The refrain I still hear repeatedly is that those incompetent teachers we hear so much about would never be able to last if we ran our schools like businesses. Could be. I honestly don't know enough about business to say whether this is true or not. But I have two examples for you. One could not be more mundane. We have a soft drink vending machine outside our office which is often empty but it literally takes a series of increasingly irate phone calls to get the vending company to come and refill the machine. Is this the sort of business we have in mind?
Or maybe a far more grandiose example is helpful. Consider the "taxpayer-backed mortgage finance" corporations - Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac - that are featured on the front page of the New York Times today. Apparently, these faltering giants that have lost billions of dollars over the last couple of years, in part because of poor management, arranged to pay their top six executives 35.4 million over this same time period. How can this be? Is this an example of the good business practices that our schools can learn from? On the one hand, even successful management seems not to be worth quite this much, but when the management is that bad, how in the world can these people stand to earn so much money? I don't get it. However, I am inclined to venture a guess. These corporate executives now feel entitled to their huge bonuses, regardless of performance. It has simply become part of what they are guaranteed when they sign on. Which, by the way, is why they just love to talk about government entitlements. You know, things like Medicare and Social Security and education. They want to keep our attention on these so-called entitlement programs so that we will forget to notice what an outrageous and unearned entitlement really looks like.
So, the next time you hear corporate executives talking about the problem of government entitlements, dig just a little deeper. I think you may find evidence of their having benefited from another kind of entitlement that is much more insidious and that often ensues from nothing more than services rendered, even if those services lead to ruinous losses for those they are supposed to be serving.