Apple CEO lambasts teacher unions

An interesting perspective from a corporate executive on teacher’s unions and the quality of the public school system. on Friday “lambasting” teacher’s unions:

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.'”

In a rare joint appearance, Jobs shared the stage with competitor Michael Dell, founder and CEO of Dell Inc. Both spoke to the gathering about the potential for bringing technological advances to classrooms.

“I believe that what is wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way,” Jobs said.

“This unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy.”

A great post by Brain Terminal makes some good points about school vouchers:

That’s why you hear teachers’ unions oppose school choice on the grounds that it would hurt failing schools. But the point of public education is not to ensure the survival of schools, it’s to ensure the education of students. So what if failing schools are closed? They should close. And the only way that’ll ever happen is if less-advantaged families have an opportunity to vote with their feet and abandon the schools that are failing their children.

Jobs’ comparison of schools with a business reminds me of the “three-legged stool” concept. It goes like this:

In business you have three entities that must benefit from a product in order for that product to be successful–the customer, the company, and the sales rep or distributor. If any one of the three parties aren’t satisfied then the product is not successful, because either the company will stop producing it, the distributors will refuse to sell it, or the customer just won’t buy it. If either of the legs falls, the whole stool falls.

In the case of the private market, the person with really the most control is the customer. The company can produce the product well, and the distributor can sell the product well, but if the customer doesn’t buy it, then it’s not going to last long.

With public schools, the only person with virtually NO control is the customer–the student. The school boards have meetings and philosophize on how they can improve their product; the teachers unions do what they can to get the best contract they can as the distributor of the product.

But in some school districts, the customers (the kids) simply aren’t buying. And the kids (and their parents) have little say so; whatever district they’re in, that’s the product they get, unless they fork out tons of extra money for a quality product (private schools), while they’re still paying (from their tax dollars) for the inferior product.

It’s just confusing for me when I hear the “the schools are overcrowded” and “the teachers are overworked” and “not enough individual attention”, etc…and then almost in the same breath, “vouchers take resources away from public schools.”

And as Brain Terminal pointed out, it seems like a slight to the poor when the teachers unions tell them, “You have to deal with a mediocre product, so we can keep our jobs, even though we’re selling you a mediocre product, and if you sacrifice to go find a better school, then you still have to pay for this one, so we can continue to inadequately serve everyone else in the district who can’t afford private schools.”

It would be as if the local grocery store sold undeniably inferior produce, but in order to get good quality produce families had to buy it from that local store, throw it away, and then go to the next county and pay double for the good stuff.

Essentially, I’ve always been of the opinion that a teaching job is a sales job, and I’ve never heard of a union for salespeople (or perhaps I simply can’t imagine joining one). Teacher’s unions put too much power in the hands of the distributor (unheard of in the “real world”) and vouchers are really the only way to give the customer a choice in the matter, and as a result put upward pressure on public schools, the teachers, and the quality of their product.

Apple CEO lambasts teacher unions