MCD Partners

Memphis Daily News
Today’s Schools Need to Operate Like Independent Businesses
August 17, 2015
By Dr. Mary C. McDonald

“If you always do what you always did, then you always get what you always got.”

It is one of those truisms that seems to fit perfectly into the ongoing debate on the effectiveness of education in the United States. There is a multitude of critics who want schools to do what they did 50 years ago and get better results. The problem with that is that everything has changed.

Fifty or more years ago schools operated in an industrial model and produced students who knew how to follow directions, be good citizens, and punctual workers. The schools succeeded in turning out a workforce educated to be productive in industries that ran this country for most of the 20th century. And it worked.

We still need that educated workforce, but educated to do what? How? When?

Schools are actually doing a good job at what they do, but what they do may not be what is needed to address the new expectations of a high tech global society. So if we want different results from schools in this country, then perhaps we should start by not doing the same things.

There are numerous school reforms under way at present all across the country. Schools and school systems are looking at innovative new ways to provide an outstanding education.

However effective these individual small adjustments are, they can’t get a fair shot at fixing broken schools or school systems if they are just being inserted into business as usual. You cannot fix a systemic problem with a programmatic approach.

So where do you start?

First, recognize that schools, while still a public service since education is compulsory, are also a business. And the first rule of business is to know your product, and your customer.

In an industrial model of education, students are the product and the marketplace is the customer. Today, however, it is becoming more apparent that the education itself is the product and the student is the customer. And there are ever emerging products for them to choose.

Not all schools meet the needs, or wants, of all students. Therefore, new models of schools are emerging that address specific customer criteria. It can be as varied as extended school days, extended school year, total school calendar revisions, immersion in technology, curriculum overhauls, and special interest schools.

Gone are the days when one size fits all. Fifty, or a hundred years ago all schools did pretty much the same thing. Conformity, structure, and rigid schedules were needed in society, and taught in schools.

Today, however, critical thinking, creative problem solving, innovation and collaboration are the preferred skill sets. Can this be taught within the confines of an industrial model? Do we still need to squeeze everyone into one size? Or, can each school, even individual schools within large systems, operate more like independent small businesses than company stores, and have the freedom to create the environment needed to ensure the student success at each school? It might be a good next step.

Contact Dr. Mary C. McDonald, a national education consultant, at 574-2956 or visit

Leaders in Educational Consulting and Models for Success
© 2018 MCD Partners