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Murdoch Says Public School `Failure Factories' Imperil U.S. Middle Class

News Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rupert Murdoch called for an overhaul of the U.S. education system to preserve the middle class and prevent the country from slipping further behind the rest of the world.

“The failure rates of our public schools represent a tragic waste of human capital that is making America less competitive,” Murdoch said yesterday at a Media Institute awards dinner in Washington, according to the prepared text of his remarks. “Upward mobility in America is in jeopardy unless we fix our public schools.”

Murdoch, an Australian native who became a U.S. citizen in 1985, said it’s imperative the U.S. measure its performance against the world and provide parents with more data about teacher performance to give them choice among schools. “Our middle-class way of life may disappear” if another generation goes through the current education system, he said.

“In plain English, we trap the children who need an education most in failure factories,” said Murdoch, 79.

Students who do graduate often do so with “worthless” degrees and others never learn the basic skills needed to provide for themselves, he said.

President Barack Obama has been promoting his education initiatives, including the recruitment of 10,000 science, technology, engineering and math teachers in the next two years. He has said the U.S. should extend the school year, weed out the worst-performing teachers and promote math and science education because the nation’s economic competitiveness depends on a more educated workforce. He has also said that money, without reform, won’t fix the problem.

Gates, Zuckerberg

While public education in the U.S. is primarily funded and run by state and local authorities, Obama is pushing for broad adoption of standards for teachers and students to reach his goal of having the highest rate of college graduates in the world by 2020. The U.S. now ranks 12th among 36 developed nations, the College Board said in a report in July.

Murdoch joins Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates and Facebook Inc. founder Mark Zuckerberg in the debate over how to improve schools. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is spending $290 million over seven years in three school districts in Florida, Tennessee and Pennsylvania as well as a charter school group in Los Angeles, is aiming to revitalize schools by linking teacher pay and job security to student results on standardized tests. Zuckerberg on Sept. 24 said he will donate $100 million to schools in Newark, New Jersey’s largest city, saying “every child deserves a great education and right now that’s not happening.”

‘American Idol’ Tougher

The days of America as the unrivaled world leader in public education seem to be gone, Murdoch said. He called the existing system a “near-monopoly” and said teachers aren’t being hired and fired based on performance. “We have tougher standards on ‘American Idol,’” the singing-competition TV show on his Fox network, he said.

“The price for the status quo will ultimately be paid by all of us,” Murdoch said. “Children who fail or leave school without an education do not disappear. They become adults who live on the margins of our prosperity.”

Murdoch’s News Corp., based in New York, is the owner of Fox News, the Twentieth Century Fox film studio and the Wall Street Journal. He received the American Horizon Award yesterday from the Media Institute in recognition of his leadership in promoting the vitality and independence of the media industry.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sarah Rabil in New York at srabil@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Elstrom at pelstrom@bloomberg.net

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