Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 19, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

TEACHERS UNIONS....It's funny how I keep getting dragged into writing about education, even though it's a topic I generally prefer to stay away from. (Why? Lack of knowledge, basically.) But I was struck this morning by Megan McArdle's latest plea for liberals to support a voucher system:

Come over to our side, outline a voucher plan you'd accept, and as long as it doesn't include "all schools must employ union teachers under centrally negotiated contracts that protect seniority and outlandish grievance procedures", I'll sign on. Central testing? Fine. You want to make sure they serve organic seaweed salad in the lunchroom? If that's what it takes to get you and other liberals into the voucher camp, I'll agree to that too. Double spending per student, for all I care.

Now, I'll confess that my support for unions isn't the most full-throated you're going to find. Personally, I have a lot of sympathy for unionization efforts in low-wage service industries, a little bit less for old-line manufacturing unions, and less still for public sector unions. But even so, I find this remarkable.

Double spending per student, for all I care. Sure, sure, this is hyperbole, but even so it represents a pretty straightforward admission of what many of us have always suspected: voucher proposals are really just a stalking horse to bust teachers unions. It implicitly assumes that the biggest contributors to poor public education in America -- so big that it's worth literally anything to get rid of them -- is the existence of grievance procedures and seniority.

Unfortunately, there's no evidence to back this up. Unions appear to have, at most, modest and variable effects on student outcomes. Even the most hostile reading of the evidence doesn't come anywhere close to suggesting that unions are the single biggest obstacle in the way of educating our children properly. And it doesn't come within light years of suggesting that it would be worth doubling spending to get rid of them. This is anti-unionism run wild. Hating teachers unions because they oppose policies you like is one thing, but hating them even if you get your favorite policies enacted is crazy.

As for those grievance procedures, I don't doubt that they can misused. On the other hand, if you want to see an example of what can happen without them, read this story. Nickel version: you can be fired for anything. Even protesting a front office decision forbidding you from presenting a program about Emmett Till.

Kevin Drum 11:49 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (110)

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Comments

If this is double the federal spending, then I would say that that would be less effective than effecting sate and local funding parity.

Posted by: jhm on March 19, 2007 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

Hawk: You're aware, of course, that voucher proponents are absolutely dead set against allowing any kind of testing in private schools, aren't you? Do you ever wonder why?

Posted by: Kevin Drum on March 19, 2007 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

voucher proposals are really just a stalking horse to bust teachers unions.

Wrong Kevin. Conservatives support vouchers for a different reason.

Parents should have a wide variety of options, including small and large high schools. The best way to accommodate everybody would, of course, be school vouchers. Models that work get more students, models that fail close.

We should try it and see what the market dictates as the optimum high school and class size.

Posted by: Al on March 19, 2007 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, most everyone can be fired for stupid reasons. It's not pleasant to know that teachers at charter schools might be fired for reasons that are profoundly unfair (perhaps even immoral), but this happens all the time outside of the teaching world.

The theory is that the unfairness involved will burn itself out while these new school systems stabilize.

But yeah, you point out something very profound-- the voucher crowd isn't pro-voucher. They're anti-union. Vouchers are just a proposed means to an end for them.

Posted by: Tyro on March 19, 2007 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

I always thought that a big reason for the rights support of school vouchers was so religious institutions could get more public funds.

Posted by: Lew on March 19, 2007 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

Evidence isn't needed; scapegoats are. Unions make a great scapegoat. You can't blame the real source of the problem -- the families of the under-performing students -- so you need a target. Enter the unions. And when that fails, there will be another scapegoat, because no one wants to face the fact that as a nation, we are doing a poor job of equipping low income families with the tools they need to overcome an inherent disadvantage they face in child rearing. Schools themselves aren't even the problem, when you get right down to it.

Posted by: Steppen on March 19, 2007 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

Two comments: First, disparaging your bosses (as in signing or encouraging protest letters) just isn't a smart idea. Second, just about EVERYONE - except teachers and certain civil service workers - can be "fired for anything." I have never understood why teachers should be exempted from what is a basic fact of life for every other kind of worker in the land. I remember arguing with a teacher friend of mine about the virtues of merit pay. "But then the raises will be decided by the PRINCIPAL," she said to me in horror. Obviously, this teacher, and many like her, do not live in the real world that the rest of us, with bosses, inhabit. I should add for the record that I am very strongly PRO union; and that I don't think teachers' unions are even close to being the major factor in the problems that plague our public school system. But they do make it very hard to dismiss inadequate teachers, and they are a major obstacle to experimentation and change.

