A Missing “U” Word
It’s maximally conspicuous that Louis Gerstner omits a key detail while enumerating his recommendation for public school reform:
I recommend that President-elect Barack Obama convene a meeting of our nation’s governors and seek agreement to the following:
– Abolish all local school districts, save 70 (50 states; 20 largest cities). Some states may choose to leave some of the rest as community service organizations, but they would have no direct involvement in the critical task of establishing standards, selecting teachers, and developing curricula.
– Establish a set of national standards for a core curriculum. I would suggest we start with four subjects: reading, math, science and social studies.
– Establish a National Skills Day on which every third, sixth, ninth and 12th-grader would be tested against the national standards. Results would be published nationwide for every school in America.
– Establish national standards for teacher certification and require regular re-evaluations of teacher skills. Increase teacher compensation to permit the best teachers (as measured by advances in student learning) to earn well in excess of $100,000 per year, and allow school leaders to remove underperforming teachers.
– Extend the school day and the school year to effectively add 20 more days of schooling for all K-12 students.
Key components of this plan will prove flatly unworkable as long as unions sit at the head of the educational table. They’ll certainly battle merit-based pay scales and hire-fire processes, and they’d rush to print up the bills for extended school years. They’re also likely to push back against comparative standards. It’s astonishing that Gerstner doesn’t so much as whisper such a central name.
I submit that the paucity of progress over his decades-long quest for school reform has had less to do with the number of school districts than the special interest group that prevents children’s betterment from standing as the unrivaled focus of the public education system. If one increases the size of the playground without removing the bully, he’ll just bring along more of his friends.