Steve Jobs is speaking out. A few weeks ago he said the music labels should eliminate DRM protection. This week he said "I believe that what is wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way".
April Castro of the Associated Press wrote a story "Apple CEO lambasts teachers unions", where Jobs said, "What kind of person could you get to run a small business if you told them that when they came in they couldn't get rid of people that they thought weren't any good?" he asked to loud applause during an education reform conference."
My take? Steve got it half right. I agree that You can't fire the bad ones. The other half of the problem is that you can't reward the good ones. That is what all unions do...protect the incompetent ones. Unions eliminate "pay for performance" and instead "pay by seniority". How do they get this seniority? Just breathe...because they can't be fired. About the only way a teacher can be fired is for sexual misconduct, some other crime, or obvious malfeasance. Perhaps worse, unions don't allow rewards for excellent individual performance. Where is the incentive for teachers, or any union member, to work harder, take risks, and excel?UPDATE: I wrote another post that explores the other side of the problem Fire the bad students, and give rewards to both good teachers and students.
Most of us work for businesses without unions, and most of us do just fine without the "protection" of a union. In fact, we enjoy "pay for performance" and work hard to earn promotions and bonuses. Yes, there are some large businesses that protect incompetent workers and refuse to fire them. But at least they don't hold back the star performers and do reward them for their efforts.
Pay teachers more money? Politicians always shout we need to pay teachers more money. Have you ever researched how much the average teacher gets paid? Not the starting salary of a 23 year old first year teacher...the average teacher. The politicians always point out the starting salary, but the truth is that almost no one gets paid that amount.
The Hoover Institute published a paper on teachers salaries, citing the American Federation of Teachers effort to compare teachers wages to other professions. The Hoover report responded;
"Where, one wonders, are the comparisons with journalists, registered nurses, assistant district attorneys, FBI agents, military officers, and other not-so-highly compensated professionals and public-sector employees? Shouldn’t the average pay of a high-school English teacher be compared with that of writers and editors? One could make a case that the salaries of high-school physics or calculus teachers should bear some resemblance to those of computer system analysts, but does the AFT believe that the appropriate compensation benchmarks for 3rd-grade teachers are the salaries of engineers or attorneys?"
Teachers only work about 180 days per year, so on an hourly basis they are making a very good wage. The rest of us work about 240 days per year, or about 33% more. Doesn't it make sense that teachers should be paid 33% less than the average worker with similar responsibility? Take a look at this chart from the Hoover Institute that compares average hourly wages of many different professions. Teachers make a higher average hourly wage than accountants, computer programmers, auditors, and even more than architects and engineers who work in State and Local governments.
Steve Jobs said that putting more technology into schools will not significantly improve the results. This is a bold statement for the Apple CEO to make after decades of subsidizing the purchase of Apple computers for use in public schools. But once again, I think Steve Jobs is right. Until we solve the problem of how to reward great teachers and remove poor teachers we will not see significantly better results.
The problem is not money. Schools already get more than 50% of the local budgets in most cities and towns. Health care is the same deal. We spend more per capita on health care than any country in the world. The problems with education and health care are not lack of funding. The problem is lack of incentive.