Posted by: Sheldon on March 19, 2007 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

Sheldon,
Can the principals or the CEO's be fired just as easily(and the same small cost) as the little guy. As long those at the top have to live with the same deal the teachers do, then by all means.

Posted by: This Machine Kills Fascists on March 19, 2007 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

Where does Megan McArdle get off spewing the crap she does. Does she want her taxes to be raised to pay for it? Probably not. They just love their pie in the sky solutions with out thinking about its practicality.

Posted by: This Machine Kills Fascists on March 19, 2007 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

From the perspective of somebody who isn't necessarily pro-voucher let me tell you dyed in the wool opponents exactly why vouchers are so attractive.

Once you have a child, that child's future means more to you than anything. It becomes your primary motivator for where you live, where you go on vacation, what you watch on television. His or her education becomes very, very personal. You want the very best for him or her.

If you send your child to an under performing public school, you don't give a rats ass about the grievence procedure available to teachers. You want your kid taught. You want him or her taught well. You don't want your kid to encounter a teacher whose incompetence or lack of motivation or simply laziness can ruin your childs education. If you encounter that you want a way to get your child to a better place. You want it now. You don't care who you run over in making sure that happens.

With some important exceptions, big city school districts are notoriously bad. The are full of bad teachers, poorly lead by people who are concerned about reaching retirement. The folks running the PTA generally are politicians in training. In my city, the giant district is filled with little feifdoms each dominated by some professional school board member with deep ties to the local teacher's union who long ago lost any interest in the kids in his or her schools.

Many parents feel powerless. They have no say. They want choice. They see teachers unions as being obstacles to making sure their kids enjoy the best education possible.

That is why the voucher system is so damn attractive. It gives parents a feeling of power. If their kid isn't being taught to the highest possible standard, they can move him or her to a school that might.

Never get between a parent and his or her child is a truth Democrats ignore at their peril.

Posted by: Ron Byers on March 19, 2007 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

Cmon, everyone knows that the reason to support vouchers is so that the good, white boys can play football and basketball again.

Posted by: American Conservative on March 19, 2007 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

Double spending per student, for all I care.

As I point out in the comments at Megan's site, this would amount to an expenditure in the $500 billion-per-year range. At that price, the teachers' unions would happily dissolve of their own accord, because at that point the teachers' lounge would look like Tony Montana's office.

Posted by: alkali on March 19, 2007 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

Okay, just for kicks, I'll outline some minimum requirements for a voucher system I might be willing to consider. To participate in the system, a school must:

1) Agree to accept the amount of the voucher as payment in full for all costs charged by the school in the regular course of attendance at the school.

2) Agree to, at no cost to the voucher-using student, provide transportation to and from a point no more distant from the student's home than the student's "home" school.

3) Meet all performance and teacher qualification standards required of public schools (note, this applies to the performance of all students, and performance of all students to the same extent as at public schools, not just the performance of voucher-receiving students and teachers assigned to voucher receiving students.) for the three years prior to the year in which they are participating in the program.

4) Refund to the public treasury the value of all vouchers received in any year in which they fail to meet the standards described in #3.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 19, 2007 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

A relevant story: in the early '90s a friend of mine in the video production business got a job he would've like to refuse but couldn't, given that he was nearly bankrupt. The client was a non-profit with an enigmatic name: The Foundation Endowment.

The F.E. turned out to be the project of several members of a wealthy family, and for many years its mission had been anti-Communism. By the time my friend met up with the group, it had of course lost its longtime nemesis and been forced to seek a new one, which turned out to be the malignant effects of "political correctness" on academic freedom at various universities. The F.E. held a conference on this subject, and my friend's gig was to film the proceedings and turn them into a half hour video that could be used for fund-raising.

My friend took no particular notice when one of the speakers began ranting that the real threat to education was teachers' unions (which of course have nothing to do with universities.) Then, to his surprise, the client insisted that said rant be included in the video, despite its irrelevance to the conference and the F.E.'s declared goals.

Did I mention that the F.E.'s largest institutional funder was the National Right to Work Committee? Whose interest in academic freedom for college professors is, well, not exactly the cornerstone of its reputation?

As we should all know by now, one of the main drivers behind the movement to divert public money to private schools is Republican desire to smash a major Democratic support group. Every opinion that comes from the right on this subject must be seen in that light.

Posted by: penalcolony on March 19, 2007 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK
You can't blame the real source of the problem -- the families of the under-performing students

The families may be the problem in some cases, but in many cases the families of poor performing students are parents that aren't able to both spend time with their children and afford to feed and house them. And the fault for that lies in an economic system that has driven the rewards of aggregate growth to the major holders of capital, with more hours of labor required to get by at the bottom end of the labor spectrum.

