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When I came to Washington in 1988, the cold war was ending and the hot beat was national security and the State Department. If I were a cub reporter today, I’d still want to be covering the epicenter of national security — but that would be the Education Department. President Obama got this one exactly right when he said that whoever “out-educates us today is going to out-compete us tomorrow.” The bad news is that for years now we’ve been getting out-educated. The good news is that cities, states and the federal government are all fighting back. But have no illusions. We’re in a hole.
Here are few data points that the secretary of education, Arne Duncan, offered in a Nov. 4 speech: “One-quarter of U.S. high school students drop out or fail to graduate on time. Almost one million students leave our schools for the streets each year. … One of the more unusual and sobering press conferences I participated in last year was the release of a report by a group of top retired generals and admirals. Here was the stunning conclusion of their report: 75 percent of young Americans, between the ages of 17 to 24, are unable to enlist in the military today because they have failed to graduate from high school, have a criminal record, or are physically unfit.” America’s youth are now tied for ninth in the world in college attainment.
“Other folks have passed us by, and we’re paying a huge price for that economically,” added Duncan in an interview. “Incremental change isn’t going to get us where we need to go. We’ve got to be much more ambitious. We’ve got to be disruptive. You can’t keep doing the same stuff and expect different results.”
Duncan, with bipartisan support, has begun several initiatives to energize reform — particularly his Race to the Top competition with federal dollars going to states with the most innovative reforms to achieve the highest standards. Maybe his biggest push, though, is to raise the status of the teaching profession. Why?
Tony Wagner, the Harvard-based education expert and author of The Global Achievement Gap,” explains it this way. There are three basic skills that students need if they want to thrive in a knowledge economy: the ability to do critical thinking and problem-solving; the ability to communicate effectively; and the ability to collaborate.
If you look at the countries leading the pack in the tests that measure these skills (like Finland and Denmark), one thing stands out: they insist that their teachers come from the top one-third of their college graduating classes. As Wagner put it, “They took teaching from an assembly-line job to a knowledge-worker’s job. They have invested massively in how they recruit, train and support teachers, to attract and retain the best.”
Duncan disputes the notion that teachers’ unions will always resist such changes. He points to the new “breakthrough” contracts in Washington, D.C., New Haven and Hillsborough County, Fla., where teachers have embraced higher performance standards in return for higher pay for the best performers.
“We have to reward excellence,” he said. “We’ve been scared in education to talk about excellence. We treated everyone like interchangeable widgets. Just throw a kid in a class and throw a teacher in a class.” This ignored the variation between teachers who were changing students’ lives, and those who were not. “If you’re doing a great job with students,” he said, “we can’t pay you enough.”
To Get Things Done, You Need Power (Says Jeffrey Pfeffer) – Why President Obama Needs To Run For A Second Term (A Management Perspective)
First, a comment about “politics.” I really do try to keep politics out of my blog posts, for a lot of reasons. The main reason is that so many are so strongly aligned with one side or the other that to even broach a political example runs the risk of turning off/offending/angering half of the readership of this blog. But, there are times when the arena of politics provides just the right fodder for lessons regarding business success or failure. So, at the risk of offending some, here goes…
Recently, two critics of President Obama took to the op-ed pages of the Washington Post to recommend that President Obama announce, now, that he will not seek a second term. This morning Stanford Professor and author Jeffery Pfeffer wrote quite an interesting column about why that would be a very bad idea: Why President Obama should run again in 2012 – a management perspective. Here are key excerpts:
It was a cautionary tale: A longtime partner at a Silicon Valley venture capital firm decided she would step down from her leadership role, and in an attempt to make life easier for her colleagues, she gave plenty of advance notice of her departure.
Bad idea. As soon as her end date at the company was well known, she later told me, her role at the firm changed. People stopped consulting her on hiring or investment decisions. She wasn’t invited to key meetings. Essentially, most people started freezing her out, treating her as if she’d already left.
And in a sense, she had. Her co-workers correctly anticipated that she soon would have no power to help or hurt them, so she became effectively irrelevant to their working lives.
Getting things done, whether in the private sector or in government, requires power, and having power means retaining the capacity to affect what happens to others, ensuring that those whose support you remain dependent on you. As former secretary of state and Stanford University provost Condoleezza Rice told one protege, “People may oppose you, but when they realize you can hurt them, they’ll join your side.
…you have power to the extent that others are going to depend on you in the future
Leaders need power, as well as a reputation for being powerful. Announcing that you will be out of the arena soon seems like a particularly ineffective strategy to get things done.
A while back, Bob Morris, my blogging colleague posted his review of Pfeffer’s book on our blog: Jeffrey Pfeffer’s Power: Why Some People Have It – and Others Don’t – A Book Review by Bob MorrisHere’s a key paragraph from his review:
Pfeffer insists that the world is neither just nor unjust: it is. He also challenges “leadership literature” (including his contributions to it) because celebrity CEOs who tout their own careers as models tend to “gloss over power plays they actually used to get to the top” whereas authors such as Pfeffer offer “prescriptions about how people wish the world and the powerful behaved.” Pfeffer also suggests that those aspiring to power “are often their own worst enemy, and not just in the arena of building power” because of self-handicapping, a reluctance (perhaps even a refusal) to take initiatives that may fail and thereby diminish one’s self-image. “I have come to believe that the biggest single effect I can have is to get people to try to become powerful.” Pfeffer wrote this book as an operations manual for the acquisition and retention of power. Of even greater importance, in my opinion, he reveals the ultimate realities of what power is…and isn’t…and thereby eliminates the shadows of illusion and self-deception that most people now observe in the “caves” of their own current circumstances.
I think Pfeffer’s premise is correct. It may not be the way the world should work, but it certainly is true about the way the world does work. If you are perceived as powerless, than people do not treat you as though you had power. If you are perceived as someone with power, then your input, your influence, is great indeed. The more power you have, the more you can get things done.