The former chief executive of Intel wants to essentially blow up everything in public education in Arizona, from how teachers are trained to how they are paid.
And Craig Barrett is getting a platform to do just that with his appointment Monday by Gov. Jan Brewer as chairman of the Arizona Ready Education Council.
In a wide-ranging interview with Capitol Media Services, Barrett said Arizona's public school children are doing far worse than the national average.
"We're kind of the bottom 10 or 15 percent of states," he said.
He said the prime goal of the council will be to get Arizona to adopt core national standards and then, using those as benchmarks, make sure Arizona youngsters improve.
But Barrett, while acknowledging Arizona is "not terribly high" on funding per students compared to other states, rejected the idea that more money is at least part of the answer.
In fact, Barrett said he does not even believe that the state needs to pay teachers more to attract the best and the brightest into education. He says the key is paying each teacher not only according to his or her performance but according to the business practices of supply and demand.
Put simply, if there's a glut of people who are willing to teach physical education, the school should not have to pay that person as much as someone qualified to teach chemistry.
Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association, said he has no problem with performance-based pay. Morrill said his organization has been supportive of a series of changes in both state law and even at local district levels, though he said there still needs to be some base pay.
And he cautioned against what he called the "forearm approach," where someone new comes to the table, looks at various ideas that have been explored - and then uses a forearm to brush those aside for a new solution or "the one thing we need."
"It usually represents an incomplete understanding of the problem," Morrill said.
Barrett, however, said he does understand the problem in his current role as president and chairman of the BASIS charter school chain.
Charter schools are privately operated public schools. They get close to the same amount of state funds as district-based schools but cannot charge tuition. But they are exempt from many regulations, not only the pay grades that exist in most district-based schools but also the mandate to hire only certified teachers.
Barrett said the model works, saying that about half of all schools in Arizona designated as high performers are charter schools even though they educate only about 12 percent of students in the public school system.
"And they operate at a lower budget than normal K-12 public schools," he said.
"I'd rather take that conversation (about teacher pay) and turn it around to, let's take the dollars that we have and pay teachers on the basis of performance and get content experts in the classroom," Barrett said. "And I think there's enough money to do all of that."
That, in turn, leads to Barrett's conclusion that while it takes some skills to know how to teach, the current process of educating teachers is not the answer.
"There's lots of ways to get that pedagogy besides that four years of classic, mind-numbing experience in a school of education," he said. Barrett said what's needed is someone who understands a subject and then gets a "boot camp" in teaching skills.
Morrill, however, said there's more involved in teacher certification than the ritual of going through college and getting a teaching degree.
At the very least, he said, it's an understanding by the state, as the chief source of education funding, that the people walking into a classroom and working with Arizona's children are ready from Day One.
"What you don't want is to let anybody in and then say, ‘Well, don't worry about it because if they're not any good we'll fire them within two or three years,'" Morrill said. He said while there can be improvements in how teachers are trained "that doesn't mean you end the formal practice of teacher education."
He also disputed Barrett's contention that the charter school model is, by definition, better.
"When you look at charter schools as the entire class, their performance distribution is about equal to traditional schools," Morrill said. "Taken as a group, they're neither outperforming nor underperforming traditional schools as a group."
Anyway, Morrill said, there is no evidence that charter schools could keep up their performance if they had to scale up "to meet the enormous diversity across Arizona's student population."
Barrett has made no secret of his displeasure with the level of public education in Arizona. In March, he told the Arizona Commerce Authority that if Intel were looking for a site to build an entirely new operation, Arizona would not even be on the list of Top 10 choices.
"If you want those high-paying jobs - the jobs that pay two to three times the national average - look for your educational infrastructure to be the key," he said.
Aside from its broader mandate to improve education, the council assumes the duties for some previously announced goals including:
• Increasing the number of third-graders reading at or near grade level to 94 percent, from 73 percent.
• Boosting the high school graduation rate from 75 percent to 93 percent.
• Doubling the number of baccalaureate degrees issued at Arizona colleges and universities.