Its not that the right can't blame the real problem, its that the right's entire policy thrust is aimed at exacerbating the real problem, that the rewards of the economy's performance are narrowly concentrated.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 19, 2007 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

OK, I'll play:

Any school that accepts vouchers at all must accept the basic voucher amount as full payment for all tuition, fees (including books, uniforms, instruments, sports equipment, lunch, etc), and other expenses required to participate in any facet of any school activity, curricular or extracurricular.

Any school that accepts vouchers must accept all applicants proposing to use vouchers.


How's that? I think that will stop the use of vouchers to subsidize the wealthy.

Posted by: phein on March 19, 2007 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

Hawk:

You ARE aware that for a market to work you have to have a)good information flows, b)a relatively short buying cycle and c)some way of evaluating quality.

Since in education you don't get to learn much about the ACTUAL quality for decades at best (no, sorry, testing doesn't actually correlate in any way to ultimate college and/or workplace success...bzzzt, thanks for playing!), since having bought one form of education makes it impossible to use any of the others (at least as long as you can't clone your kids and then kill the unsuccessful ones) and since you have NO WAY of evaluating quality PRIOR to starting your decades long experiment, I must confess I am at a loss to understand the MECHANISM whereby competition makes schools better.

Unless you're the sort of drone who just mindlessly repeats "markets are always efficient". I got news for you bub, I work in marketing and I am here to tell you markets aren't efficient. We make it that way. The amount of time and money spent obscuring market information is profound. So unless you can specify a to b to c HOW "competition" makes schools better given the market signaling problems I've outlined, I'll just file you under mindless drone, mm'kay?

Posted by: Doug on March 19, 2007 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

I was struck this morning by Megan McArdle's latest plea for liberals to support a voucher system

Reading your post, it's clear that you were struck by how dishonest McArdle's position was. And this comes as any kind of suprise exactly why?

Props on taking her to the woodshed. Why anyone pays attention to this hack as anything other than an object of mockery (or, at best, pity) is beyond me.

Posted by: Gregory on March 19, 2007 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

Once you have a child, that child's future means more to you than anything. It becomes your primary motivator for where you live, where you go on vacation...

Just one anecdotal observation on this topic: The private school my children attended and graduated from is where I encountered the most vocal opposition to vouchers. They did not want the education that their (our) children received there diluted.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka Global Citizen) on March 19, 2007 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

What I can't get over is the story behind the firing of those two teachers in the charter school.

There are all kinds of outrageous things going on there, but the thing that struck me most was the reaction of the Principal to the Emmett Till story.

Namely, the thing this Principal couldn't get over was that Emmett Till whistled at a woman. She apparently described it as "sexual harrassment".

Seriously, how twisted can a mind be over political correctness for THAT to be the takeaway in the Emmett Till story?

Really, it sounds like just the flip side of the horrible person who says about a woman who was raped while wearing sexy clothing that she was "asking for it".

I guess Emmett Till was asking for it too.

Posted by: frankly0 on March 19, 2007 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

I still want a voucher for all of my tax dollars wasted on Bush's illegal war of aggression against Iraq and all of the needless billions squandered by the Pentagon.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on March 19, 2007 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

I still want a voucher for all of my tax dollars wasted on Bush's illegal war of aggression against Iraq and all of the needless billions squandered by the Pentagon.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on March 19, 2007 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

Again the parents don't care if theoretically the system is intended to make "schools better." All they care aboutis making sure their kid goes to a good school. Make the schools better, parents won't want vouchers. Start yammering about how hard it is to make schools better, you will lose parents every single time. To the extent teacher's unions are thought to be part of the problem they are part of the problem.

Republicans are merely exploiting a very basic parental desire to make sure their kids have all the best education possible.

Posted by: Ron Byers on March 19, 2007 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

I just posted this over at Matt Y's site:

The ability to fire staff at will, often praised as one of the linchpins of vouchers/charter schools only does you any good if: a. current staff are loafing due to the lack of at-will employment; and b. there is a ready labor pool of more talented people to replace them. "a" is only partly correct and I have yet to see any evidence of "b". Certainly, there is plenty of deadwood in our school system but, even after serving on a school board & earning the lifetime animus of the teachers' union, I am convinced that the majority teachers are already competent and doing their best in a set of very trying circumstances. As for "b", unless voucher schools are going to radically raise pay, unlike many private/parochial schools that actually pay their teachers less than public schools, I don't know where all of these great new teachers are supposed to come from.

Posted by: mert7878 on March 19, 2007 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK
I don't know where all of these great new teachers are supposed to come from.

