Lou Gerstner’s WSJ op-ed from the other day raises a host of questions but here are two.  First, will National Skills Day be a national holiday?  I’m skeptical of the alleged groundswell for national standards but perhaps this is exactly the strategy to get the public excited — a day off work!   It’s genius! 

Second, abolishing school districts so we drop from 14,000 or so now to Gerstner’s ideal of 70 (50 states and the 20 biggest cities*) doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.   First, these districts are creatures of state code and state constitutions so they just can’t be wished away.  Instead, there would be a huge political fight and big process obstacles.   Then, assuming the fight was won, and they’re gone, pretty soon you’d have to build all sorts of intermediate support organizations and structures to help service the 100,000 public schools out there — which presumably are not going anywhere.   And isn’t is a safe bet that before long those structures and organizations would start to look a lot like, you know, school districts?   

So I guess I see more promise in a strategy to reform the districts we have rather than a huge fight that on its own doesn’t seem likely to accomplish a lot and leaves us with the exact same challenges we face today:  How to retool the institutions, incentives, and outcome measures to focus more on performance.  Perhaps you can argue that starting from scratch make that easier but given the context here it’s dubious.

*Have he and MIke Casserly cut some sort of side deal…?

7 Replies to “Holiday!”

  1. Someone should also explain to Mr. G that local control is a function of local financing. If he wants to nationalize education, then he had better be prepared to nationalize education finance. Good luck with that one.

  2. A more promising strategy to improve achievement and efficiency would be to reduce the number of very small districts and reduce the number of very large districts. Large districts are a mess and should be divided into smaller districts in which information can flow up and down much faster. How is a superintendent really going to know what is going on in a districts with over 100 schools?

  3. I agree that really large districts can create problems. As a former teacher in a large district in California, there were many staffing and communication problems that I think might be avoided in a smaller district. I had experience working in one small district on the East Coast that was run more efficiently. Of course, you can’t make blanket comparisons based on a sample of two districts, but it seems to make sense to me that at a certain point large sized districts can run into problems with administration.

  4. It has always perplexed me that the giants of free enterprise are nearly always advocates for centralization. Makes me go hmmmmm!

    When you read the scribblings from our past leaders birthed in one room schools or worse, it defies logic to suggest that bigger will be better. We’ve got big right now in LA, D.C., N.Y., etc. Are they working? Are they cost effective?

  5. “It has always perplexed me that the giants of free enterprise are nearly always advocates for centralization.”

    Proponents of free enterprise (like myself) are used to the idea that the best ideas and best leaders and consistent highest performers float to the top. So, when we (I) first visualize centralization, it sounds great: instead of having 250 school boards of various levels of competency picking out textbooks and approving expenditures, you have one state-wide board, or one federal board, and they pick the best books for the whole nation.

    In reality, without competition, there’s not much drive to keep the state/federal boards full of the best leaders, and you end up with the best politicians rather than the best leaders.

    tl;dr: Proponents of centralization hold out hope that we can build a truly great system (sometimes because they’re used to building truly great orgs under free enterprise). Detractors believe that’s virtually impossible, and settle for the lesser evil of duplicating school board decisions thousands of times across the country.

  6. I’m glad he’s taking on school boards, and like Ed Researcher says, local funding. Get these businessmen bogged down in that unwinnable war and they won’t be able to stick their noses into issues where they might have an effect.

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