Note: The first article in this series, “What Happens When Teachers Aren’t in Control of Education?” was printed in the Deseret News on Sept. 9, 2017. This is a follow-up and extension of that article. The views of the authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Deseret News.
In our first article we proposed four “rules” that would restore teaching as a profession. In this article we expand on the first rule. Future articles will discuss each of the other three rules.
Rule No. 1: Do not introduce business practices into public education.
A business practice that has become embedded in public education is a requirement that teachers try to standardize students like businesses standardize machines or products. Business leaders are fond of terms like "quality control" and careful measurements to make sure products measure up to a fixed, "high standard." Education policymakers now often use the term "higher standards" for subject matter content that is designed to make students uniform in knowledge and skills.
Testing for standardized, uniform learning is a common required practice in public schools. This kind of assessment forces teachers to waste much time and effort trying to do that which is impossible: make students alike in knowledge and skills. Many students have physical ailments and some even suffer severe mental illnesses from the pressure to get high scores on tests that provide little useful information. Trying to standardize students is like trying to standardize snowflakes; it is not only impossible, but it is also very harmful.
The tests actually undermine good teaching. They call for the lowest level of instruction — teaching for memorization rather than analysis, synthesis and evaluation for solving problems. They diminish curiosity, contemplation, confidence and competence, actually making students and teachers less capable than they were prior to taking the tests.
If legislators develop a law that would eliminate abusive standardized testing, it would be an important service to public education. Let students choose whether or not they want this kind of assessment. Legislation could also encourage assessments that would measure student growth in curiosity, creativity, cooperation, leadership, initiative and individual talents.
Much of business practice relies on competition to create good products. In education, cooperation produces better results even in sports where teams compete against one another. Good coaches know that it is through cooperation and teamwork that teams win games. Many teachers are now discovering the value of having students often work on projects in a group whereby students grow in curiosity, imagination, creativity and leadership. Competition for high letter grades and grade-point averages is a business practice that can be replaced with a better system. Less learning takes place when students work for a grade rather than striving for personal knowledge.
Another business practice that has had a deleterious effect on the teaching profession is the practice of treating students like products on an assembly line — things to be acted upon. Thus, teaching is viewed as the process of teachers giving instruction or lecturing to fill the empty minds of students. Now we know that learning is a process less like sponges soaking up information and more like octopuses that actively reach out for it. Learning that is sought by the student is many times more effective than assigned, unsought learning. Unlike assembly line products, students build themselves, and this makes all the difference.
If we eliminate business practices from public education, it will be a big step toward restoring teaching as a respected profession. It is time we do so.
M. Donald Thomas is a former Salt Lake City superintendent of schools and now a national education consultant, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lynn Stoddard has many years of experience as a teacher, principal, author and conference speaker, email@example.com