The Worth of Khan

Is America’s entire education infrastructure is a obsolete as the “buggy whip?”

Is it possible that a short education story in Fortune Magazine and on CNN’s Money site will shake the foundations of America’s overpriced and underperforming education system? One can only hope.

A recent CNN/Fortune Magazine story entitled “Bill Gates’ favorite teacher” told an amazing story of how one young man is revolutionizing the delivery of knowledge over the internet. The site and method is so successful that Bill Gates and venture capitalist John Doerr have snapped to attention at the growing phenomenon of the Kahn Academy, an on-line school providing sequenced curricula on a wide range of content – all for free.

The first thing that should come to mind as you read the article is the massive potential value of Kahn’s idea, not to mention the value of the 1000s of imitators and innovators who will build on the foundation that he has built. The next thing that we should all understand is the pointless waste of today’s overpriced and underperforming education system.

The infrastructure of the Internet, combined with the 10s of 1000s who can produce and encapsulate the world’s knowledge into 10 minute sequenced segments, has made the entire massive infrastructure of the current education system potentially obsolete overnight.

The existence of Kahn Academy should force us to question everything about how we will educate the coming generations of Americans. Will we still need teachers? Yes, but far fewer than what we have now. We will also need to redefine the word ‘teacher’ way beyond the borders of today’s limited, union-defined monopoly.

Will we still need brick and mortar schools? Probably, but far fewer than the massively wasteful infrastructure we have now. Spend a few minutes on Kahn Academy’s site, and you realize that an I-Pad, smart phone, or similar device, combined with a network of independent learning centers, could revolutionize education in less than a decade – all for a fraction of the cost.

Do we need to worry about how we measure Mr. Kahn’s Academy? Not at all. All we really need to do is have society decide on a broad set of standards and find an efficient way to measure the acquisition of knowledge. Envision a near future where a child can walk into a licensed testing center and take a test on any given subject matter. If they pass the test, who cares how they acquired the knowledge?

Examples for rapid innovation abound.

This is a baby/bathwater situation. Our nation’s children, talented conveyors of content (Kahn, dedicated teachers, etc.), and a rational, fair assessment process are the proverbial baby. Everything else (teachers unions, administration, buildings, bond dealers, school boards, textbook cartels, etc.) are the bathwater.

The only real question for policy makers should be how to best transition from the current bureaucratized “legacy” system to one where a dynamic array of content providers delivers the what your child needs to know at the moment your child needs to know it.

The best avenue to manage that transition is to have most (say 95%) of the education dollar follow the child and having the remaining 5% go toward developing standards and the method for measuring up to those standards.

It is time to question the meaning of the words “education reform” and the investment in reforming the current system. Once the automobile was invented, there was no need for “buggy whip reform” or “horse turnaround plans.” Mr. Kahn, and those like him, have exposed the current system for the obsolete monopoly that it is. This article lays waste to the idea of “reforming” the current system. The best thing we can do is rapidly manage the transition to an entirely new education model.

Unions = Stagnant

Unions exist because of past exploitation and the formerly unequal power relationship with their employers. Today, with only a little help from an expert, virtually every employee can bargain for themselves to arrange better working conditions and pay. To be sure, transitioning to such a system would be difficult for the people unwilling or unable to shed the union model.

They better learn how anyway, because the market is shrinking unionism on its own. Hard working individuals are better off de-unionizing themselves and cutting the best deal they can with their employers.

Unions out of step with dynamic U.S. private sector

In America last year, a mere 7.2 percent of private-sector workers were members of a labor union, the lowest “union density” since 1900, and far below the peak of more than 30 percent in the 1950s. Labor leaders blame union-busting tactics by employers and expanding trade and globalization, and there is some truth to both those causes. But a more fundamental reason for the decline is that unions have proven to be a liability in a more open, dynamic and competitive economy.

The story spun by labor leaders is that foreign competition has caused manufacturing and other, more unionized sectors of the economy to shrink, shifting the weight of our economy to less-unionized service sectors.

The reality is more sobering for the union movement. The decline in union density in the United States has not been driven by a shift of employment from unionized sectors to non-unionized sectors, but by a broad economy-wide decline of unionization across sectors and regions. Private-sector unionization rates have fallen in virtually every manufacturing sector and most service sectors in the past three decades and across all regions of the country.

