Our Education is Their Business
October 18th, 2006
The public education system in New York City is the largest and one of the oldest in this country. More than one million students attend the hundreds of schools in the five boroughs of our city, trying to get a decent education. But as budgetary constraints increase pressure on the Department of Education (DOE) and on principals and faculty, the result has been an education system run like a business.
In recent years, curricula have been overhauled across the city and a greater number of newer standardized tests have been introduced to students and forced upon teachers, most notably those which are now taken by third graders. Reports released by the DOE and dialogues about New York City education focus, in large part, on the results of standardized tests, schools opening or closing around the city or just budgetary constraints in general.
On October 5, it was reported in The New York Times (“City Officials Weigh Bigger Private Role In Managing The Public Schools” by David M. Herszenhorn) that the NYC DOE, with the approval of the city government, plans to pay private educational organizations to manage many public schools. What management would mean differs because, in Herszenhorn’s words, “Some [private educational] groups are interested only in instruction, while others want a say in everything from teacher training to the lunchroom menu.”
One major cause of budget cuts is that the DOE gets too little money from the state—$15 billion too little, according to the recommendation of three arbiters appointed by the Court of Appeals in 2004. Since the city doesn’t receive enough money for its public education system, it has been forced to find other means of support. One solution has been getting grants from private foundations to fund private management of many schools in New York. Now that those grants are running out, the city wants to either find new sources of grants or pay the private managers directly from public money.
But the implementation of privately-managed schools within a public school system raises some questions about what the future of our school system will be. For instance, if standardized testing continues to accelerate its takeover of the public school curricula, it may affect these schools particularly. Whether a management organization is retained or fired will depend on its students’ performance on standardized tests. If these are schools whose students won’t score as high on the tests, then constant management changes may affect them significantly more than other schools whose administrations are stabler.
Schools are now judged based on the grades their students produce. In the business world, profit is yielded by keeping costs down and production high. The differences between these two constructs are disappearing.
In addition, this gradual shift in the DOE’s policy and this new plan specifically raise concerns about the students’ involvement in the process. Has any part of the decision-making process involved the students?
No, it hasn’t. Because the underlying truth of our current public school system is that it is run like a business. The DOE of NYC is not only populated by educators, teachers and administrators, but also by businessmen who are not elected but appointed indefinitely. Students themselves get no say in what shape their education system takes until they are already out of it. But they should have a direct voice in the policies and the choice of administrators in their education system. Just as citizens are trusted with the ability to vote, students above a certain age should be trusted with the ability to shape the future of their education system. This would prompt administrators to think about students as people, rather than money-consuming individuals.
Budgets are important, but this is education and the principles of business should not be applied to education. If fiscal concerns and standardized test performance levels dominate the DOE’s concerns, the creative, interesting side to education will vanish. The goals of education will become keeping the