I spotted this television advertisement for GM the other evening. It occurred to me that watching the demise of the American Auto Industry, is tragically analogous to what is happening in public education.
The blog post Daily Finance’s writer Peter Cohan cites five reasons why GM failed. Read and draw analogies to public schools in the United States.
1. Bad financial policies. You might be surprised to learn that GM has been bankrupt since 2006 and has avoided a filing for years thanks to the graces of the banks and bondholders. But for years it has used cars as razors to sell consumers a monthly package of razor blades — in the form of highly profitable car loans.
And the two Harvard MBAs who drove GM to bankruptcy — Rick Wagoner and Fritz Henderson — both rose up from GM’s finance division, rather than its vehicle design operation. (Read more about GM’s bad financial policies here.)
2. Uncompetitive vehicles. Compared to its toughest competitors — like Toyota Motor Co. (TM) — GM’s cars were poorly designed and built, took too long to manufacture at costs that were too high, and as a result, fewer people bought them, leaving GM with excess production capacity. (Read more about GM’s uncompetitive vehicles here.)
3. Ignoring competition. GM has been ignoring competition — with a brief interruption (Saturn in the 1980s) — for about 50 years. At its peak, in 1954, GM controlled 54 percent of the North American vehicle market. Last year, that figure had tumbled to 19 percent. Toyota and its peers took over that market share. (Read more about GM ignoring the competition here.)
4. Failure to innovate. Since GM was focused on profiting from finance, it did not really care that much about building better vehicles. GM’s management failed to adapt GM to changes in customer needs, upstart competitors, and new technologies. (Read more about GM’s failure to innovate here.)
5. Managing in the bubble. GM managers got promoted by toeing the CEO’s line and ignoring external changes. What looked stupid from the perspective of customer and competitors was smart for those bucking for promotions. (Read more about GM’s managing in the bubble here.)
GM has now produced this mea culpa, promising a new organization with new products and a new attitude. The answer is to reinvent itself.
It is not hard to draw analogies to public schools. Poor financing and financial management. Management (administrative bubbles), inflated salaries for administrators, ignoring the competition…..the list goes on. The list does not mention the tortuous negotiations and battles with organized labor – but that analogy fits as well.
Interesting that the public sector (federal government) has to be in the unbelievable position of having to bail out this failing industry. The act has people from the private sector incredulous. Even the President himself seems uncomfortable with the fact that the government has had to take this unprecedented action.
Public Schools in too many urban districts are a failing industry. Too many administrators, public officials and even some private philanthropists ignore the competition (i.e. charter schools, successful faith-based schools and even advances made in independent schools). These entities are seen not as competition, but as the enemy. In an effort to preserve themselves and guarantee job security, those in the bunker form the bubble.
Too many are afraid of adapting to new technologies that are likely to guarantee, smarter, leaner administrative budgets and more likely than not to improve students learning outcomes. Good administrators will report up to the “management” that revises standards and tests to juke the stats and have the public believe their inferior product is actually working.
Far too many individual school “districts” makes no sense anymore. I live in a county of 280,000 but there are 14 individual school districts each with high-paid administrators including superintendents, principals, curriculum directors. The cost to the public every year exceeds $4 million dollars. Much of that work can be done online through more effective use of management technologies.
Too many public dollars are wasted paying for textbooks. Innovations in online texts are occurring every day, yet too many school administrators are slow to adapt them. Many philanthropists have funded organizations that provide solutions to this unnecessary expense. cK-12 is a private non-profit foundation that is just one example. Another is Currwiki. Schools and school districts – not to mention the multimillion dollar textbook industry has an interest in keeping these innovations out of schools. Too many foundation officers and school administrators – fearful of change, block innovation with the appeal to waiting for results from “evidence-based practice” before they do anything. Where are the “practices” taking place and who is collecting the “evidence?” I know than many foundations have a lot of evidence of what is working, especially in charter, faith-based and indepdendent schools, but this evidence is ignored unless it has imprimatur from “the academy.”
It just seems to me that the time is ripe for foundations across the country to sponsor one or a series of local symposia that will bring together leaders from the field of educational technology, business, K-12 systems, and higher edcuation to re-imagine doing schools. These symposia should be public – coordinated with local newspapers, and newsmedia. Public television stations typically have local afficilates that could foster regularly scheduled converesations about re-inventing school and invite public policy officials to be part of the conversation. Together, these entities can help to reinvent public schools just as the auto industries are about to embark on reinventing themselves.