The weight of evidence indicates that, for most firms in most sectors, unionization leaves companies less able to compete successfully. The core problem is that unions cause compensation to rise faster than productivity, eroding profits while at the same time reducing the ability of firms to remain price-competitive. The result over time is that unionized firms have tended to lose market share to nonunionized firms, in domestic as well as international markets.

Rhee V. Weingarten

It would be great to see the Good Guys win this one. There is no intellectually sound case for K-12 Teacher Tenure. Precipitate a strike. Fire them all.

D.C. Schools Chief Targets Tenure

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration says it wants to remake public education around the principle that the best teachers should be promoted and rewarded, regardless of seniority.

And a brawl over just that idea is now playing out in the shadow of the White House.

[Note from Bruno - Obama will end up on the side of the Unions. Just watch.]

Ms. Rhee is trying to reduce what she believes to be a bloated school management and wrest more control over the district’s affairs from the powerful local teachers’ union. She has replaced principals, laid off teachers and closed underperforming schools.

She has also challenged what she feels is one of the biggest impediments to improvement: tenure, or strong job protections for teachers. The idea is to promise teachers much richer salaries, as well as performance bonuses, if they give up tenure. Good performers would be rewarded, poor performers gotten rid of.

In September, the 39-year-old Ms. Rhee, citing a looming budget gap, laid off nearly 400 school employees, including 266 teachers. The dismissals came weeks after Ms. Rhee finished hiring 934 new teachers over the summer. Ms. Rhee said she was initiating the layoffs based on “quality, not by seniority.”

The Washington Teachers’ Union filed a grievance and a lawsuit against the district over the layoffs, calling them “a blatant violation” of the union contract and a pretext for dismissing veterans without proper cause, which the district denies.

The feud has turned into a grudge match between Ms. Rhee and Randi Weingarten, head of the 1.4 million-member American Federation of Teachers, which has intervened directly in the local contract dispute. Ms. Rhee “has so poisoned the environment that I am not sure that we can ever get back to a good situation here,” said Ms. Weingarten.

I’d pass on offering “richer salaries” and just force the tenure issue, but Rhee deserves credit regardless. As for the ‘poisoned environment,’ that’s a howler coming from the unions that have poisoned every possible education reform with their lies and greed.

Again. Precipitate the strikes. Fire them all. At 10%+ unemployment, there are plenty who will fill the ranks. It’s time to crush these people.

Big Labor IS Big Business

If you want to break into the heads of those of who might be open to understanding just how negative of an effect Unions have had on America (spare me the talk about the 1890s and early 1900s, it’s 2009!), it is always fun to start with this incontrovertible truth…

Unions exist to make sure their members do the least amount of work for the most amount of money.

There, like I said. Incontrovertible.

Now, it is ALSO true that we generally ALL would gladly do the same, and that Corporations would GLADLY gain the most amount of profit for the least amount of investment and/or cost.

The difference between you and me, and Corporations [Please remember that most Unions are corporations organized under Sec. 501(c)4], is that they have the power to lobby, purchase, subvert, and corrupt the political process in their favor. All we get to do is pay.

This makes for a great conversation starter. Unions are just as (or more so) greedy as any corporation. Their members benefit, not at the expense of corporate profits, but from our taxes and the higher prices we pay based upon their subversion of the political process.

The Big Business of Big Labor

Imagine if President George W. Bush used strong-arm tactics to bend the law to favor a politically connected company with $1.2 billion in assets, including a private golf course. What if that company’s political action committee had spent $13 million in the previous election, including more than $4 million to elect him?

Barack Obama has done just that. The company is called the United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America International Union – or the UAW for short.

Obama and the Democrats will employ euphemisms when discussing the President’s plan to circumvent bankruptcy law and hand majority ownership of Chrysler over to the UAW. They will speak about “the workers” taking ownership of the company, with some arguing that the workers, by right, are the senior creditors in Chrysler’s bankruptcy.

This paints the union-versus-creditors battle for control of Chrysler as a fight between blue-collar workingmen and greedy hedge fund speculators in suits.

But that abstraction—equating the UAW with “the workers”—is grossly misleading. John Doe on the assembly line will not be running Chrysler or directing the use of billions in bailout dollar. No, the union management will become Chrysler’s management.

So this is a gift to the union management, which, when you look at it closely, is a big, politically connected company whose executives pamper themselves and practice patronage on the backs of the workers.