The Teaching Firm
By: Nancy Jester
Much of the “education reform” talk we hear today gets discussed with the tacit assumption of pitting one group against another. The framework often boils down to parents wanting a better education for their children versus teachers who baulk at increased accountability measures that judge the quality of their teaching and represent a threat to their job security and growth. I reject this paradigm.
The architects and beneficiaries of this faux war are the educational bureaucrats. We now have more administrator than teachers in 21 states, including Georgia. Discussions about accountability are really discussions about creating more jobs for them. Anytime you add another bureaucrat, the classroom teacher is burdened. The growth of these bureaucrats has degraded the teaching profession and created the hostile climate we witness today. Bureaucrats sell parents on “accountability” by making them believe some new program, test, measurement or evaluation system will magically turn their child’s classroom experience into a, heretofore unseen, utopia; opening up educational opportunities previously unattainable. We are just one magic idea away from curing what ails education today. I’m sure some bureaucrats even believe this. Sadly, they burden the teacher, charge the taxpayer and generate false hope in parents, all while collecting six-figure salaries, stretching their bureaucratic tentacles and creating growth in government sector jobs. Well played.
I’m not a Pollyanna. Not all teachers are equal. Some are more effective than others. Some teachers are better-suited for the reserved child; while others do better with gregarious, talkative children. I’m keenly aware some people have made it into the classroom that have no business being there. But I’m also aware that somewhere, a bureaucrat hired them and has allowed them to stay. I also know not every parent is an asset to their child’s teacher. Some parents are incredulous when their child doesn’t get a good grade. There are helicopter parents. There are parents that never show-up at all. And there’s no bureaucracy to evaluate and fix those parenting foibles for teachers.
Parents and teachers should unite behind the idea that they aren’t on opposite sides. Parents, children and teachers are pawns on the chessboard of educational bureaucrats. What’s the alternative? Well, lawyers work at law firms, CPAs work at accounting firms and they manage themselves. Teachers should work at teaching firms and be expected to do the same.
When a lawyer or a CPA begins their work, they practice their profession and do so throughout their career. Yes, they may take an off-ramp, but many work in professional firms from the beginning to the end of their careers. They develop their reputations and their specialized skill set. They may become a partner within their firm. Their firm may also specialize in a particular market segment.
I believe we need to see schools as teaching firms. Just as other professionals manage their “firms”, so should teachers. The Principal should be the managing partner of the firm. Generally the managing partner is someone who has been successful at their career and is seen as an asset to the partners, associates and clients of the firm. The partners of the teaching firm would work with the principal in managing budgets, hiring and planning. Each teaching firm would receive its per pupil funds and the partners could determine their own pay structure and deployment of resources. Of course, they would be responsible for complying with all legal requirements. You could allow schools to specialize in areas. Teachers could recognize their talents with different types of learners and specialize within the firm. Right now, we have no organized way to maximize the talents of our teachers. We expect them to be all things to all people. That’s an unrealistic approach.
The parent compliment to the idea of the teaching firm would be the freedom to choose the teaching firm that works best for them. If parents are allowed to find the best fit for their child, teachers and their firms are freed up to embrace the professional specialization and techniques in which they excel.
The bureaucrats are able to keep control and grow their budgets by creating fear, mistrust and false hope. When teachers and parents realize they are both prisoners in the same bureaucratic gulag, then we’ll have a true reformation. The keys to unlocking the prison gates are Teaching Firms and School Choice.