In 1973, when Ford was rolling out such losers as the Pinto and the Mustang II, would the cars have been any better if the Ford designers had, say, a budget twice as large? Or would the same people have continued to roll out the same bad cars, just more expensively, until competition from Japan and Europe forced American car makers to get their act together?
If you have not been to a Sears store lately, and you have lots of company. If you do not shop at Sears, think about why. Now, imagine that Sears were to double the number of employees in their local store. Would that change your mind and suddenly send you into the store to shop? No?
There are times when everything about an organization is broken -- its management, its culture, its strategy. These organizations may have perfectly good people in them -- I have no doubt that the folks at Ford in the 1970's were capable people, as are the employees at my local Sears store. I call all these factors "organizational DNA". This is from years ago about a corporate example, but the same is true of any organization:
All these management factors, from the managers themselves to process to history to culture could better be called the corporate DNA. And DNA is very hard to change. Walmart may be freaking brilliant at what they do, but demand that they change tomorrow to an upscale retailer marketing fashion products to teenage girls, and I don't think they would ever get there. ...
Corporate DNA acts as a value multiplier. The best corporate DNA has a multiplier greater than one, meaning that it increases the value of the people and physical assets in the corporation. When I was at a company called Emerson Electric (an industrial conglomerate, not the consumer electronics guys) they were famous in the business world for having a corporate DNA that added value to certain types of industrial companies through cost reduction and intelligent investment. Emerson's management, though, was always aware of the limits of their DNA, and paid careful attention to where their DNA would have a multiplier effect and where it would not. Every company that has ever grown rapidly has had a DNA that provided a multiplier greater than one... for a while.
But things change. Sometimes that change is slow, like a creeping climate change, or sometimes it is rapid, like the dinosaur-killing comet. DNA that was robust no longer matches what the market needs, or some other entity with better DNA comes along and out-competes you. When this happens, when a corporation becomes senescent, when its DNA is out of date, then its multiplier slips below one. The corporation is killing the value of its assets. Smart people are made stupid by a bad organization and systems and culture. In the case of GM, hordes of brilliant engineers teamed with highly-skilled production workers and modern robotic manufacturing plants are turning out cars no one wants, at prices no one wants to pay.
I would argue that public schools in many parts of the country are in this situation. Any organization can become senescent with value-killing DNA, but this process happens much more rapidly when there is no competition, as has been the case for public schools which have enjoyed a virtual monopoly enforced by the government (you can go to a competing school but you still have to pay for the government school you are not using).
If I am right, then the last thing you would expect to help is simply pouring more money into the same management, the same culture, the same organizational DNA. But that is exactly what we have done. That has been our lead strategy for 35 years, and still remains the preferred strategy of the Left. Via Mark Perry:
Despite this history, President Obama's strategy was to throw even more money at the schools, and again it did not work:
One of the Obama administration’s signature efforts in education, which pumped billions of federal dollars into overhauling the nation’s worst schools, failed to produce meaningful results, according to a federal analysis.
Test scores, graduation rates and college enrollment were no different in schools that received money through the School Improvement Grants program — the largest federal investment ever targeted to failing schools — than in schools that did not.
The Education Department published the findings on the website of its research division on Wednesday, hours before President Obama’s political appointees walked out the door.
“We’re talking about millions of kids who are assigned to these failing schools, and we just spent several billion dollars promising them things were going to get better,” said Andy Smarick, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who has long been skeptical that the Obama administration’s strategy would work. “Think of what all that money could have been spent on instead.”
One will hear that criticism of public schools in unfair because they have all these great teachers in them. Examples will be cited. I say: "Exactly!" That is why change is needed. Public schools are hiring good people and putting them in an organization and system where they deliver poor results. Let's liberate this talent.
By the way, one of the misconceptions about school choice is that it necessarily means the end of public schools. I find this an unlikely outcome, at least in most areas. Competition from Japan meant that Ford lost some of its customers to Toyota, but it also meant that Ford became a lot better.