We’ll Just Do It!

Andrew Coulson has already done a fine job of responding to former IBM CEO Lou Gerstner’s plea in the Wall Street Journal for nationalizing education, driving home the most important point: our problem is not too much decentralization, but that public schooling is a monopoly. That said, since Mike Petrilli over at Fordham thinks Gerstner’s piece practically begs for me to once again flog national-standards silliness, I should probably offer a little criticism of my own. So Mike, here’s a little something for you:

How the heck does anyone expect they’d get national standards for public schools – which Gerstner thinks are key to effective reform – even if they were a good idea?  Gerstner’s answer seems to be to “just do it!” (as if he were a former Nike CEO, not IBM) but in a pluralist nation where lots of people disagree about lots of different things, imposing a national standard can’t just be done. Indeed, in the 1990s Presidents Bush and Clinton – a bipartisan duo! – tried to establish national standards and tests and failed utterly. The proposed standards made scads of people very angry but no one better educated. But that’s pluralism for you – it’s so darn hard to organize!

Thankfully, there is a way to harness all that tricky pluralism and actually use it to transform education for the good, but it can’t be done from above. Quite the opposite: Allowing parents to choose where their children and the funds to educate them will go, and allowing autonomous schools to compete for them, would lead to specialization, competition between pedagogical techniques and schools of thought, and ultimately the best outcomes for everyone. Or, at least, that’s what I’m told by all my friends with Dells, Macs, HPs, Toshibas, Gateways…you get the point. Andrew made it too. 

Now, if only people like Gerstner and Petrilli would get it…