Business on education

Business leaders think K-12 education must become more rigorous, according to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey. Ninety percent want to raise expectations for achievement; 73 percent say teachers should receive more pay for boosting performance. Some 53 percent support vouchers as a way to improve achievement. Virtually all — 98 percent — think improving math and science instruction is a top priority and 91 support higher pay for effective math and science teachers.

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Comments

  1. superdestroyer says:

    The question that should be ask is what are they (any anyone else) willing to give up to achieve higher performance from high school graduates. I would guess that they would not tolerate a higher level of failures and drop outs even though that is exactly what would happen if standards are raised.

    Arguing that higher achievement can be gained without any downsides is like arguing that everyone could learn quantum mechanics if given the right type of instruction.

  2. Be nice to know how those business leaders’ opinions have changed over time:

    Do they see things getting better or worse? Is there increasing or decreasing support for controversial policies? What would be the single most important change that could be made to American public education and how’s that changed over time?

  3. wayne martin says:

    A Brief History of Corporate Involvement in Education:
    http://eric.uoregon.edu/publications/policy_reports/corporate_involvement/brief_history.html

    The material might be a little too brief to be of much use.

    With the outsourcing going on to India and China of America’s hi-tech industries, any corporate concern for “education” has to be taken with a grain of salt. Programmers work for about $10,000 a year in India, as opposed to $75,000 to $100,000 in the US. Quality issues related to work are still up in the air, and there is some dissatisfaction with outsourcing operations, but the trend continues.

    Maybe education officials ought to be asking business leaders if the reason they are not hiring American technology workers is one of “education” or labor costs?

  4. Superdestroyer writes:
    > what are they (any anyone else) willing to give up
    > to achieve higher performance from high school graduates
    > I would guess that they would not tolerate a higher level
    > of failures and drop outs even though that is exactly
    > what would happen if standards are raised.

    Quite the opposite.

    this is the pitfall of weak expectations. Far better results can be achieved by spending money wisely. What might be given up are:
    – step and grade pay systems, the antithesis of merit pay
    – adult job retention without results (whether admin or teacher)
    – inability to develop culture or community of success
    – lack of parent choice
    All of these can be accomplished in the public system — and already are, if one looks closely.

    The high level of failures and dropouts already haunt the system.

  5. Mark Roulo says:

    “Maybe education officials ought to be asking business leaders if the reason they are not hiring American technology workers is one of ‘education’ or labor costs?”

    Speaking as an engineer (not a manager) who has worked with offshore developers in India (and in the U.K.) and who has selected one Indian offshore team, I can say that both education and labor costs are factors.

    But first … the Indian developers might be paid $10K per year, but the cost to the U.S. company is much more. A good rule of thumb is that the Indian developer will cost 1/3 to 1/4 as much as a U.S. developer (I’m ignoring quality here for a minute). In addition, you need extra *very* senior U.S. developers to oversee the work because there is a lot that can go wrong when you have 12 timezones separating you, cultural differences (Indian’s living in India tend to be annoyingly unwilling to tell you that you aren’t making any sense to them … after a few years in the states they learn to do this much better), and a lack of specific domain knowledge (so you need much more detailed specifications).

    The cost savings are often illusory, and I get the impression that some managements are starting to realize this.

    But …

    It is still difficult to find *qualified* (not superstar) U.S. programmers. I don’t think this is a wage issue as it is quite common for S/W engineers in Silicon Valley to make over $100K/year plus profit sharing plus bonus. Even with these sorts of salaries, finding people who can do competent work mostly unsupervised is very difficult. I know because I spent a lot of my time looking through resumes, phone screening, and then as part of the actual interview team. The number of people who can’t actually code (and who don’t seem to understand how computers work) but who expect a programming job at $100K/year is frightening.

    So … a chunk of the problem is that finding enough competent (not superstar) programmers at $100K/year is very tough in the U.S. Looking elsewhere makes sense.

