A Parent/Board Member Speaks Out on For-Profit Schools!

legal_matters44019925Dear ISR,
I read with interest your recent article about legal threats made by schools and their attorneys against ISR. Apparently, reviews considered critical of schools, or the people who run them, have the potential to hurt some feelings. From my perspective as an executive in a multinational corporation (currently living in Asia), I recognize this knee-jerk reaction. A loud threat from attorneys is the way of business everywhere in the world.

  I had a brief experience working as a substitute board member for the international school in which our daughters are enrolled. A sitting member became ill, had to leave the country for treatment, and I was invited to step in for the remainder of the school year. In my time there I saw that this school was in all ways focused on the financial advantages of “providing an education.” In many ways, they ran a much tighter ship than my boss at my corporate job. This experience opened my eyes as to the disparity between the sense of caring found in public schools back home and the hard line profit motive found in private schools. This was a startling realization for me. Schools and teachers carry an aura of hope to save/help the world; but the reality is, this private school, and I would imagine others, was purely a money-making endeavor.

  I believe international teachers need to keep this financial focus in mind when applying to teach at private schools. Owners most certainly see you as a commodity and your value for XYZ School may be simply to provide one small cog in the wheel that drives the school. Yes, you may be a superb teacher with a heart full of life-enriching talent and knowledge to share with your students and administrators. But, more importantly to the school, you are a Western face in front of the classroom, a promotional tool to get more wealthy local and expat parents to enroll their children. It may be hard to accept that you’re just not that special to these school owners and your opinions and suggestions, however well intended and enriching, may not be welcomed. That is simply the truth of operating a business focused on profits.

  During my time as board member, conflicts arose when a teacher (and his division) pushed for sweeping changes to align the school more with the American education system. Although the school follows American accreditation requirements and the school is considered an “American International” school, these costly changes were never approved and ultimately, the teacher was drummed out of the school in an ugly manner for his efforts. I, too, found that I was seen as a nuisance in calling for fairness when dealing with this teacher and his frustration over the situation. I could see that he was trying to implement his leadership skills to guide the school in becoming the best “American” school possible.

  I have a new-found appreciation for my children’s teachers and coaches. When faced with a strictly for-profit motive, these teachers consistently carry out their duties, act like enthusiastic professionals and deliver a top-notch education. I salute their dedication and commitment in the face of what must be, at times, a miserable experience. The reviews I have read of this school on ISR mirror what I saw happening as a temporary board member.

  That being said, I applaud the communication and advice shared on ISR. Teachers take care of each other by writing reviews to laud good schools and administrators, and warn about others. Parents like myself search the reviews to find where good people are directing quality schools, where teachers are treated fairly and with respect. That’s where I want MY children to go!

Just remember, it’s business as usual no matter what country you work in.

(name withheld by request)

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28 Responses to A Parent/Board Member Speaks Out on For-Profit Schools!

  1. A.G says:

    Can’t really better the original letter as it pretty much sums up my experience, but with one minor addition: this attitude is just as pervasive in developed Asian countries as it is in developing ones.


  2. over_here says:

    I have been teaching in Myanmar where every single school is all about profit and not quality. Maximizing profit means hiring unqualified and inexperienced teachers without even a basic background check, pushing kids into programs like IB which are beyond their capabilities, charging for endless ‘extras’ that parents are often struggling to pay for. Basically some profit making schools are simply fraudulent as they are not accredited by any recognized body and prey on parents who equate a high fee with high quality. Education is like every other commodity; buyer beware.


  3. Rachel says:

    I agree with this well written letter as a qualified teacher I was actually looking to transfer my skills into the international corporate world and recruitment agencies ‘bullied’ me into teacher posts.


  4. Been Around a While says:

    The letter above is a gross oversimplification. While it is probably true that more for-profit schools tend to be educationally lacking and non-for-profit schools tend to be educationally sound, there are so many exceptions that I wouldn’t advise turning it into a general rule.

    Early in my international teaching career, I worked in a classic not-for-profit, accredited, embassy-affiliated, parent-governed school from which I couldn’t wait to get away. Academic integrity was a joke, the administration played favorites, and the board was dictatorial and vindictive. I’m so glad that experience is behind me.

    I went from there to an accredited for-profit school in which the owner had a long term view, and understood that a good reputation required providing an excellent educational product year after year. Academic standards were very high, teachers and administrators were hired for their professionalism and were encouraged to profess, and governance was fair and inclusive. I would be happy to return there.

    We know that stereotyping people based on a few external characteristics is almost always a mistake, and the same is true for schools. Don’t let snap judgements substitute for the genuine work of assessing a school in the necessary depth to make an honest determination about its suitability for your child or your career.


    • Mathemagician says:

      Well said! I have taught in four privately owned, so-called for-profit schools. Always received the resources I asked for, taught the way I believed in (hands-on, student centered, experiential, with rigorous assessments) and although some students and parents at times found my high expectations demanding I was never asked to change a grade. Also worked with some truly awesome faculty and solid administrators. And met some wonderfully supportive parents who really wanted their children to be prepared for tertiary education in the West.


    • A.G says:

      You are simply wrong. Since both the author and you are offering nothing more than anecdotal experience, neither one carries more weight than the other. Therefore, you and the author’s points are equally valid. To dismiss the author’s points as misleading or misinformed because you haven’t personally encountered them as much or not at all does not mean they don’t exist to a degree greater than you think. Fallacious.


