Use an Educational Model, Not a Business Model, for Public Education

Below are the reasons that, based upon my 35 years as a teacher and an instructional leader, I believe that a Business Model for public education is, inherently, the wrong model. Educational arenas require an Educational Model, not a Business Model, to be successful.

The below entries were first posted by me on the “Get Schooled” blog of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
I posted the following comments on March 31, 2013:

Other poster: “Yes it’s not the only reason he’s at a 2nd grade level (in 8th grade), but that doesn’t in any way excuse the harm that was done.”


My response:  “When I was in graduate school, I was taught by the head of the University’s Reading Department that the higher the grade level, the greater will be the range of instructional levels within the grade level. The professor said that that fact would ALWAYS be true because of the multiple variables of students’ backgrounds, ability levels, needs, etc. Teachers would need to be taught how to instruct to those varied instructional needs within each grade level, or schools would need more innovative instructional designs. I found fact that to be true in my following 35 years of educational practice, first as an Instructional Lead Teacher (grades k – 7) and, later, as a high school Reading Department Chair (grades 9 -12).

This is why to form a business model in public schools in which students’ standardized test scores are manipulated and projected, as one might project an increase in sales and profit within corporations, is not only morally wrong but grossly ignorant of instructional principles and of child development.

Moreover, teachers and students perform best in a nurturing, supportive environment, in which excellence is inspired, not mandated, by those educational leaders who are not only instructionally knowledgeable but also supportive and caring of all the human beings within their school’s setting. These educational leaders would not implement a business model for instruction because they know that human beings are more complex and unique in their needs than are material ‘products’ sold for profit. Each student’s potential must be maximized all along an instructional continuum, years k – 12, and perhaps even into the secondary years of 13 and 14 for some students to achieve, realistically, the minimum standards for a high school diploma. The education of parents and of the general public, as well as more in-depth teacher-training courses, are essential to achieving educational excellence without coercion and duress. Coercion to achieve unrealistic standardized test scores, and setting unrealistic educational goals for all students, massively, must be rejected. Test scores must be used ONLY to ascertain the correct instructional placement, and the correct levels of instruction, for every student, individually – irrespective of the student’s grade level assignment. Standardized test score results must never be used for bonuses for teachers or for schools, nor be used to dismiss teachers or to cut their pay. Evaluations of teachers must be multi-faceted.

Individual student’s academic records, for all students, must be incorporated within a computerized data-based system – as medical records are today incorporated into a paperless, data-based system for all individual medical patients – for easy access by teachers. Then, either through well-informed administrators being allowed to implement an intelligent change in their school’s overall instructional design, or by well-informed teachers’ own creativity, teachers must be able to address EXACTLY where every student is functioning in point of time, regardless of students’ grade level demarcations. If this realistic instructional reform is implemented in public schools, then massive failures in public schools will cease, and drop-out rates will be dramatically lowered.

Sophisticated instructional knowledge. Nurturing, not intimidating, environments. An educational, not business model, for schools. Community outreach. Educating parents. Educating legislators. State-of-the-Art technological databases of students’ instructional levels. Teachers pinpointing their instruction to the functioning levels of students, individually. Rejection of unrealistic instructional goals. Rejection of falsifying students’ progress for political purposes, or for self-promotion. Education. Education. Education. Not intimidation, duress, and coercion.


Note to Readers:  For a fuller understanding of why there are myriad instructional levels within each grade level, please read the following link from my personal blog:

Posted originally on April 1, 2013:

From the article: “Should schools be allowed to go into holding patterns rather than be expected to outpace their previous year’s accomplishments?” ====================================================

My response: “With all due respect, I submit that the question is framed incorrectly. To have been instructionally sound, the question should have been asked the following way:


‘Should students be allowed to go into holding patterns rather than be expected to outpace their previous year’s accomplishments?’


However, it is understandable why the question was framed as it was, because most people and even most educators think of educational assessment in terms of a school’s advancement from one year to the next, instead of an individual student’s advancement from one year to the next.

I will remind readers that students vary in their innate potential, and that the range of IQ scores in public schools is from IQs of 70 to IQs of 160+. Obviously, the students with the lower IQs will take longer to master the same academic requirements than will the students with the higher IQs.

