Today I am going to ask you a question. A tough one to answer.
Can a School administration run like a corporate entity?
I have been in a school for the first 18 years of my life and in the corporate sector for 12.
And isn’t it strange that I still see myself divided between my head and my heart when I want an answer on this question.
The world is changing fast and to keep pace, everything else needs to change as well. Whilst we witness this accelerated pace in all areas of life like business, health, science and technology; there is still a lot to be desired when it comes to the way our schools are administered. Sure the new age schools boast of bigger sites, MLEs (modern learning environment) with acoustic designing to furniture and ventilation, however the school administration is still one corner which remains undusted.
Despite having a strong case made by some liberals in the field of school administration for the need to adopt a more corporate-style model like P4P or pay for performance for staff, numerical improvement targets (in test scores or school admissions), supervisory pressure, fire-and-hire, the administrators to their chagrin realize that schools often respond badly to such methods. And here is the reason why.
Schools Are Different
Schools are more like families and religious institutions than corporations or businesses. So much so, that the corporate models, despite all their good intentions and commitments, fail to fit them in theory and application. Let us examine more in detail how and where this mismatch occurs.
Mission: Schools are different in their underlying mission which is to continuously provide knowledge and value to the students and prepare them for the future. This mission is conventionally unchallenged and remains deep rooted at the core of our societal norms. Unlike Businesses, which have an ever changing and evolving mission throughout the progress of human life, schools have a simple and one-dimensional goal which requires minimum up gradation. Agreed, regular overhauling is needed in perhaps instructional methods and curriculum yet the broad framework remains unshaken and in that sense, schools can be compared more with Temples or Churches than corporations.
Operations: Unlike Corporate houses, schools are not solely driven by the mission of profit-making and sustaining themselves in the cut-throat markets. Yes, they have to ensure their admissions are impressive in numbers and attractive enough for prospective students but they thrive more on being “service organization”. That means the schools are more likely to behave like parents or spiritual Gurus. They nurture, care, build and reform. Their core function is teaching which itself is such a personal and individual practice that puts it beyond the spheres of teamwork. Teachers can exchange notes in the staff room and attend staff development programs but each one is driven by his/her inner desire to either just teach someone or transform them.
Employees: Here comes the second most important interested party involved in the school scheme of things- Employees or Teachers. Unlike Team leaders or managers in corporations, this set of employees is hardly driven by entrepreneurial skills or risk and competition. Not to say that they are not impressed with making money, but it doesn’t drive their career as much as it does for corporate professionals. Another important consideration is the nature of the job itself. So how can we think of offering a better incentive for one’s “job performance and value” that depends upon teaching 60 “clients” out of which 30 are average, 25 are above-average and 5 are exceptionally bright ; 40 are forcibly sent to the school by their “bosses” though they hate your “offerings”, 15 are always sleepy and 25 are forever distracted !
Product: Last but not the least, the most interested party arrives on the scene- the students. And here is where it becomes undoubtedly clear as to why a corporate-style approach may fail to deliver in school administration. Any business runs on a simple mechanic- enter raw material-apply technology and manual labor-apply quality control-output emerges-profit is made. If the shipment of raw material fails the quality check, it is returned. Schools cannot return their defective (in this case- less gifted) “raw material”. Neither can the employees ensure the finished products. Being a teacher myself, I can comfortably vouch for the ‘inconsistent output’ even with the constant variables. Same lesson plans, same examples, and same teaching strategy- yet each batch of my students demonstrated different results depending on who were absent, who practiced their homework and who fell in love that year!
None of the above undermines the need for change. We must change what needs to be changed however few things in life are timeless. I may sound a little “old school” but there are certain human interactions that will never alter neither should they.
The school administration can most definitely learn from corporations in terms of providing autonomy to teachers, motivation, better engagement of shareholders ( Parents-Teachers-students-School) and customer service ( Less formal and one-sided PTAs, Glass Door Policies leading to more approachable principals and a more professional support staff for example transport, books and uniform vendors) .
Having said that, school administration may not completely run like a corporate entity due to real-life logic. They are in the business of building character, not machines.
Hope you enjoyed reading this write-up; do share your thoughts on this topic. We would love to hear from you.
By Anu Sukhija