This was not a great moment for Steve Jobs, from my perspective -- the Associated Press writes that the Apple CEO "lambasted teacher unions Friday, claiming no amount of technology in the classroom would improve public schools until principals could fire bad teachers." Jobs shared the stage with Michael Dell at an education-and-technology conference in Austin. Dell was more temperate in his remarks, reminding the audience that unions were created because "the employer was treating his employees unfairly and that was not good."
Jobs is chasing the wrong demon -- teachers are grossly -- shockingly (in some cases) -- underpaid, and until we can make the job market more attractive and competitive, we will never expand the pool of teachers, good and bad.
Jobs -- whose company has long depended on the support of educators -- should crusade for better pay, and better market conditions. I am sure people would listen, and act.
UPDATE: See Dan Farber's post on this subject.
UPDATE: Don Dodge says teacher pay is fine (pointing to a 2003 salary survey by The Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank). He assigns even greater blame to the unions. Says Dodge: not only do unions make it impossible to fire bad teachers, but they fail to reward the good ones. Hmmm ... this debate is going to get interesting. I'd like to see if anyone from the world of education takes Dan's bait and (a) challenges the Hoover study, and (b) challenges the argument that unions are the most to blame. In the meantime, seems obvious to me that the free-market approach that both Jobs and Dodge are advocating fails to recognize that education is in the public trust. The "principal as CEO" metaphor -- which has been tried before -- is too simplistic. Public schools are not money-generating enterprises that give chiefs the authority to pay what the market will dictate. So how do they create incentives? That, to me, is the real challenge. It's a great challenge (the stuff for real leaders), but it cannot be easy, and I don't see how letting all the other stakeholders off the hook -- politicians, reformers, and voters -- is going to help.
But I am glad that Dodge has pushed the debate in this direction -- numbers and other facts that we can check and vet. Time we all got real on this subject. I am eager to learn more.