thinking between the lines

Following Bill Gates DOWN the Microsoft Path = Bad Business

A typical debate on education reform (completely made up, of course)…

Business-based Ed-Reformer (Umm, let’s call him Mr. Gates): We need a teacher appraisal system that will allow us to reward our best teachers. They deserve to be recognized and rewarded.

Public Education Advocate (shall we call her, Dr. Ravitch?): If we start labeling teachers as top performers, good performers, or average, below average, and poor, the school culture will become a dog-eat-dog world where creativity and collaboration will die.

Mr. Gates: Schools have accepted mediocrity for far too long. It is time schools work from a business-based system that can weed out non-producers.

Dr. Ravitch: Mr. Gates, schools aren’t factories, and students aren’t widgets.

Mr. Gates: Dr. Ravitch, I’m a business man, and I know what I’m doing. After all, I built an internationally successful technology company. Trust me and let me do what I know how to do.

Okay, maybe it wouldn’t go exactly like that, but you get the picture of where we are in this debate over education. It wouldn’t be an overstatement that those of us in the Public Education World are weary to death from trying to get the citizens of Business-based Ed-reform World to understand how things actually work in our world, the classroom. (In fairness, they probably feel the same about us.)

Because the debate seems to never end, and to some degree we are all practicing Einstein’s definition of insanity (doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results), I’ve decided to try something different and take a journey into Business-based Ed-reform World. Maybe from there, where the story can be told from a business vantage point, our public education concerns will be clearer. Mr. Gates, if you don’t mind, I think I’ll visit your province.


Down in the buzzing valleys of technology row, there sits a monument to a once great movement. This monument is called Microsoft, and in its day, it commanded every creative thought and collaborative invention that its competitors could only pant after. The company’s admirers quickly grew into an international groupie of tech heads, teenagers, business men and women – and even caught the eye of stay-at-home moms! Microsoft’s cornucopia of products flooded the homes of consumers, and there seemed to be no end to the company’s success.

But then, the head of Microsoft had an idea. What if he could evaluate his employees and rate them as top performers, good performers, or average, below average, and poor; that way his company could become even more effective because it would only employ top performers.

And so, this once great company incorporated this new employee appraisal system, and a funny thing happened. Production went down. Employee morale suffered. Sabotaged projects and managerial favoritism started cropping up. Rather than boosting Microsoft farther into stratospheric success, this new program of measuring employee against employee started dragging the company down a path to “what we once were.”

Today, Microsoft struggles in the shadow of Apple, a company whose product line includes the IPhone, a single product that outsells all Microsoft products combined.


Note: Mr. Gates’ employee appraisal system is known in the business world as “stack ranking,” and many in the business world accredit this management tool with breaking Microsoft’s momentum and allowing Apple to take the lead in technology innovation. Yet, this is the kind of evaluation system Mr. Gates, a lead corporate education reformer, would like to see instilled in our schools. It just doesn’t seem like a good business move to me, considering its failure at Microsoft and all.



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Categorised in: Culture, Education, Politics

4 Responses »

  1. We are facing similar “reasoning” in health care. The corporate model they are using to align with new health care regulations and efficiencies compared our home health care patients to the products manufactured in the automotive industry… seriously? When we fail to value humanity and individuality in education and health care… we simply fail.

  2. Lisa Myers, thanks for the additional links to stories on the stack ranking implosion of Microsoft. One critical and rather obvious point I haven’t seen in any of the articles I’ve read about this is that somehow, Microsoft suddenly assumed that it had inadvertently hired incompetent workers and yet didn’t know how to find them. Who would have imagined that as competitive as it was to get a job under Gates, the employee interview and selection process failed so badly that tons of “bad employees” were hired? Was it “Have a pulse, here’s your contract”? Really??? What previous system did they have for employee evaluation that failed so badly in identifying the dead wood? Were 99.9% of workers rated as good even though there was a daily release of patches for the Windows OS’s? Did Gates think that unknown quantity of bad workers was the predominant cause of the many bugs and vulnerabilities in Microsoft products?

    “It’s called the invisible hand because it doesn’t exist.”


  1. Is This What Bill Gates Means by Good Education? «
  2. Great Irony, Teachers: Microsoft CEO Responds to Production Woes «

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