Pay for performance

What could be more obvious: Put tension in the system, and pay for performance. I don’t know of any other business in the world where if you put forward a higher quality effort than your peers, you do not get rewarded for it…or quit.

We know there is no correlation between a high-quality education and anything other than a high-quality teacher. We can be like California and legislate smaller class sizes at a higher cost to taxpayers with no increase in quality, or we can do the opposite, which says higher quality teachers can have larger class sizes and still get great results…and also get paid more, because they have more students. The improvement pays for itself.

But until the system decides to pay for performance, why would anyone want to bust his or her butt to do a good job? There is always self-motivation, self-drive, and personal integrity–but eventually most people would say, “I am working hard, and that guy over there is not working at all, yet we are getting paid the same.” I tell you, that does not work in my business. It does not work in any business that I know of, other than the U.S. education system. Maybe Detroit, too, but…

Real incentive

I also think we need a stick in this country to get kids to finish high school. We have mandatory school attendance until age 18. That doesn’t seem to work very well, if 30 percent of students are dropping out. But if you think about it for a minute, what is it that would really drive kids to get a high school diploma?

How about this for motivation: To keep a driver’s license, you must either be in school or have earned a high school diploma. Let’s tell students we’re serious, and let’s tell them there are some ramifications–immediate ramifications, not long-term earning potential. You want a driver’s license, you either stay in school or graduate with a high school diploma, period. I can’t wait until I hear from the ACLU.

More competition

We need more charter schools, more alternatives to the public school system, and more competition to the public school system.

The most visible alternative education program in the U.S. was just killed: the scholarship program for the 200 or so students in Washington, D.C., who were given the chance to leave arguably the worst public school system in the U.S., which spends $14,000 a year to educate each kid. Given $7,500 scholarships to attend private schools, those kids are now ahead of their public school peers. Why did it get killed in the stimulus package?

We all know why it got killed…a political debt to a powerful constituent.

Even though our president and our secretary of education say, “Nothing will get in the way of giving kids a good education,” the first official act of the current administration was to kill the most visible alternative education program in the U.S., which was successful and saving money.

Political will comes in a variety of categories. It really helps if you have the president and the secretary of education on your side–not only saying the right words, but doing something. President Obama and Secretary Duncan are saying the right words, but their one and only act so far has been contrary to their words.

We need political will in the administration, but we also need political will among the 50 governors and their chief education officers. We need political will among the presidents of every U.S. college and university.

Most importantly, we need the will of the American people. We need the will of the American people to say, “Hey, there are only three things we can do to compete with the rest of the world–and one of them is to improve our educational system.”

The average American kid is sub-standard, performing below the average level of most other developed countries. How we–as the biggest economic power, with one of the highest standards of living in the world–can tolerate that is absolutely beyond me.