What Do You Think?
Louis Gerstner, Jr. is Advocating for a Fool's Errand
"Bad schools + shackled principals = outsourcing" is not necessarily the correct approach, say two distinguished writers of education issues.
Bad Schools + Shackled Principals=Outsourcing
Susan Ohanian comments:
Gerstner is up to his old tricks. Climbing out from under the Carlyle rock, he repeats the claim he's been making since the education summit where he held hands with Pres. Bush I and Arkansas governor Bill Clinton. He claims jobs are being outsourced not because of corporate greed but because American schoolteachers are lousy.
I have pasted in the members of the Teaching Commission below Gerstner's rant.
Not to continue to blow my own horn, but you need to read Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools? by Kathy Emery and Susan Ohanian.
America is engaged in an unconventional conflict that stretches to every corner of the globe. It is being fought on unfamiliar terrain. It demands we rapidly repair old vulnerabilities and develop new skills and strengths. Our nation, which has prevailed in conflict after conflict over several centuries, now faces a stark and sudden choice: adapt or perish.
I'm not referring to the war against terrorism but to a war of skills -- one that America is at a risk of losing to India, China, and other emerging economies. And we're not at risk of losing it on factory floors or lab benches. It's happening every day, all across the country, in our public schools. Unless we transform those schools -- by upgrading our corps of classroom teachers for the next generation -- and do it now, it will soon be too late.
As this global challenge emerges, far too much of the debate has focused on "job outsourcing" -- defined most often as American companies moving jobs to lower cost labor markets in order to improve efficiency. Yet too often this misses the crucial point: American companies don't simply go offshore for inexpensive labor. They are increasingly going abroad to find skills that aren't available, or plentiful, in their own backyard. And at the very same time, foreign companies are not taking market share from U.S. companies simply because they have less expensive workers. Those workers increasingly have equal or better skills.
Another trend is exacerbating this skill deficiency still further. For decades, millions of talented scientists and engineers have flocked to the U.S. to study in our universities and work for cutting-edge companies. But as their home countries improve economically and politically, they are beginning to migrate back. America -- on the receiving end of a brain drain for years -- is starting to suffer from a reverse brain drain.
In response, what do we see? The leading U.S. tech companies are all opening research laboratories in Asia -- labs that will source high-tech jobs from the highly educated students pouring out of Asian universities (or returning from training in America's best universities). The trends are also ominous in trade statistics: In recent years, the U.S. global share of high-tech exports has declined while the share from Asian countries other than Japan have climbed to nearly 30%. The trend lines crossed -- maybe once and for all -- around 1994.
So what do we do? Well, a lot of the rhetoric coming out of the presidential campaigns is not encouraging. John Kerry wants to offer tax incentives for companies that create jobs here in America and toughen trade policy; President Bush calls for making his tax cuts permanent and improving job training.
We are fooling ourselves if we believe that tweaking tax rates, training, or trade agreements will turn this tide. The global information economy is here. It is brutal and unforgiving. And here is the hard truth: the layoffs we have experienced to date will pale in comparison to future losses if we fail to awaken to the scope of the crisis and the need for bold solutions that address the problem at its roots.
The only way to ensure we remain a world economic power is by elevating our public schools -- particularly the teachers who lead them -- to the top tier of American society. We have treated teaching as a second-rate profession for decades -- with sub-par compensation, antiquated training, and arcane systems of accountability. It's designed for the industrial age, not the age of information and innovation.
It's time to reconnect education reform to our economic competitiveness. That's why, last year, I founded The Teaching Commission: 18 accomplished Americans, including business leaders, educators, and former governors from both political parties, joined me. We believe teaching must be modernized immediately through a series of bold reforms.
The teaching profession is undervalued, figuratively and literally. So we believe it's finally time to pay teachers much more. But at the very same time, we have to pay them more intelligently -- once and for all breaking the inane, outdated salary schedules that fail to offer more money to teachers with math and science skills, and fail to recognize and reward excellence.
