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Fearful of the United States would lose out in the global marketplace, business leaders have sought major school reforms. From a business perspecive, business leaders look to the educational system to provide them with the skills of evolving marketplace. Business leaders believe that the United States' technological and economic leadership depends on reform our existing school systems. The challenge for educational leaders is balancing the demands from the business community with the other purposes of public education.

With progress comes, comes change. This change widens the gap between with at the top and those at the bottom. Is this a bad thing or just numbers?

Strengthening U.S. Competitiveness In A Global Economy

TechNet is committed to continued U.S. competitiveness and economic growth. Public policies and private sector initiatives that spur our nation's innovation-driven global competitiveness are our top priority.

It is increasingly clear, however, that our nation's technological and economic leadership cannot be taken for granted. Our global competitors are investing in education, encouraging entrepreneurship through expanded use of employee stock options, making next generation infrastructure a priority and implementing other policies designed to spur innovation.

In this era of increased global opportunities and challenges, including those posed by the potential for jobs to be done any place and the resulting outsourcing of some jobs to other countries, we should not react with protectionism. Instead, in an increasingly global economy, we need to redouble our commitment to public policies and private sector initiatives that make the U.S. the most competitive and innovative country in the world, and that create jobs and opportunity for Americans.

We must also ensure that America's workforce is not left behind by economic change. To do so, we must increase opportunities for displaced workers to secure new and better jobs, while continuing to invest in the skills of our next generation of innovators.

TechNet's members are committed to continue to work with Congress and the Administration to:

  1. Ensure a world-class U.S. education system and a highly skilled workforce – The technology industries have long fought for a stronger education system through high standards, accountability, teacher training and a renewed emphasis on excellence in math and science education. In addition, the technology industries have invested substantially in education and training programs, ranging from scholarships to encourage minority students to pursue careers in engineering and computer science to in-house training programs that prepare current employees for the challenges of the future. TechNet will work with Congress and the Administration to develop specific initiatives that ensure that Americans are qualified and prepared for the jobs of the future. We must continue implementing the No Child Left Behind Act and ensure that the Act's programs are fully funded. The President and Congress took a significant step toward improving K-12 education and we must continue to implement and fund this landmark legislation.
  2. We must make science, math, engineering and technology education a national priority by increasing funding for math and science partnerships, supporting initiatives to improve math and science teaching and student learning. We must strengthen post-secondary education to ensure accountability for high student achievement, foster teacher training in math and science, and expand graduate enrollment in math, science and engineering programs. In addition, we must build on initiatives such as the Tech Talent Program to substantially increase the number of U.S. graduates with strong math, science and technical training.

    We must ensure that American workers are prepared for the high-skill jobs of the future through effective retraining for displaced and unemployed U.S. workers.

  3. Preserving America's system of entrepreneurial capitalism – The United States economic system is the envy of the world. Central to our success has been the spirit of entrepreneurial capitalism and innovation that is fueled in large part by an increasing trend toward broad-based employee ownership.
  4. We must continue the trend toward broad-based employee ownership by resisting short-sighted efforts to expense stock options. Stock options are a critical factor in driving innovation and motivating Americans to work hard for the chance to own a piece of the corporation. Companies in China, Taiwan and elsewhere are expanding their use of this important employee ownership tool. Mandatory expensing in the United States will undermine our efforts to spur innovation and economic growth.

  5. Continuing to Spur Innovation – We must continue to strengthen America's investment in research and development and next-generation technologies. R&D expenditures have a high multiplier effect on the economy, resulting in increased innovation, productivity growth and job creation. Moreover, research centered at American institutions of higher education plays a critical role in the education and training of America's next generation of innovators.
  6. We must enact a permanent R&D Tax Credit prior to June 30, 2004. The Credit is a proven incentive that yields substantial benefits.

    We must invest in increased federal funding for basic research at key agencies, particularly the National Science Foundation.

    We must continue legal reform efforts, including enactment of the Class Action Fairness Act, to ensure that America's resources are focused on innovation, not on frivolous lawsuits.

    We need to make accelerated broadband deployment a national priority and adopt an aggressive broadband deployment goal that will bring next generation networks to virtually all American homes and businesses by the end of the decade.

  7. Expanding Free Trade – Finally, we must resist the urge toward isolationism and protectionism. We must continue to seek open markets and opportunities for expanded trade for the benefit of our economy, workers, consumers, and industries.
  8. We must continue to pursue a free-trade agenda, including moving forward with our WTO goals.