The assessment for educational excellence should never be based on a schoolwide instructional targeted goal, but instead be based on goals for each student’s individual ability to master new material. Moreover, there should never be a ‘holding pattern’ for students’ academic progression, but instead each student should progress – or be paced – according to his or her ability to master new instructional concepts at his or her optimum level of advancement, continuously.

Furthermore, it is not a matter of thinking in terms of either a ‘holding pattern’ for each student or of having students ‘outpace their previous rate of achievement.’ To think in both of those ways is a business way of perceiving. I recognize that that business way of perceiving is now so ingrained, even within educational arenas, that most educators, and most citizens, do not recognize it as such. A business model is based on the concept of competition – competition between oneself and with other students or within oneself as a individual student. This competition goal is now being touted even among teachers.

In an educational model – which is more productive and effective in educational arenas than is a business model – each student would be paced from years k – 12 (or years 13, 14) at the highest pace level or maximum rate to which that student can truly master content, continuously. That way each student is continuously functioning on his/her accurate Instructional Level – not his/her Frustration or Independent Levels until he or she graduates from high school. An educational model recognizes that the fulfillment of each student’s innate potential is not a competiton, as sports or wars are competitions. Education is the fulfillment of, and the unfolding of, each student’s maximum potential, guided by intelligent, aware, and nurturing teachers who know what they are doing instructionally – with every student – every step of the way with each student’s progress from years/grades k – 12 (or 13, 14) so that each student will realize the fulfillment of his or her potential in full.


Note: Those readers who are interested in learning more about the assessment of teachers and students, please read the following link from my personal blog. I urge you to especially read, in detail, the yearly advancement, and yearly instructional pacing, given to ‘Johnny,’ based on Johnny’s IQ. Johnny’s story – which is a composite of many students’ stories I have witnessed in my educational career – is about halfway through the link, below:


On April 2, 2013, I posted the following remarks on the “Get Schooled” blog of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

“As much as I support the policies of President Obama, in general, in the matter of his ‘Race to the Top’ educational policy, with its heavy emphasis upon standardized testing as the main criteria for determining a school’s success, I believe that this national educational policy should be revisited and altered so that school environments, across the nation, will not be so filled with tension and fear.

Education should be about excellence, but excellence that develops within a nurturing school environment and one in which reasonable, realistic expections are set, and met, for each student, individually, based on the individual student’s potential. Determining the student’s potential, his/her correct instructional placement, and his/her rate of mastery of instructional objectives, should be the purpose of standardized testing – not to determine a school’s overall educational status in relation to other schools or to establish an administrator’s bonus.

There are multi-faceted ways to assess teachers, just as there are multi-faceted ways to assess the excellence of schools beyond a simple listing of each school’s standardized test score results. Each school’s student population will vary, which will cause a variation in test results for differing schools. One cannot compare the test results for a given school’s student population with the test results of another school’s student population with validity, just as one cannot compare apples to oranges with validity. Each school is composed of different populations of students, with differing aptitudes and needs.”

The following was also posted on “Get Schooled” on April 2, 2013:

Other poster: “My son couldn’t sleep last night because he was worried about the CRCT. He said (and this is a student who has ‘exceeded expectations’ in all categories each year) that he is stupid and will fail them all. His rantings and tears may be blamed on 6th grade hormones, but I think the pressure to succeed is simply too much on students, teachers, principals, and superintendents. I don’t agree with Mary Elizabeth on much, but we do agree that high stakes tests shouldn’t be high stakes at all; they should be used for diagnostic purposes only.”

My response: “Thank you for taking the time to post your personal testimony regarding the tension and fear that your son experienced because of the pressure of high-stakes testing in his school. Your son is only one of many students who must be experiencing higher than necessary anxiety upon taking standarized tests. The use of standardized test results has, unfortnately, become a ‘make or break’ criteria for teachers, principals, and school systems across the nation. This must end. We cannot continue to create such tension and fear within public school environments. Yes, we must build excellence in public schools, but that excellence must be based on instructional knowledge and care for students and teachers, and not based on coercion and duress.

