Rupert Murdoch on Education and Technology

I think Rupert Murdoch makes some good points about technology and education in his Wall Street Journal opinion column this weekend.

Regarding integrating technology into education (emphasis added):

If you read the front pages of the New York Times, they will tell you that technology’s promise has not yet been realized in terms of student performance. My answer is, of course not. If we simply attached computers to leeches, medicine wouldn’t be any better today than it was in the 19th century either.

You don’t get change by plugging in computers to schools designed for the industrial age. You get it by deploying technology that rewrites the rules of the game.

Our children are growing up in Steve Jobs’s world. They are eager to learn and quick to embrace new technology. Outside the classroom they take technology for granted—in what they read, in how they listen to music, in how they shop.

The minute they step back into their classrooms, it’s like going back in time. The top-down, one-size-fits-all approach frustrates the ones who could do more advanced work. And it leaves further and further behind those who need extra help to keep up.

I think Murdoch’s solution imagery is vivid:

These days everyone is for education reform. The question is which approach is best. I favor the Steve Jobs model.

In 1984 Steve introduced the Mac with a Super Bowl ad. It ran only once. It ran for only one minute. And it shows a female athlete being chased by the helmeted police of some totalitarian regime.

At the climax, the woman rushes up to a large screen where Big Brother is giving a speech. Just as he announces, “We shall prevail,” she hurls her hammer through the screen.

If you ask me what we need to do in education, I would point you to that ad.

I think that’s a good image to keep in mind.  Whenever you find yourself reading about or debating education reform, think about who plays the role of the helmeted police, the totalitarian brain washer on the screen, the hypnotized minions in the audience and the lady throwing the hammer through the screen.

American Idol Education

Writing the Wall Street Journal Opinion section on Friday, billionaire Rupert Murdoch explains why education in our country may be better If Schools Were Like ‘American Idol’.  Key sentences (emphasis added):

America is now in danger of producing a new generation that will be less educated than their parents.

Clearly it’s not for any lack of money. Over the past three decades, we’ve nearly doubled spending on K-12 education in real terms. So President Obama was absolutely right to declare the other day that “we can’t spend our way out of this problem.” Which begs the question: How can we spend so much with so little to show for it?

The answer is that while the system is failing our children, it works very well for some adults. These adults include the leaders of the teachers unions. They include the politicians whom the unions reward with their cash and political support. They include the vast education bureaucracies. In business terms, we have a system that rewards the providers and punishes the customers.

The bold sentence bears repeating: 

The answer is that while the system is failing our children, it works very well for some adults.

This is especially true for big city school districts who long ago stopped being run for the welfare of the children and drifted aimlessly toward the welfare of the adults through obvious outcomes like tenure and well-paying administrative jobs, but also show up as corruption and cronyism because the funding feedback loop is so weak.  Once a big city builds out its tax base, the incentive for the school to remain top notch drifts away because there’s no big, direct penalty for failing — the money keeps coming.

And here’s the American Idol tie-in:

In the existing system, we have incentives for almost everything unrelated to performance (seniority, tenure, etc.) and zero incentive for adapting new technologies that could help learning inside and outside the classroom. On top of it all, we have chancellors, superintendents and principals who can’t hire and fire based on performance.

We have tougher standards on “American Idol.” And so long as we refuse to measure success by what our children are learning, we’re going to have higher performance standards for pop stars than for public schools.

While I think Rupert column nailed one root cause of the bad schools (‘schools run for the benefit of some adults’).  But, I think he was a bit elusive on how to measure performance.  He writes that we need to measure success by what our children are learning.  I’d like to know more about that. Does he mean more test scores?  If so, then I disagree.

Good schools and school districts have something in common, parents who hold schools, teachers and their kids to high standards.  We should be working to let parents exercise that power.