    We must pursue additional free trade agreements, opening new markets to U.S. products and services.

    We need to continue to clear hurdles that will allow U.S. companies and products to compete effectively around the world.

Economists have described globalization of software and information technology services as a trend in the evolution of the economy that can have positive benefits. As globalization increases efficiency and lowers prices, the resulting increased integration of information technology across the U.S. economy will fuel greater U.S. productivity and lower prices for American consumers. These developments will further spur demand for high-skilled U.S. workers to design, tailor and utilize technology effectively across many different industry sectors. In fact, job growth in occupations requiring information technology skills is projected to grow at three times the rate of job growth in the overall economy between 2000 and 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The positive impact of information technology on the U.S. economy is well documented. Clearly, the increased use of information technology and related productivity gains, as well as increased quality of life, have provided, and will continue to provide, enormous benefits to Americans. Our challenge is to ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to share in these gains.

America's innovation, technology leadership, economic growth and high-skilled jobs have not been accidents. They have been the result of public and private investments in education, policies that encourage innovation, the forging of open markets and conditions that stimulate entrepreneurship. To maintain our international leadership, we must not retreat, but continue to invest in the future through policies that set the stage for growth. TechNet is committed to working with Congress and the Administration to develop specific policies and initiatives that will ensure that the United States continues its technological and economic leadership, to the benefit of America's industry and workforce.

Why Can’t Schools Be Like Businesses?

Dissecting the wrong assumptions and ill-conceived logic of business-minded reform proposals for public education

By Larry Cuban, Article in American Association of Administrators, May 2006

In answering the question posed in the title, I begin with a story that businessman Jamie Vollmer told to educators a few years ago:

“I stood before an audience filled with outraged teachers who were becoming angrier by the minute. My speech had entirely consumed their precious 90 minutes of in-service training. Their initial icy glares had turned to restless agitation. You could cut the hostility with a knife.

“I represented a group of business people dedicated to improving public schools. I was an executive at an ice cream company that became famous in the middle-1980s when People magazine chose its blueberry flavor as the 'Best Ice Cream in America.'

“I was convinced of two things. First, public schools needed to change. They were archaic selecting and sorting mechanisms designed for the Industrial Age and out of step with the needs of our emerging 'knowledge society.' Second, educators were a major part of the problem. They resisted change, hunkered down in their feathered nests, protected by tenure and shielded by a bureaucratic monopoly. They needed to look to business. We knew how to produce quality. Zero defects! Total Quality Management! Continuous improvement!

“As soon as I finished, a woman's hand shot up. She began quietly, 'We are told, sir, that you manage a company that makes good ice cream.'

“I smugly replied, 'Best ice cream in America, ma'am.'

“'How nice,' she said. 'Is it rich and smooth?'

“'Sixteen percent butterfat,' I crowed.

“'Premium ingredients?' she inquired.

“'Super-premium! Nothing but triple-A.'

“I was on a roll. I never saw the next line coming.

“'Mr. Vollmer,' she said, leaning forward with a wicked eyebrow raised to the sky. 'When you are standing on your receiving dock and you see an inferior shipment of blueberries arrive, what do you do?'

“In the silence of that room, I could hear the trap snap.

“I was dead meat, but I wasn't going to lie. 'I send them back.'

“'That's right,’ she barked, 'and we can never send back our blueberries. We take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, abused, frightened, confident, homeless, rude and brilliant. We take them with attention deficit disorder, junior rheumatoid arthritis and English as their second language. We take them all. Every one. And that, Mr. Vollmer, is why it's not a business. It's school.'

“In an explosion, all 290 teachers, principals, bus drivers, aides, custodians and secretaries jumped to their feet and yelled, 'Yeah! Blueberries! Blueberries!'

“And so began my long transformation [from business executive into school reformer].”

A Rare Transformation

The conversion of former CEO Vollmer from caustic critic to stouthearted advocate of educators remains an exception. Had most business leaders and educators learned the painful lesson that Vollmer learned, I would not have written The Blackboard and The Bottom Line. But they haven’t. So I wrote this book to explore the thinking and actions of serious and well-intentioned business leaders and educators, past and present, who sought to turn around inefficient and ineffective school districts and schools to answer the question that I posed at the outset.

In examining business involvement in U.S. school reform, I looked at the 1890s through 1920s and the 1970s to the present — two points in history when business leaders and educational entrepreneurs, fearful of the United States losing out in the global marketplace, sought major school reforms.

