Jobs: baloney watch continues

I’m sure Steve Jobs is some kind of genius. He’s also potty in the same way that Larry Ellison and Bill Gates are potty. Hot on the heels of the WSJ account of his dealings with Cingular comes another account of the Jobs nonsense engine in full exhaust mode.

Steve Jobs makes a lot of sense when he’s talking about music and copyright protection, but when the topic is schools, he seems to be on a different planet.

The teachers’ unions, Jobs believes, are ruining America’s schools because they prevent bad teachers from being fired.

“I believe that what is wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way,” the Apple CEO told a school-reform conference in Texas on Saturday. “This unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy.”

Jobs knows a lot about schools; he’s been selling computers to them for more than 30 years. But don’t you love it when a billionaire who sends his own kids to private school applies half-baked business platitudes to complex problems like schools? I’m surprised Jobs didn’t suggest we outsource education to the same nonunion Chinese factories that build his iPods.

As someone who sends his kids to a struggling San Francisco public school (where 60 percent of the students are eligible for free lunches), I know for a fact that Jobs’ ideas about unions are absurd, he’s-on-a-different-planet bullshit.

The solution, Jobs believes, is to treat schools like businesses: Empower the principal to fire bad teachers like a CEO.

“What kind of person could you get to run a small business if you told them that when they came in they couldn’t get rid of people that they thought weren’t any good?” he said.

The issues are many and complex, and yes, there is a problem with firing incompetent or indifferent teachers, but it is not the No. 1 reason schools are failing. It’s not even in the top 10.

In California, the most pressing problems are schools that are too big, too bureaucratic and chronically under-funded. Teachers are criminally low paid and under-trained. Education — and school funding — has become solely about test scores.


[Firing poor performers] may work for Jobs, who runs his autocratic business fiefdom like Mussolini, but it’s patently simplistic to think that schools can be run like this, with performance measures and goals and metrics and other such nonsense. There are too many variables involved.