Is Microsoft Culture Good for Schools?

Posted By Levi

July 7th, 2012 10:56am

Category: Education

I came across this interesting article a short while ago which examines the culture at Microsoft and how it is being exported into public schools through the involvement of Bill Gates in public education. According to the article, this business model has failed Mcrosoft miseralbly. Why would it wotk in schools?

Bill Gates has adopted education as a billionaire’s hobby for many years—once supporting small schools projects, but more recently focusing on teacher quality.Little attention, however, has been paid to Gates’s struggles in business (Microsoft) or his complete lack of expertise, experience, or success as an educational entrepreneur.

Until now, in this expose by Vanity Fair addressing the key practices at the foundation of Microsoft’s failures (“Today, a single Apple product—the iPhone—generates more revenue than all of Microsoft’s wares combined”). Gates has argued for a need to identify the best (and worst) teachers in order to control who teachers teach and how:

“What should policymakers do? One approach is to get more students in front of top teachers by identifying the top 25 percent of teachers and asking them to take on four or five more students. Part of the savings could then be used to give the top teachers a raise. (In a 2008 survey funded by the Gates Foundation, 83 percent of teachers said they would be happy to teach more students for more pay.) The rest of the savings could go toward improving teacher support and evaluation systems, to help more teachers become great.”

In effect, Gates’s plan to address teacher quality is shared among almost all education reformers, including the USDOE and Secretary Arne Duncan, and focuses on labeling,ranking, and sorting teachers—a practice eerily similar to the “Cannibalistic Culture” identified as central to the failures at Microsoft:

“Eichenwald’s conversations reveal that a management system known as ‘stack ranking’—a program that forces every unit to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, good performers, average, and poor—effectively crippled Microsoft’s ability to innovate. ‘Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed—every one—cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees,’ Eichenwald writes. ‘If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, 2 people were going to get a great review, 7 were going to get mediocre reviews, and 1 was going to get a terrible review,’ says a former software developer. ‘It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.'”

Read the rest here:

Reacting to the article, Diane Ravitch reminds us of the Welch principle:

It turns out that “stack ranking” is also known as “forced ranking,” and that it is a common practice in some big corporations. It was popularized by Jack Welch of GE. The idea was that you rate your employees from best to worst, and fire the worst. If all of them are really doing a terrific job, that’s too bad, you fire the bottom batch anyway, and repeat the process again next year.


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