Nearly a century ago, business leaders and progressive educators reorganized school system governance by creating small, non-partisan, corporate-like school boards that hired professional managers. They invented junior high schools and created large comprehensive high schools where they installed newly developed vocational curricula to prepare students for an industrial labor market. They compiled test scores that compared students from one district to another so taxpayers would know that their monies were being spent efficiently.

In short, these early 20th century educational entrepreneurs copied successful business practices and used findings from the latest scientific studies to change public school goals, governance, organization, staffing and curricula to tie public schools to the nation’s economy more closely. Many of those changes still exist today.

Now, push the fast-forward button to the 1970s when Japanese and German cars and electronic equipment outsold U.S. products. Another generation of business leaders linked weak sales in the global marketplace to declining scores on international tests and poor schooling. The economy was changing from an industrial base to an information base, and schools were failing to keep pace.

These business-minded reformers, no longer interested in vocational education, wanted every child in cities and suburbs to complete a rigorous high school program and go to college. To achieve this expansion of educational opportunity, districts and schools needed to copy successful businesses that raised their productivity and profits through efficient management and accountability. So state legislatures, aggressively lobbied by business groups, set high academic standards, tested students and established penalties for failure. They introduced choice and competition for students through charters, private entrepreneurs running schools and vouchers.

Redefined Equality

By the first decade of the 21st century, the federal No Child Left Behind law incorporated many of these state measures and ratcheted up testing and accountability to touch every public school in the country — with the same purpose of graduating all students prepared to enter college and a knowledge-based economy.

By focusing on urban children, both generations of business-inspired reformers have redefined equality of educational opportunity. A century ago, entrepreneurs were concerned about poverty and slums eroding educational hopes. The solution that generation sought was providing schooling for immigrants and the poor beyond the age of 12. Anyone could graduate from high school, except in segregated schools in the South and elsewhere, if they completed the newly invented junior high school and went on to high school where job-linked vocational education had been added to the curriculum for those who wanted practical work.

Now entrepreneurs are redesigning recalcitrant urban middle schools into K-8 organizations and big urban high schools into small ones to get everyone into college. In language that condemns the “soft bigotry of low expectations,” KIPP schools, Teach for America, New Leaders for New Schools, charter management organizations and small high school pioneers see opening college doors to poor and minority children as a virtual civil rights struggle.

Parents, of course, seldom disagreed with these business-inspired reformers then or now. They wanted their sons and daughters to get a schooling that would lead to jobs paying good wages and financial security, if not higher status. What civic and business elites wanted for the public good, parents wanted for their children.

As a consequence of these two periods of business-driven school reform, the strong belief that schools and businesses are alike has remained fixed in the minds of most corporate and civic leaders, parents and educators. And both institutions are seriously entangled with one another.

School districts buy products and services daily from local and national companies. School superintendents meet with chambers of commerce and business representatives testify at budget hearings. Vocational education teachers send students into local businesses every day for on-site learning. Businesses release employees to tutor and donate products to schools.

School districts behave as business organizations and even perform similar functions — managing people, planning, budgeting, etc. Yet school districts are expected to meet public obligations and are held politically responsible for their actions and student outcomes, an accountability absent from for-profit institutions.

It is these public/private distinctions that I inspect more closely because those who favor copying businesses to improve schools need to grasp clearly these fundamental differences in values.

Multiple Purposes

Three basic differences separate businesses from schools: The multiple purposes of tax-supported public schools; public responsibility for achieving these purposes; and democratic deliberations in deciding policies and determining school success.

* Multiple purposes of tax-supported public schools.

The current attention given to academic achievement in the United States and a changing labor market disregard the historic and continuing popular wish for U.S. public schools to do more than raise test scores and prepare future workers. Requiring everyone to pay taxes to support schools regardless of whether they have children and compelling families to send their sons and daughters to school means that larger public purposes have to be met. Children need to be socialized to accept community standards, especially at a time when most parents have full-time jobs. Moreover, schools are expected to strengthen common moral values, promote civic engagement and offer equal opportunities.

A recent public opinion poll by Phi Delta Kappa illustrates the rich array of collective and individual purposes that parents and taxpayers expect schools to achieve. In order of importance, the top five in the poll were: prepare people to become responsible citizens; help people become economically sufficient; ensure a basic level of quality among schools; promote cultural unity; and improve social conditions for people.

These multiple purposes frustrate business-minded reformers who want parents and children to be satisfied customers, just as pleased with their choice of schools as those who pick out certain cars or breakfast cereals or other commercial products. Yet the "customer" analogy breaks down quickly when the above public purposes are noted.

