Public Schools

Would you invest in a company that:

  • Pays no attention to its competition
  • Rejects change
  • Doesn't allow managers to reward high performing employees
  • Pays employees less than they deserve
  • Doesn't allow managers to phase out low performing employees
  • Has little or no long term vision for success or strategic plan to get them there
  • Doesn't hold people accountable for short or long term success metrics
Neither would I.

Unfortunately, I'm not describing a stock, I'm describing our public schools.

I have a few close friends that are teachers.  I also spent 13 years sitting in public school classrooms, so I'm moderately qualified to write about this problem.

For the most part, the friends I have that teach in public schools seem to do it for the right reasons and they seem to be pretty good at what they do.  And there's no doubt that teaching in public schools can be extremely challenging and I sincerely admire the field they've chosen.

But it also seems that all of my friends that teach lack a high level understanding of what makes an organization super successful.  Things like ROI, six sigma, remove the bottom 20%, change management and many other fundamentals of a competitive industry are completely foreign to them.  They fundamentally don't understand business and its powerful forces and consequences.  My teacher friends joke my business friends that we all work in a big building on Wall Street.  "Isn't that what all business people do?"  In short, they have no idea what goes inside the walls of a competitive business.  Why would they?  Most have never spent any time inside of one.

Further, in their own profession they're simply not subject to the forces (profits, competition, lightning fast change) that drive businesspeople and force them succeed or die.

As a result, I would argue, our schools aren't moving forward.

In a competitive industry, if an employee doesn't add incremental value to the organization each quarter, it's only a few quarters before the employee is asked to leave.  If the company doesn't add incremental value each quarter, it'll eventually suffer a similar fate.

In public schools, if a teacher doesn't add incremental value to the school each school year, there are zero consequences.  If the school doesn't add incremental value each school year, there are zero consequences.

To me, this is the essence of the problem.  The former is a formula for success, the latter a formula for mediocrity.

I recognize that this is an extremely thorny issue and there are longstanding institutionalized competing interests that make fast change all but impossible.  And there are no easy answers.

But when considering issues like teachers' pay, tenure, charter schools, and school choice my thinking is guided by the difference between a formula for success and a formula for failure.  When i vote on these issues, I cast the vote that I think will get us further away from forced mediocrity.