• from The Columbus Dispatch - "Why Schools so Badly Need Reform."

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Why Schools so Badly Need Reform.

February, 1998

By William L. Bainbridge

School-reform efforts by legislatures, government, and businesses bring to mind an exercise conducted by SchoolMatch. The task was simple: take a standard format for a corporate business plan and apply it to the public schools.

Steve Sundre, SchoolMatch Executive Vice President and I borrowed a business plan from a "Big 6" accounting firm and tried to fit the governance structure of public schools into this framework. Regretfully, here are the results:

  • Market Analysis and Strategy. Prospects and clients will not be consulted in the development of or future delivery of the service. The service will be marketed before the need is determined. The strategic focus will be changed frequently based upon fads or suggestions from outside consultants.
  • Advantages of Product or Service. The service is differentiated from other services in that its effectiveness is not generally evaluated. Attempts to do so will be considered counterproductive. The service will be initiated with a significant market share already in place with clients assigned by government. Competition between divisions will be strongly discouraged. Service will be provided whether clients need it or not.
  • Human Resource Management. Professionals will be employed on the same salary schedule regardless of the market for their specialty. Compensation will be based upon seniority and education level aloneónot productivity. Few or no opportunities for advancement will be provided. Jobs will be created with little diversity from year to year. Little or no incentive will be provided for a job well done. Employees will be provided with 14 weeks paid vacation upon entering the firm. Staff training opportunities will be very limited and largely optional.
  • Management and Organization. Managers will be evaluated on the basis of popularity among employees and within the communityónot productivity. Employees of competitors and potential competitors will serve on the board of directors. Disgruntled former employees and unsuccessful employment applicants will also be encouraged to serve on the board. The sales and service force will grade its own work. When inclement weather occurs, employees will be permitted to stay home even if all other businesses are operating. Large portions of managementís time will be devoted to board meetings. All managerial candidates will be asked to publicly state their interest in a new position, even if it jeopardizes their current role in a competing organization.
  • Service Operations. The sales and service force will have limited contact with clients. Such limit will be reinforced by lack of access to telephones and word processing equipment. A language of acronyms will be developed that will not be understood by clients. The sales and service force will be isolated with little opportunity to communicate.
  • Financial Information. Goods and services will be purchased from the lowest-priced vendor regardless of reputation or past service record. Financial data about the company will be reported in terms not understood by the client and will often be incomplete or inaccurate. Financial officers will generally have little experience in business. Certified Public Accountants and MBAís will be discouraged from applying.
  • Business Description. The business will be described as more than 15,000 public school systems serving 45 million pupils and their families, with more than four million employees and spending about $200 billion per year.

Most entrepreneurs and business experts would view the above as nonsense. Although the tongue-in-cheek descriptors are a bit extreme, each exists in some public school systems.

As we search for answers to school reform and funding, it is important to remember the public has already invested in the "business" known as public schools. Regretfully, those schools are predicated on structures and principles unknown to the business community. Major restructuring is the only answer.

is Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data firm.

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