    The flip side of this is that if you *can’t* find competent developers and wind up hiring people that need lots of oversight, a reasonable question for management to ask is, “Why spend $75K/year for someone who needs 50% of a senior developer’s time providing oversight when I can hire someone equally needing oversight for $25K/year?” This is a good question.

    My impression is that in the last outsourcing wave (say from 1998 onwards), the engineers who were losing their jobs were the ones with either minimal skills (if someone can learn your job in 6 months, you aren’t worth $100K) or who had only one skill (e.g. knew the C programming language, but that was all). Talented senior S/W engineers are just as in demand as ever … maybe more.

    [An iteresting part of the problem here is that below some level of skill, the developer is actually a net *cost* to the project. He or she is creating bugs that others must fix at a rate faster the value of the features he/she is adding or the bugs he/she is fixing. This actually works *against* the developers in India as a group, because they tend to be more junior.]

    So … is it cost or is it education? It is a bit of both because if the skill isn’t there it is difficult to justify the cost. Mostly, however, in my experience, the problem is in finding enough competent developers even at $100K/year. Failing that, management *has* to look elsewhere because raising the S/W developer rate to $200K/year just doesn’t work out (at that rate, they’ll be making more than some vice presidents).

    -Mark Roulo

  6. Thanks Wayne but it’d be nice to quantify the business community’s view of the public education system longitudinally. When did the business community transition from satisfaction with the public education system, if that was ever the case, to concern to bug-eyed disbelief?

  7. First, it would be nice if the US Chamber would invest in a valid survey, instead of touting a flawed report like this one. They pulled information only from Chamber members, and then in that group only from those who have been involved in some way with their education initiatives. Hardly a representative sampling – see my post on this (http://www.dehavillandassociates.com/2006/12/much-ado-about-nothing.html) for more.

    Next, in answer to Allen’s question about longitudinal tracking of business perspectives, there is no such data that I’ve found. But you can look at the history of business’ role in education to see how business was strongly engaged through the 50s, practically disappeared from involvement during the 60s and 70s, and came roaring back in the 80s. Go to http://www.biz4ed.org/forbusiness.html and go down to the fifth entry – a dissertation by Barbara Holley – for more on the subject.

  8. Indigo Warrior says:

    The problem might not be so much a lack of education as a lack of vocation (talent) for programming.

  9. “The problem might not be so much a lack of education as a lack of vocation (talent) for programming.”

    Yes.

    -Mark Roulo

  10. Andy Freeman says:

    > Failing that, management *has* to look elsewhere because raising the S/W developer rate to $200K/year just doesn’t work out (at that rate, they’ll be making more than some vice presidents).

    Since some of those SW developers are making more value for the company than some vice presidents, why is their making more money a problem?

  11. Andy Freeman says:

    Note that good salesfolk often make more than most vice presidents (at least in small/medium companies).

  12. “Since some of those SW developers are making more value for the company than some vice presidents, why is their making more money a problem?”

    Some engineers *do* make in the $200K/year range (although not in base salary … bonus, options, etc.). Or more. I’m speaking here of an *average*. Doubling the engineering costs for a product can often be the difference between deciding to fund it or not.

    Plus, in the corporate world, employees making more than their bosses seems quite rare. I think that the theory is that if this is the case, the roles need to be reversed (interestingly, sports do not have this same idea). So … if the engineers pay doubles, the VP’s pay is going to go up, too. Just the way it seems to be.

    And … maybe the companies still *should* be paying S/W developers (like me!) double what we are making. I would sure like it. I just don’t see it happening. We did see something a bit like this during the dot-com days (man, those were great). I was interviewing developers who couldnt code, but who wanted $150K/year or more (really!). We didn’t hire a lot back then. But many/most/all of the companies offering the great salaries are now dead. You can pay a lot more to engineers if being profitable isn’t part of the business plan 🙂

    -Mark Roulo