We believe it's time to make teaching an attractive, accessible profession for the most talented and motivated Americans, no matter what their formal training, by breaking down the bureaucratic barriers to entry that can keep Ph.D.s, even Nobel Prize winners, out of public school classrooms. And we believe it's time to give principals, who are charged with leading schools to excellence, the authority they need to hire and fire their staff. Without that power, accountability is a cruel joke.
We are losing the skill war. America, head to the barricades. Our schoolrooms are the true battleground.
Mr. Gerstner, founder of the non-profit Teaching Commission and former chairman of IBM, is chairman of the Carlyle Group.
- Louis V. Gerstner, Jr.
Wall Street Journal, 2004-10-07
The Teaching Commission
Louis V. Gerstner, Jr.
Roy E. Barnes
Richard I. Beattie
Kenneth I. Chenault
Philip M. Condit
James B. Hunt, Jr.
Ellen Condliffe Lagemann
W. James McNerney, Jr.
Scott E. Painter
Richard W. Riley
Comments on Mr. Gerstner's article from Jim Fedako, President, Olentangy Board of Education:
"Bad schools + shackled principals = outsourcing," by Lou Gerstner, Wall Street Journal, October 6, 2004 (subscription required)
"Lou Gerstner, former IBM chair and founder of the Teaching Commission, wrote a recent op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal that reinforced one of the most inane arguments about the current state of public education.
Only in the mind of a utopian socialist would the pie-in-the-sky idea of putting Nobel Prize winners in K-12 classrooms make sense. The cry that even Einstein couldn't get a paid teaching position in a public school is as pointless as one can get. Would Gerstner advocate utilizing the scarce intellectual resource of an Einstein to teach rudimentary math in an elementary school? What would be gained? A point or two on a fourth grade proficiency exam for each of the 20 pupils in the classroom. What about the opportunity costs? Is this really an efficient use of such a resource?
That is the same logic as assigning IBM's CFO to the school lunchroom in order to improve accounting practices. The move may result in a few dollars saved but the cost of the CFO's salary would dwarf the benefit.
The fact that Einstein couldn't teach in a public school is irrelevant. No serious mind would want to place him there. And only the utopian socialist would believe that the 20 students in the classroom would be so inspired by Einstein that they would all end up advancing the field of physics. If you want to advance the field of physics, you put your Einstein in a classroom of the brightest graduate students and let them go at it.
A problem with the current public school system is that the most experienced, and most expensive, teachers are in front of a class of just 20 students.
While studies have shown that there is no significant gain in teacher performance after the 10-year mark, schools typically pay a step bonus for up to 20+ years of experience. While no student performance gains are realized, the salary of an experience teacher can be double the salary of the teacher with only 10 years in the field.
I'm certain that Gerstner is not a utopian socialist because IBM under his watch utilized resources in an efficient manner. Salaries were tied to performance: not tied to some abstract concept of performance but also tied to the market performance of the corporation. If IBM didn't produce your job may not have been there the next day. Corporations pay for experience only as long as experience produces more.
Using the private sector as a guide, experienced teachers should be utilized as mentors/managers guiding less experienced teachers. The result would be greater improvements as master teachers affect 120 plus students instead of just a class of 20. Those teacher that are unable to reach the level of master teacher would see their salaries rise only with inflation after 10 years in the field.
Alternatively, experienced teachers should be in front of larger classrooms thus justifying their higher salary. Those that are not up to the challenge could forego the additional cash. Experience pays only as long as experience produces more.
A corollary of conclusions based on research from Dr. Sanders, the value-added guru, is that resource utilization matters. Letting a child face three consecutive years of ineffective teachers is an unrecoverable error. Schools need to utilize their current resources in a manner that promotes improved achievement. Fretting over how to certify Einstein in K-12 education is a fools errand."
See also: What Are We doing, When We Set Up a Small Group To Tell The Rest of Us What We Must Do?