America is in the process of destroying what made it great—its educational system, and declining rates of reading, math and problem-solving skills relative to other countries are proof.
At least that's what one billionaire investor thinks, continuing a long-standing fight between Wall Street philanthropists bent on shaking up public education and teacher unions and others opposed to the test-heavy charter school movement and other proposed fixes.
"This is something going really wrong, really fast," Stephen Schwarzman, chairman and CEO of $272 billion Blackstone Group, said about declining American educational attainment.
"If you don't turn it, there are going to be all kinds of really significant problems: societal problems, political problems you're already seeing. We're going to take a wonderful society and have basically vastly diminished it," he said Monday at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles.
He cited Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development data showing that Americans now lag behind peers in countries like Japan, Finland and the Netherlands in basic tests.
Schwarzman said a fundamental problem is that public school teachers cannot easily be fired, even if their performance is poor.
"We have to get control of that system. There are political inhibitions apparently, but we're sort of eating our young, and it's unfair. It you want to use words like immoral, it's sort of immoral, too," Schwarzman added.
He said charter and other private schools were getting far better results than public schools.
"We've got to protect this, and we actually have actively not been protecting what's essential for upward mobility: competitiveness," Schwarzman said. "We're completely dropping the ball."