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Posted at 11:29 AM ET, 01/12/2011

Framing education as a business

By Valerie Strauss

The public education system is a civic institution, the most important in the United States, but that sort of thinking isn't popular today among school reformers.

Buzzwords in education have for some time been "innovation," "effectiveness," "value-added," etc., but expect them to be overtaken by "return on investment" and, of course, the tried but true "bloated bureaucracy."

If you have any doubt that business thinking has taken over the education policy debate, take a look at these invitations from two nonprofit organizations in Washington D.C., the CATO Institute and the Center for American Progress.

CATO is a libertarian think tank and CAP is a powerful Democratic public policy research and advocacy organization led by John Podesta, who was chief of staff to President Clinton.

From the Center for American Progress:

Return on Educational Investment
A District-by-District Evaluation of U.S. Educational Productivity

January 19, 2011, 10:30am – 12:30pm

Opening address:
John Podesta, President and Chief Executive Officer, Center for American Progress

Presentation of study, methodology, and interactive website:
Ulrich Boser, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress

Panel discussion:
Jacob Adams, Professor of Education, Claremont Graduate University
Eugene Chasin, Senior Vice President, Say Yes to Education
Jim Shelton, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education

Moderated by:
Cynthia G. Brown, Vice President for Education Policy, Center for American Progress

This report is the culmination of a year-long effort to study the efficiency of the nation’s public education system and includes the first-ever attempt to evaluate the productivity of almost every major school district in the country. In the business world, the notion of productivity describes the benefit received in exchange for effort or money expended. Our project examines the academic achievement a school district produces relative to its educational spending, while controlling for factors outside a district’s control, such as cost of living and students in poverty.

Our aim for this project is to kick start a national conversation about educational productivity and encourage states and districts to embrace approaches that make it easier to improve achievement and sustain educational efficiencies. Join us for a conversation about this groundbreaking report. We will talk with the researchers who created the report as well as with other experts in the area of school productivity.

Space is extremely limited. RSVP required.
Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis and not guaranteed.

From CATO:

Cloning "Superman": What Other Countries Already Know about Scaling Up Good Schools

Friday, January 28, 2011


Peje Emilsson
Founder, Kunskapsskolan, Sweden

Humberto Santos
Researcher, Instituto de Políticas Públicas, Universidad Diego Portales, Chile


Sarah Sparks
Journalist, Education Week

moderated by
Andrew Coulson
Director, Center for Educational Freedom, Cato Institute

Everyone agrees that we have too few good schools and too many lousy ones. What’s missing is a mechanism for replicating what works. Competitive for-profit markets have served that function in other fields, from cell phones to coffee shops. Can the same thing work in education?

To find out, we’ve invited experts from both hemispheres to tell us what their nations have learned from decades of experience with private-school choice. Peje Emilsson founded the largest chain of for-profit private schools operating in Sweden’s nationwide voucher program. Humberto Santos has studied the academic performance of public schools, independent private schools, and chains of private schools in Chile’s voucher program. Responding to their findings and asking challenging questions will be Education Week journalist Sarah Sparks.

Please join us for a lively discussion of how we might finally be able to stop "Waiting for Superman."

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By Valerie Strauss  | January 12, 2011; 11:29 AM ET
Categories:  Education as Business  | Tags:  bill clinton, cato institute, center for american progress, education as business, education buzzwords, education debate, education policy, john podesta, president clinton, public education, return on investment  
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Just for fun, I looked up Sweden and Chile's PISA rankings, since that is the obsession du jour:

Chile, not surprisingly, scored substantially lower than the U.S. on every measure. Sweden -- a first world country with a largely homogenous population -- did score better than the U.S. in math, but scored *lower* than the U.S. in reading and science. Maybe vouchers have some use -- I don't know -- but is this really a ringing endorsement of them?

Posted by: joshofstl1 | January 12, 2011 12:23 PM | Report abuse

In the District of Columbia, we hardly want teachers who shun the concept of "effectiveness" or who believe it is not their job to add some value to the total educational process.

The word too many teachers run away from is responsibility. We really can't have that when it comes to public employees in such important positions.

For lack of accepting these concepts and words, it is not surprising that teachers don't hear the word "respect" enough. The real teachers who are effective and concerned about results naturally garner our respect. We cherish every such educator that we have.

Posted by: axolotl | January 13, 2011 11:24 AM | Report abuse

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