By Joseph P. Batory
One of the worst examples of hypocrisy in the United States in recent times has been the never-ending stream of criticism and negativism about public education flowing from business and corporate leaders. Round tables of business executives and a host of other self-anointed private sector individuals have consistently offered sophomoric solutions regarding America’s highly complicated system of public education. Worse yet, these corporate leaders have often attributed business and/or national economic woes to the failure of the educational system.
The recent history of discrediting public education by the corporate world goes something like this: During the 1980’s, CEO after CEO blamed public schools for the downturn in the economy. But when the economy turned consistently “bullish” year after year in the 1990’s there was never any praise for schools from those same business leaders. That’s because these corporate execs knew all too well that the correlation of their economic success or failure to the quality of public schools has never been a valid premise. Historian Lawrence Cremin in Popular Education and Its Discontents has explained that success or failure in the corporate sector is much more related to top level management decisions inside the corporation, and the monetary, trade and industrial policies of the federal government. For too many business leaders, attacking public education has just been a convenient “shift the blame” propaganda mechanism away from their own accountability for corporations and businesses struggling and/or experiencing rough times.
One typical business complaint has been that public schools are not creating the necessary quality workers that are needed for corporate success. But check the records of extreme downsizing in the private sector as its one “tried and true” management technique. Clinton Boutwell’s Shell Game offers a staggering revelation of this amoral (or is immoral?) practice by corporate leaders. When corporations and businesses have experienced tough times, rather than focusing on building innovation and better competitive practices and new “out of the box” strategies, all too often thousands of highly trained and capable workers have simply been cast aside (laid off) in order to insure the profit line for the company shareholders.
Finally, the absurdity of the idea that some mechanistic “business model” should be utilized to promote educational excellence in schools is now more evident than ever before. Just in the past few years, the corporate misdeeds of WorldCom, Enron, Tyco International, ImClone Systems, Arthur Andersen and Rite Aid should be enough to convince anyone that perhaps business should prioritize its own institutional shortcomings before attacking public schooling. Most recently of course, we have witnessed even more sad examples of one piece of mismanagement after another leading to the demise of corporations and the collapse of the stock market.
Ironically, throughout the endless years of this public education bashing, the practices of corporate America have generally existed in a vacuum as if business models held some infallible secret to achieving excellence. But that bubble has now burst and the American people are finally getting a realistic picture of rampant business incompetence and mismanagement across our nation.
And so it just may be time for the Congress and the White House to consider finally abandoning their misguided No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) for public education and replacing it with the No Corporation Left Behind Act for business and industry. In line with the travesty that has been perpetrated on public education, this new legislation should focus on: (1.) discouraging innovation by regimenting and mechanizing all business procedures whether effective or not; (2.) downplaying all creative activity as a waste of time; (3.) limiting analytical thinking and invention as not critical to corporate purposes; and, (4.) prioritizing frequent standardized tests developed by the government for all employees. Success on these tests would be the highest priority for businesses rather than developing quality products or innovative techniques.
The chief goal of this new No Corporation Left Behind law would be to subsequently embarrass and humiliate corporate/business institutions with government labeling that will be widely publicized by the news media, e.g. — “Has Been Warned” … “In Corrective Action” … “In Need of Improvement” …”Making Adequate Progress”…or … “Failing…Should Be Taken Over For Restructuring!” The premise of this proposed legislation is that everyone inside a business or corporation is either incompetent or stupid so they must be “bludgeoned to greatness.”
If these goals and purposes for the proposed No Corporation Left Behind Act seem to be questionable or even a bit silly, please be reminded that these principles are very similar to what has been done to public education via the No Child Left Behind Act. After all, should not the federal government’s brilliant recipe for school improvement be also utilized to create business improvement?
Joseph P. Batory is the author of three books on school leadership and numerous articles on the politics of education.