Few current voucher plans, public charter schools or for-profits, for example, either acknowledge these multiple and often contradictory purposes or are held responsible for achieving them. Advocates of privatization and boosters of the customer language seldom note in public debates this profound difference between the many purposes of public schools and the single-minded pursuit of profit among private-sector firms.

Yet parents and taxpayers count on elected officials to heed these diverse aims in their schools. If some of these purposes are ignored — say, too much drug use among youth — civic leaders will call upon the board of education and superintendent publicly to pay attention since it is their responsibility to do so.

While business firms surely entertain multiple goals, what tends to dominate company agendas are private rather than public purposes, such as increasing total revenues, net profits, dividends to investors and other bottom-line outcomes. Surely, for many businesses, customer and employee satisfaction, staff capabilities and community relations are important results, yet these and similar outcomes are means toward the end of higher net profits.

Private-sector companies seldom mention cultivating literacy and civic engagement, enhancing individual well being and reducing economic and social inequalities as their purposes. And the reason is simple enough — they are public aims that are meant to enhance the collective good, not individual private interests. Different aims also mirror different decision-making processes between schools and businesses.

Public Decisions * Democratic deliberations of policies and practices.

Beginning in 2000, stories emerged from multi-billion dollar U.S. corporate offices that CEOs fiddled with earnings reports in order to keep investors happy and stock prices high. Earnings statements (and forecasts) as signs of corporate success — 15 percent a year growth, for example — had pressured corporate officers to claim as earnings funds that had little to do with actual transactions with customers in a given year.

Xerox executives claimed revenues in one year that their customers actually were paying them over three years. In some cases, the chicanery was so blatant that CEOs were indicted, tried by juries and sent to prison. The collapse of major corporations destroyed investments, jobs and employees’ lives. In effect, corporate leaders were unaccountable to their investors, employees, and the larger public.

I offer examples of corporate malfeasance to illustrate a major difference in decision making between U.S. businesses and public schools. Deceit and fraud are harder to cover up when elected school boards are obliged by law to consider, debate and make decisions in public. Of equal importance, school board decisions are subject to media and public scrutiny. Not so in the private sector where corporate leaders are often appointed by self-perpetuating boards of directors who make decisions behind closed doors without public hearings or journalists in attendance.

Were corporate discussions to be opened to investors and the larger public, some of the basic differences between public and private might diminish. How serious U.S. legislators are in pursuing openness in the private sector only time will tell. Public deliberation of policies is a profound difference between schools and businesses. Ditto for determining success.

* Determining school success.

With the multiple purposes that tax-supported public schools are expected to achieve and the variety of customers of public schools, one would expect multiple criteria for determining whether schools are successful. Not so in this country over the past three decades when business and civic leaders have stressed rigorous curriculum standards, tests to measure whether those standards were being met satisfactorily and rewards or penalties for performance. Concentrating on test scores as a single measure of success — in effect, copying the bottom line of profit-making companies — represents a rather cramped criterion.

Few proponents of such ideas ever examine the chain of logic behind these policies. Did, for example, state-mandated curriculum standards get implemented in classrooms as intended? If they were implemented, did the standards influence teaching practices, and did those specific practices shape what students learned as measured by the state tests?

The first causal linkage requires evidence that state policies were fully put into practice and actually did shape what teachers did in classrooms. Changed instructional practices need to produce desired outcomes. Even here, were there test score gains they would require close scrutiny to determine whether classroom experiences did indeed contribute to student achievement over a specific period of time, controlling for prior test performance and socioeconomic status of students. So far, there is insufficient evidence for these linkages to satisfy even champions of these ideas.

Advocates of business-inspired practices also ought to be reminded of the many purposes of public schools, the service orientation of the institution and the varied cultures that inhabit schools. These factors make single, quantifiable measures of success dubious. I also would ask whether test scores do indeed measure current and future success. Many researchers and parents have raised questions about whether scoring high on tests does predict a student’s future success in college, on the job or in life itself.

Finally, advocates of business practices may not be aware of the difficulties of measuring success in multi-purpose public institutions — something not confined to public schools. The late management expert Peter Drucker raises the same issue in determining whether universities are successful. He asks which of the following are measures of "doing a good job:” The salaries of students 20 years after graduation? The reputation of the faculty? The number of Ph.D.s? "Each yardstick," Drucker points out, "[is] a value judgment regarding the purpose of the university — and a very narrow one at that.”

