Education Is Not Just Another Business

Educating a child—-your daughter, my teenage autistic son—is not the same as running a business.

Don’t get me wrong. I know it’s the bottom line that school superintendents are looking at when making decisions in the name of education and ‘best practices.’ I’ve read my share of minutes from school board meetings and done my time debating, um, talking about my son’s educational needs and services and therapies with school administrators and case managers who just keep thinking how expensive it is to educate a child with disabilities like my son, and wishing they could dedicate more resources to a student who will bring fame and glory on the town by, you know, getting into Yale or knocking out 5′s on a dozen different AP tests.

So I was gladdened, sort of, to learn that the major of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, had to agree to appoint a career educator with experience in an actual public school classroom, as the second in command to his choice for the next chancellor of New York City schools, Cathleen P. Black. As reported in the November 26th New York Times, Black—the chairwoman of Hearst Magazines, has ‘spent a lifetime in the media business, does not hold any advanced degrees and has had little exposure to public schools.’

Oh sure. Just the person I would wish to have anything to do with the education of my son. 

I mean, do you really think Black has sat down and read her way through the likes of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act?

Shael Polakow-Suransky, a former principal of a Bronx high school and top official at the city’s Department of Education, is to be Black’s second in command. New York state’s education commissioner, David M. Steiner, only agreed to grant Black an ‘exemption from the normal credentials required by state law for the position’ after Major Bloomberg had conceded to ‘create the position of chief academic officer to oversee curriculum and testing at the city’s Department of Education.’

It’s not clear how much authority Polakow-Suransky will actually have as the second to Black, who is to take office January 1 of next year after the resignation of the current chancellor, Joel I. Klein. New York City’s school system, with 1.1 million children, 135,000 employees and 1,600 schools, is the largest in the nation.

I can only say, based on my experiences as a parent navigating and, too often, battling my way through the education system to get my son an appropriate education—-and also as a college professor of Classics, of ancient Greek and Latin, at a small school where most students major in pre-professional subjects—-that when push comes to shove, ‘economics’ drives more than a few decisions that are labeled ‘educational.’

I guess that is, as some would say, the price of business.

Photo by adecker31.


Lawrence E.
Lawrence H E7 years ago

I understand and do appreciate yuor concern about the education of you son, Charlie. The reason schools keep using business models for budgeting is because with fewer fewer tax dollars/per child coming in from both state and federal coffers all education is endangered. If you think your semi suburban school district is difficult to navigate, try predominately inner-city districts that have to depend on the generosity of the local community of old houses and unemployed citizens. Put the blame were it belongs, on the mandates of other than local districts that do not properly fund their demands. For too long we have denied the disparity in school district economics while putting the same educational requirements on all districts. SHOW ME THE MONEY!!

Gale Johansen
Gale Johansen7 years ago

This is the problem with worshipping at the altar of Capitalism, everything is business and about the bottom line. But how do we change the system, are we, as a nation, willing to finally sit down and begin the discussion about what we want from our educational system? Our system must change and I do not mean lengthening the school day or year for more instructional hours. If our system is failing so badly what will having the children in it for more hours accomplish? I have been involved in Montessori education for most of my adult life, our family was one of the founding families of a Montessori school and I worked at the school in many capacities, both in and out of the classroom. Additionally our son was a Montessori student through high school, so I have seen Montessori from a number of prospectives. Beyond Montessori there are other alternative systems that have enjoyed great success, but other than lip service to alternatives we continue to depend on a system that just isn't doing the job. And instead of critically looking at why the system is failing, we just blame its many victims; the teachers, the students, the parents. Education is simply learning and I have never encountered a child that wasn't, by instinct, driven to learn. If our children aren't learning then look to the system and let's stop considering it the business of education and start looking for the art of learning and how to foster it, not just in our children, but in all of us.

Elizabeth R.
Elizabeth R7 years ago

Educate your children yourself.

Or don't have a child if you're not willing to raise one.

Ruby W.
Ruby W7 years ago

there are young people to whom the public schools hold out hope - the ones that have truly substandard families they are trying to escape from

I suspect that any child with decent to good parents and a fairly stable living situation is better off almost anywhere else than in public school

Lionel Mann
Lionel Mann7 years ago

Do you seriously believe that those in power are at all interest5ed in having an effective system of education? To fund your military aggressively stomping around the world, supporting a booming armaments industry and thereby pouring dollars into their pockets is all that concerns your leaders. Additionally to form an ignorant gullible general public that will believe their hogwash about "making America secure" is a very good reason to dumb-down education. Therefore influential educational appointments go to supporters of the administration rather than to those with the necessary qualifications and experience. What are you going to do about it? All these words achieve nothing.

Kaye S.
Rev. Dr. Kaye S7 years ago

Noted, thanks.

Heather W.
Heather Williams7 years ago

I'd say that in the American Educational system you have to fend for yourself, there is no overwhelming push for excellence of teaching, or learning. Americans on the whole do not understand that if they want their children to get the best care, what ever that might be depending on the students abilities, they will have to PAY FOR IT. And honestly it is a very worthy investment, much more than the military we keep building into infinity.

Anastasia F.
Anastasia F7 years ago

Yeah, it's little wonder that we keep producing low-quality education since nobody wants to fund it and they all think it should be run like a business.

Kaye S.
Rev. Dr. Kaye S7 years ago