December 2013/January 2014 Issue
December 17, 2013

Letters: Nothing like a business

Source: NYSUT United

When a business looks at its profits to measure success, it makes moves to increase the profit margin, like changing suppliers or eliminating people. This is the way business works — if you are not a strong contributor to the bottom line you will most likely be fired.

The main push these days is to make education more like a business, so we measure student growth, just as a business measures profits, and we plan to make changes. Here is where we run into a problem.

Let's start with the position of the teacher who, in the above scenario, is the employee. We look at how efficient they are and if they are advancing the cause of the company, which, in their case, is student performance on standardized exams. With the raw materials they have been given to do their job, they must accomplish their task effectively.

Now let's look at the raw materials — the children who make up a classroom. Some will get it right away and some who, when you work with them a little longer, will do great. But you cannot exchange your raw materials for a better product, nor would any teacher ever think of quitting on a child.

Children's achievement on tests cannot be used to measure the success of the school because yearly growth for each child is different. A teacher knows that with patience and determination every child in a class will succeed, though sometimes not at the same pace.

This brings me to the final part: quantifying something that cannot be quantified.

If I was judged as a mother on the progress of my child year to year, I would have failed. My children did not start to walk in their first year, each took their time being potty-trained, and so on. As many parents know, kids have their own rate of growth and I am proud to say my children can now do all of the tasks above flawlessly. They went at their own rate and made strides toward accomplishing the task, but it took some of them longer than their siblings.

This is the same in a classroom. Teachers know this to be true, but many tests ignore this fact.

When I left accounting to be a teacher, I looked at success numerically. I entered education with all the answers: Just do it, fix the errors and advance education. It did not take me long to learn otherwise — educating children is nothing like a business.

Laurie Holtsbery — Syracuse Teachers Association


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