Kirby Holden writes in a letter to the editor last week something that hit home for me and my public education view. Holden was referring specifically to the Platte County R-3 District when he wrote: “This is the legacy of Dr. Reik. Self- promote, make up awards, paint everything as rosy, use participation awards including unearned high grades to keep parents happy and spend, spend, spend.”
I admire Holden’s steadfast approach to his view and willingness to put facts behind his opinions; even though the school would dispute most. While Holden wants to pin this on the outgoing superintendent of schools, the unwelcome news is that this is the “business model” for schools everywhere. Public education took a turn decades ago. They began to view themselves as business. They began to act like corporations, in part. In general, they liked to tout their “business qualifications” by number of employees and budget. In many counties and towns, they are the “largest employer,” and they used that status to promote the schools as a business operation with superintendents as CEOs.
I disagree completely that schools are like a business. They’re not. When revenue comes in regardless of your performance, that is government; nothing more or nothing less. Still a substantial responsibility, but not equivalent of a for- profit organization and shouldn’t be structured as such.
CEOs must balance income and profitability with expense. CEOs must plan and strategize about a customer base and competitors that can take those customers. There is no reasonable threat of competition or losing revenue base for a school system. Often, demographics are the core reason for success or failure of a district.
This shift in philosophy began a steady stream of corporate like behavior that included an explosion of middle management hiring (administrators), self-promotion to “sell the brand” and a steady stream of awards, conferences, and meetings to justify the entire operation. It has snowballed since that shift to a hulking, gigantic machine that operates in every county of this country that looks unstoppable to most.
The creation of this “problem” was accelerated by the federal government’s intervention. Schools and respective school boards were created to provide “local control” of education. That is ancient history today. Unless you count COVID restrictions, school boards don’t have much control over their districts. Federal and state laws have backed them into corners of what they can and can’t do, limiting their ability to provide a localized approach to the education needs. It could be said that superintendents are often simply the messenger on this lack of power, by keeping them compliant with the myriad of federal regulations as they attempt change. Reallocation of resource opportunities is extremely limited, despite the large budgets.
I will once again point out my time-tested philosophy about schools and doctors. Nobody ever says “my kids go to a really crappy school.” No one ever says, “I go to a really crappy doctor.” Instead, it is human nature to believe in both, regardless of the truth or measure of the truth. It plays into the creation of the public education machine that will not be stopped by a little negative criticism from outside their respective central offices.
Man. That was serious opinion. I’ve morphed into the crazy uncle that doesn’t get invited to the 4th of July party.
I had a loyal reader tell me I needed to write about Patrick Mahomes’ fiancé Brittany and brother Jackson and their impact on his Chiefs fandom. I wanted to tell him I liked Jackson’s TikToks, but I was standing in a warehouse around a bunch of guys that looked like they’d never seen a TikTok and certainly never admitted to watching another man dance. These guys in the warehouse still make phone calls with their phones and their wives read Facebook to them at night. They put guns in their rear window and rarely license their trucks. In fact, these were dudes that drink before they shoot things on the weekends and then eat what they shoot, not sure I wanted to throw my feelings out for their scorn.
Anyway, I’m working on it. We have an entire off season; hold tight.
(Guy Speckman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or trying to get an invite to the family 4th of July gathering)