Education and the Auto Industry

Is the U.S. education system ready for a bailout? 

CLASSROOM 21 | by Greg Limperis

A few years back, the American auto industry was in serious trouble. Manufacturers such as Ford, General Motors and Chrysler were panicking. In tremendous debt, they were falling increasingly further behind their foreign competition by the day. Things did not look good. Sound familiar?

Today, the American education system is also failing. We are falling increasingly further behind our foreign competition; countries such as Finland and South Korea do much better than the U.S. when it comes to results released by OECD’s PISA report.

Well, let’s have a closer look. The U.S. government saw the importance of the auto industry and how a complete failure on their part would have tremendously negative consequences on our economy. They took action and the now well-known bailout of the industry is already history. Ford, Chrysler and General Motors subsequently made drastic changes. They restructured their businesses, looked at what works and what doesn’t, and borrowed on some of the successful actions of their competition.

Because of all of these changes, they have taken back some of their losses in the past few years, and today, the Big Three are making a comeback.

While the government had to put forward a ton of money, they got it all back and then some. Some investors will tell you it was a great deal with an unimaginable return on investment.

Let’s have a look at the similarities to our education system.

Like the auto industry, for so many years we were the unequivocal world leaders. Other countries sent their richest, top students to the U.S. for the best education on Earth. While it may still be that way to some degree in the higher education sector, that’s not the case with K-12 education. America has fallen from the top. We no longer graduate the highest-scoring students in the world. We don’t bring out the best. Other countries are doing this much better than we are doing.

So what’s going on, here? Where have we gone wrong? What are those other countries doing right? And where can we go to even find out those answers?

Why haven’t we taken our cues from the auto industry? What did they do right that brought about such quick change?

I’ll tell you, they looked inward and outward. They saw what worked and what didn’t—and they started over. They looked at what other countries were doing differently, and they modeled their improvement after them. Are we doing this with education in the U.S.? I would argue that no, we are not.

Education needs help. The government stepped into the failing auto industry and demanded change. And it happened. The government steps into education and demands change—and different results happen. Why?

With the auto bailout, the government didn’t say how to do it. They left it up to the people who were doing it on a daily basis, the ones who had a ground-level view and experience, but needed help nonetheless. With help, they could save themselves.

Education needs the same consideration.

The government needs to demand that education change, but not tell us how to do it. They need to be willing to supply funding to improve a failing infrastructure, to upgrade our connectivity and wireless, and to demand that funding only comes when they see serious changes taking place.

In this day and age, why are we still holding onto the textbook? Why? Because we don’t have the infrastructure to support anything else. Bandwidth, wireless connectivity and hardware just isn’t there. Do you doubt that our students aren’t engaged when properly instructed through the use of technology?

I can tell you first-hand the change that happens when students have technology in their daily lives. Teachers are re-engaged; students are informed, connected and engaged—but it will take more than just giving them technology.

Our educational system is broken—from how educators are educated and trained, all the way to retirement—things are not working as well as they could be. We are not setting the bar high enough, and in so many places we are currently on a steep fall down.

We need to take a serious look at our system and how it has changed over time thanks to technology. We need to scrap  everything and start anew.

What do we know works in education? What do we know about education that does not work? Are textbooks still a valuable tool, or is there some other way? Do agrarian calendars work? Does a standard school day make sense? How should schools be designed? What should a standard classroom look like? Do standardized tests truly provide us with useful information? What do other, successful countries provide that we do not? How do their educators prepare and train to be teachers? 

These questions could go on for a long time. Change can and will be hard, but we owe it to our students and to our country. Just like the auto industry, America cannot afford to see its education system fail. The longer we wait to make these difficult changes, the harder it will be. Is there any amount that is too much for our youth? How much will it truly cost us, if other countries continue to outperform us?

I can tell you, I do not want to wait to find out. The American education system needs a bailout, and I for one am ready to answer some of these difficult questions. Are you?


Greg Limperis, now Supervisor of Instructional Technology for his district, was recently the Middle School Technology Facilitator in Lawrence, Mass., and founded the very popular Technology Integration in Education professional learning network, reaching thousands of educators worldwide. He has shared with others what he knows and they have joined him in sharing their insights as well. Join them in bringing about change using your 21st-century skills.

  • Chris RIley


    Ford actually changed far before any of the other companies and are way ahead of them. They started to turn things around when Mulally came in as CEO but I still get your point. Something needs to be with our downward spiraling education system.

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