Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Gingrich on School Failure

Newt Gingrich may be grating to a lot of people as reflected in his high negative polling numbers (like Sen. Clinton.) I suspect that in the case of the former Speaker those numbers are primarily because he is right so often and tells everybody that he is right so often too.

In any event, he is absolutely correct in the opinions he is expressing about Detroit city schools utter failure and what that fact reveals about all of our government's inability to accomplish goals and its structural incompetence. In today's issue of The Detroit News we find "Gingrich: Will Detroit Save Its Kids or Bureaucracy?". Gingrich explains that according to the Gates Foundation that Detroit schools are dead last in its independent study and noted that "the Detroit school system graduates only one-fourth of its entering freshmen on time, placing Detroit dead last on its list." Now here's more from Newt:

But this failure is not just Detroit's failure. It is an American failure. When American children are being cheated out of the education needed to succeed and an American city is allowed to decline while its leaders refuse to confront the failure, it should concern every American.

This human tragedy extends well beyond the schools. The New York Times reported that an African-American male who drops out of high school faces a 72 percent unemployment rate in his 20s and a 60 percent possibility of going to jail by his mid-30s. The Detroit bureaucracy now presides over a school system whose black male students are more likely to go to jail than go to college.

...This bureaucracy is so focused on protecting its monopoly, it turned down a $200 million offer from a Metro Detroit philanthropist to help high school students learn. Faced with such appalling failure, why would the Detroit bureaucracy be so aggressive in defending itself? And why would it be so unwilling to adopt bold changes to improve its performance?

It could be that the Detroit school system is the single largest employer in the city, followed by the city government. Of Detroit's 25 largest employers, state, county and city governments provide 40 percent of the jobs.

These numbers raise a critical question: What is the purpose of our government bureaucracies? Clearly, we have a fundamental disagreement about how to measure success, and it goes right to the heart of the issue.

If the purpose of the Detroit school system is to provide jobs for members of a unionized bureaucracy, pay them well and pay them on time, then Detroit's school system is a stunning success. If this is the primary purpose of the bureaucracy, Detroit may very well be the most successful school district in the nation.

If, however, the purpose of the school system is to provide Detroit's children with an education, the knowledge, the tools and the motivation to succeed in the real world, a prerequisite to prosperous, productive communities, then Detroit's bureaucratic schools are an abysmal failure.

There is ample evidence of what works in education, but the bureaucracy has systematically ignored all of it. The innovations include merit-based pay; increasing teacher-to-student ratios; revamping union rules to reward the best teachers; bonuses and incentives for new teachers; charter schools; and offering parents a coupon that allows them to send their children to the school that works best for their children and not the bureaucracies.

...[R]eal change requires real change, not new rhetoric while doing more of the same old thing. Propping up the failed past at the expense of future generations leads to prison and poverty vouchers for too many of our children.

The time for excuses is over. The crisis is not about money. The crisis is a failure of responsibility, accountability, honesty, transparency and determination to protect the children from the bureaucracies that are crippling their lives. Who will the people of Detroit save -- their failing bureaucracies or our American children?

Here is what I asked in a post at the end of July, from "Big Labor & Presidential Politics":

"Can you draw any obvious correlation between the fact that education and our government is widely perceived to be dysfunctional despite the amount of money devoted to those undertakings and the fact that those employees are almost completely unionized and have almost zero turnover? Dysfunctional and employed for life does not a good combination for performance make."

No comments: