Jobs bashes teachers unions

Apple chief's comments came at an education reform conference

Apple CEO Steve Jobs laid into US teachers unions last week at a Texas education reform conference, with a local newspaper quoting him as saying they're "what's wrong with our schools."

Teachers unions have traditionally represented one of Apple's most loyal group of customers and have largely stuck with the company since the days of the Apple IIe.

Unionization, said Jobs in reports filed by both the Associated Press and the Austin American-Statesman, was "off-the-charts crazy."

During a joint appearance with Michael Dell that was sponsored by the Texas Public Education Reform Foundation, Jobs took on the unions by first comparing schools to small businesses, and school principals to CEOs. He then asked rhetorically: "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? Not really great ones, because if you're really smart, you go, 'I can't win.' "

He went on to say that "what is wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way. This unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy."

Jobs' criticisms took at least one analyst aback. David Daoud, IDC's research manager for its quarterly computer sales tracker, said the comments were "very surprising. Teachers have been a loyal [customer] base for Apple, as opposed to enterprise IT. If Apple starts losing teachers, you may see an erosion in its market share."

Jobs' outburst didn't sit well with the American Federation of Teachers, the nation's second-largest teachers' union, either.

"The president of the AFT, Edward J. McElroy, saw his comments, and he'd like to invite Steve Jobs to accompany him to visit a few schools, to really see what's going on in the schools," said AFT spokesman John See. "If Jobs doesn't change his mind, then at least we know he has some information."

Apple and the National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the U.S., did not return calls for comment.

During the panel discussion Friday, Jobs also lobbied for a textbook-free future. The Associated Press quoted Jobs as saying, "I think we'd have far more current material available to our students and we'd be freeing up a tremendous amount of funds that we could buy delivery vehicles with -- computers, faster Internet, things like that."

Textbooks could be replaced with a free, always-updated online information resource, somewhat like the Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia. "I think we'd get some of the best minds in the country contributing," Jobs said.

"We see this a lot -- people from outside the world of education talking about how to fix things," rebutted See.

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Gregg Keizer

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