Can MBAs Save Our Schools?

In a recent post, Chris Tessone with the slightly right-of-center Thomas B. Fordham Institute suggested MBA types working in school systems (supported by large foundations) should give up on that lost cause because the cultural and organizational issues are too deep and difficult. Instead, he argues, they should put all of their energy into charter schools. My response is twofold: 1) it is too soon to tell, and 2) that contrasting businesses and schools as vastly different without exploring how and why they are different (hint: profitability isn’t key) doesn’t help the discussion.

First, because the bureaucracies are so thick with certain types of cultures and expectations change of any kind will likely take some time. Change will also take new forms of information to support new ways of managing and developing those systems is no simple matter inside these school systems for a variety of reasons; many of which relate to the way schools are and how information flows through them. All evidence suggests building these systems and processes are extremely difficult in education, but not impossible. The change just may take longer than many hoped for when they began. Many in education are probably expecting that like other efforts to reform schools the efforts based on professional business-style management will also pass away. Some are probably hoping it will. But, I think after a few years it is just too soon to tell.

Next, when we contrast business and schools we support a false dichotomy that business is about profit and schools are about human development. I think there is such diversity in businesses and many businesses who see their value as social with profits a byproduct that there are other ways we could compare schools and other organizations that would show areas of similarity and areas of difference. As we move forward with organizational technology in schools, including some of the work by those from outside education, we may see these differences and similarities become more interesting.

Now that these reformers have been at it for several years, the time is right for some retrospective study to understand what barriers they are finding on the ground and what solutions they have found. More about this in my book.

Posted in Signs of the times