Consumer Focused PreK-12 Education

November 14, 2013 at 12:45 PM Leave a comment

I am not a fan of privatization of government services; however, I strongly urge public school educators to look at their services through a consumer focus. School-aged children are not members of a captive market. Enrollment in many school systems has declined, sometimes quite precipitously, and consumer confidence must be won back to keep public education alive. And this will require changes that will cascade through the entire delivery system.

Political conservatives are all about privatization of schools to give parents choices for educating their children. And they make a fair point that children are owed better than what many struggling school systems have to offer. The liberal counterpoint tends to vilify the privatizers themselves and to recommend barriers to entry into the PreK-12 arena. For the good of the children, neither side should win. The children need public education that meets their needs – not those of private shareholders or adult stakeholders in public schools.

Consumers of public PreK-12 education services are the children and their parents or guardians. They have a wide variety of needs that must be taken into account to achieve free appropriate access to public education. For them, a strong, responsive education delivery system defies the confines of a nifty mission statement or TEDsplaining of beliefs. Instead a dynamic equilibrium must be maintained through a substantive on-going dialogue between educators and consumers.

School leaders are in charge of this this new parent-teacher paradigm, and their leadership teams should represent great depth in instructional services as well as a quality assurance function that ensures community satisfaction and persistent enrollment. The latter group is convened as part of the team for attendance, support services, and achievement in benchmark assessments as well.

This approach can be differentiated from that of reformers who cite the importance of parental buy-in with their value systems. In reality, they do not sell their plan to parents…they just exclude the parents who do not immediately agree with their mantra. Public schools must serve all members of the community and, frankly, be more flexible than that.

Going further, public schools need to be organized to deliver 12-14 years of education services that culminate in students becoming adult citizen with readiness for college and career development. Today, they are centrally organized with physical or virtual access to broad-based resources. That may change, but for the near-term school services should be available through neighborhood or regional access with transportation appropriate to age. Parents may decide to send their kids across town for a school, but the system should not be designed to require it. Walking to school for PreK-8 would be ideal.

In cases of poor education delivery, the school transformation process may take many forms – from reorganization to complete reinvention – but the problems implicit in this change process should not be exported to the kids and their families. Such projects should be managed for seamless transitions and timely communication. Voluntary change should be implicit in the contract between consumers and their service delivery systems – not contentious battles among stakeholders or regulatory intervention.

Back to the real world. No one seems to like change. But we need it. Building dynamism into the day-to-day discussion between teachers and parents probably means more highly skilled leaders as facilitators. And it will require greater autonomy from district oversight. The pay-off should be success for the children, a more robust model for problem-solving, and less need for blunt regulatory instruments.

Like I said, I am not a fan of privatization of government services, mainly because I think it distracts investors from better options for real economic development. In addition, ideal models for schooling generally offer exclusive services rather than general access. But we can take a lesson from the presence of competitors and learn to beat them by playing the game better.


Entry filed under: Parent-Teacher Paradigm, School Transformation.

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