“Outsourcing” the School System: The EMO Chimera

The corporate model to success has become a combination of innovation, automation and “outsourcing.” Find that new product, market it as hard as you can can, and, of course, produce it as cheaply as possible. Thirty years ago the United States had 30% of the world’s college graduates – now we have 14% and the percent continues to fall. An Indian engineer makes $7500 a year while an American engineer with the same qualifications earns $45,000 a year. In the realm of the unskilled: USA versus the world, wage gaps are astronomical.

 Schools, however, require a teacher in front of a class of kids, and if salary is not competitive, we can’t attract the “best and the brightest.” Report after report calls for higher teacher salaries, although calls for some sort of pay for performance are also heralded, and, experiments are growing (i.e., Procomp in Denever). 

For some the “answer” is non union Charter Schools, lower salaries, no union political pressures and you simply blame the charter for failures. However in spite of the beating of drums, charters are unpopular with the vast percent of parents and voters. In spite of the popularity of Mike Bloomberg he has been unable to successfully implement his charter school agenda. The NYS State legislature refused to lift the legislative imposed charter cap, and, whether Bloomberg will pursue his agenda as avidly with a democratic governor is open to question.

Does he want unionized charter schools? Would the charter school advocates support legislation that increased the cap and made it easier to organize charter schools? With the charter school route blocked it appears that Bloomberg/Klein are pursuing an “outsourcing” strategy.

The creation of Educational Management Organizations, EMOs, that would “manage” clusters of schools under a performance contract.

In the private sector the measurement of success is profit and stock price. In the public sector the metrics are more difficult. Lower crime rates, faster ambulance response, fewer potholes, in schools, it is always those pesky scores and graduation rates. For seemingly endless decades there was a wall between educational and elected political leadership. Mayors took credit for successes and blamed superintendents and school boards for failures. The movement to mayoral control is both risky and attractive. Boards of Education and elected lay school boards appear to be terribly inefficient and subject to local political pressures. A strong mayor can impose modern management and insulate education from the vagaries of local pressures.

After three years it appears that that Bloomberg is seeking an “outsourcing” route. Ten mega regions with rigid topdown management controls roiled teachers and did nothing to raise scores. If networks of schools can be shunted to EMOs their success can be claimed by the politicos and the failures can be blamed on their surrogates. And, it is a step down the charter path.

Will EMOs been seen as an innovative approach to school management or a way for the Mayor to sneak out the back school house door?

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