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To improve schools, stop treating them like businesses

There’s no question that the push for standards and accountability is critical to progress in our worst-performing schools. But in the barrage of bottom-line-focused reform, we are losing sight of the actual students who make up a failing or flourishing school.

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Despite all the talk of “investing in education,” you’d be outraged if Wall Street traders could actually buy and sell stock in your local school. Who wants investors betting for – or against – student performance?

Absurd as it sounds, we’re headed there. Just as corporations have become their stock prices, public schools are becoming their test scores. The school-as-business model that has gained momentum over the past decade now dominates education reform. In this high-stakes testing world of guts-and-glory races to the top, students are statistics. Without saying that test results don’t matter – they do – the real job at hand is not just turning around schools, but turning around students.

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Just at the moment when we need to rethink our educational goals and are asking students to reassess their effort levels, we are abandoning what makes education great: It’s personal.

Maybe we should think of education more like health care. An ideal health-care system applies cutting-edge scientific advances while valuing personal treatment and care for patients.

There is spreading awareness that personal connections matter, that doctors and nurses must do more than execute procedures; they must engage in “compassionate care.” What’s more, while it was once considered a matter of happenstance to get a doctor with a warm bedside manner, we now know these relationship skills can – and should – be taught.

In schools and sickness, caring counts a lot


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