Wednesday, September 18, 2013

"Run LIke a Business"

The funny thing is, there was a time when saying something should be run like a business was useful and positive. It meant that decisions needed to be made realistically. It meant that you shouldn't spend buttloads of money you didn't have. It meant that you couldn't get so wrapped up in your magical unicorn visions of what the operation did that you forgot about paying the bills and taking care of the nuts and bolts.

But no longer. Today business is well entrenched in a mess best dissected in this column:

Businesses were no longer about making something or doing something. Businesses became all about maximizing stockholder value, getting return on investment, getting every last drop of blood out of the corporate turnip.

That had a variety of side effects, but the one most recognizable in our current world of education "reform" is this-- when ROI is the most important job of the company, knowledge of the industry is of minor importance as a CEO qualification.

We've watched company after company be taken over and run down by people who know nothing about the industry they're "leading" in. And that's on purpose. If I'm looking for a new CEO of a soup company, I'm looking for a guy who's good at getting money out of companies. What he knows about soup doesn't matter.

In my own little corner of the world, we had a CEO pass through who ran, in succession, a toy company, a soup company, an oil company, and a soap company. He didn't make successes out of any of them, but he did squeeze ROI out, before jetting off to his next gig. The last bankruptcy of Hostess was inevitable, because management was determined to squeeze out every last ounce of life. If the company was still alive, the reasoning goes, there must be some life left to squeeze.

"Run like a business" used to mean "with hardnosed practicality aimed at creating a quality product." Now it means "able to get a good financial return regardless of what the company actually does."

Which is why demands that schools should be "run like a business" are chilling, but accurate. You don't need to understand teaching and students and the material and child development and pedagogy to run a school. You just have to understand how to get a business to cough up some good ROI. We don't need educators in charge-- they just get distracted by the students and the learning. We need businessmen who understand measuring deliverables and squeezing budgets for full returns. And we need to give them full freedom to do their Master of the Universe thing. And talking about "experience" is silly, because all these so-called "experienced" teachers only have experience in what the business is supposed to do, and THAT is just a distraction from the true business of making those dollars flow in the right direction.

I have always maintained that public education is where failed management theories go to die. This time, they're bad enough to do some real damage to the schools they infect.

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