A provocative case, from education entrepreneur Whittle, on the need to reform public schools—the details of which ought to thrill any kids in the audience.
Founder of the Edison Schools franchise (“If it were an actual public school system, Edison would be the forty-seventh largest in the country”), Whittle reckons that 20 percent of all Americans spend all day within the K-12 educational system, which “enrolls or employs 54 million people, nearly the population of Great Britain.” Yet, he writes, unlike the comparably funded military, which achieves generally excellent results with what it has and constantly seeks to improve operations, schools are reluctant to involve outsiders, particularly when it comes to curriculum design; there is little oversight in the economy of education, and little recourse for the roughly 15 million children, mostly poor and of color, who receive substandard education. The “systematic failure” in performance, Whittle urges, can be fixed, and can be done so by the year 2030—and here’s where the argument gets interesting, for Whittle reckons that market forces and incentives can be brought to bear, classroom sizes can get bigger, students can be given significantly greater freedom and teachers can be paid significantly larger salaries—and all without massive burden to the taxpayer. He offers plenty of specifics to back up his case, as well as five “truths” of school design that accord children a broader and more active role in their own education than they enjoy in the highly regimented schools we have now. Among Whittle’s recommendations: allow considerably independent, unmonitored time for such things as reading (which children otherwise don’t find time for) and socializing; teach practical skills—about money and computers, for instance; and see to it that teaching is truly treated as a profession, with “compensation keyed to performance and responsibility, not seniority.”
Guaranteed to discomfit the education establishment.