The Teacher-Run School: Coming to a City Near You
|April 15, 2013||Posted by Editor under Adjunct Professors, Politics, Teaching, Work|
This idea of the “teacher-run school” has been popping up lately and I’m liking it. In our weekly newsletter, #EdFriday, we featured a Pittsburgh educational cooperative that’s bypassing the high cost of learning by reducing wasteful overhead and expensive administrators. And just this morning I read an article about another potential teacher-run school being considered in Rochester, NY. Both schools share the common idea that non-teaching administrators might be the real economic drag on schools, and they’re trying to see if teachers themselves can also become the primary decision makers at their own schools.
Wouldn’t it be something if the propagators of this right-wing attack on the teaching profession were themselves the real problem? Kind of a traditional bully tactic, isn’t it? Blame everyone else around you so no one knows that you’re at fault.
Seriously though, one of the most important problems in education is the price tag associated with it. The government doesn’t want to pay for it. The American people don’t want to pay for it in taxes. The students can hardly pay for it even if they want to. As we’ve seen with the massive increase of contingent labor in the professoriate, the answer up until now to this economic problem has been to cut labor dollars. But those dollars have been cut almost entirely on the side of the faculty, as opposed to the administration.
So the people who are on the ground actually doing the teaching are the ones who are indirectly being blamed for the high cost of college. And they’re certainly the ones who are shouldering the brunt of these budgetary decisions. Makes sense, though, considering most of the people making the cuts would rather preserve their side of the university if possible.
But these teacher-run schools are flipping that equation. Teachers–and apparently students and parents–are saying, “Wait a minute. Why is our first reaction to cut from the instruction side of education? That doesn’t make sense.” Theoretically, the process of education requires nothing more than a teacher and a learner, right? It seems to me that should be the absolute base level of any school and everything else should be up for excision first. Staff, administrators, athletics, even buildings.
Tim Cook of The Saxifrage School in Pittsburgh created his teacher-run school on the premise that a school doesn’t actually need “expensive buildings or well-paid deans.” In fact, his classes are being taught in public spaces like coffee shops, libraries, and church basements. All The Saxifrage School needs to exist are teachers and students.
There’s so much talk in the news lately about how teachers need to be controlled more. That’s the problem with schools–that teachers aren’t regulated enough. According to these theories, everything wrong with education is somehow the fault of the teachers. The underpaid and overworked teachers have somehow become the scapegoats of the education reform movement. Well, what we’re not talking about here is the fact that this rhetoric is primarily an attack on teachers’ unions, but that’s for another post. The point here is to ask what if we drastically trimmed our country’s education costs in other ways?
Benefits of the Teacher-Run School
Back in January, I began a discussion with Pete Rorabaugh and many others about this very possibility. What if we made a teacher-run school a reality? We could certainly do it for much cheaper. Using the model Cook has established in Pittsburgh, we could create local, teacher-run schools in major cities. We could teach out of community spaces and also meet digitally online. And overhead wouldn’t be much more than what is required to pay the teachers and keep the school operating. Pete and I began calling this concept an “educational collective.”
From the students’ perspective, an educational collective would be cheaper and more flexible, as well as more specialized and hands-on than traditional college. Students could help design their own curriculum and work with the local community to create internships and practical application of the knowledge they were gaining, thereby achieving Paulo Freire’s praxis.
Teachers would benefit because they would actually be receiving most of the tuition they bring in (currently less than 5% of it). Plus, they would take ownership of the schools at which they teach.
The American people and the economy would have a huge weight lifted, as they would no longer have to subsidize the rising price tag of education and the crushing student debt total which has now crossed the trillion dollar mark.
I’ve been thinking about this teacher-run school concept for a while now, and I’m glad to see that some people are starting to try it out–and that it’s actually working. I think this is the future of American post-secondary education. Explosive growth on borrowed dollars has gotten us in trouble and now we need to downsize, go local, and get lean. The teacher-run school could be our answer.
If you like the idea of a teacher-run school, it would be great if you’d share this with your friends and colleagues on Facebook and Twitter so we can start to build a critical mass of interested participants.
I’d love for you to sign up for our weekly newsletter and join this conversation.