For Baskerville, economic progress is a real stretch
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Most Wisconsinites probably are unaware their state has fallen behind Minnesota in key economic measures, but David Baskerville is trying to change that by promoting a “stretch goals” technique he developed for business clients.
Baskerville, a retired international business consultant now based in Madison, says Wisconsin needs a Kennedyesque “moon shot” to close the gap and overtake its Rose Bowl-starved neighbor to the west. His plan might not be quite that ambitious, but given the barriers he’s already encountered — elected officials don’t talk about it, the public education establishment is skeptical, and the citizenry has yet to be galvanized behind the concept — it’s no sure thing, either.
Baskerville, however, believes stretch targets could be one answer to addressing the gap in personal income between Minnesota and Wisconsin — now about $4,900 per capita — that has developed over the past 30 years. Baskerville notes that Minnesota now is ranked 10th nationally in this metric, while Wisconsin is 28th or 29th, depending on the year. About 35 years ago, the two states were bunched in the middle, with Wisconsin ranking 18th and Minnesota 19th.
After his business travels to Asia and European factories, he senses that American workers, especially young workers, are not as trainable as workers in other nations, and the superior performance of international students in math, science, and reading tests only confirm his reasons for concern.
“I come to it not as an economist or an educator, but as a guy who was born and raised here and worked for 40 years, mainly in international business, and retired back here to our hometown,” he explains. “I’m concerned that Wisconsin is not going in the right direction in terms of both its economy and its education.”
In his sights
The stretch targets, which would be measured by a simple, easy-to-track scorecard, are to achieve 10% higher per capita income as compared to Minnesota by the year 2037, and for Wisconsin teens to be in the top 10 globally in math, science, and reading.
Baskerville is quick to note that he’s not advocating any particular pathway — through school choice, charters, or the traditional K–12 system — only that long-term goals be established and pursued with what Kennedy would call, in his best Boston dialect, “renewed vigah.”
The skeptics are out there, and Baskerville encounters them everywhere he goes. “I got a long spiel from one [school] board member in Appleton saying, ‘You know, there’re more important things than math and science,’” Baskerville says, shaking his head. “This is a board member. He says, ‘You know, there is communications and there is how you relate to people,’ and I’m saying ‘Yeah, math and science are not the only skills in the world, but …”
Baskerville goes on to suggest that a strong foundation in math and science is the path to higher earning and societal transformation. “It’s skills, it’s jobs, and it’s also social justice or social mobility,” he notes. “I grew up in the 1940s, early ’50s, and all those GIs that came back from World War II that were Slavic and Belgian and German, including many farm kids who got to the eighth grade, they got to college on the GI Bill, and they took the necessary remedial courses and went to the university. It was just huge and I don’t know of any better way in our country for social mobility other than through education.”
In mentioning Kennedy’s ramped up space program and the highly successful GI Bill, Baskerville might be up against generational differences because stretch targets are not a universally accepted way to make educational progress. In an April 2012 article from the Harvard Business Review, Daniel Markovitz, a business consultant and Stanford professor, opines that when stretch goals seem overwhelming and unattainable, they sap employees’ intrinsic motivation.