproven and that clearly opens us up to some very bad actors and bad incentives.

  3. But what kinds of common sense things are there? Every school being given an equal piece of the DOE’s pie? Somehow, I don’t see that flying well with a lot of people outside of the poorer urban areas.

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    • And there is a very easy way to get the lobbyists out. Assuming that a miracle occurs and the government gets out of the education business altogether, there wouldn’t be a need for lobbyists to talk to the government about education deals, no? There has to be nectar for bees to be attracted to a flower.

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      • For a guy who says he does likes privatization, you don’t seem to have a realistic grasp of how it works. If they governments out, they would still regulate it. If you think getting a change in our education system is hard now, wait until there’s a 500 billion dollar industry lobby against any change that would affect their profits (which is all changes). And Yes, rich people wont like changing school funding, but there’s a hell of a lot more poor voters, sadly because we’re america and so many of us are idiots, we’re going to get a lot of poor people buying into this privatization thing and not realizing it’s just the latest way to create a new industry and make rich people richer. Because like i pointed out, ain’t no poor kids about to be going to the same school or getting the same quality of education as rich kids in the private sector either.

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        • Well, government being out would be, by definition, a removal of government regulations.

          But you are right that there will be private lobbyists who will lobby against regulation from the government.

          But the beauty of privatization is that, unlike the government, private businesses cannot force the people to buy a product and therefore, the people have the ability to vote with their feet.

          And no, poor children will not get the same kind of education as rich children in the private market either. I don’t think anyone would be ever so absurd to make such a claim.

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  1. What South Korea Really has to Teach Us About Education: Part II - […] Part III I’ll explain how privatization will cause even more reliance on tests and create business […]
  2. What South Korea Really has to Teach Us About Education: Pt 1 - […] Part II I explain why privatization will not level the playing field and will kill innovation. In Part III…

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