In a rare public statement about a subject other than iPods or Macs, Steve Jobs said that"unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy," and that technology in the classroom isn't going to improve public schools until principals can fire bad teachers. He also talked about a textbook-free education system, using free online information like Wikipedia (but with more oversight) and freeing up money for investing in better technology for schools.
According the AP story, Jobs was sharing the stage with Michael Dell in Austin at a forum on technology in the classroom. Dell was less inflammatory in his remarks, speaking of the need for a more competitive market for principals.
It's not clear whether Steve Jobs will continue to speak out on issues like education, but he is showing his colors. He runs Apple with an iron fist and apparently thinks that schools should be run the same way. He's right that the ideal would be to only have great teachers, but blaming the bad teacher syndrome totally on the unions isn't going to solve the problem. Paying teachers a better wage to attract more talent (they don't get those nice back-dated stock options) and keeping the good teachers from seeking other employment because they can't afford to teach would be a good start. That's not to say that the teacher unions can't improve on performance standards for their members to eliminate poor performers from the teacher pool.
Update: Don Dodge says the problem is not money.
Schools already get more than 50% of the local budgets in most cities and towns. Health care is the same deal. We spend more per capita on health care than any country in the world. The problems with education and health care are not lack of funding. The problem is lack of incentive.
Robert Scoble and Giovanni Rodriquez chime in. More on Techmeme.