Schools are not businesses and schools should not attempt to incorporate a business model to achieve excellence. Students and teachers are multi-faceted human beings, not ‘products’ to be manipulated for a simple, one-dimensional end result. Moreover, students should never be used for the profit of opportunists. Standardized testing should be used only for diagnostic purposes to ascertain students’ correct instructional placement and functioning levels, as well as their progress from year to year – simply for instructional knowledge. If standardized testing is limited to that diagnostic purpose, students and teachers will be unburdened from the undue pressures which they have been experiencing, based upon unrealistic, unreasonable educational expectations. An educational model, not a business model, should be used for building excellence in public schools. A business model simply will not work in educational arenas. To try to make it work is like trying to place a square block in a round hole. It does not fit. And, trying to make it fit, when it does not naturally fit, will only lead, ultimately, to failure and to unnecessary frustration and tension among students, teachers, and parents.

Please know that I was saddened to read about what your son has experienced related to the standardized testing in his school.”

And, on two different posts on the “Get Schooled” blog on April 2, 2013, I posted the following thoughts:

“This type of tension within schools must end. This much tension in school settings is not a healthy environment for students, teachers, or administrators. The intensity placed on the misguided use of test results probably permeates school setting many days throughout the year, and not simply on test taking days, because teachers will feel the tension, throughout the school year, to raise their students’ test scores to unreasonable and unrealistic instructional levels, massively, instead of being able to focus on students’ individual instructional needs. And, students will feel their teachers’ ongoing anxieties in their classrooms – which should be havens for nurturing joyous learning..

Standardized testing should be used only for diagnostic purposes to ascertain the individual instructional needs of students.”

“Just as the physician uses diagnostic testing to prescribe remedies for his/her patients in a pinpointed way, diagnostic testing for students can be a means not only to improve individual student’s lives, but also to make public education, itself, more successful in its academic results with ALL students.

We should have an academic, paperless computer data-base system for all students’ standardized tests scores for use, instructionally, by their teachers so that they can pinpoint individual, instructional needs of each of their students for their ongoing academic well-being, just as physicians presently have medical, paperless computer data-base systems which can give each of their patients’ medical tests results, and chronology of their medical records, to them in an instant. Physicians presently can scan on their computer screens – within a few seconds – what has been done and what further needs to be done with each of their patients in order to prescribe accurately for each, individual patient to ensure his/her ongoing physical well-being.”

I posted the following comments on the “Get Schooled” blog of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on April 8, 2013:

The following words were excepted from Maureen Downey’s Sunday column, published on Sunday, April 7, 2013, for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Editorial Board:

“The problem here wasn’t just the illegal and immoral behavior of a few individuals, but an absurd system of top-down, heavy-handed, test-based accountability, which is why cheating scandals have been popping up all over the country for as long as we’ve had high-stakes testing. And even if the Hall administration had raised the scores without cheating, Atlanta schoolchildren were still cheated out of a real education because the schools were turned into glorified test-prep centers.’”

In my opinion, the above quote from Maureen Downey’s Sunday column reflects an ineffective BUSINESS MODEL in education because the emphasis is upon the overall achievement of an unrealistic end-product by all students at the same point in time in “high-stakes testing,” achieved by an out-of-balance, intense pacing for all students irrespective of what individual students can realistically absorb at that rapid pace. The purpose for that type of “high stakes” testing and instructional approaches is for teachers, schools, school systems, or nations to out perform their counterparts competitively, and without regard to the individual variances in the actual pacing needs of individual students toward academic goals. As Maureen Downey’s Sunday column also stated, “Slow and steady was allegedly not enough for Hall, who, according to the indictment, ‘placed unreasonable emphasis on achieveing targets, protected and rewarded those who achieved targets through cheating. . .and ignored suspicious CRCT gains.’ ”

On the other hand, an effective EDUCATIONAL MODEL for testing accountability and instructional approaches and programs in schools can be found in the following words from Maureen Downey’s Sunday column in the AJC:

“Research suggests that while standards should be even higher than they are now, it’s a mistake to expect that every student will reach the same level of proficiency at the same time. What’s more important than measuring absolute performance across schools is measuring steady growth in individual students.”

