Monday, December 1, 2008

Mainframe Education

Let's see, how's this for an idea?  We get a bunch of people together in Washington, and then they can figure out how best to educate our children....

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece by Mr. Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., the former Chairman and CEO of IBM who performed a virtual miracle in turning that company around in the 1990's, that proposed that concept.  With all due respect for Mr. Gerstner, if there was anything that we've learned from the failure of the Soviet Union, and Communism in general, wasn't it that the concept of centralized management and planing was a failure.  

Interestingly enough, it was the model of centralized corporate planning, and the architectural concept of the IBM Mainframe computer vs. distributed / networked computing and the internet, that had caused IBM to fail as a business.

In Mr Gerstner's opinion , he laments that for the forty years that he's been involved with school reform, he hasn't seen any improvement, in fact, just the opposite.  And, despite that observation, he want's to double-down on a major element of the problem, and become even more centralized.  It seems that he hasn't learned anything from the drubbing that distributed processing architecture and the Internet visited upon IBM's centralized mainframe architecture driven business.

The U.S. Dept. of Education has been in operation for 28 years, signed into law by President Jimmy Carter and was operating by May 1980, three quarter's of the forty years Mr. Gerstner is commenting on, yet he suggests that we: 

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.

That's not a recipe for excellence in education, it's a recipe for Peeps!

I agree with two items on his list: his focus on a core curriculum requirement, but only with three of the four subjects he names: Reading, Math and Science, but would suggest that Civics be the fourth, not Social Science.  Standardized testing should also be established, and to that end, the "No Child Left Behind" Act has initiated that concept.  It needs to be continued and improved.

The basic concept of diverse perspectives and approaches to solving problems that has spawned our greatest achievements, and that has been the foundation of this country's greatness, is now recommended to be abolished, and in it's place a monolithic bureaucracy established that would cookie-cutter our children's knowledge with "Centralized Thoughts"..... George Orwell's 1984 vision, come to life.

Although he rightfully lambastes the overall results of our Educational system, he never cites the Teacher's Union's rules, the lack of school choice for students and parents, or the existing Department of Education, all significant causal agents of our educational system's failure.

Straight-jacketing our teacher hiring standards and instructional methodology with a Federal abyss in Washington D.C., driven by the teacher's unions and politicians would only accelerate our decline, not reverse it.  

The real solution would be to establish excellence goals; implement effective standardized testing; and foster and fund alternative schools that parents can choose from in order to provide their children with the best educational solution for each individual child.  

Let's give all our kids the same opportunity to excel that Barack and Michelle Obama's children have.  


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