01:25 AM

Cisco chief says Silicon Valley public schools are an embarrassment. . .

. . . and names education and healthcare as the two largest issues facing US businesses

By Tom Foremski for SiliconValleyWatcher

Public_Schools-Emb.jpgI was on a very interesting panel Wednesday morning at Cisco. With 12 panelists, it could have been a bogged-down-and-dreary-event with much waffling about "virtuality" and how it will boost healthcare and education.

Instead, it turned into a very spirited discussion, as the journalists on the panel took on some of the sometimes empty rhetoric of corporate-market-speak from the heads of three large US technology companies: Cisco, NASDAQ and VeriSign, and startup RelayHealth. And in the process, some of the corporate-market-speak at times gave way to a real discussion.

Wendy Kopp, the charismatic founder of Teach for America, made some good observations given that she admitted that she had not a single minute thinking about tech. And Jim Goldman of CNBC rolled with the flow as the panel's moderator, keeping things moving. I know I took away a lot more than I expected from the event. In a first for Cisco, the event was podcast as well as webcast.

[Panelist list is at end of post, along with a link to the podcast.]

The event was to discuss "virtuality" and how this technology would improve healthcare and education.

After ten minutes it became clear that "virtuality" was one of those words that had yet to crystallize around an agreed upon definition; so it virtually disappeared from further use, and the group moved onto a much broader discussion about why public education is so bad, and why the healthcare sector has resisted investments in technology.

Carrot-N-Stik.jpgMr Chambers initially presented a rosy view of a healthcare system making use of computer technologies to save lives, and the cost savings they would recover. However, a carrot also comes with a stick, and during a further conversation he warned that large corporations would force changes on healthcare providers.

He said Cisco's healthcare costs had skyrocketed over the past five years - "and we're a relatively young company." It is a burden that cannot be maintained and it requires exposing the healthcare system to direct market forces, instead of the insurance companies. That would then encourage healthcare organizations to invest in IT for the cost savings.

At one point I complained that if Silicon Valley wants to be seen as the premium brand of global innovation, that this is the place where the future is invented, it had better make sure its public schools are showcases, not basket cases.

John Chambers, chief executive of Cisco agreed, saying it was embarrassing that the K through 12 public education system is broken in Silicon Valley.

Mr Chambers has put a lot of work and money into political campaigns around educational issues, such as school vouchers, a sometimes controversial method to prod schools toward higher academic performance.

He admitted that technologies such as distance learning, had not proved themselves as expected. But he said Cisco studies showed they did have value in short 10 to 15 minute online lessons, along with other educational materials.


John Chambers, CEO, Cisco Systems, Inc.

• Bob Greifeld, President & CEO, NASDAQ

• Stratton Sclavos, CEO, VeriSign

• Giovanni Colella, CEO, RelayHealth

• Wendy Kopp, Founder, Teach for America

• Moderator: Jim Goldman, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, CNBC

• Quentin Hardy - Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, Forbes

• Tom Foremski - Silicon Valley Watcher

• Paul Kapustka – Editor, CMP

• Carrie Kirby – Reporter, San Francisco Chronicle

• Mark Boslet – Reporter – Dow Jones

• Aye Furato – Reporter, Nikkei

Also: Listen to the discussion with Cisco's first-ever podcast, featuring John Chambers and other Silicon Valley leaders.