Steve Jobs Wanted to Break Up the Education Monopoly

Joe Kent

Steve Jobs said in a 1995 interview, “The unions are the worst thing that ever happened in education.”

Jobs spoke with Computerworld’s Daniel Morrow in a 1995 interview, which covered a wide range of topics, but frequently delved into Jobs’s views on the American education system. As he said, “I’d like the people teaching my kids to be good enough that they could get a job at the company I work for making $100,000 a year.”

"Schools are not a meritocracy. They're a bureaucracy."But Jobs blamed teachers unions for getting in the way of good teachers getting better pay. “It’s not a meritocracy,” said Jobs. “It turns into a bureaucracy, which is exactly what’s happened. And teachers can’t teach, and administrators run the place, and nobody can be fired. It’s terrible.”

He noted that one solution is school choice: “I’ve been a very strong believer that what we need to do in education is go to the full voucher system.” Jobs explained that education in America had been taken over by a government monopoly, which was providing a poor quality education for children.

He referenced the government-created phone monopoly, broken up in 1982: “I remember seeing a bumper sticker with the Bell logo on it and it said, ‘We don’t care, we don’t have to.' That’s certainly what the public school system is. They don’t have to care.”

Jobs said that one way to open up a free market in education would be to offer a voucher to families. He gave an example of the California public school system, which in 1995 spent $4,400 per pupil: “I believe strongly that if the country gave each parent a voucher – a check for $4,400 that they could only spend at any accredited school – that several things would happen.”

First, “Schools would start marketing themselves like crazy to parents, to get students.”

Second, many new schools would begin popping up. “You could have 25-year-old kids out of college – very idealistic, full of energy – instead of starting a Silicon Valley company, they would start a school, and I believe they would do far better than many of our public school teachers do.”

"A lot of competition forces providers to get better and better."Finally, the quality of education would rise in a competitive market: “A lot of schools would go broke, there’s no question about it. It would be rather painful for the first several years, but I think far less painful than the kids going through the system as it is right now.”

Jobs said that the main complaint against school choice is that schools would cater only to rich kids, and the poor kids would be “left to wallow together.”

However, he said, “that’s like saying, well, all the car manufacturers are going to make BMWs and Mercedes and nobody’s going to make a $10,000 car. Well, I think the most hotly competitive market right now is the $10,000 car.”

In other words, Jobs said, all students would benefit from more school choice, as the monopoly in education was broken up.

“The market competition model seems to indicate that where there is a need, there is a lot of providers willing to tailor their products to fit that need, and a lot of competition which keeps forcing them to get better and better.”

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