The irony is that when schools and school systems recognize that “it’s a mistake to expect that every student will reach the same level of proficiency at the same time,” and implement instructional approaches and programs that will address students’ individual instructional needs more effectively, those schools and school systems will ALSO see an authentic rise in their schools’/school systems’ standardized test results over time, because their students correct instructional needs will have been authentically met at every point in time.

This one sentence from Maureen Downey’s Sunday column must be highlighed as the central sentence of her column which will help all students and all school systems to achieve continuing academic improvement. It is based on an educational model (and upon researched educational principles), and not upon a business model, for education:


I hope that Georgia’s School Superintendents, Georgia’s State Board of Education, Georgia’s Legislators, and the U. S. Department of Education, under Secretary Arne Duncan, will reflect upon that key sentence and will, thereafter, alter their present standardized testing policies to reflect the educational soundness of Maureen Downey’s few, succintly stated, but profound words from her Sunday editorial.

Finallly, I wish to post Maureen Downey’s final words in her Sunday editorial, written for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Editorial Board:

“The fate of the children of APS rests with the community – parents, educators, and policymakers – and its willingness to demand learning-centered classrooms for its most vulnerable children rather than mind numbing worksheets.”

I recommend that readers read the entire column by Maureen Downey. It is an outstanding column, in my opinion. Here is the link to her column:

This entry was posted in Data-based system for test scores, Test Anxiety. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Use an Educational Model, Not a Business Model, for Public Education

  1. Ernest says:

    Mary Elizabeth,

    Thanks for sharing the link to your blog on the GetSchooled site. I appreciate the fact that you participate in those discussions and are not dissuaded when some make negative comments about your posts.

    While sitting in a conference recently, the speaker referenced Vanderbilt and his use of ‘visibility’ to increase productivity from different shifts. In other words, he publicly posted the shift output for others to see as a means of appealing to the innate abilities of workers to want to do better. I see a similarity with NCLB. While I agree the need to look at dis aggregate data for analysis in hopes of improving instructional delivery to various subgroups, making it public and calling schools failures for not achieving predetermined standards has created the environment we see today in the metro area. I believe this increased visibility has even turned some communities on one another. Keeping in mind the title of this blog, I’d welcome your thoughts on the increased visibility of standardized test outcomes for all to see and evaluate.


    • Ernest, thank you for your comments.

      You have asked an excellent, relevant question of me. I hope that my answer is helpful.

      What you have described regarding the public posting of the production levels of different workplace shifts for the purpose of instilling competition, and thereby creating even more productivity in the organization, is a business model. The business world deals with products. The educational world deals with human beings. Teachers cannot assemble students in the same way that workers can assemble a Ford automobile.

      Moreover, schools should not be in competition with one another because each school has its own unique student population which may vary greatly from the population of another school in students’ socio-economic backgrounds, as well as their academic and social needs. It would be like comparing apples with oranges. You cannot truly obtain a valid comparison because you start with different populations. As I wrote in my post, above, students have IQs that range from 70 – 160+ (and that is true in every racial, ethnic, and socio-economic group). Therefore, the delivery of instruction to each child must be varied. It is unproductive and morally wrong, imo, to make comparisons between children. They are unique. Moreover, to try to force the same standards to be met by all students, at the same point in time, is ineffective. It will not work. They must be instructed with individual care. That is the educational model. The educational model does not depend upon competition with others. The educational model fosters the fulfillment of each child’s innate potential, irrespective of where his fellow student is functioning.

      There is something deeper going on with your business shift example, in my opinion. It is the question of whether we see human beings as being self-motivated and wanting to improve inherently on their own, or whether we see human beings as needing to be forced into improving through the machinations of those over them. I am of the thinking that human beings are more productive, and find more satisfaction with their work (or school) when they know that they are valued, cared about individually, and trusted to do as good a job as they are capable. It sounds as if the model you were taught in the seminar believes that human beings must be coerced by outside forces to produce to a maximum extent. And where does that thinking lead, ultimately? It leads to more and more production until workers might get into a situation that exists in some plants, or work houses, in China whereby greater and greater production is the only goal, and the workers’ quality-of-life is severely curtailed. I would prefer a workplace, even in the business world, where I felt valued as a human being, regarded as equal to my managers as a human being, and where I believed in my product and in my company so that I would give my best effort of my own volition, rather than having to produce through outside coercion, such as managers posting shift production quotas for workers to outdo one another.