Magic market fairies bring them when you institute vouchers.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 19, 2007 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

One thing that some of the commenters are forgetting is that good teachers are attracted to good (usually union) jobs. The best teachers go to high-paying schools with good benefits and protections from indiscriminate firing. Folks like Ron Beyers forget that voucher schools that do not suport and protect their employees are unlikely to get the best teachers. So Ron, support vouchers and send your kids to a voucher school, but realize you are probably getting teachers that could not get jobs at the suburban, unionized public schools. The problem isn't unions or public schools because suburbia shows they can be exemplary. The problem is not easy to fix and making life harder for employees by removing their union benefits will not improve the situation.

Posted by: Bill Hicks on March 19, 2007 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

There's some great ideas about launching a voucher initative that would make it work. The problem is, without all of those details, a voucher system would be a disaster, much worse than the status quo.

But in regards to firing teachers. Take this into account:

Remember that special teacher? The one that tought you just what learning could be, that inspired your love of knowledge throughout your life?

Chances are, that teacher would be the first one out the door. It would be all the deadwood that know how to play the management politics that would thrive in such a situation.

Posted by: Karmakin on March 19, 2007 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

Agree with Kevin, Vouchers are pushed by religious types wanting more $$$ for their religious schools. Al, there is a educational market, if you have the money, you can send you kid to get an education anywhere. The educational blame game is terrible. teachers and the union are not the problem (prehaps some case, yes but few). The problem is an ed system that is basically one flavor trying to meet the needs of many different types of kids. Kids from an educational culture do well. Kids from parents to whom an ed is not important don't do well. How is a teacher or a busted union gonna educate a class full of kids that think its all BS. These people don't value ed, don't think about getting into college, don't do the homework. That is fine, they can get a gig in the labor force and start working. But the system says they have to pass a certain level of education. I think other countries are not afraid to track kids. If they don't want college, they should learn the basics and get out and start working. There should be a test for that. Can you read, right, do math, little history, little science, good, you done. See ya later. The kids who value ed stay in and go to collgee. Numbers improve greatly, teachers are not to blame anymore and the union is off the hook. Why is it so hard to admit that a kid and his family really don't care about ed. Those kids whould be given a door to exit from that meets the minimum standard to be a decent citizen. I guess I'm saying that for many kids, the HS standard is too high. Has nothing to do you smarts and everything to do with the value their culture places on education. Why should teachers be blamed.

Posted by: The fake fake al on March 19, 2007 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

Why do anti-teacher union critics think that destroying the teacher unions will suddenly fix the education problem in this country? If you remove the teacher's unions, wages will almost certainly drop for teachers, and since no one has ever meaningfully suggested that teachers make too much money, how will lowering teacher salaries possibly make the education system better?

Pushing vouchers offers pundits the opportunity to be able to talk about education policy without actually having to know anything about the subject. I've gotten into discussions with voucher supporters, and they are never able to imagine any sort of world after vouchers become the law of the land. They think that the free market will solve everything much like it say does with medicine. Of course, if vouchers ever become a reality and the education system doesn't improve, they'll blame someone else. Perhaps when pundits attack teacher unions, it's an example of self-loathing since pundits are the one group more insulated from screwing up than unionized teachers are.

Posted by: Guscat on March 19, 2007 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

Have an honest argument, for all I care.

Funny how the states that have the best results have the strongest unions. And the reverse is true.

Whoever heard of a strong community with a weak public school system.

Funny how those countries whose kids outperform our kids on those international tests, there is no debate as to who is responsible for educating their children.

Funny how most charter schools stink. Take a look at the freakin' data - if you're not data-proof. Funny how the charter school advocates never bothered to build into their design loop what is to be done with the students of the failed charter schools, when the public schools get these undisciplined and under educated students back. (Oh, I got it: further blame the public schools!)

All tenure is: the right to due process, nothing more. It's up to administrators to do their jobs.

I'm no fan of teacher unions, they have a lot to answer for. But don't kid yourselves, as if demonizing them will bring us educational nirvana. Puh-leeze.

Posted by: MaxGowan on March 19, 2007 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

As I point out in the comments at Megan's site, this would amount to an expenditure in the $500 billion-per-year range. At that price, the teachers' unions would happily dissolve of their own accord, because at that point the teachers' lounge would look like Tony Montana's office.

Does that include many kilos of as much "non-dairy creamer" as I can consume? Because if so then sign me up.

Posted by: Barry Freed on March 19, 2007 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

Megan McArdle strongly prefers vouchers to charter schools even though both are outside the union system. Why? Because she's got a preference for privatization and doesn't really know what she's talking about. The other thing none of you has mentioned is that where charter schools are experimental programs targeted for specific types of curriculum programming, most of the cheap private schools that voucher students would begin to attend are religious.

