School districts across the country are beginning to take on characteristics of a business model once reserved solely for the United States private sector. With the push for charter schools, many public schools feel under the gun to provide evidence of their cost-effectiveness. The reason for this sudden push in cost-effective strategies, “doing more with less,” and shared resources is a struggling economy and a population of citizens obsessed with quantifiable outcomes. Our economic structure thrives on competition and choice. This is the basis of capitalism in the United States. Consumers are able to choose from a variety of products and determine the success or failure of a business based on their ability to provide quality at a reasonable price. It is this model that is the driving force behind our current transformation in education. Evaluation systems are being used to determine outcomes vs. cost. Consumers, or in this case, parents and the community, want to know their tax dollars are being used effectively to provide a high quality education. Our current evaluation systems are designed to provide accountability for public education, and the push for charters schools is a demonstration of the ideas of capitalism intruding on the traditional education systems in the United States. Our culture has become obsessed with data, evidence, and the right to choose based on our perception of what is most valuable.
While I may not have experienced the educational systems in other countries, as a world traveler, I have experienced the cultures. In Italy, where the economy is similar to the United States, the market allows for freedom of choice, but the culture is not as driven by the same economic principles. What I enjoyed most about my stay in Rome was the atmosphere. In the piazza, or square, where I stayed, it was almost a self-sufficient microcosm of the larger Italian economy. There were small family-owned businesses who shared resources to provide a service, which benefitted all. Just as important was a seemingly shared understanding that money was not the most important thing in life. What’s more, the idea of a siesta, where many businesses close in the early afternoon for a couple of hours of rest and relaxation, ran counterintuitive to everything I thought I knew about business. While this tradition has changed in many areas of the country, I found it symbolic of a slow-paced life on the Mediterranean.
From my understanding of teacher evaluations in Italy, it is similarly laid back, or some would say non-existent. This does, however, represent a problem with the education system, and Italy has struggled to come to an agreement between the Ministry of Education and the teacher trade unions on how teachers should be evaluated. Despite the lack of a formalized evaluation system, Italy is only a few spots behind the United States in global Math and Science scores. Perhaps our two countries could learn from one another. We surely could use a siesta from standardized testing and restrictive evaluations. Meanwhile, Italy may benefit from the urgency associated with our high-stakes tests and emphasis on data based performance evaluations.