Why would anyone trust WaMu's disgraced CEO on education issues?
The industrial model of schooling is an approach to schooling that ignores 80 years of scientific discovery about human development, about enormous variations within any human population, about how and why learning takes place and about children's and teens' interests and passions.
by David Marshak
Kerry Killinger, the CEO of Washington Mutual, has led WaMu into a debacle: billions of dollars lost already and perhaps $19 billion in new losses to come, thousands of employees fired, a stock value in the basement and now a partial buyout on the cheap by a Texas firm.
Killinger also initially changed the 2008 bonus plan for himself and other top WaMu executives so that no matter how many billion dollars WaMu lost in 2008 from bad real estate loans, those losses would not affect his bonus or those of other execs. Pretty good deal if you can get it. Lose billions and still get a bonus. (According to press reports, Killinger, retreating in the face of stockholder anger, has now promised to revise the bonus plan to include "credit-related targets," presumably including defaulted loans.)
Why does this matter unless you've lost your job at WaMu or a bundle as WaMu stock tanked? Over the past 15 years, Killinger has been one of the most powerful advocates for test-based accountability in Washington schools. Indeed, Killinger parlayed his success as a banker into a high-profile role locally and nationally as a vehement advocate for the industrial model of public schooling, that is, so-called standards and high-stakes testing.
What is the industrial model of schooling? Children and teens are products on the assembly line. Every student is supposed to learn exactly the same stuff, regardless of individual interests and talents. And they're supposed to learn this stuff at exactly the same age, regardless of how quickly or slowly they develop.
The only important measure of learning is what's on the tests. And the only important stuff to learn is what is tested. Not art or music or history or civics or languages or literature. In the name of supposed fairness, every child, whatever her or his family status or wealth, is supposed to pass the same tests.
This is an approach to schooling that ignores 80 years of scientific discovery about human development, about enormous variations within any human population, about how and why learning takes place and about children's and teens' interests and passions.
Killinger and the Washington Roundtable are now working on "expand(ing) upon the WASL" and creating "a uniform rating system to evaluate the quality of early learning settings ... " so they presumably can do to preschools what the WASL has done to K-12, that is, standardize the product. Make the preschools all the same. Make the preschoolers all learn the same stuff, at the same age.
When it comes to forcing the industrial model of schooling down our throats, Killinger has been one of the driving forces in Washington.
Of course, his stature -- and thus his capacity to exert political power -- all rested on his enormous success in building Washington Mutual (by the way, it's not really a mutual anything, since it demutualized in 1983; it's a "capital stock savings" bank) into a large national banking player -- and the only large bank left with its headquarters in Seattle.
For more than decade, Killinger was a genius. But now he's a bum. WaMu is a mess. And unlike Citigroup or Merrill Lynch, where mortgages were only one part of their business, mortgage lending is a central activity for WaMu. And now how many thousands of employees has WaMu fired in our state?
Since Killinger built WaMu over the past 16 years, perhaps he'll get to keep his job, no matter what. But certainly the genius halo is gone. And if Killinger has failed so profoundly at his own business, why should anyone believe that he has any particular expertise or insight when it comes to an institution, school, in which he has no adult experience?
In modern America, we give successful corporate leaders far too much power over many other institutions, which they often know little or nothing about. If you know how to build a mega-corporation, then you must know how to educate kids. Well, no.
It's only fair for Killinger that we hold him to the same standard that he set for kids. Killinger said, "The 'real world' is unforgiving." Fair enough. Then we should not forgive Killinger for his colossal failures at WaMu. We certainly should no longer pay any more attention to what he says about education. And we should certainly reconsider the standards-and-testing industrial school model that Killinger worked so hard to install in Washington public schools.
David Marshak is an emeritus professor in the College of Education at Seattle University.
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