Diverse students warrant diverse schools

Published 9:21 pm Wednesday, October 15, 2014

By Clay Scott

The Ritz-Carlton is the epitome of opulence. Motel 6 is simple and humble.

Each is an extremely successful company, so what makes them so different? They are run by different people. When you go to work, your boss tells you what to do. His boss tells him what to do. And no matter how many levels you go through, you always end up in the same place. Whoever sits at the top always answers to the customer. In any business, the customer is the ultimate boss.

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Motel 6 customers want a clean room with a comfortable bed. Ritz-Carlton customers want to be pampered. Each customer values and expects different things. Catering to different patrons affects everything from the employees hired to highly technical business decisions.

These are extreme examples, but the same could be said for any two companies within the same industry. Think about your main competitors. There are likely ways in which you differ, reasons that your customers pick you rather than them.

In the business world they use the word “stakeholder” to describe the people or groups of people that matter to a company. The customer is the primary stakeholder, meaning that, from the manager’s perspective, the customer is the most important person.

The beauty of the free market is that it allows customers to be defined differently for each company, the way Motel 6 customers differ from Ritz-Carlton customers. By extension, every other stakeholder group (i.e. employees, suppliers, investors) likewise differs.

Free enterprise promotes diversity of thoughts and values. The result is a wide array of companies that live and die based on their ability to meet stakeholder needs, particularly those of their clients.

In education, the story is completely different. In the current system, schools must treat bureaucrats in the Department of Education as their primary stakeholders. If government actually cared about the needs of individual students, it would replace the system with one that places parents (and by extension, students) as the primary stakeholders.

The system depresses diversity of thoughts and values, resulting in uniform schools that are unable to meet stakeholder needs.

The ray of hope is this: In Virginia, individual school boards have the power to establish charter schools. These schools have slightly more flexibility than traditional, district-run schools.

Charter schools operate independently, which makes power-hungry school boards squeamish. However, if the state is not willing to promote diversity of thought and freedom in education, then maybe we can convince our local school boards that these are good things. For all we know, they may share our same frustrations.

I would like to believe that our local school boards are not like the power-hungry socialists that make up the Department of Education, but are instead freedom-loving Americans who want what is best for children. If they are, then they will listen to the most important stakeholders.

Every district that I know of likes the fact that they can send exceptional students to The Governor’s School for the Arts. The Governor’s School is a state-run school, so it is independent as far as the district is concerned.

If giving parents one option beyond their zoned school is good, then why not many options? Aren’t children exceptional in more than one way?

The seed of freedom is already in their hearts. It is now up to us, the stakeholders, to cultivate it. We may not matter in Richmond, but we certainly do in our own towns. They will listen if we are willing to speak up.

The day is not far off when your district will be invited to partner with at least one, and eventually many, charter schools. Freedom is right around the corner. We just have to reach out and grab it.

Clay Scott, a resident of Franklin, teaches Spanish at King’s Fork High School. He holds a degree in Spanish from Brigham Young University, an MBA from Ashford University and is a doctoral candidate at George Washington University. Email him at teliosacademies@gmail.com.