School & District Management Letter to the Editor

Lessons From Business and Industry Should Not Be K-12 ‘Guiding Light’

May 31, 2016 1 min read

To the Editor:

Paul Kihn’s effort to develop a vision for K-12 urban school districts is laudatory but lacking (“The District Is Dead. Long Live the District”).

There has never been a public school monopoly in education. Independent, parochial, and for-profit schools have been part of the landscape for some time. There is also no “science” of education without “art.” The current accountability era has almost eliminated the artistic features of the profession. The failure of policymakers and practitioners to honor the lessons of the cognitive sciences when developing rules and practices that dictate what happens in districts is regrettable.

Public schools were designed to resemble factories and business organizations in the 19th century. They were not designed to be highly effective for all students. The lessons from business and industry should not be the guiding light for education. Educators already know what to do and how to do it well. Continuing to emulate business strategies ignores the insights into teaching and learning that have developed over the centuries.

It is a myth that there are no resources for education. There are huge disparities in per-capita student spending. ZIP codes and politics determine whether or not students—particularly poor children—receive a highly effective education. Our commitment to universal education does not have a corresponding commitment to equity.

Local public school districts are the first—and often the only—choice for education, except for privileged families. Innovations such as charter schools must be funded so that urban and rural districts can keep pace with the warp-speed developments of the global economy.

Kihn’s 2.0 vision for school districts is worth pursuing, but too many features of his argument are assailable.

Irving Hamer

Memphis, Tenn.

The author was formerly a deputy superintendent in Miami-Dade County, Fla., and Memphis, Tenn.

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A version of this article appeared in the June 01, 2016 edition of Education Week as Lessons From Business and Industry Should Not Be K-12 ‘Guiding Light’

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