We Have the Education System we Deserve

by francine Hardaway on April 27, 2015

This past weekend I spent the morning as a volunteer for SySTEM Schools at a job fair for teachers called the Great Arizona Teach-In. Sponsored by the Arizona Department of Education, the Teach-In is an in-person exchange where new teachers and teachers who wish to change jobs — or have to change jobs because of layoffs or relocation — can come and meet with schools that are hiring. SySTEM, of course, is hiring.

Boy, did I learn a lot. For one thing, I learned that many veteran Arizona teachers are so burned out that they cannot even summon enough energy to present themselves properly for a job interview. They are amazingly lackluster and apathetic as a group, or at least they appeared to be so as they walked around the hotel ballroom looking for schools that were hiring. Half of them looked as though they had just suffered a death in the family.

They’re not looking at their potential employers as an exciting challenge, but just as a paycheck within commuting distance. The first question almost everyone asked us was “where are you located”? And that’s on our web site and our brochure.

Many also lack specific certifications for what they want to teach and seem unwilling to go in and take a certification test in sixth grade math or history. We saw an alarmingly small number of people I personally would let into a classroom to teach my child.

I also learned that charter schools are not necessarily taking students from public schools — only certain ones are. Many charter schools are struggling, either because they started up in neighborhoods without enough children or because they didn’t know enough about finances. This would be akin to opening a store without doing market research about the nearby trade area, or operating one without counting the cash at the end of the day.

On the gossip front, I learned that TesserAct, a private school whose board I was on when the parents bailed it out less than a decade ago, is once again at risk because of administrative incompetence and poor financial reporting.

When I was on that board, we had an entire room full of business people who pored over the financials in an almost line item manner. We all knew how to read a P&L and we did. It’s remarkable how quickly that board either deteriorated or lost interest in providing oversight to the school. Now that I’m on the SySTEM Schools board, I’m looking at this school’s books and budget, and warning every month: “don’t run out of cash.”

My experience as a start up consultant has stood me in good stead in the education arena, because I can see that the strength of educators is not financial. No wonder the business-driven charters are succeeding and some of the most visionary have failed. It takes more than a mission to keep a school open.

I have a couple of suggestions after my new-found learning: education schools need to teach some business if education reform is to succeed, and teaching needs to become more exciting as a profession to attract more energetic people.

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