MINNEAPOLIS — Entrepreneur-turned-filmmaker Bob Compton kicked off an American Solutions panel on education by showing a 13-minute clip of “2 Million Minutes,” a documentary that follows six students in India, China and the United States. The 2 million is a reference to the number of minutes a person has in a four-year time frame. Compton’s movie examines how two students from each country choose to spend their 2 million (hint: the U.S. kids spend a lot less time studying). You can watch a preview here. Compton said that education is “the biggest strategic issue we face” today. He said that if we do not do something about our education system we could become the Britain of the 21st century — and if we were unlucky, France.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty spoke next, and he was a bit more specific about what needed to be done. First, he pointed out that in everything else Americans do, “choice” is only expanding. Instead of being held prisoner to the tastes of a few radio stations, today Americans can listen to anything they want on their iPods. Pawlenty was clear: “Choice is the future.” Pawlenty stressed that we needed to work with teachers unions, but that unions had to accept some major changes, especially on pay. Eighty-five percent of education dollars go to salaries and benefits of teachers. Thanks to unions, teacher pay is determined by seniority. But there is no correlation between teacher seniority and improved child learning. Pawlenty said this had to change: “We love our teachers. But they are working in a system that is 50 years old.”