Think big on education, says former IBM chief

Gov. Deval Patrick, who has gingerly raised the idea of consolidating some of Massachusetts' 327 school districts, looks like a downright piker next to Lou Gerstner. The former CEO of IBM penned an op-ed in yesterday's Wall Street Journal that calls for a radical overhaul of US education, including the abolition of all local school districts.

Gerstner, who chaired a national commission on ways to improve teaching, lays out four main pillars of the education policy he says is necessary for the country to maintain its economic competitiveness:

1. Impose high standards on all students, with a rigorous curriculum.

2. Greatly improve the quality of and pay for teachers.

3. Measure student and teacher performance using clear, standards-based assessments.

4. Increase "time on task" for all students through a longer school day and year.

A huge obstacle to translating these goals into practice, Gerstner says, is the fragmented structure and governance of US public education, which is made up of 15,000 different school districts. He urges President-elect Obama to seek agreement from the nation's governors to reduce that number to 70 (one for each state, with the 20 largest cities allowed to maintain their own districts). Gerstner further calls for national standards and a core curriculum for students as well as standards for teacher certification; a significant increase in teacher pay, while allowing school leaders more leeway to remove underperforming instructors; and an extended school day plus 20 more days added to the school year.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

It's a bold call, to be sure. But with plenty of Republican members of Congress already furious over the bigger federal role in education brought by the No Child Left Behind law, it there really an appetite for something that looks like NCLB-on-steroids? Gerstner says yes, arguing that "the American people are way ahead of our politicians here: Poll after poll shows they support national standards."

Maybe so, but it's a long way from supporting national standards to countenancing the abolition of your local school district.