I have enormous respect for teachers. But the fact of the matter is that, as with any profession, there are good teachers and bad teachers. Unfortunately, unions and tenure prevent the bad ones from being fired in most cases, unless they step so far over the line that no sane person could conclude they were not unfit.
Steve Jobs delivered this message forcefully in Austin on Friday, according to an Associated Press report.
Jobs compared schools to businesses with principals serving as CEOs.
“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.
“Not really great ones because if you’re really smart you go, ‘I can’t win.'”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. I went to school years ago in a district that had to implement layoffs as the student population declined with the closure of a local military base. To see good, young teachers let go while those with seniority but less talent and enthusiasm were kept, was a huge disappointment.
Teachers educate future entrepreneurs, workers, and citizens. As many have said, children are our must valuable resource. Hopefully, more leaders like Steve Jobs will step up to the plate and deliver the message bluntly. Teachers’ unions are a powerful force in this country and will not take this lying down, but we all need to do our part to highlight the structural problems facing education today.
UPDATE: Robert Scoble weighs in and has a mixed view of Jobs’ comments:
Steve Jobs is right that unions are corrosive on the quality of our schools. Our schools are bad because we can’t get rid of bad teachers. But, it’s worse than that — Steve Jobs’ fix wouldn’t fix the total problem. Patrick’s Mom was a teacher for a while. She left for a variety of reasons, but partly because the pay is so bad for the work you put into that job.
Dan Farber has similar views on Jobs:
He’s right that the ideal would be to only have great teachers, but blaming the bad teacher syndrome totally on the unions isn’t going to solve the problem. Paying teachers a better wage to attract more talent (they don’t get those nice back-dated stock options) and keeping the good teachers from seeking other employment because they can’t afford to teach would be a good start. That’s not to say that the teacher unions can’t improve on performance standards for their members to eliminate poor performers from the teacher pool.
Certainly teacher pay should be factored in and must both fairly compensate for the work involved and also be substantial enough to attract excellent talent (as is the case frankly for any job). But throwing money at the problem before the structural issues caused by unions and teacher contracts are solved makes no sense to me.