“What Kind of School Systems Are Our Taxes Supporting”

Word travels quickly in 2005: Northwestern Adjunct Professor James Carlini:

This question becomes very critical given the fact that jobs are being outsourced to other countries by the thousands and many leaders of public schools have lost touch with what’s important. Educators better get with the program and start teaching real skills along with the ability to learn and compete.
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Where is the quality control in public schools? Political correctness and slanted ideology should be replaced with political accuracy and strong, fundamental and objective learning skills. Schools should also concentrate on developing skill sets to compete globally. A focus on creativity, flexibility and adaptability – rather than rote, repetition and routine – should be the critical objective of today’s school goals for educating tomorrow’s work force

More about Carlini. There are, of course, no shortage of opinions on this matter.

  • Carlini

    Thanks for citing my article. There are too many people running schools and school districts that have no connection with real world problems and current trends. As long as this disconnect continues, schools will be cranking out Industrial-Age Workers that are lost in a Post-Information Age Global Economy.

  • FO

    I agree with Dr. Carlini’s basic premise. I worked in business settings for three years and worked with high school students. I was apalled at their skills for the most part. I STILL am as a high school teacher. Let’s face it, the educational system in this nation is way broken. Some of the best teachers I know are those who were professionals in other industries prior to entering the field of teaching.
    Like I’ve said before, I wonder what MMSD students will be able to do once they graduate because schools still seem to be geared to prepare children for factory work. Last time I checked, there are few blue collar jobs that pay well anymore. College or no college, students must be prepared for the realiities of globalization and the emergence of high-tech industries.
    I have many problems with how to transform our public schools, however. How are we going to fund this transformation in an era where states are not economically supporting public schools? Is the corporate world willing to invest in future employeees in this nation? Or is this all just talk?
    If we are to attract in-field scientists, business professionals, and other “real-world” practicioners to the teaching ranks, pay must increase drastically. Teaching may be a “noble” profession, but folks have to pay the bills. A whole bunch of other things must change in the profession of teaching (i.e. union issues, site based management, curriculum standards, team-teaching, etc . . .)
    Also, what should the role be of schools for the future? Right now, in my opinion, they are too spread out in their ambitions. They focus too much on social services and not on actual real-world or academic preparation. How do we deal with delinquent students whose attitudes are not desired in the public schools? Can we actually “fire” students? That’ll be nice for a change, but is this politically feasible?
    The blaming of schools exclusively is not a positive thing, nor completely valid, because parenting skills have also declined. How do we deal with that? Also, let’s look at the institutions that prepare our public school teachers. Should we get rid of schools of education completely or force them to adhere to the realities of the 21st century and beyond? The typical pay structure of teachers has caused a certain type of professional to enter the ranks. By increasing pay and incentives, maybe, a wider range of professionals with varied opinions on education can be found.
    I agree with Dr. Carlini’s premise, however, there is much to consider before the transformation of our public schools can be possible. I think this post doesn’t even reveal the tip of the iceberg.

  • Thomas J. Mertz

    Much of this is ridiculous and inflamatory. A little bit of it is good and true.
    First, let’s drop the fiction that “business” is conducted in a rational fashion, with everyone being efficient, striving to produce great products and rewards only going to those who do well. All you have to do is look at any of the thousands of stories about CEO pay and bonuses and corporate fraud or failure, union pension funds being decimated… to know that this is a lie business people tell themselves. If that doesn’t do it, try working a week, a month a year in the for profit sector…I’ve been in the business world, in the non-profit world and the government world and none of them live up to their ideals.
    He quotes the truism about those who can’t teaching. There’s another about those who can’t criticizing. Does the show fit Mr Carlini?
    I said there was good here, and the good is that he is correct that education does need to adjust to new economic and social realities, of which globalization and technological transformations are part. Guess what, schools are trying and they are doing at least as good a job as the American auto industry. If he’d given six paragraphs of ideas on this, maybe it would have been worth something.
    But that isn’t what this is about, it is about pointing the finger at at the teacher’s who gave the anti-war letter assignment. This is a red herring, a mountain out of a molehill. Obviously the assignment was a mistake, but it was a mistake corrected internally very quickly. Madison didn’t need the Fox Mews choir to know it was the wrong thing, our own ruls and people said that. The system worked, much better than the corporate governance system has worked or the Pentagon oversight system has worked or even the federal checks and balances lately. Time to move on.
    I don’t understand the the line about Socrates. If anything, he was more one who brought out ideas (educated) than one who showed or pointed out (taught). His ignorance is showing, but since there is no profit in Greek philospophy, I doubt he’d care.
    TJM

  • JAMES CARLINI

    Mr. Mertz
    Looks like I hit right on target. Are you a teacher? Or should I say “educator”? Get out in the real world and see how ill-prepared many students are. Better yet, work with some international companies like I have done and see how their education system has prepared them to compete globally.
    Your criticisms of “the corporate world” is the typical drone of the tenured educator. If you read previous articles of mine you would see my background is grounded in doing work in the corporate world, the municipal world, and even in higher education. I have criticized – and I have also built very successful projects in every one of those areas. (So I guess that earns me the right to criticize)
    Invest more money? Take half the money school districts waste and you could build better programs. One core problem is you have teachers graduating into administrators without any real business background. Get some people that have real business backgrounds. THAT is a start.
    If schools were so successful why are all these learning programs popping up (like Sylvan)?
    Does the “show” fit?? Maybe you meant shoe. Expand your scope, Mr. Mertz. If you did, you would see the light.
    You want ideas? I agree the schools are starving for ideas for success. Need a consulting firm? Hire me – you’ll get great results. Unfortunately, free ideas – are worth what you pay for them.

