Like her or not, there is one good thing about Meg Whitman – she always has a plan, and she’s not afraid to share it. Of course, having a plan is only one element of sound leadership. There is also the persnickety little issue of plan quality. And though the Whitman plan for jobs and spending cuts is largely based on failed assumptions, her plan to fix education is at best rooted in complete ignorance.
This is not to say that the Whitman plan is completely without substance, because it’s not. She does support efforts to simplify the ridiculously complex structure of categorical funding, which currently includes more than 50 separate buckets, that collectively place a significant accounting burden on educational agencies. Whitman doesn’t offer much detail on what the new structure would look like, but streamlining the model would without doubt reduce administrative overhead.
Whitman also advocates for meritorious compensation for teachers, a commendable reform embraced by many, including President Obama. But even as she advances the benefit of such a program, she shows her naïveté regarding education by concurrently criticizing the overhead expenditures that would include the systems required to administer merit pay and the personnel needed to make it effective.
As so many others outside of education are so prone to do, Meg Whitman fails to understand what it takes to provide high quality education. If she wants merit pay for teachers, then she damn well better ensure adequate staffing of competent administrators to evaluate performance and oversee operations. If she wants to see test scores climb, then she better figure out that it takes much more than teachers to make a school system shine.
Meg Whitman is a classic business type who thinks that a production mentality will increase the efficiency of schools, and while this is true in certain support areas, when it comes to the delivery of instruction, less production and more individual customization is the answer. Whitman ridicules California public schools for having only 60% of spending reach the classroom, but as with most of the Red Queen’s critiques, she only tells part of the story. In fact, the most recent numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) show the national average to be less than 1% higher at 60.9%.
It is this type of half-truth that weaves throughout all of Whitman’s press that should beg for questioning of not only her proposals but here motivations as well. As evidenced by the lies that pollute her campaign ads maligning the political record of Jerry Brown, Ms. Whitman really seems to have difficulty dealing with truthfulness.
Whitman champions charter schools as part of her plan to “fix education.” She does this as if they were some magic key to improved learning, yet the most definitive study yet on the matter, completed in 2009 by Stanford University, showed otherwise. Charters are often less expensive than their normal public school counterparts, which I’m sure pleases Whitman, but when it comes to learning results, the study identified only 17% of charters in the 15 states studied showed improved results. Compare that with the 37% where results were, “significantly worse than their student would have realized had they remained in traditional public schools.”
Is this the type of “fix” education in California needs?
The Whitman plan also advances a system of school grading to be used so that, “parents can easily understand how well their children’s school is performing.” Her argument for the need is based on better test scores in the State of Florida, who pioneered the system. Of course California’s scores have improved recently at an even faster rate, and then there’s that little matter of Florida spending nearly $900 more per pupil in regionally adjusted dollars.
Queen Meg has solutions for underperforming schools too, like “school closures and staff replacement.” Oh yes, Whitman has lots of ideas, but what she really needs is a clue! And she might start with looking at the impact of location on school performance, or the demographics of the parents and community. She might want to consider that most of the best teachers don’t want to work where they’re needed most, and then she could work toward some real solutions, on devising real plans to address real issues.
The final installment on Meg Whitman to follow shortly.