Samuel Abrams, experienced high school teacher, director of the National Center for the Study of Privatizarion in Education, and author of the new book “Education and the Commercial Mindset,” has some good advice for Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos. 


He knows they want to run schools like businesses but he says it is important to take the right lessons from business, not the wrong ones.


“The fundamental problem with the free-market model for education is that schools are not groceries. Education is complex and the immediate consumer, after all, is a child or adolescent who can know only so much about how a subject should be taught. The parent, legislator and taxpayer are necessarily at a distance.


“Groceries, by contrast, are discrete goods purchased by adults who can easily judge each item according to taste, nutritional value and cost. Supermarkets can likewise be easily judged according to service, atmosphere and convenience.


“Although the free-market model isn’t a good fit for schools, there are five business concepts that should be embraced by education reformers and policymakers.


“Much as early stage investment in promising companies can deliver outsized rewards for investors, early stage investment in schooling can deliver significant rewards for society. Another Chicago economist, James Heckman, analyzed data from Michigan and North Carolina going back several decades and found that no other infusion of public dollars comes close to matching the rate of return of high-quality early childhood education.


“Since the days of Henry Ford, business has understood “efficiency wage theory.” In 1914, Ford doubled the pay of assembly-line workers from $2.50 a day to $5. Economists later validated the results: It costs less to pay more, as employers attract and retain better workers and thus improve production and even reduce costs of both supervision and turnover. Studies show a similar tight relationship between teacher pay and educational outcomes.


“An analysis of teacher salaries and student performance in science (at age 15) provides an example. The data come from the five Nordic and six English-speaking countries involved in the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment. The U.S. and Norway paid teachers 68% and 71% as much as fellow citizens with university degrees, respectively, and posted scores just below the PISA average. Finland and Canada, on the other hand, paid teachers 97% and 105% as much as fellow citizens with university degrees and posted scores far above the average.


“Retaining good teachers and grooming administrators from within the ranks instead of handing over the reins to outsiders constitutes another significant lesson from the corporate playbook. As the business historian Alfred Chandler documented, great organizations develop talent internally. Education researchers have repeatedly shown, in particular, that teacher turnover impairs student achievement. In addition, as Los Angeles may remember from its experience with David Brewer, superintendents without classroom experience tend to be out of step with pedagogical needs.


“Pay for performance — another cardinal objective of business-minded reformers like DeVos — sounds logical but backfires. Instead, reformers should follow the lead of W. Edwards Deming, the father of the modern Japanese auto industry, who contended merit ratings and pay generate fear and undermine teamwork. “The organization is the loser,” he wrote.


“Separate longitudinal studies of merit-based pay for teachers in Nashville and Chicago, completed in 2010 by researchers at Vanderbilt University and Mathematica, bear him out. They found no effect on student achievement.


“Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality,” Deming wrote. “Routine inspection becomes unreliable through boredom and fatigue.” That recommendation should be applied to the annual testing of students in reading and math mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 and reauthorized by the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015.


“Instead of “routine inspection,” Deming urged detailed analysis of small samples. Bucking widespread practice, the Finns do exactly that, with high-quality exams administered to small groups of students. Teachers consequently feel no pressure to “teach to the test,” students get a well-rounded education and administrators gain superior understanding of student progress. Finnish teens score at or near the top of international educational assessments.”