What your zip code says about you and the breadth of your experiences with education

Thank you to M. W. and D. P. , both somewhere in Illinois. I appreciate you weighing in on the subject of relationships between business and education. Your comments helped me to better appreciate how our zip codes affect our thinking AND help me understand why much of what is going on in today’s political miasma truly reflects the haves and have nots.  When you decided you did not like an ‘uncomfortable’ conversation, you immediately decided it was about you, out of guilt, since too many things seemed to describe you and your behavior. You gave yourself away.

I am a tutor with Wyzant and after having done substantial research, kept noticing inconsistencies regarding how tutors have been differentially handled. My questions have arisen from the fact of having read every nook, cranny and bit I could find on the website and there is NO small print, often there is nothing in print.  There are no explanations for many things which happen and often it is days before I actually notice a ‘change’ manifest itself and the effects it will take on students and myself as a tutor.  Since I have a background in education and have a keen interest in knowing why the change in A affects B in manner X, I look, watch, collect data and ask more than an average amount of questions.

The most obvious question to date is how I became a ‘Top 100’ out of 75,000 tutors. By any reasoning ability this is a strange, almost random occurrence. I asked Wyzant how this was achieved  as I would like to know what I did which caused this synchronicity. No answer from Wyzant. There were some folks who did not even know there was a top 100 or top 250…..I am going to go with marketing ploy. Pick some tutors, give them a high rating and see if this brings in more business as you have created ‘selective’ groups of tutors.  I don’t need to be in the Top 100 to know I am good.  My self esteem is not so diminutive where a ‘note’ from Wyzant changes me into a different type of tutor.   http://www.mensjournal.com/adventure/races-sports/how-participation-trophies-are-making-our-kids-soft-20150725

It would help  if my % of dollars paid was increased since it is clear Wyzant needs to spend very little money on marketing me.   Giving a tutor this ranking is the equivalent of giving out stock options, which only work if X happens. Giving someone the money they are worth actually demonstrates their value.

What I found out was there are other tutors who share my concerns and these are tutors who typically make $50/hr or less and live where the average middle and upper middle class folks live.  These tutors are curious as to the inner workings of things as they wish to improve their rankings and probably raise their rates. Of course there is no specific answer to achieving the top since I don’t even know what I did in 2014 which was remarkable and have nothing what-so-ever to share in regards to improving one’s ranking. In this instance people want information which is actionable.

The tutors who charge more per hour and live in wealthy enclaves  share a similar interest although there is a particular characteristic to it.   The tutors at the higher end of the socio- economic range want the ranking, much as one gets for their position in their graduating class and money is not so much of an issue.  They charge enough per hour where the ranking itself will push them onward to more students who can afford them.  The trophy is what is being sought, so the how and the why is not as relevant as the fact it was achieved. There is limited interest into how the ranking was achieved.

These two groups do not  share my concerns equally as they do not have many of the same experiences with  public education. The following is an article which demonstrates  one of many differences between different zip codes. I won’t even fully get into the differences in funding by zip codes.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/racial-disparities-american-schools_55b67572e4b0074ba5a576c1

The issues surrounding these two groups of tutors is so diverse, one can not even have the discussions necessary to start a bridge. The group who ‘does not know’ really does not wish to know and so the discussion is upsetting and unsettling. In a world where there is little equity in the education system, the people who we wish would pay attention to the situation usually can not stomach the discussion so they block it out at every turn. This is what I found with M and D above. They could not stomach the discussion so instead they turned it inward as a criticism about themselves instead of a thinking point.  Instead of being able to argue their points, they decided they did not like the discussion and had it closed in a tutor forum.  This supported Wyzant in not having to divulge any information about their practices and saved the profit margin for yet another day.

The problems faced by these two different sets of tutors are similar in some instances and in others, amazingly different.  To start with, test prep tutors who are great at what they do usually charge accordingly and this denies access to many students who have capacity and not the pocket to benefit from these tutors.  This puts students with a smaller budget into the possibility of not getting into the college of their choice due to test scores not demonstrating their ability in comparison to peers from a more wealthy area where test prep is de rigor.  Yes, I know, test scores are only one aspect of college acceptance and apparently an important one as wealthy families make it happen. The issue I am addressing is called equity.

In an issue I addressed in a previous blog, students who are in a lower income bracket are often in a situation where their parents and/or they them self do not know how to do a better search for a best fit tutor as the possibilities are ‘limited’ to $/hr posted, ratings, and experience in hours.  When these fields are manipulated to improve profit margin ( presenting new tutors at a substantially lower percentage split instead of experienced tutors with a track record willing to make a rate adjustment), it repeats what we already know about experienced teachers fleeing certain classrooms in certain schools. This again is not equity; It is profit margin.

