… or Maybe it Was THE ICEBERG!

Former IBM CEO Louis V. Gerstner has a piece in the WSJ today in which he laments the stagnation in educational outcomes of the past several decades. His solution? Reduce the number of districts nationwide to 70; adopt a single, homegenous set of nationwide standards and tests; and lengthen the school year.

This is not merely rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It is rearranging, repainting, and reupholstering those deck chairs….

Back in the late 1920s, there were roughly 130,000 school districts. The reduction to the 15,000 we have today has not been associated with a surge in productivity. On the contrary, scores have stagnated while inflation-adjusted per-pupil costs have skyrocketed. Similarly, moving authority over testing from individual schools, to districts, to states did not solve our educational problems, so it’s unrealistic to believe that that moving that authority one rung higher, to the federal level, will offer a substantial improvement in achievement.

If the nation’s business leaders – current and former – want to know why there has been a staggering productivity collapse in public schooling at odds with the radical progress in other fields, they need look no further than the fact that public schools have a government-protected monopoly on $12,000 per pupil in taxpayer funding.

What would the computer industry look like today if, back in 1960, the government had given IBM a massive government funding monopoly? Would anyone have bought other manufacturers’ computers if they could get IBM’s for free? Could many other manufacturers even survive? Would IBM have bothered diversifying into laptops and services?

The reason public schooling is sinking is because a yawning gash exists below its waterline, cut by an iceberg named “monopoly.”