Posted by: Mavis Beacon on March 19, 2007 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

Ack- strike tag no work

Posted by: Barry Freed on March 19, 2007 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

In Los Angeles, the teacher's union is helping with the huge payroll system screw up, which the district is not.
No accounting for L.A. Unified's payroll fiasco
Bob Sipchen
Six weeks ago the Los Angeles Unified School District switched on a $95-million computerized system for paying the district's 48,000 teachers and other employees. The soft sproing heard from Pacoima to Palms was the sound of Southern California coming unglued...


To be pragmatic, examine one of the longest running voucher programs , the one in Milwaukee's schools.
... Voucher supporters had envisioned a system in which parents would choose only good schools, so the worst ones would fall by the wayside due to market forces. But that hasn't proved to be the case.
The voucher program has given new life to venerable Catholic and Lutheran schools in the city, and has spurred the creation of dozens of new schools - many of them religious - that rely solely on voucher students. All told, about 70 percent of the voucher schools are religious. Some of those schools, like Hope, show signs of excellence, but not all.
In one of the worst instances, a convicted rapist opened a school, which has since shut down. Reporters from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tried to visit all 115 schools then in the program last year, and found a mixed bag. Nine schools refused to let reporters in, and the paper cited "10 to 15 others where ... the overall operation appeared alarming when it came to the basic matter of educating children."
One school was opened by a woman who said she had a vision from God to start a school, and whose only educational background was as a teacher's aide. Others had few books or signs of a coherent curriculum. Yet they've been able to enroll students.....
Studies done in the early years of Milwaukee's program, before the state stopped requiring yearly reporting from voucher schools and before religious schools were allowed into the program, showed little difference in student achievement among voucher students, but measurable improvement in parental satisfaction. A new five-year study was just announced by Georgetown University in Washington....

Posted by: Mike on March 19, 2007 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

Posted by: Bill Hicks on March 19, 2007.

I never claimed I was in favor of vouchers. I just claimed that most rank and file people who favor them do so because they are want what they think best for their kids.

Progressives overlook that reality at their peril. Never get between a parent and his or her child.

Personally lots of ideas come into my mind when we start talking about improving the schools. I am just a parent of 4 children only one of whom remains in school (she is a senior in high school.) I can assure you my ideas center on reducing class size, and school size. They might also include the defunding of the many teachers colleges around the country. I want an educated teacher for my child, not some person who attended a trade school. I would also pay teachers more and prinicpals and superintendents less.

Posted by: Ron Byers on March 19, 2007 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

Back before the turn of the century, when it was still plausible to do such things, a researcher at one of the Federal Reserve banks did a survey of businesses according to productivity, unionization and quality of labor relations. Unionized firms stood at the top of the rankings -- as long as they were firms where management and labor cooperated on work rules and job security. Nonunion firms occupied the broad middle, for the most part, and at the bottom of the rankings were companies that had the adversarial relationship between union and management so beloved of conservative fearmongers.

qed

Posted by: paul on March 19, 2007 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

Bravo Kevin

Just take a look at what is going on among the vast cubicle farms of corporate America.
At Will firings with out cause along with "Rank and Yank" employee evaluations programs that have allowed companies to blatantly flout race, age and sex discrimination law are now commonplace.

Megan wants to bring the idiocy of McKinsey & Co Lunatic MBA Consulting and "rank and yank" to the teaching profession. Jesus Christ!!! McKinsey and Co is so fucking hated for ruining so many good companies is it any wonder that folks were outrage when Hillary Clinton went around boasting that Chelsia got a prestigious job right out of college working for them.

The non-unionized corporate workplace especially among white collar professionals has become hellish. Look at the devastation wrought on Computer programmers and Engineers by idiotic DLC supported Neo-Liberal and Federalist Society policies. Age Discrimination, ridiculously long work hours and just everyday fear and anxiety is now the norm. With runaway labor arbitrage through H1-B and L1 indentured "non-immigrant" work visas there is absolutely no hope for unionization of computer programmers and engineers.

Even now the Wing-nuts boast how they would love to have tens of thousands of very low wage technology, math, science, and nursing indentured servants brought to this country every year. Just so they could bust the last two professional college educated unions, the teachers and the nurses.

Posted by: llamajockey on March 19, 2007 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

This is just another example of the "banana republicanination" of the US being executed by the plutocrats, supported by the clueless wingnuttery; teacher's unions being one of the last bastions of an organization of workers with any strength.

