America: From Public Schools To Government, What’s Wrong?

October 21st, 2011
in Op Ed

By Frank Li, Ph.D.

I have been thinking about writing on this subject for a while. This recent post (Should the starting salary for a teacher be $60,000?) set me on fire. Here is how that post begins:

How would the nation's school system be different if teachers were paid like engineers?

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan proposed last month that a significant boost in teacher salaries could transform public schools for the better by luring the country's brightest college graduates into the profession.

Follow up:

Here is my reaction in three points:

  1. Both the private sector and the public sector have their roles in our society. However, the public-sector employees must never compare with the private-sector employees in pay. Want more money? Join the private sector! More altruistic, with a desire to serve? Work in the public sector!

  2. In America, the brightest college graduates, upon graduation, have never worked, and should not work, in the public sector.

  3. The public school system is failing overall. The solution is not to pour more money into it! Reform instead! First of all, abolish all the teachers unions immediately and ban them forever! Then privatize the system if necessary.

Next, let me explain these three points one by one.

1. Private sector vs. public sector

As the “Land of Opportunities”, America has produced far more successful individuals than everywhere else. Just to name three: Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates. These people, on top of being very bright, are/were successful for two main reasons: (1) they live/lived in America and (2) they succeeded in the private sector.

Success in the public sector, on the other hand, is much harder, if not impossible, to define. Does becoming an American President symbolize the pinnacle of success in the public sector? If yes, why have so many recent American Presidents severely damaged America, especially President Bush (W) and President Obama? If becoming a Congressman is a symbol of success, why is Congress’ disapproval rating at 87%?

The bottom line: America has been great largely because of the excellence of its private sector. The public sector supports it by creating the environment for success. America is in deep trouble now, largely because of its antiquated political system, which is well reflected in the public sector. Here are two simple facts:

  1. The public sector is too big. Read this. Here is an excerpt: “More Americans work for the government than work in construction, farming, fishing, manufacturing, mining, and utilities combined.
  2. The public sector workers are overpaid. Read this. Here is an excerpt: “state and local government employees earned total compensation of $39.60 an hour, compared to $27.42 an hour for private industry workers, a difference of over 44%!”

How and why has the public sector become so out-of-control that it is destroying America? It’s the political system, stupid! President Kennedy sowed the seed 50 years ago by allowing public-sector unions, which has finally caught up with us!  For this reason, I don't think history will be very kind to President Kennedy after all.

It's time to fundamentally reform the political system, including significantly reducing the size of the government, before the Great Recession is turned into the Great Depression II, out of which America may never come.

2. Luring the brightest students into teaching

With a Ph.D. degree in Electrical Engineering and with two sons recently graduated from college (Yale/Economics, class 2009 and Michigan/Business, class 2011), I think I am well qualified to speak on this subject, with two points as follows:

  1. The brightest college students major “correctly” in Economics, Business, or Engineering, not Teaching, Political Science, or Sociology. Yes, they generally follow the money.  Surprised?
  2. Over the past two years (i.e. tough times), only the top students in the top majors have had the limited opportunies to land top jobs, in the private sector, of course.  Some less fortunate students are now a part of American Autumn, I suspect.

The bottom line: There is not a single reason for the brightest college students to even think about working in the public sector upon graduation. Why? Because, despite all its problems, America’s private sector remains not only far better than the public sector, but also the best in the world, with the best possibility of achieving your full potential!

Now, why did Barack Obama (Columbia/Political Science, class 1983) and Arne Duncan (Harvard/Sociology, class 1987) major “incorrectly” in college and then start their careers in the public sector? Well, they were obviously not the brightest students! Don’t get me wrong: both of them are bright - Not only were they bright enough to have made it into the Ivies, but also they are bright today. They are just not the brightest, which, unfortunately, appears to be required for their current jobs. Worst of all, their lack of experience in the private sector seems to have finally caught up with them: They do not understand the economy, and they do not know how to run America like a business! All what they seem to know is politicking and spending, as if the money were unlimited!

Just to be fair to the Democrats: neither George W. Bush nor Dick Cheney was the brightest student, either. Bush was a C student at Yale, while Cheney was a Yale dropout.

3. The public school system

After having my two sons go through the public school system, I must say that I am happy with my school district (203, Naperville, IL). On top of that, I believe the top 20% students in America are, overall, better than their counterparts in China. Two changes are absolutely necessary though:

  1. Abolish the teachers’ unions immediately and ban them forever! A public-sector union is anti-America by definition! Additionally, how could we possibly attract some reasonably bright college graduates to a public school system that is poised with such silly union rules as LIFO (Last In First Out)?
  2. Mind-set change: you work in the public sector to serve, not to profit more than the “masters” (i.e. the taxpayers who foot the bill)!

I believe these two changes must occur before anything else is even attempted, such as those suggested by some experts recently (read this: Fix this education).

Overall, however, the public school system has failed, especially in the big cities like Chicago. How could we possibly educate our children to be the best when more than 50% of them are from the broken families? How could we possibly expect much excellence from the teachers when their seniority trumps over individual performance? As a total solution, unless we can come up with a new form of government (e.g. as I suggested), I think America’s public school system should be privatized. Remember, America’s best universities are mostly private. They are the best in the world!

4. Conclusions

In an open and free society like ours, most of the brightest students understand the value of education, know what to major in college and what to do upon graduation, which is to join the private sector for a chance to achieve their full potential. This has been the case throughout America’s history and should remain so forever.

The public sector, on the other hand, should be minimized and reformed to make sure its role is to serve, truly serve, starting with the American President.

Finally, here is a quote: “The best minds are not in government. If any were, business would steal them away.” Who said it? Ronald Reagan!

Related Articles

China Leads in Education by John Lounsbury

Analysis blog articles on education

Previous articles by Frank Li

About the Author

Frank LiFrank Li is the Founder and President of W.E.I. (West-East International), a Chicago-based import & export company. Frank received his B.E. from Zhejiang University (China) in 1982, M.E. from the University of Tokyo in 1985, and Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in 1988, all in Electrical Engineering. He worked for several companies until 2004, when he founded his own company W.E.I. Today, W.E.I. is a leader in the weighing industry not only in products & services, but also in thought and action. Dr. Li writes extensively and uniquely on politics, for which he has been called "a modern-day Thomas Jefferson" (see page 31).

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1 comment

  1. S. Thomas says :

    Thanks for the link you left on IBD. Enjoyed this article very much, especially since I live in Wisconsin and we are trying valiantly to get the over-populated and over-paid public unions under control.



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