Sunday, January 29, 2006

Teacher Co-ops

A fascinating suggestion from Stumbling and Mumbling (a highly recommended blog, BTW):
In many businesses where professional standards and skilled employees are the key to success, employee ownership is the norm; law firms, accountants, hedge funds, vet and medical practices are routinely partnerships of professionals.

Why shouldn’t this model be extended to teachers? Why shouldn’t schools be co-operatives/partnerships of teachers who compete against each other?

This would have several merits:

1. The combination of co-operative ownership and competition would raise standards.

2. It would give teachers more genuine professional autonomy.

3. Groups of like-minded teachers (say, according to their views on different educational theories) would bind together. The resulting difference in teaching methods would let us see what works and what doesn’t.

4. It accords with the economic theory of property rights – that employees should own organizations where human capital is the key asset.

Now, I want to be vague about the precise blueprint here; there are loads of possibilities. All I’m saying is that teacher-controlled schools should appeal to both “left” – because it puts workers/teachers in charge – and “right”, because it introduces competition. It’s also consistent with economic theory. So why not at least think about it?

If there are any other New Zealand bloggers reading this: do you think there's any chance of such reforms being considered here? (And do you think they should be?)


  1. "Why shouldn’t this model be extended to teachers? Why shouldn’t schools be co-operatives/partnerships of teachers who compete against each other?"

    They used to have these things in Europe; I believe they were called "Universities."

    The multiple layers of administrative bureaucracy that have piled themselves up on the shoulders of scholars are a relatively new "innovation," which grew like a tumor and metastasized throughout the world mostly over the course of the late 19th and early 20th century.

  2. Yes I think it is a very poor system because it gets overwhelmed by political forces due to the absence of the centralized structure and clearly defined objectives.

    It sounds good because you dont think about what it takes to sustain it AN and keep it on track.
    The sucking sound of a power vacume !

    Also I think capitalism to an extent requires concentration of power - the problem is that most people dont make day to day work decisions based on money. BUT if power concentrates it magnifies the effect (and encourages) of those who do.

  3. Unions won't like it.

    Diversity leads to distinctions based on merit. Distinctions based on merit lead to the most capable workers leaving the union because they can do better outside the collective agreement. After a while the average quality of union workers is noticeable lower than the average quality of non-union workers. It's all downhill for the union after that.

    In the absence of union objections, we would already have tried such a system.

    As to whether it would work, I have no idea. The fourth point is completely bogus unless you are a marxist but the other points are valid. What is important is that we have a funding scheme where such things can be tried, and that we have sufficient testing so we can objectively determine whether they are working.

  4. Sadly Mav there is quite a lag before you can prove the teaching worked or not. And many people will fight tooth and nail against a monetrary or any other arbitrary measurement of welfare thus neutering your ability to have a measure at all.

    Of course that doesnt mean we shouldnt try - jsut that our sucess is likely to be limited


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