      When all children are expected to meet set standards at the same point in time for a grade level analysis, then that is unrealistic according to the educational/instructional principles that I was taught in graduate school. That one-size-fits-all instructional approach will create failure with some students and many will drop out of school because their needs are not being addressed individually. Education must not be about competition, primarily. It must be about the fulfillment of each student’s innate potential in a relaxed, professional, and nurturing environment.

      About posting school results. That in itself creates competition, as you mention. Yet, the people have a right to know. It seems to me that the better way would be to present the information but, at the same time, place the information in the context that I have tried to state here, namely, that school populations are unique and that they cannot be compared with validity because each school’s population will be different.

      Thomas Friedman, columnist for The New York Times, has written an article entitled, “In new global rankings, some U.S. schools excel.” That article was published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on April 5, 2013. Friedman states that “even America’s middle-class students are falling behind not only students of comparable advantage, but also more disadvantaged students in several other countries.” Friedman goes on to point out that the good news is, however, that through the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA test, for the first time there has been documentation found that individual U.S. schools are literally outperforming every country in the world. Friedman asks, “So what’s the secret of the best-performing schools?” According to Friedman, “the best schools, the study found, have strong fundamentals and cultures that believe anything is possible with any student. They work hard to choose strong teachers with good content knowledge and dedication to continuous improvement. They are data-driven and transparent, not only around learning outcomes, but also around soft skills like completing work on time, resilience, perserverance and punctuality.”

      It seems that the best schools, described by Friedman, are data-driven, and they are driven – in that data – for the purpose of fulfilling each student’s maximum potential and not to compete with a neighboring school, nor to create high scores so that the Chamber of Commerce can use those scores to bring in business for the area, nor to create high scores for elected officials to promote for their own self-interests. The data is driven simply to educate individual students well. That use of the data is what makes an “educational model” and not a “business model.” The business model, ultimately, focuses on profit outside of the student’s interest. The educational model focuses on the individual student’s success.

      The U.S. schools’ scores which Friedman used to compare U.S. schools with schools in other nations were needed by him to accomplish that end. However, that necessity for comparison must be kept in perspective and the thirst for competition should never be allowed to get so out-of-control that schools, and even neighborhoods, as you say, are competing with one another viciously, as football teams might compete with one another. The educational advancement of each student to his/her potential is more complex an undertaking than a simple “my team/school vs. your team/school” mentality will allow. We must disclose test results, but we must disclose those results with wisdom, balance, and humanity. The purposes of disclosure should be knowledge and not competition. Moreover, I do not believe that standardized test scores should be used either to reward schools or individual teachers with monetary bonuses, nor for the dismissal of teachers, because that instills too much tension and fear within a learning environment. The assessment of schools and teachers must be multi-faceted, just as multi-faceted as is teaching to individual student’s needs. Those educational professionals who implement “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top” national educational programs must recognize this. Otherwise, these programs could end up becoming the epitome of a business model based on profit and competition rather than based upon an educational model which is student-centered. In my opinion, for schools to incorporate a business model would, ultimately, hurt students more than it would help them because the individual needs of individual students would not be the focus within an environment that promotes “set standards criteria” for all students to meet – at the same point in time. Moreover, without using test results with wisdom, balance and humanity in how those test scores are utilized and disclosed to the public, profit-making based on a school’s test scores, or a school system’s test scores, or a state’s test scores, could easily become the underlying goal of having students take standardized tests, rather than using those test results for the purely educational goal of seeing each student’s potential realized.

  2. Pingback: About Michelle Rhee | maryelizabethsings

  3. Pingback: Use Test Data Appropriately in an Educational, not Business, Model for Public Schools | maryelizabethsings

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