Bringing these discussions into the light of day causes tension and frustration. Most notably to those in zip codes where these discussions are often political and not based on actual experiences with the education system as the education system caters to them as great servants.  While the various and sundry discussions can be shut down by people unwilling to address the issues, the problems remain.

Wyzant benefits from the discussions remaining at the kum-by-ya level and not having to address the details. The tutors in particular zip codes are protected from having discussions which are too unsettling and the students, well, the students continue to be the ones to lose since money and education do not seem to mix well, if at all.

Sad In(deed)

The common comparison to business and education is oil and water as  oil is immiscible in water.  The reality  is much more complex. Business and education are more akin to taking sludge from a landfill, adding it to  water  and wondering why nothing grows.  If the sludge has nothing living in it and can not photosynthesize food, it can not live and grow. Business people lack the understanding of why you need to start with something living and feed it or expect the organism to photosynthesize. What a business person sees is some dirt which they wish to monetize if they could just force it to grow……

A business person will do everything in their power to force the sludge to grow, in spite of every scientist stating it can not happen. Business people hire marketing teams and business development specialists who tell them to ‘plant trees’ and the sludge kills off the forest and then some. The board  will then hire more marketing and business development people (who tell them to plant different trees) and the routine continues as they make money off the planted trees while they stay alive.The problem of the murkiness in the water eludes them. Instead of talking to a scientist, they make up explanations and continue to believe they can sell their idea.

The best marketing, business development and sales teams are those which can help in suspending belief long enough for the business to metaphorically grow and be sold.

Not all businesses in education function this way. It is the indiscriminate use of resources which fails the business idea, not the fact it is related to education.  The resources are misappropriated as a business person can not logistically interact with an educator under any pretense other than money. An educator generally commodifies education as a process, journey, undertaking for life which has no explicit monetary value. In fact, education is seen as its own reward to most educators.

The best example I have of where business and education mixed to make something wonderful: Khan Academy. The dream started so small and became something so large AND the money followed instead of directed what Khan Academy did as an organizations.

My experiences of businesses and education have proven  out. at least twice, they do not work together and in fact, business is toxic to education. In addition, all I have to do is read the news about for profit schools and feel equally nauseated.

I have been involved with organizations who have knowingly done the type of ‘deal’ where they even obtained not for profit status, as if this would some how cleanse the soil, so to speak. Aspire Public Schools, a charter school venture and now Wyzant, an online tutoring site which decided to walk down Wall St. with Accel Partners have both attempted to grow the trees and neither one has a forest worthy of even making toothpicks.

Aspire Public Schools has used taxpayer money and investment money to mis-educate children under a premise they could never demonstrate as advertised/marketed when they began. They have not been able to do anything substantially different from any other public school, including getting kids THROUGH college to graduation. In the case of Aspire Public Schools, what is so insidious is the level at which they have marketed their program to the most dis-enfranchised and have not delivered.  In the case of Wyzant, I have hopes they will catch on to what will be part of their reputation if they do not right the ship.

Both organizations in my example were founded by people with a simple-minded and limited view of education.  In the case of Aspire, almost anyone of any worth ran far and fast from being affiliated with them.  This includes Stanford University and many people, such as myself, who taught at Aspire under what were found to be false pretenses. This involves professors from universities and principals/administrators who were misled.

With Wyzant, it was not until Accel Partners came in and laid down the behavior expected that things became turbid.  There was some degree of transparency and trees were being planted. Accel Partners ruined that by convincing Mike and Drew they could ‘sell out’. What started as something which may have had (I am not sure) some degree of morality, became a system to make a profit off of students and their families.

Wyzant went from allowing anyone access to a variety of tutors at different price points, even those of us who take on students and reduce price in many situations and try to work out a deal, to a system where Wyzant selects tutors who are at lower commission splits unless the consumer is SAVVY enough to do their own computer search and apply to different tutors.  By directing clients to these tutors, the vulnerable students/parents are given what Wyzant has not yet been able to shape or form with sufficient reviews and other metrics. This means in many instances, the student(s) are not getting the ‘best’ possible tutors, rather, they are getting the tutors which are profitable to Wyzant.

At first I thought this situation was unique to me. Then, suddenly, something which had been long brewing – allowing tutors to have access to one another, happened. We began to share our stories and found out we were all experiencing similar issues.

Amazingly, with the openness of the social media (LinkedIn) conversation, not once has Wyzant flinched at this conversation and probably has no intention of doing anything as they are happy to be rid of those of us who obtain too much of their asset pie. The real issue is, those of us who stuck around are the ones with the good reputation, the outstanding work with students and the tutors who are so much more than Kaplan and Mathnasium storefronts, etc.

Once you lose your reputation, it is a challenge to regain it. In the meanwhile, those of us who stick with Wyzant end up carrying the burden of their poor business decisions and some icky moral/ethical baggage.