10.02.2007

Healthy Competition

Walmart's logistics are legendary, mobilizing on a dime in crises like
Katrina or Rita and making the federal government look like a turtle
to its hare in the process. Amazon and other e-tailers have mined
their customer info so finely that their recommendations are becoming
better than those of our own friends and family. Say what you want
about advertisers - you may hate their messages and predict their
demise, but their struggle for survival has spawned some spectacularly
creative campaigns.

Nothing against these businesses, but I'd have to think society valued
more greatly the education of its own children. And yet there isn't
nearly enough innovation in the way we deliver education. It's not
for lack of tools - Governing Magazine points out schools and school
districts are starting to bring to bear the same kinds of data tools
as the private sector, in an effort to customize curricula to
individual students' learning styles:
http://www.governing.com/articles/9nclb.htm.

Would that there were more insights like this in the public education
arena. Yet you have to wonder where the impetus is going to come from
to think outside the box like this. In the private sector, it is the
carrot of profits and the stick of bankruptcy. For-profit companies
don't invest in R&D, fight to the death to sell a better mousetrap,
and trip over themselves to win you as a customer because the
government tells them to. They do it because of the carrot and the
stick.

I know that school choice is a loaded topic, and that the mechanics of
free-market capitalism don't as easily apply to the distribution of
education. And yet, I wonder, when the technology and the know-how is
out there to make a quantum leap in the quality of our children's
educational experience, why there isn't the same hunger and
desperation to innovate. Maybe a little healthy competition would
inject the thrill of success and the fear of failure - and of real
consequences either way - and get more people mobilized towards
something more important to society than selling detergent or DVDs.

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