My respect for Apple's CEO shoots up a notch as Steve Jobs blasts American teachers unions and echoes many of my own positions.

Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs lambasted teacher unions Friday, claiming no amount of technology in the classroom would improve public schools until principals could fire bad teachers.

Jobs compared schools to businesses with principals serving as CEOs.

"What kind of person could you get to run a small business if you told them that when they came in they couldn't get rid of people that they thought weren't any good?" he asked to loud applause during an education reform conference.

"Not really great ones because if you're really smart you go, 'I can't win.'" ...

"I believe that what is wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way," Jobs said.

"This unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy."

At various pauses, the audience applauded enthusiastically.

Jobs is right: labor unions can be valuable institutions, but their power needs to be balanced by the private property rights of employers. The employers of public employee union members often have little power to reward or punish bad employees, and the result is widespread mediocrity.

Wired's Leander Kahney doesn't get it, and the examples he comes up with to counter Jobs' positions actually do just the opposite.

Jobs argues that vouchers will allow parents, the "customers," to decide where to send their kids to school, and the free market will sort it out. Competition will spur innovation, improve quality and drive bad schools (and bad teachers) out of business. The best schools will thrive.

It sounds great -- for the successful schools. But what about the failing ones?

Jobs thinks even the low end of the market will be hotly contested, like the market for inexpensive cars. Not everyone can drive a Mercedes, but there's lots of competition for cheap Toyotas, Kias and Saturns.

But Jobs is using the wrong analogy. It'd be more like the market for the low-end food dollar -- rich kids would have lots of choice, but for poor kids it'd be Burger King or McDonald's.

Or Jack-in-the-Box, or Subway, or KFC, or Quizno's, or Baja Fresh, or Taco Bell, or.... Many of which offer quite good and healthy menu items, in addition to being cheap. The fact of the matter is that free markets work in almost any industry other than so-called "natural monopolies", which the education industry certainly is not.

(HT: The Pirate.)

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