Ready Responses

The profound differences in purposes, democratic decision making and accountability for outcomes between businesses and schools mean the basic assumption of corporate-inspired reformers — that schools and businesses are fundamentally alike — is deeply flawed. In laying out the defects in this assumption, I also have drawn the limits of business influence in applying private-sector principles to schools and the entire logic embedded in policymakers' plans for reform. In doing so, I have questioned current school improvement policies.

This is why it is crucial that U.S. policymakers, practitioners, researchers, parents and taxpayers know clearly in what respects schools and businesses are alike and in what ways they differ. And the reason is simple enough: Business-inspired reform will not go away. We cannot depend upon personal epiphanies that converted CEO Jamie Vollmer into a supporter of schools spreading to all CEOs.

When business-minded policy proposals arise again — and they will — their assumptions, logic and evidence have to be dissected carefully and arrayed against the many purposes that tax-supported public schools serve, the democratic deliberations that the proposals will receive and the measures that will determine success.

Larry Cuban is a professor emeritus at Stanford University, School of Education, 304 Cubberley, Stanford, CA 94305. E-mail: cuban@stanford.edu

Census and Sensibility

By Larry Cuban, Article in American Association of Administrators, May 2006

I'm giving you a red pill and a blue pill. If you take the red pill, your income will roughly double in the next ten years, but your neighbor's income will triple. If you take the blue pill you and your neighbor will stay the same, equal to each other now and ten years from now. Which pill are you going to take?

I really like that question, because it's such a timesaver. When levelers (people obsessed with income inequality) used to call my radio program, I would typically debate statistics with them. But that took too long. It's better just to get to the point and expose the different moral universes in which we live.

In my universe, also known as reality, social progress inevitably leads to inequality. It's a statistical necessity. As the world gets bigger the bell curve gets wider. Distributions work that way. In a world of 7 billion people the top IQ will be higher above the mean than in a world with one billion people. The fastest miler will almost certainly be faster than the fastest miler in a smaller world.

This is the way the world works. At one time in the past the richest man in the world had a couple of cows and a couple of wives. The poorest guy had nothing. The Old York Times was, no doubt, pleased by the small gap in wealth. At one time in the future, some guy will own a whole planet (like Rod McBain in the Cordwainer Smith novel, Nostrillia) and some other poor schlub will be working in a Romulan salt mine. The gap will be huge, and the New New York Times will scream bloody murder about the impact of Federation policy on the trillions of people at the bottom of the curve.

It's not just sheer raw numbers, though: it's also participation in the system. Get more people into a game and make the rules fairer and the bell curve widens even more. It's showing up now in the current Texas Hold 'em poker craze: When more people play poker, we have a better chance of finding a truly great player. As the rules get fairer and more transparent, the next truly great player has a better and better chance of getting to the top. The better he gets, the more inequality there will be.

This works with wealth creation, too. If Bill Gates had lived in Czarist Russia, he would've been a schoolteacher. Warren Buffett, a traveling merchant. No great fortunes. No great inequality. No DOS, no Windows.

That's part of what was so annoying about the recent orgy of envy, also known as Labor Day. The editorial pages, the bloggers, the letter writers, the 'analysis' pieces, and the reports were all gasping out the same tale of woe: wage stagnation; never mind the fact that when you count all forms of compensation, the stagnation disappears... poverty, never mind the fact that from 2004 to 2005 the first full year after the President's tax cut, poverty actually dropped slightly.

The Census-Bureau-Report-Labor-Day-Week, has now become the high holy day of the new secular religion of income equality.

The New York Times started the this year's festival by claiming that ours was the first generation in which wages would not keep up with productivity, as if prediction were fact. A columnist for the Washington Post followed suit, declaring that the American Dream was now a 'joke'. My usually sober hometown paper pronounced the new statistics 'horrifying' and proof that now humanity has become 'prey'.

I found myself wondering what these people want us to do. Price controls on executive salaries? Outlaw stock options? Illegalize dividends? Put up a force field to stop electrons and people from leaving the country? As long as some people are more talented at wealth creation than others, other people are going to be willing to pay them to create wealth. If they can't do it in France, they'll do it here. If we start to tell them they can't do it here, they'll do it somewhere else. Then everything will be calmer; no capitalist bulls, running through the china shops. No Microsofts, Dells, Starbucks, Netflixes and Plavixs. No new job creation, no bull markets, no creative destruction. Everything nice and equal.


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Last modified: May 11, 2006

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