Ron, I agree with your warning, but the American way is to move to a good school district, not stay and try and improve the old one. White flight has been the rule for the past 40 years.

I live in a suburb of St Louis which has an excellent school system; not an accident. It occurred to me, during the last rash of PA posts on education, that one of the reason we have a good school system is that our school district is relatively small. Parental input does matter, we get the school district we want.

The St Louis city school district is a complete horror show, from top to bottom; not as bad as KC, but not much better. The StL school district is so large that any local group that wanted to try and make a difference, would be doomed. Maybe part of the solution is to make school districts smaller, so that communities would actually have a chance at affecting change. I know this would increase the overhead of administration, but I think it would be worth the cost.

Posted by: TT on March 19, 2007 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

I'll confess that my support for unions isn't the most full-throated you're going to find.

Second-most full-throated, perhaps. Certainly in the upper 10%.

Posted by: spider on March 19, 2007 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

They might also include the defunding of the many teachers colleges around the country. I want an educated teacher for my child, not some person who attended a trade school.

Defunding teachers colleges will end up with less educated people overall, not more educated teachers. It will make it much harder, of course, to find even minimally qualified teachers.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 19, 2007 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

Mike: Where is the data on the Milwaukee experiment?

There is none. That's because the Wisconsin Legislature actually outlawed it.

Posted by: MaxGowan on March 19, 2007 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

There are two big problems with the "market" approach to education reform. First, The real problem with the quality of teachers is not the inability to fire them for any reason but because there are not enough people who want to be or stay a teacher. Teaching has a huge turnover rate. 20% leave after 3 years and up to 50% leave after 5. With low pay, more regimented curriculum (teaching to the test), poor benefits, troubled students etc. One of the only true "market" reasons to being a teacher is good job security. This security is not to encourage laziness, but protect teachers from arbitrary principles parents and students. Further, the protection helps teachers because most districts only hire during the summer, so there is not a lot of movement during the year, and a new job typically means a new district which often means relocating. So can any "market" enthusiast please tell me how removing job security will help keep new teachers working at a school and encouraged the best and brightest to be a teacher?
The other problem with "market forces" and vouchers is what happens to the underperforming troubled kids? Competition only works if a school can compete for good students and exclude bad ones. (How would Harvard do if they had to accept everyone who applied?) What happens to the kids who no school wants? As a society are we comfortable leaving kids aside?

Posted by: exlitigator on March 19, 2007 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

If I remember the numbers correctly there are about 94000 teachers in Illinois and an average of 4 are fired for incompetence every year.

Similar ratios in many states.

I asked for a blazingly, incredibly incompetent teacher to be fired some years ago, and was told the school system could only pray he took retirement when he qualified for a full pension. This guy had been butchering his classes for 28 years. He got two more years and left.

Posted by: save_the_rustbelt on March 19, 2007 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

Second, just about EVERYONE - except teachers and certain civil service workers - can be "fired for anything." I have never understood why teachers should be exempted from what is a basic fact of life for every other kind of worker in the land. I remember arguing with a teacher friend of mine about the virtues of merit pay. "But then the raises will be decided by the PRINCIPAL," she said to me in horror. Obviously, this teacher, and many like her, do not live in the real world that the rest of us, with bosses, inhabit. I should add for the record that I am very strongly PRO union; and that I don't think teachers' unions are even close to being the major factor in the problems that plague our public school system. But they do make it very hard to dismiss inadequate teachers, and they are a major obstacle to experimentation and change.

I can sort of see where you're coming from, but the problem with at-will employment for teachers is exactly the same as with vouchers: they presume the magic of the free market, but the magic of the free market absolutely needs rational actors well-informed on every aspect of the school to function, and rational actors well-informed on every aspect of the school often make up an oppressed minority.

A school board member at the district where I work (maybe I shouldn't be posting this, but everyone at my office and even some people on the board itself are in full agreement, so what the hell) ran in large part because she feels the administration is unfair and biased with discipline and too strict with, among other students, her son in particular. Never mind that the kid has been charged with assault (I'm not sure about that, but at the very least there was an incident that came close), so it's not exactly just the principal who thinks there's something wrong. Never mind the fact that most things at the school that can actually be measured statistically, like standardized test scores and dropout rates, are better than before the principal showed up. Never mind that the only people who agree with the board member about this are the town crank and his significant other.

Teachers, or in this case principals, should not have their jobs at risk because a vocal minority is unwilling to deal with what actually goes on in schools. Employees at lots of types of businesses can be "fired for anything," and if those employees each had to be responsive to the parents of a couple dozen children from relatively diverse backgrounds, you can bet they would unionize pretty quickly too.

