The Low Quality of the US Education System Destroys Jobs

Childcare is one of the dimensions of force in the education reform debate. The New York Times has an excellent story, How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone work, that does a great job of emphasizing how the US educational system is failing the two stakeholders of childcare: employers and parents.

The US Public Education System Fails Employers

As the story’s authors, Charles Duhigg and Keith Badshet, make clear, the cost of labor is a small part of the cost of high-tech electronic goods. A much bigger concern is finding skilled workers, with “skilling” meaning anything from a technical degree after high school to a four-year engineering degree:

Companies like Apple “say the challenge in setting up U.S. plants is finding a technical work force,” said Martin Schmidt, associate provost at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In particular, companies say they need engineers with more than high school, but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree. Americans at that skill level are hard to find, executives contend. “They’re good jobs, but the country doesn’t have enough to feed the demand,” Mr. Schmidt said.

The story makes clear that America does not have enough skilled workers. Considering the high unemployment rate, it is sickening to read about factories moved overseas because they cannot find skilled workers here.

But such calculations are, in many respects, meaningless because building the iPhone in the United States would demand much more than hiring Americans — it would require transforming the national and global economies. Apple executives believe there simply aren’t enough American workers with the skills the company needs or factories with sufficient speed and flexibility. Other companies that work with Apple, like Corning, also say they must go abroad.

It is important that U.S. educators (teachers, administrators, and others) stop doing such a terrible job. They not only prevent their graduates from getting jobs on account of their shoddy education. They prevent their graduates from getting jobs on account of the shoddy educations of others.

A reply I sometimes hear is that companies like Apple should train workers themselves. Mark Safranski, a good friend of mien, wrote that “the specialized industrial skills that are required for production” should be taught by companies, at corporate expense, as part of the hiring process. The New York Times makes clear how foolish this position is: when schools produce workers that can’t work, this taxes corporations in both dollars and time.

It may or may not be wise to fund public education through taxes on large employers. But it is certainly foolish to produce an unskilled workforce that takes time to educate, and then be surprised that modern supply chains have passed you buy.

The US Public Education System Fails Parents

While companies are free to move production to other companies (or be outpaced by foreign companies that are already oversees), the “tax” of poor education for parents is more painful, because of more personal.

One of the victim’s of our inability to produce educated workers is Eric Saragoza, an engineer who was eventually laid off as middle-skills manufacturing jobs evaporated. Because there weren’t enough trained workers, this is the economy that the US public education system have given to Mr. Saragoza and his family:

Mr. Saragoza was too expensive for an unskilled position. He was also insufficiently credentialed for upper management. He was called into a small office in 2002 after a night shift, laid off and then escorted from the plant. He taught high school for a while, and then tried a return to technology. But Apple, which had helped anoint the region as “Silicon Valley North,” had by then converted much of the Elk Grove plant into an AppleCare call center, where new employees often earn $12 an hour.

There were employment prospects in Silicon Valley, but none of them panned out. “What they really want are 30-year-olds without children,” said Mr. Saragoza, who today is 48, and whose family now includes five of his own.

After a few months of looking for work, he started feeling desperate. Even teaching jobs had dried up. So he took a position with an electronics temp agency that had been hired by Apple to check returned iPhones and iPads before they were sent back to customers. Every day, Mr. Saragoza would drive to the building where he had once worked as an engineer, and for $10 an hour with no benefits, wipe thousands of glass screens and test audio ports by plugging in headphones.


Teachers are in it for the money. They are not any morally worse in that respect than publishers, who also want to redirect funds away from students toward themselves. But in the current education reform debate, only teachers are against improving the teaching profession in principle, because reforming the teaching profession would mean that we could hold bad teachers accountable (which means that some teachers will lose their jobs, and all teachers will have the pressure of doing a good job in order to be paid well).

The US education system hurts all Americans, even those who manage to escape the US education system with their ability to work intact. Not reforming the US education system does not only mean consigning millions of students to a sub-standard education: it means consigning tens of millions of American workers to joblessness.

2 thoughts on “The Low Quality of the US Education System Destroys Jobs”

  1. Parents and Employers only think they are stakeholders, but they aren’t. The system is designed to protect and enhance the only allowed stakeholders – the employees and other beneficiaries of the system.

    Just as customers of a monopoly are not stakeholders, students, parents and businesses are merely forced donors and consumers of the “government education complex.”

    This is why the system can’t be ‘reformed,’ it must be dismantled.

  2. The question of evolution v. revolution is an important one — as I understand the problem, there are three dimensions of force (money, childcare, power) in the debate with 6 main stakeholders [1], in addition to the Federal-Academic Complex as the platform for the debate [2]. I don’t think it’s necessary to blow-up the entire system — but it is important to consign the teachers front organizations [3] to the ash-heap of history.

    A monopoly is not necessary a bad thing — monopolies can be efficient through their scale and empathetic to their customers [4]. But teachers have not been empathetic, and a ‘government education complex’ in which teachers are now clients but not in control might not be a bad thing…

    Thanks for the thought-provoking comment!


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