  5. Anonymous says:

    Definitely fits with my experiences of International teaching, it was a hard reality to accept and was a great challenge for me to do so. I am now teaching in a state school back in the Western world where the teachers complain about it being all about business and not education – however it is nothing compared to the way that International for-profit schools are run. I am missing the determined approach to learning shown by the students and their families that I worked with whilst teaching internationally. Then of course there are the behaviour issues of a state school to contend with. There are ups and downs in any situation so its a matter of finding the one that suits you best and saddens you least…


  6. A very well written piece by Name Withheld. I think most of us will relate to some, if not all of the points mentioned.


  7. Cathy says:

    Grin and bank it is my motto.


  8. Jon Cristofer Miller says:

    I enjoyed and empathized with the article. The worst aspect of such for-profit schools is accepting students who don’t meet the ostensive entry requirements, treating them like second class citizens with no support, and then giving them a diploma based on attendance. Fortunately, most of the teachers and the hired principals usually feel a responsibility to fill in the missing pieces for such affected students. Of course, the school owners couldn’t care less.


  9. Anonymous says:

    As both teacher and administrator at my near former position in Shanghai, I was told on more than one occasion the owners don’t give a damn about education, all they care about is seeing a return on their investment…sadly true for many ‘schools’ in East Asia.


  10. Anon says:

    The one error I found in this article is that there is a sense of caring in public education back home. If that ‘back home’ happens to the the US of A I can unequivocally say that there is none. 15 years of public school teaching on every level have taught me that it is all about the test scores, legal mandates and yes, money.


    • Jax says:

      I agree with you. Money is the primary concern for many public school districts. Teachers with experience–and higher on the public school salary scale–are often harassed and/or pushed out of schools. In many cases, new teachers are preferred to experienced teachers in the hiring process.
      I know that many public school administrators are given bonuses for making sure their schools are under budget, and this usually means hiring cheaper staff. Administrators of public schools can be just as unethical, greedy, and vindictive as many international school directors.


  11. weedonald says:

    The author has summarized, in 5 paragraphs, what almost every international teacher and educator knows in their hearts after working for most for-profit, and some non-profit international schools! We are replaceable and rechargeable commodities, here today, gone tomorrow. That is why most teachers and educators agree to a 2 year contract…it is a tacit acceptance of the commercial and mercenary arrangement explicit in the ¨business¨of international education. We go there, do our jobs and then take the money and run to our next adventure. The school ¨leaders¨pay the money, deliver what most of the parents want and when it is time to move on, happily recruit more mercenaries to fill the ranks. Any idea that education comes before good business/profit is often regarded as an oxymoron. Sadly we are all complicit in this trade off and while we honestly and sincerely try to do our best for our charges and the stakeholders at our schools, we are rarely ready to become the change we want to see in these same institutions.


    • Anonymous says:

      Loved your post and couldn’t agree more. After teaching for several years in the public system back home (Canada) my family and I decide to give international teaching a go. In the end our family will be returning home were the teaching was harder but the environment more conducive to being creative and the students superior. They were better rounded, knew more about the world and were more interesting in learning.
      I also the missed the long term social interaction with students, seeing students progress from awkward grade 2s to mature seniors was phenomenal. The transient nature of international teaching causes student to not want to invest emotionally with teachers. The current staff keeps saying (who are themselves leaving the school) ‘wait until next year when they see that you came back, their attitude will change’. I feel sorry for the students. My kindergarten teacher was till supporting my learning or disciplining me in grade 8.


    • A.G says:

      Well spoken, and this unfortunately this applies to developed Asian countries as much as it does developing ones.


  12. David says:

    As a 10 year veteran of teaching in international schools I can tell you that the pathway to “success” for a teacher at many international schools is to implement savings, smile at the camera, keep your students happy, get on the student recruitment committee and always agree with your boss.

    I was never successful as I recommended expensive technologies, gave realistic grades, joined the salary & benefits committee and acted as a professional educator.

    The day I went back into public school teaching was a very happy for me.


    • val carter says:

      This is so true of my experience in Thailand…..but worse than that I had to go back to America where it has not any better…..Give me the retirement in 5 years


  13. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for being human, honest, speaking to and up for the hurt of so many.


  14. Been There.... says:

    Thank you for writing this superb piece. I think you said what we all know (or should know) if we have had any experience teaching overseas, but it’s good to hear it coming from a different perspective.


    • hathor says:

      Amen ….


    • Anonymous says:

      I was thinking the exact same thing. My experience so far is that teachers in International Schools get on with the business of teaching in SPITE of school boards, but nearly all of us are aware that this is the case. I very much appreciated hearing it said from someone who has seen it from the other side!



  15. Sam says:

    Most interesting article! well written and very well said!! So true everything this person says. After having worked in 3 different continents in so called International schools, I totally agree with what he says. Lots of this schools, specially in the middle east do not value good teachers, all they want is a western face to attract wealthy locals. We have all just seen the treatment an International teacher got in a school in Doha, Qatar. It happens far too often unfortunately. Things have to change right away.


  16. John A. Leggett says:

    I think this title is incorrect. It is apparent (no pun intended) this parent can see what a quality education shoulde be and not for the profit margin. Ideas and concepts that education for all is a money making scheme is Perhaps IB schools (with holistic education) seems to be the best investment.


    • Anonymous says:

      For-profit schools may be happy to call themselves an IB World School for marketing purposes… but it doesn’t always mean that the leadership believes in the IB mission and philosophy.


      • over_here says:

        Very true. IBO also do not follow up on genuine complaints from parents or teachers. As long as they are getting their annual fee, then hey .. who cares how many kids fail their program.


        • A.G says:

          I wholeheartedly agree. I just spent two and a half years in an “IB” school and this was exactly the experience. The curriculum was laughable, the many of the staff were untrained and uncertified as was the person in charge of it. Basic academic standards were flagrantly violated yet no one cared as long as people were signing up and the money rolled in. I have a very dim view of the IB and am very suspect about the whole program after that experience.


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