The point is, there may be too much job security for the teachers who actually are bad, but in my opinion that's less of a problem than too little job security for the teachers who teach evolution or don't have a problem giving detention to the star basketball player or whatever.

Posted by: Cyrus on March 19, 2007 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

TT

I live in a fast growing suburb. We used to have a really good school district. In my opinion the district started to decline when it openned a second high school. A nearby district has openned a second, third and fourth high schools. I believe it has also suffered from being "too big." There is simply no way concerned parents can have much impact on a district once it has more than one center.

As to overhead costs, I don't think large districts save that much because they are large. In fact, I think the number of assistant superintendants seems to grow exponentially as districts increase in size.

If you watch what has happened in KC you are horrified. You also learn that money isn't the answer. KC's schools are among the best funded in the country. They are also among the worst. It is just a big monster that doesn't reward parents who care.

Posted by: Ron Byers on March 19, 2007 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

Nickel version: you can be fired for anything.

How dreadful! Sounds like nearly every other job in the country. Surely we must provide teachers with special protections almost no else has because, um, why exactly?

Posted by: Shelby on March 19, 2007 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

case in point: It implicitly assumes that the biggest contributor to poor public education in America -- so big that it's worth literally anything to get rid of them -- is the existence of grievance procedures and seniority.

The problem is not the "existence" of grievance procedures and seniority. The problem is the near impossibility of removing even the worst teachers.

Posted by: spider on March 19, 2007 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

Defunding teachers colleges will end up with less educated people overall, not more educated teachers. It will make it much harder, of course, to find even minimally qualified teachers.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 19, 2007

You mean actual education takes place at teachers colleges?

Sorry for the snark.

I would much prefer licensure to teach be earned after completion of a post graduate course of professional study similar to law or medical school. I know my preference is totally unrealistic given todays salary structure but considering how important the task, why not raise both the professionalism and salaries of our teachers.

Posted by: Ron Byers on March 19, 2007 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

I almost volunteered to mentor students in the local school. During the interview I realized many rules and restrictions that smelled a lot like teacher job protection. I walked away.

Posted by: Matt on March 19, 2007 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

Personally, I have a lot of sympathy for unionization efforts in low-wage service industries, a little bit less for old-line manufacturing unions, and less still for public sector unions.

It isn't really about sympathy, or anti-unionism run wild. The problem is that the public school system is a near monopoly, and it has acquired the bad practices of monopolies. Freedom of choice in the auto market has not necessarily resulted in the non-unionized auto plants making worse cars; on the whole, even the union-made autos have increased in quality because of the competition.

Publicly funded K-12 could operate like the equally publicly finded GI bill. Those with the entitlement could take the money to schools of their choice.

Kevin made the remark within the last few days that private schools do not even have to meet the minimum standards for teacher training that public school have to meet. I hope readers are not persuaded that private schools have, as a result, less qualified teachers, on the whole. Teachers in private schools are more accountable to parents than are teachers in public schools, and this results in higher quality teachers, on the whole, not lower quality teachers.

Posted by: spider on March 19, 2007 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

So Megan McArdle wants to destroy public education and unions. That would make us like which other industrialized nation? RUSSIA.

Well, there's a fine model for you- a country where any worker can be fired because the boss doesn't like them, but no boss is ever fired, demoted, or misses a "performance bonus" even if sales and profits go through the basement on their way to hell.

And the rightwingers commenting here think that's a good thing. When they're not in the bathroom peeing out all that koolaid they drank.

If we could get realistic for a minute, the reason we have civil service protections is to protect us, the paying public and school-attending children, from graft, nepotism, and sexual harrassment.

Yes, the Al Capone gangland style of mangaement was tried, and it didn't work. Because when the boss can hire and fire for no reason, you end up with the boss's cronies, nephews,and sexual toys on the payroll, usually messing with the books to hide the theft and the performance failures.

And that's what Megan McArdle and American Hock and Shelby are arguing for- corruption, theft, embezzlement, and failure. Call it what it is.

As for that "Tell me what it will take to make you buy" approach, well, anybody who ever bought a used car from a dealership knows how that ends up. Here's a newsflash- you can't trust a basically dishonest person.

Posted by: serial catowner on March 19, 2007 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

The pro-marketeers are missing the implications of their own argument in at least two ways. First, as I noted above, the ability to fire at will only gives you an advantage if there is a qualified labor pool to draw from to replace them. None of the fire-away types on this thread has identified any such pool. Second, whatever pool there is, is likely to be more shallow or, at the very least, more expensive if you eliminate due process. [I don't believe in hard-core tenure, just "good cause" for dismissal, which is a far cry from both statutory tenure and at-will employement.] exlitigator made a good point above: one of the attractions of teaching is job secuirty. Employees will trade some amount of salary for security. Thus, if we eliminate job security, the cost of teachers will almost certainly be driven up as districts compete more aggressively for the best teachers.

