Every time I have a conversation with someone who has been successful in business — something that happens more than you might think because of the sports I play, tennis and golf — it strikes me they have no understanding of what motivates a teacher.
As people who have marked their own success in life through the accumulation of income, investments and property, they find it hard to respect people whose personal satisfaction comes largely through non-material rewards. They think it odd that a person as competitive as I am on the court could possibly devote myself to a field which has no chance of making me rich. They often look on most teachers and professors with a bemused contempt that I only get an exemption from because of my sports skills.
This is why it is frightening that business leaders have taken charge of education in the United States. Because the only things they take seriously as motivation are material rewards and fear of losing one’s job or business. They are convinced that schools in the US can only be improved when a business style reward and punishment system is given primacy.
They love the idea of performance evaluation based on hard data (with student test scores being the equivalent of sales figures and profit margins), of merit increments for those who succeed, and removal of those who fail.
However, because they fail to understand how much of a teacher’s job satisfaction comes from relationship building and watching students develop over a lifetime, they create systems of evaluation that totally eliminate such experiences because they cannot be reliably measured.
The result, sad to say, is that measurement trumps real learning.
The inevitable results are massive demoralization of the teaching force (teacher morale is now at the lowest in recorded history), a narrowing of the curriculum to constant test preparation, and a “brain drain” of talented teachers from high poverty schools to those located in more prosperous neighborhoods.
Why we actually allowed people who are successful in one field to be given control of a field in which they have no experience and no track record is a question future historians will need to ponder. But the results, so far, have been near catastrophic.
All across the country, we have more and more teachers who hate their jobs because their job security has been destroyed, and more and more children who hate school because of the constant testing. It’s time to change course.
The Great Recession should have shattered once and for all the idea that the measurement and motivation systems of American business are superior to those in the public sector. (Do we really want the same quality of teacher ratings as Moody’s and Standard & Poors applied to mortgage based derivatives?)
American business needs to clean up its own act, not apply its flawed methods to other fields. If we continue on the path we are on, we may well see the American education system become as corrupt and unstable as the global financial system.
This piece was earlier published at L.A. Progressive.