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. Private schools already are fairly autonomous from government, and can teach whatever they like -languages compulsory from early age, or religious instruction etc.

    The problem with different schools being self owned businesses is that it becomes less about education as the goal, and more about profit. Profit is about selling people what they think they need, not about what they actually need.

    In order for there to be more competition you would require more smaller schools to serve a certain area. This leads to less resources for the schools as the money available for resources is less (assuming middle-low income parent(s) in the neighbourhoods). In an ideal sense the market economy would balance things out. In reality, this requires competition, plenty of teachers, and parents (the constomers) willing to spend money on their kids educations etc.

    The current trends in society is for single parent families, with more kids being born in poorer areas. Its cheaper from a government standpoint to try and squeeze as many of these urchins through the literacy/numeracy factories that are state schools as possible than for them to become a criminal underclass (eg Victorian England), thereby ensuring that they are employable beyond street sweeper - and even a streat sweeper needs to be able to open a bank account and fill in necessary government forms, vote etc.

    If they arent employable, then they will likely turn to crime as a solution since poverty in an affluent society encourages desire to have the trappings of success in society (eg the fantasy that sells gansta rap albums), especially if you have not the means (higher education, savvy business skills, ambition, willpower etc).

    The government will not relinquish this task to the market, because there is no money in teaching the poor how to read and write and do math. Its the long term benefits (reducing crime and creating as big a pool of skilled workers as possible), that only an organisation such as the government can really see benefit in.

    The trick then, to come back to your original proposition, is to develop a system where schools have a stakehold in the performance of their students - perhaps shareholder or bonus system, with bonuses given for improving your group of childrens skillset from one year to the next, with plenty of checks in terms of compliance with recognised standards.

    The biggest improvements achieved by the best teachers would then be awarded larger bonuses. Poor performing teachers would not be desired as it would also affect managements shareholdings/ bonus performance. Thus assembling the best teaching staff would be desirable for any school for a profit point of view.

  5. 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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