Steve Jobs didn't hold back at all when he slammed teacher's unions on Saturday, calling them "off-the-charts crazy." Michael Dell didn't go for the throat like Jobs, with whom he shared the stage, but he did follow Jobs by bemoaning a lack of quality principals leading to poor leadership. Dell and Jobs aren't alone either.
Bill Gates has repeatedly called for massive and sweeping changes in the way our education system works. CEO John Chambers of Cisco Systems, whose products power 90%+ of Internet traffic, has called for increased competition in the education space and improved accountability. Scott McNealy, the former CEO of Sun Microsystems, has started an open-source wiki to develop curricula and textbooks to be used for free by teachers and students alike. Even one of Utah's own, Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne, has gotten in on the action by pumping money into pro-voucher groups. The captains of Silicon Valley have all but declared war on an education system that doesn't give them the workers they need.
For far too long we've been on the disastrous path of an arms race with other states to see who can outspend who. Utah's per-pupil spending ranking has been slipping only because other states are intent on spending everyone else under the table. The Legislature is poised to cough up another $300M+ this year in new ongoing education funding including $100M for teacher salary increases and bonuses. Meanwhile, legislators are getting very suspicious as to just how exactly the money is getting spent. With over $700M dropped onto classroom reduction since the 90s, we've actually seen class sizes increase instead of decrease. We've also watched education spending in our state increase 54% in the last decade while the student population only increased 9%. Despite all this, test scores and teacher salaries stay flat. If you try voicing any opposition to keeping the gravy train coming to town, however, teacher's unions will slap you with an anti-education label you couldn't remove with hydrochloric acid.
I think Jobs is onto something. Unions seek to protect the status quo to keep their coffers full and impede the kinds of revolutionary changes our education system desperately needs. When you have the most powerful figures in knowledge-based businesses all crying fowl, it's time to start listening. Either that or loosen those H1-B visa quotas.