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For Baskerville, economic progress is a real stretch

(page 1 of 2)

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.


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Apr 25, 2017 03:47 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Higher tech equates to higher pay. Minnesota has a tech advantage going back to 3M, Control Data, Medtronics, etc. that have spun off companies that created high paying jobs. UW for all its research has not spun off a high tech corrador like Route 128 or Silicon Valley. We need to figure how to go from lab to startup to mature business and do so within the confines of state borders.

Now we are tightening UW budgets and losing some of the cream of the crop professors as a result. Perhaps, just perhaps, we could focus more funding on those disciplines that give rise to increased earnings. Not sure that is a good idea long term. But we don't want to lose top researchers to other universities, where they spinoff businesses that pay high wages.

At the k-12 level we might need to find a way to lengthen the minimum number of hours in a school year instead of proposing to shortening them. We could also look for ways to strengthen STEM preparation so that more students graduate with the basics needed for college STEM education, or even a high paying factory of the future job.

Apr 25, 2017 05:11 pm
 Posted by  Susan Pride

Great concept, Dave. Would love to see Wisconsin dump its recent GOP anti-education crusade.

Apr 26, 2017 01:03 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Oddly I am leaving the state because my daughter who is a scientist is not coming back and her husband is a highly skilled math teacher. They are not in liberal Massachusetts but conservative (but slightly brighter Michigan- was pleased to see them instituting aspects of the Wisconsin Idea and doing it better as access to the library here has played a major role in my hanging on to a lower middle class lifestyle) I was surprised to find that Michigan spite of all their challenges had a higher average wage (and in many areas far lower living costs). Minnesota of course does far better. If we want to grow a workforce we need to start talking about wages and also working conditions . You are not going to get teachers able to teach math and science at below market wages or by changing benefits and the rules every time a conservative funder decides to punish teachers and other workers. From my experience working conditions often trump wages and every budget the governor or someone decides to change working conditions at the University or for teachers. Add to that the destruction of many of the reasons many of us invested in the state and you have an long term business environment that does not scream success,

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