What Do We Know About Education?
Sep 16, 2010 Other 2996 Views
In the past 10 years, the world has tried to teach us many things about education and the business of education. Before the year 2000, we thought we knew it all. There was a formula/algorithm/process developed by studying the successes of the 1950s and 1960s. In the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s the assumption was if you applied the formula with diligence, success would follow. For the majority of parochial schools that was true.
Toward the end of the 1990s, some schools noticed that the formula was breaking down. There were two reactions. One was to try harder. The other was to abandon the formula and try something different.
The old formula emphasized doing what you have been doing, do more of it, and do it better. When things started to slip the reaction was do one or more of the following:
Increase the marketing budget and use different marketing techniques
Ask past donors for more money more often
Survey the current families, build on their likes, and abandon their dislikes
Cut expenses in every possible way.
Student attrition was blamed on market forces. However, a viable formula includes methodologies that cope with the shifting market forces.
Three years ago our experience in the parochial school market suggested that about 70% of the schools were struggling. Today we believe that about 50% of the schools are struggling.
The statistics are misleading. From the statistics, one would assume the schools are stronger. Instead, there are fewer schools and some of the once strong schools have lost strength. In addition, there have been several school mergers. In many cases, the mergers have created the illusion of a stronger school.
Many of the mergers occurred with the expectation of creating economies of scale. If you bring two or more schools together, you have an economically viable institution or so the theory goes. In the short term that is true. However, this process fails to address the underlying problem of student attrition.
If the merged schools continue to use the old formula, they will return to the list of struggling schools within 2 - 5 years.
History has shown that abandoning the formula was the right decision.
Why do Christian schools continue to use a failed formula? There are three main reasons.
Few boards believe the formula is flawed.
A replacement formula is seldom looked for
It feels safer to follow an accepted formula during difficult times than it does to try something new.
When discussing this idea with one administrator he said, "My board is unlikely to fire me for doing what everyone else is doing, especially if the board believes it is the right thing to do." His school closed two years later. The entire staff and board were essentially fired (laid off is the official term). The mission ended. The host church will spend several years paying off the accumulated debt.
Discuss your business model (formula) with your board and determine how closely it parallels the business model the school was using in 1990s
Determine the frailties of your current business model (Example: Why is enrollment declining or failing to increase?)
Abandon processes that are failing to produce the results necessary to ensure sustainability
Find new ways to produce the desired results rather than different ways of doing the same thing (Example: If marketing is unable to drive enrollment, stop marketing, and build a referral network.)
Earlier in this article it says, "A replacement formula is seldom looked for". There is a reason no one has a formula. The market is fragmented. There are more choices than ever before for educating a child (public schools, charter schools, cyber schools, home schooling, other faith-based schools, etc.). Technology and teaching techniques are changing rapidly. The demographics of the neighborhoods are changing at a faster pace. The economy is weak. Social values and communication methods are changing. Very few of the traditional processes work well with the parents of school age children.
When the level of fragmentation and change are high, it is impossible to have a formula that will work for every school. Each school must develop its own formula to meet its specific circumstances.
The preceding is justification for a lack of a standardized replacement. It is also justification for hope. When you find your formula, you will create a uniqueness that will provide long-term sustainability.
Look across your community. You will probably find several examples of schools that are strong and have a history of being strong. In many cases, they are the schools that abandon the formula years ago. If you have a frank discussion with your board, your school can be one with growing strength and increasing sustainability a year from now.
It is hard to walk away from the past, but it is easier than closing a school.