If you’re a school board, who’s your customer? [The Hub Debate]

from Wikipedia
from Wikipedia

This is  a Hub Debate on the role of boards of education. For more background, read this.  Participate in the comments or submit a response for publication to UtahPoliticoHub@gmail.com. The question is: “Who do you think the board should serve?  Parents? Students? Why?


One of the most critical steps in operating a business is knowing who your customers are. After all, they’re the ones who pay you money for your product. They can tell you if your product meet their needs or how it can be changed to do so. In the “lean startup” methodology, a business identifies those customers, a problem they need to solve, and then works with them iteratively to refine a product that they’ll happily purchase.

Of course, government isn’t a business and it operates under some very different rules. And yet, the same question applies: who is the customer?

In our education system, the answer is often as clear as mud. Your product, education, is being delivered to end users, the students. But the students don’t usually pay for it, the public at large does. This includes parents and employers who have both similar and competing goals for the education system. It’s a pretty complex relationship that often puts competing factions at odds with each other.

Employers want work-ready employees to pop on out of the system. Parents are probably okay with that, but not at the exclusion of socialization, sports, or the arts. Those whose children are already out of the system (or don’t have any kids) often just want it to cost them less money. Everyone is signing the check, but nobody signs enough of the check to hold a trump card.

Hoo boy. I said it would be complicated, didn’t I?

In the end, the students are probably going to hold the edge here. They’re the ones that actually use the education, and they’re going to feel the effects of it for longer than any other stakeholder. They will become the future parents, employees, and taxpayers that also have a stake in the system. If the product isn’t good for them, parents will pull them out, employees will sponsor alternatives, and taxpayers will lose patience for providing funding. If you aren’t meeting the needs of students, the entire thing comes crashing down. That’s bad.

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