Eric Loomis writes approvingly about an Austin, Texas, microbrew pub that is operated on a co-op model, in which employees are co-owners with a vote in how the business is run. Loomis thinks this is a promising idea for improving status and wages for restaurant workers. Matt Yglesias is skeptical, noting that the model seems to combine the worst aspects of both business ownership and working for someone else.
Similar co-op like models are also being applied in education, in a small but growing number of schools run by “teacher professional partnership” organizations. In this model--similar to that used by many medical practices--teachers in a school are partners in the enterprise and have common responsibility for managing the school and making decisions about issues such as budget and hiring and evaluating their peers. Specific models can vary: For example, under a charter or contract arrangement, teachers may actually have an ownership stake in a management organization that operates the school. Or a traditional district school might be operated under and MOU that gives a group of teachers greater autonomy over personnel, budget, and program issues but does not actually give them any ownership stake. Regardless of model specifics, the idea is to give teachers greater autonomy over their work as professionals, and enable them to develop new models for delivering education and allocating resources.
Some critics are quite skeptical of this approach, and particularly question whether it’s possible to establish coherent vision and culture in a school without a strong principal leader. There is no rigorous evaluation of academic impacts produced by arrangements that give groups of teachers greater control over school management. And it’s not clear how many teachers are interested in taking on some of the additional responsibilities that these models demand.
That said, “teachers as owners” arrangements are intriguing because they offer an alternative notion of teacher professionalism, accountability, and roles that is different from the options and views that seem to dominate our debates. Paying heed to these models, while exercising critical judgment about their limitations, could help enrich our conversations about teacher evaluation, hiring, placement, compensation, tenure, and so forth.
The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.