Profit motive in education?

I seldom agree with this Fordham Institutute podcast, but I find it interesting to listen to to understand how others are thinking about our challnges.

This episode in particular, which addresses a core question head-on in its title, “The profit motive and education”, has been bothering me for a couple of days.

Towards the end of the podcast, they ask a legit question — why do we celebrate results of profit motive that has a Starbucks on every corner of America and cringe at the profit motive in education?

First, I would say the perception that Starbucks is on every corner is very false. Starbucks chooses to serve places where it can be profitable. Public education is a common good for EVERYONE, which means we need to serve EVERYONE, even in the hard-to-reach and expensive to operate places.

Second, these guys seem to have a view that choice is the objective. I have a HUGE problem with this view of education. Quality education for all is the objective. Creating greater choice has not proven to improve quality for all. While I believe we need options for families to meet all needs, the choice in and of itself is not the objective and it is hard to bridge conversations when some have that view.

Finally, my struggle is how to articulate the difference between efficiency of limited resources and desire to deliver quality within constrained budgets. We’ll never have all the money we want for investment in education. So, efficiency isn’t the enemy — efficiency in my mind is about delivering the highest quality within given funding. But I think it matters why we want efficiency. If quality is our #1 goal, that’s a different thing than reducing cost (and therefore increasing profit) as the goal.

I also acknowledge that there are differences in the question for buying desks and copiers vs running whole schools. When I express discomfort with profit motive, I’m not suggesting the entire infrastructure should be socialized. But the core business of what we do needs to focus on improving outcomes for students — profit motives distract more than they help in that core business.

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