Good To Great to . . . not-so good

MATCH founder Michael Goldstein, now blogging on Starting an Ed School, looks at what happened over time to the companies praised in Jim Collins’ influential management book, Good to Great.  After analyzing 1,435 companies, Collins 11 that had gone from “good to great.”

Corporate transformations don’t rely on a “miracle moment,” Collins wrote.

Instead, a down-to-earth, pragmatic, committed-to-excellence process—a framework—kept each company, its leaders, and its people on track for the long haul. In each case, it was the triumph of the Flywheel Effect over the Doom Loop, the victory of steadfast discipline over the quick fix.

Doom Loopers “launch change programs with huge fanfare,” then change direction. “Disappointing results lead to reaction without understanding, which leads to a new direction—a new leader, a new program—which leads to no momentum, which leads to disappointing results. It’s a steady, downward spiral.”

Many people in the K-12 world use Collins’ “ideas for how a school might go from good to great,” writes Goldstein. “Or mediocre to good. Or crappy to mediocre.” Yet urban teachers know the Doom Loop all too well.

Doom Loop is why my teacher friends in some traditional large urban schools have indigestion when they hear about any sort of “reform.”

In their direct experience, all they’ve seen is Doom Loop. More precisely, Doom Loop masquerading with claims that this time it would be Flywheel. This time. Righto.

Only two of the 11 companies in Good to Great, published in 2001, are still Great when measured by stock prices, Nucor and Philip Morris, Goldstein discovered. Five have posted average performance. One, Gillette, was bought out. That leaves three that went from Great to Lousy:

Pitney Bowes is half its market cap of 2001.

Circuit City is defunct.

Fannie Mae (securities fraud, delisted by NYSE, contributed to gigantic financial meltdown)

So does that mean Collins was wrong — or that well-managed companies couldn’t keep it up over time?

ACT: 23% are ready for college

Only 23 percent of ACT-taking high school seniors tested at the college-ready level in all four subjects, concludes the latest report on the class of ’09.

While 67 percent of the test-takers in the class of 2009 met college-ready benchmarks in English and 53 percent did so in reading, only 42 percent did so in math and 28 percent did so in science, according to the test results.

Based on ACT’s research, students who meet college readiness benchmarks have at least a 75 percent chance of earning a C or better in first-year, non-remedial courses.

Seventy percent of the test-takers said they had taken a core curriculum: four years of English and at least three years each of natural science, social science and math.

In the past, only students applying to selective colleges took the ACT or SAT.  Now, five states require all juniors to take a college admissions exam in the hopes of encouraging college aspirations. That tends to depress scores by including less-capable students, notes College Puzzle. So perhaps it’s not surprising that college-readiness scores have remain flat since 2005.

Update: Guestblogging on Eduwonk, Michael Goldstein complains that we have the worst of all college-prep options.

1. The top one would be vast numbers of 18-year-olds legitimately prepared for college, which I think is a key driver of the Gates Foundation mission.

2. The middle option is at least honest — and common in certain countries.  Many who won’t end up with college degrees are steered during high school to some sort of vocational training.

3. Our system tells lots of 9th graders they’ll be taking classes to prepare them for college, knowing statistically that, except in some suburban and private schools, the majority of those 9th graders will never graduate from college.

Only about half of students who start college complete a four-year degree within six years. The quit rate is highest in the first year.