The Chatter Class: Better schools would make better business

Monday, February 25, 2008 at 2:07am

Nashville’s public schools have a lot of problems. Just ask anyone today it seems. Schools in close suburbs are nearly always better. That’s the formula thinking anyhow.

With struggling urban schools, business leaders step up to show they care.

Why? If the kids don’t finish school or receive a less than stellar education, they are pretty much worthless in the workplace.

That’s one way of looking at it.

The other is industry would have to invest more heavily in training their workforce just to have basic skills if public schools can’t do it. That takes time, which is money.

An educated workforce is a substantial selling point for economic developers. Workers who are better educated attract companies that bring better and higher-paying jobs. So industry prods government officials along and tries to help improve a system that can give them better skilled workers.

In Nashville, the chamber has a political action committee that helps get people favorable to their point of view elected to the school board as well as other elected offices. And it’s not just Nashville. Cities everywhere do it and cities everywhere have programs of some sort in place for workforce development in partnership with the local business community.

In essence, public education is treated like outsourced training for Corporate America. Interestingly, the corporate leaders pushing for better public education tend to have their own children in expensive private schools regardless of the public system’s status.

The notion of an educated “public” dates back to such notable fellows as Plato, Aristotle and Socrates. But education tended to be the province of the wealthy.

All states had laws requiring children attend at least elementary school by 1918. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled a few years later, though, that government couldn’t compel children to attend public schools and private schools continued.

Ever since, the state of public education has given the populace a reason to complain.

Instead of an art championed by Plato, Socrates and Aristotle to create good, moral and ethical citizens, education has become more of a science. Now, the terms educated and skilled tend to be interchangeable. A worker with trade skills is considered educated.

And, standardized tests with multiple-choice questions measure achievement and intelligence.

Those tests that pertain to federal No Child Left Behind law standards for student achievement probably fit well with giving future assembly-line workers the basic skills they need. Successfully answering the multi-choice questions improves their chances of learning that wire A goes into slot B. The worker doesn’t need to know why wire A goes into slot B, just that it does. There’s little need for critical thinking.

And, public school teachers have raised concerns that they are focused mostly on teaching the test not necessarily critical thinking.

The testing corresponds with business thinking that all performance can be measured and those measurements can hold people accountable. In public education, that means teachers and school officials can be held accountable.

Of course, none of it measures the parental involvement and effectiveness in a child’s education.

The Chatter Class appears Mondays in The City Paper. Comments may be sent to

Filed under: City Business
By: frank brown on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Public Schools not only need competent instruction but students who want to learn?

By: BigPapa on 12/31/69 at 6:00

In Nashville we wish for "assembly line" jobs. I thought all those jobs went south of the border or over to China years ago?

By: Cowboy84 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

BP, our government seems convinced that we can be a "Starbucks Society"; we don't need manufacturing or agriculture we just need millions of service jobs.

By: HokeyPokey on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Excellent analysis, Richard.Especially with respect to "No Cows Left Behind," which was political showboating from the beginning.

By: MJB on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Not “formula thinking”, Richard Lawson, “FORMULAIC thinking”. “Formula” is a noun. Of course, “conventional thinking” would’ve been better.Also, let us get away from using “kids” for “children”. Since we are discussing schools, we should simply refer to students.In addition, we shouldn’t have “kids’ or “students” in the workplace, the latter part of the third paragraph should be in the future tense.I’m glad that you have this weekly forum, and you make some good points here—particularly about what standardized, multiple-choice tests do for education—, but the writing is rough. Polish more on Saturday morn, before clicking SEND.If schools really want to improve T.C.A.P. scores (is it still called the T.C.A.P.?), then all they must do is procure a few past T.C.A.P.s, set aside an hour or so a day, & hire people like me whom teach people to take tests. This would separate the T.C.A.P. prep. from the more important work: English, reading, writing, history, math, geography, science, art, & music. Any decent test-teacher could teach students how to play the T.C.A.P.

By: Fundit on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Thank you mentioning "kids" v. "children." They are not goats! Though some may act like it at times ;-)

By: MJB on 12/31/69 at 6:00

"Kids v. Children": Now, that's a court case I'd like to see!