Monday, October 18, 2010

Parents are the Customer

On this blog, we've discussed two different classroom management programs, Whole Brain Teaching and Make Your Day. Both these systems are totalitarian, top-down, and punitive. In both cases, we've seen teachers who claim it's wonderful.

For instance, District to Keep Make Your Day Program reports that a school board unanimously voted to retain "Make Your Day". In a survey, 95% of teachers agreed with the statement, "I find the Make Your Day program is fair and reasonable for students". The superintendent is quoted as saying that 90 percent staff approval is a good benchmark for the district.

In the meantime, over 30% of parents disagreed with the statement that Make Your Day is fair and reasonable! As anyone who has tried to organize dissent against the school system can tell you, that's a very high percentage. But, the parents, as usual, were not listened to. The best they could get was a promise to "integrate positive feedback" into the program.

Who is school for? It ought to be conducted for the good of the kids who attend, as overseen by their parents. Kids are mostly too young and impressionable to form their own judgements, and too completely intimidated (or profoundly depressed) to speak out. It is up to parents to keep watch and advocate for their kids.

To use a business model, schools provide a service, which parents buy for their kids. The parents are the customer. As one of the "Make Your Day" parents says, “If it were me looking at a job I was doing, I’m giving myself 90 percent across the board, but my customers are giving me 60s. That’s not OK.”


  1. PsychMom says,
    In the case of these two behaviour management programs, I'd say the teacher is definitely the customer and if 90 percent say they love it...then the sellers of these products are AOK with that. That, however, has nothing to do with education.

    But I don't like framing education in a business model, no more than I like doing it with healthcare. That's why more testing and more "nose to the grindstone" are seen as fixes to a broken schools and low grades. In human service industries, the product is an's the care and human service being provided or knowledge purveyed and as soon as it is treated like a quantifiable product, it's somehow degraded.
    The teachers and parents are talking about two different things in this Make Your Day debacle.

  2. I've been thinking about this same issue, partly because of your earlier post. In comments on educational articles, one very regularly sees a teacher saying, in essence, parents should butt out because they're not trained experts in teaching like we are.

    Think about the conception of authority and democracy that those comments imply. If these people really believe that, why don't they propose that only teachers should get to vote in school board elections?

    I wonder, are they also opposed to civilian control of the military? I mean, where do these untrained laypeople get off telling experienced generals what our military policy should be?

  3. PsychMom says...
    I try to think also of how I would react if someone called me to task in my job. If I had ruffled someone's feathers I would hope my gut reaction (that I would hope I would be able to control) would be one of understanding and professionalism. I should be able to use all my skills to try to get at why the person is upset with me.
    The absolute worse thing I could do would be to say, "Well, you obviously don't know what you're talking about." It comes down to professionalism.

  4. PsychMom, I understand your dislike of the business model, and I mostly agree with it.

    In the context of school, I think it's useful because it clarifies just how weird the situation has gotten. Schools are run as if the teacher is the customer -- as if the point is to provide a service to teachers.

    I've worked professionally as a computer programmer, and I try to remember that the goal is to provide a service to the user of my program. Sure, I've had moments of irritation -- "why don't those users appreciate all I've done? Why do they keep finding bugs?" -- and sometimes my irritation has been justified, as for instance when I make the program do what they've asked for, only for them to decide that's not quite what they wanted after all. But when they send me a bug report, I don't call them "helicopter users". I try to fix the bug.

  5. Just to clarify: I'm not suggesting that any one parent should be able to tell the teacher to change the way he or she is doing something with the group in the classroom.

    But if the parents (or, more precisely, the voters) as a whole decide that we want certain policies and practices in the schools, would anyone suggest that the teachers should be entitled to disregard that, because after all they are the experts on education? Some teachers seem to be saying that the *public* shouldn't tell teachers their business, but in fact what teachers do in the classroom is the public's business.

    Moreover, that attitude treats education as entirely a matter of technique -- so we should leave it to the experts -- when in fact there are value judgments underlying all of these policy choices. ("Make Your Day" is a great example. Why do I keep picturing Clint Eastwood as the teacher?) Experts are in no better a position to make value judgments than laypeople are.

    Sorry to ramble off the main topic here, but the idea that laypeople should just defer to experts is one my pet peeves. The closer you look at it, the more it falls apart. Who decides who the experts are?

  6. I'm not sure I think viewing schools as a business model, where most of the "customers," aka the parents, should be satisfied, is a good idea. My area is fairly affluent and well-educated. Many of the parents subscribe to the notion that every minute of a kid's day should be booked and the 5-year-old should be reading chapter books and the 15-year-old should be taking six AP classes or "omg, he's never going to become a doctor/engineer/whatever career we've decided will define success for him." If my local schools viewed parents as the customer, I think we'd have about 1/3 falling into the above type, 1/3 being more in line with this blog's philosophy, and 1/3 who simply don't care as long as the schools continue to provide free babysitting.

  7. Megan, your district sounds just like mine. In our district, the schools are all about achievement, to the extent that if they figure out your kid is smart they just pile on the work and the pressure. Some parents are OK with this. I'm not. When my daughter got depressed, we left the public schools.

  8. One thing I think would really help measure the success of schools is end-of-year and post-education surveys. The yearly surveys (given to both parents and students) would help evaluate individual teachers while surveys given, say, 1-2 years after graduation (and basically just asking "Did the school system prepare you for college/your job/life?") would measure the effectiveness of the system as a whole.

    I brought this up with my system last year and after a lot of hemming and hawing they came back and said that they looked at it a while back and it never went anywhere. My interpretation of that is that the teacher's union objected that it wasn't "fair" to teachers.

    Instead the schools only measure themselves on standardized test scores and have their heads in the sand as to whether they are actually accomplishing anything meaningful or not.

  9. I'm starting to think the public schools are hopeless. The schools are an institution run by the government and in bed with the teachers unions. In my experience, the government and unions are two things that ruin anything they touch. I think we're going back to private school where they at least understand who the "end user" is supposed to be and are responsive to the people who pay for the school, unlike public schools.

  10. I'm not necessarily against government or labor unions. I think both institutions have their place, and I'm not against public schools in theory.

    In practice, though, I feel that they're a wreck and not getting better anytime soon.

  11. PsychMo says:

    To child goes to a private school...responsiveness to parents is a weak characteristic at our school.
    I had a brain wave this morning as I walked into work. I'm going to start the Highway Academy. That's where kids go who's schools have told them "It's our way or the highway."