  • I think both TJ and Carlini have a point, frankly.
    I’ve been reading Bogle’s new book: “The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism” and find that both public and private organizations often share similar challenges. These include lack of accountability, poor governance and fuzzy math.
    Years ago, I was a finance manager for a global soda pop firm (I never drank the stuff 🙂 ). Amazingly, while told to squeeze budgets annually, there was often money to blow at year end, to better manage earnings (avoid spikes). Very large businesses also seem to routinely obtain favorable tax treatments that are unavailable to the rest of us. Indeed, our good Senators Feingold and Kohl voted recently for a massive offshore tax giveaway:
    http://www.zmetro.com/archives/003331.php
    There’s been no shortage of recent business fiascos to go along with the public sector failures. However, at the end of the day, I think that we are to blame as citizens for not paying attention, asking questions and pushing public AND private organizations to be as efficient as possible. It’s easy to give up….

  • Thomas J. Mertz

    Mr Carlini
    I have earned a living for a decade in the private sector working very successfully for a large corporation and a variety of small businesses. I have also worked for the state of Wisconsin, for nonprofits, for political campaigns and currently work for a private college. I have seen efficiencies, inefficiencies and caprice everywhere I’ve worked. I’ve trained, hired and fired employees, met payrolls, generated profits, taught students from the ages of 17 to 60… I’ll say you have earned your critical stance, if you will agree I’ve earned mine.
    It also needs to be remembered that A) The people doing the nuts and bolts financial work for most school distritcs have the same training as those doing the nuts and bolts for most businesses and B) The big financial decisions for most districts rest with elected officials.
    Certainly portions of “the business model” should (and sometimes have) been applied to the public sector and education. Other portions have no place because education is about much more than profit and loss and training workers. The business model doesn’t cultivate human values and good citizenship, doesn’t give extra to those who need it, and doesn’t see a need to help overcome individual and structural inequalities. In fact business dismisses these objectives. We need our schools to do these and more.
    I agree with some of what you wrote, this in particular: “Schools should also concentrate on developing skill sets to compete globally. A focus on creativity, flexibility and adaptability – rather than rote, repetition and routine – should be the critical objective of today’s school goals for educating tomorrow’s work force.” This is part of the mission, part of giving students what they need to overcome the inequalities. Schools are genuinely trying to do this, despite the draconian testing of NCLB that has created a counter trend of schools eliminating everything but test preparation and leaving some students with schedules that consist on reading and math and more reading and more math. It is also very difficult and I don’t think either educators or businessmen (or even academics) really know how to do what you describe. Certainly if business knows, they haven’t done much to employ this kind of training instead of moving or eliminating jobs. Schools don’t have the option of moving or eliminating students. Another reason why I think the business model should only be applied with the utmost care.
    Unfortunately the words I agreed with were preceded and followed by strings of conservative buzzwords about “political correctness” and “whimsical goals” as well as the anecdote about the letter writing assignment. First, we probably disagree about the relative whimsy of teaching people to respect and value those who are different in background, talents and beliefs. I consider this to be a core value to be passed on to each generation.
    We also might disagree about peace being a desirable state. I’m not sure, I really don’t understand why so many are threatened by children or anyone asking our leaders to work for peace. George W. Bush claims he is for peace, most military people say they desire peace, yet when a teacher tells children that peace is a good thing all hell breaks out.
    I said earlier that it was a bad assignment and I still think so. It was bad because it limited what the children could write. So while I think that schools should strive to teach students to value peace, I don’t think they should make them value peace, test them on how much they value peace or require them to publicly proclaim their desire for peace. Freedom of thought is too important. I also want to point out again that this matter was handled locally, that the system worked. There are far greater corporate outrages and I have trouble saying that the system has worked in most of those cases.
    But there are good aspects of the assignment also. Writing a letter is a skill and practice that is sorely lacking throughout our society. I know my current students would have benefited if they had learned to write letters in grade school. I also think that the message that individuals and groups can and should influence public policy is a crucial one. Too many people are passive in the face of war and peace, booms and busts in the economy, tax and welfare reforms… One of the politically correct things schools should be doing is getting students to understand that they need to be involved in their community and their government. This is very basic to what I see as the mission of public education; it was basic to what those who founded the common schools wanted, but it does not turn up in a ledger nor does it (directly) prepare anyone for employment.
    I think what offended me most was you wrapped your constructive criticism in an unfounded and unconsidered attack on public education. If you are sincere in your desire to improve public education in the ways you identified, your help will be welcomed. But next time please leave alarmist rhetoric behind and concentrate on where your expertise can help.
    TJM

  • JAMES CARLINI

    MR. MERTZ
    I don’t like political labels because you cannot lump anyone as a full conservative or liberal. People are always a mixture of both.
    Forget political correctness – what this country needs is a good dose of “political accuracy”. You need to identify the flaws and the deadwood before you can change things for the better.
    I also don’t like anyone pushing a political agenda using children as pawns – NO MATTER WHAT THE ISSUE – Peace, teacher raises, etc. The WORST sign I have seen are those asking for a raise for teachers and using the phrase “Do it for the Children”. Please.
    It is not a matter of being threatened by children, it is a matter of total disgust to see some adult who doesn’t have a clue about what is really going on yet knows exactly what this country should do in regards to security and political policy. Funny, I don’t remember reading the President’s latest briefing from the CIA, the FBI and other security agencies, I cannot fathom all of the information that has to be reviewed YET some third grade teacher knows more about what we face as a country and says we have to demand peace? Gimme a break Mr. Mertz and get out of liberal fantasyland.
    I suggest you read the latest book by Jack Welsh the former GE CEO. You have to take action and get rid of those that are not doing their job – no matter what segment you are in.
    Yes companies are guilty of that but so are school districts as well as government.