Monday, August 18, 2014

Parents as Customers?

Controlling the "Customer" via "Choice"
Back in 1993 the book TOTAL QUALITY FOR SCHOOLS: A SUGGESTION FOR AMERICAN EDUCATION By Joseph C. Fields was published (ASQ Quality Press: Milwaukee, Wis.). This book was given to selected local school boards in districts implementing reform/restructuring. The author divulged a completely new agenda for schools, hearkening to the rise of charter schools. 

Parents and children were referred to as the "customer" - especially in the context of private schools, vouchers and "choice." 
Educators must confront this age-old question of whom to serve and resolve this question in favor of the customer and the American culture, political system, and economic system.... (p. 19)

Schools must think in terms of futures, always 10 to 20 years ahead of today. Schools
that are constant in their purposes must change to meet customer requirements. Schools must deal with the problems of today as well as the problems of tomorrow to assure Americans that they will be in the education business of the future. As the number of private schools increases, as school vouchers and schools of choice develop, and as schools take on more and more social responsibilities, it is questionable whether or not certain schools will be in business in the future....

Businesses will not buy from uncertified vendors. This idea might contain some merit for educators. The state of Tennessee, in its original Career Ladder Program for  educators, required a portfolio of specifications, quality assurances, work standards, and process control in addition to several site visits from evaluators who were unfamiliar with the evaluated teacher. Consider too the “parent as vendor” of a precious resource, the child. In the internal customer concept, the parent is serving the teacher. Teachers could identify reasonable specifications for parents relative to the home learning environment and certify parents who will cooperate. (p. 48) [all emphases added]

The above statement is absolutely appalling! We are misled when we believe that education is a commodity or service to be “purchased” by “consumers.” This tends to make the public believe that education is market-driven. Compulsory attendance laws make education anything but market-driven! More importantly, the concept of consumer/purchaser does not correlate to our relationship to our elected officials who are legal overseers of the process. Have we lost sight of what our relationship to government is? Education is a trust, not a commodity. These are our children, and their futures; parents are not “shopping” for education, but are fervently searching for someone to whom they are willing to entrust the task of providing an academic education for their children.

As charter schools develop, the temptation will be for private industry to take a more direct role in funding and developing programs for these schools which will produce workers who can fill the corporations’ needs. These schools, then, have the potential of becoming “corporate academies” with a narrow focus and limited curriculum base. This is accomplished through the school-business partnerships growing into corporate funding to accomplish its task. As this potential reality develops, the specter of true socialism—the combining of the private and public sectors to produce goods and services—takes on discernible size and shape.

B.F. Skinner once mused that the functions of government in the future would be educational. In the above scenario we see that the reverse of that prediction can be true as well—in the future the functions of education will be governmental. Let us remember that the true purpose of education is the intrinsic enhancement of the individual. Let us not reduce education to limited learning for lifelong labor and our great country’s heritage of freedom to a footnote in history.

In 1998, at the Sixth Annual Model Schools Conference—sponsored by Willard Daggett, director of the International Center for Leadership in Education, a participant who is an assistant principal at a middle school in Southern California made this comment to a reporter regarding mechanisms to encourage parental involvement and support in the education of children:

One way to make sure that parents attend conferences at school and support the educational process for their children would be to dock a certain part of their tax deduction for their children. There could be a scale of activities in which the parents would be required to have documentation—perhaps a sign-off at the school—of participation before they would be allowed to claim their tax deductions for their children. I agree with Daggett that we may have to employ some measures that seem extreme. [all emphasis added]
Returning to a final quote from Total Quality for Schools: A Suggestion for American Education:
In all this interpretation, schools are not free. They require responsible commitment from everyone. Citizens would no more be allowed to put obstacles in the way of public educators than to interfere with public medical, police, or fire protection personnel who are doing their duty. (p. 53) [emphasis added]
Apparently under this artificial "choice" the "customer" is not always right!
This post is adapted from an entry in the deliberate dumbing down of america, pp. 305-306. Portions of the comments in this blog post came from an article by Cynthia Weatherly titled "Privatization or Socialization?"