American schools, as regular readers of this publication know, are pretty enthusiastic about using the techniques of business in education reform. A focus on outcomes, measurement of performance, and sanctions for failure will eventually produce smarter and more capable children.

But there’s a problem with thinking this way, according to this piece by William Doyle in the Washington Post:

It is a mistake to refer to failing education reforms as “corporate reform.”

No leading company would place the entire foundation of its business on inaccurate, unreliable, system-distorting and often “bad” data like multiple-choice standardized tests.

No leading company would roll out a multi-billion-dollar national venture (like Common Core) nationally without extensive field-and-market testing first.


This is perhaps little overstated. In fact, many companies are basing all sorts of decisions on inaccurate, unreliable, system-distorting and often bad data lately. Corporations are not some bastions of pure scientific inquiry. Companies often make use of terrible and/or pseudo-scientific management reforms. These reforms, particularly extensive monitoring of employee behavior, are usually ineffective and resented by staff.

But there’s an important point here, which is that just calling it corporate sort of implies something standardized, valid, and verifiable, and likely to lead to profit and success. Not really. A corporation is just an independent legal entity owned by shareholders. “Corporate” doesn’t mean good decision-making or effective production.

Then again, maybe we’ve just got the reference point wrong. Maybe “corporate reform” isn’t an attempt to make schools operate like corporations at all.

No, it might make more sense to see corporate reform like this: funneling a lot of public money over to corporate partners to manage the testing and evaluation of schools. The school doesn’t become a corporation; it just hires corporations to manage all of the reforms, even if there’s no reason to think they’ll work.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer