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Vision of Education: Deborah Wince-Smith

In December, 2005, Council on Competitiveness President, Deborah Wince-Smith commented about new figures released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) saying China exported $180 billion worth of technology last year, beating U.S. exports of $149 billion.

Yesterday, on C-SPAN she said at the National Governors Association Conference that the United States education system addresses early 20th century manufacturing demands, and is not sufficiently flexible to address today’s dynamic industries.

In short, she called schools with teachers relatively uninformed about math and science teaching those subjects “a travisty.”

She suggested that former engineers, industry managers and others familiar with math and science could be hired to teach math and science instead.

Wow! Her vision of education puts educators and our political supporters on the line. It also indirectly challenges school personnel credential policies and practices.

Her comments remind me of public discussions when railroads changed from coal to diesel fuel to power their engines. Unions wanted to keep firemen on board the engine, just in case … Railroad owners and managers wanted to reduce the number of people in the engine, and thus realize more operational cost savings.

Journalists referred to the union’s efforts to “feather-bed” engines with unneeded jobs.

Similar discussions about feather-bedding occurred when navigation technology made flight engineers unnecessary on some commercial aircraft.

I will not go so far as to call marginal math and science teaching a travisty or feather-bedding.

Yet Wince-Smith’s suggestion of allowing experienced specialists in math and science to teach raises a valuable (perhaps provocative to some) question.

Which is more important, having a credentialed teacher with little interest in math or science, or a person with experience in using math or science regularly in professional life?

I’d argue that school administrators should use available ways to hire real world experience over disinterested math and science school credentialed teachers.

I’d also urge administrators to use or create ways to hire experienced math and science people without the burden of them taking courses required for regular teaching credentials.

Yes, Mr. Quisenberry, I remember having to adjust to your non-teacher style when you came from a chemistry lab to our high school chemistry classroom. Most in our class moaned and groaned. Thank you for insisting that we meet real world, not just get-by-in-school, standards. You helped make us competitive in college and beyond.

I wonder what empirical data say about student learning rates in classes with industrial experienced teachers?

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