By Craig J. Cantoni
Dec. 7, 2006
Former IBM Chairman Louis Gerstner, Jr. and other renowned business leaders have recommended that North Korea adopt more central planning to fix its economy and feed its people.
“North Korea’s economic problems aren’t due to too much central planning and top-down diktats,” Gerstner said in a press conference yesterday. “They’re due to too little central planning and top-down diktats.”
Yeah, I made that up. But I didn’t make up an equally ludicrous conclusion reached by Gerstner and other members of the Teachers Commission, which is a group that was formed to recommend ways of improving the quality of America’s public school teachers. The full report can be found at:
Putting aside the report’s lofty rhetoric, the Commission’s conclusion can be paraphrased as follows: The inherent problems of a government-run, politically-controlled, union-dominated education system can be fixed by central planners tinkering with the system.
The Commission’s conclusion proves two things: first, that people can be brilliant in one field and less than brilliant in another; and, second, that fundamental changes to the established order cannot be brought about by people from the established order.
The Commission’s 18 members were a who’s who of the establishment. Among others, they included Kenneth Chenault, chairman and CEO, American Express; Philip Condit, former chairman and CEO, the Boeing Company; Arlene Ackerman, superintendent, San Francisco Unified School District; Barbara Bush, former First Lady; Roy Barnes, former Georgia governor; and Richard Riley, former U.S. Secretary of Education.
This illustrious group came up with four recommendations for improving the quality of teachers: 1) transform how teachers are paid; 2) revamp teacher education programs; 3) improve or overhaul licensing and certification requirements; and 4) give school leaders more authority and hold them responsible for the development of their staff. The group also endorsed a plethora of top-down government programs, incentives and subsidies.
The Education Commission did not recommend subjecting the public education system to competition through education vouchers and tax credits, removing the system from political meddling and micromanagement, and reducing the political clout of the 3.2 million-member National Education Association, which, like all unions, favors featherbedding, protects incompetent union members, and prefers seniority-based pay and promotion systems over merit-based ones. Of course, without these changes, the Commission’s four recommendations have a slim chance of being adopted. But with the changes, there would be no need for a commission, because reforms would take place as a matter of course.
Gerstner should know this. When he was hired to turn around IBM, he didn’t ask Barbara Bush, Richard Riley, Arlene Ackerman, Roy Barnes and other outsiders to make recommendations on how to pay and train IBM scientists and engineers. Nor did he conclude that to improve efficiency, productivity, innovation and global competitiveness, IBM should be run by government bureaucrats, micromanaged by politicians, and have its personnel policies dictated by a union.
Frankly, the Commission’s work was not scholarly. For example, a table in the report shows that 23 countries rank ahead of the United States in math literacy, and 14 rank ahead in reading literacy. But the report said nothing about how teachers are paid, trained and certified in those countries. Also, the report failed to point out that eight of the countries have school choice, including direct governmental assistance to private schools. Nor did it point out that all of the countries are smaller than the U.S., and 11 of them are racially homogenous or nearly so.
Gerstner never would have tolerated such incomplete work from IBM executives. But the fact that he tolerated it from the Teaching Commission shows the politicized nature of public education and why it can’t be fundamentally reformed.
An author and columnist, Mr. Cantoni can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.