Consider this example: if you are a tenured teacher in District A and nearby District B starts paying its teachers $2500 more per year, you are going to think long and hard about giving up the secure job in District A when you have to go through the tenure process all over again in District B. But, if you will be no more secure in District B than District A, there is no disincentive to switching jobs [other than those associated with changing any job]. Over time this is going to drive up the cost of teachers. This is exactly what happened in NJ when it got rid of tenure for superintendents about 15 years ago. It was a lot easier for districts to can supers but it also made it easier for the good ones to shop their wares around which, in the end, drove up the cost of all supers.

So, if the marketeers have the courage of their convictions, they better be prepared to pay more to educate their kids.

Posted by: mert7878 on March 19, 2007 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

a last question about publicly funded education. Why is monopoly the default provision? If there is doubt about what works best, shouldn't choice be the default provision?

Posted by: spider on March 19, 2007 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

As I see it, the main problem with education is:

1. it's hard to attract and retain good teachers
2. children without the necessary support/motivation/will/discipline to make an honest effort at learning

I'm in my second year of teaching after switching from a marketing career...and I'm pretty sure I'll be quitting after this school year. The personal sacrifices that are required to be a teacher in the inner city are just too great. Never mind that I have good control of my classes, my students respond well to me, and that I genuinely like teaching the kids.

Posted by: Koneko on March 19, 2007 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

A story in today's LA Times highlightss the reason white bigots desire charter schools. They fire teachers who help children celebrate Black History Month in California.

Many people think of California as a liberal place. They forget about USC, Reagan and all of the other social conservative politicians and institutions that dominate the state.

Posted by: Brojo on March 19, 2007 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

spider on March 19, 2007 at 3:12 PM:

The problem is that the public school system is a near monopoly, and it has acquired the bad practices of monopolies.

The public school system that educates my kid is not a business, so applying market economic theory to it doesn't work well. Being a student is not the same as being a consumer.

Those with the entitlement could take the money to schools of their choice.

Unless there are learning disabilites, behavioral issues, family participation issues, et cetera. For-profit schools will choose their students the same way banks pick who they'll loan money to..Or how colleges pick their students now, even those with GI Bill entitlements...

Teachers in private schools are more accountable to parents than are teachers in public schools, and this results in higher quality teachers, on the whole, not lower quality teachers.

And how much of that is due to Timmeh getting an A because Timmeh's mom demanded that he get an A?

Mom's happy, 'cause Timmeh got his A...Teacher's happy, because Timmeh's mom is off her back...The for-profit school is happy, because their students get A's and the money keeps rolling in...

...And the only loser is Timmeh, because he didn't learn a damn thing.

Posted by: grape_crush on March 19, 2007 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

And as for spider, monopoly is not the default position. There is no monopoly in American education. Anybody who wants to can start a school and advertise for students.

Back when women couldn't get jobs anywhere, and Catholics were told they would burn in hell if they didn't send their children to the parochial school, the RC church did a booming business. They didn't let their teachers form unions, and now dioceses are going bankrupt because of priests run wild.

What the rightwingers are trying to destroy is the American belief that education should be available to all in locally controlled schools.

The rightwingers want to replace public education with a central bureau that dishes out the gravy the way the Bush administration has ladled it out- to political suckups and failures who can't find a job when there are objective measures of performance. We've all seen how that works- when the inevitable chickens come home to roost, the lowest guy on the totem pole gets blamed.

They're a rolling disaster of authoritarianism, and the last thing liberals need to do is sign on to a plan that doubles the cost, while removing the checks and balances that assure something will be done with the money.

Posted by: serial catowner on March 19, 2007 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

Okay, so you've got a bunch of kids and you want them to learn something.

Who should we give the incentives to if we want to be most effective at obtaining this result:

1. their principals?
2. their teachers?
3. the students

Didn't they try giving the incentives to the principals in communist Russia? Oh, sorry, not the principals, the factory managers. Totally different, right? Right??

Posted by: catherineD on March 19, 2007 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

spider on March 19, 2007 at 3:21 PM:

Why is monopoly the default provision? If there is doubt about what works best, shouldn't choice be the default provision?

I don't accept your assertion that education is a business, so your questions are meaningless to me, as are your attempts to apply market efficiency theory to a kid's schooling.

Posted by: grape_crush on March 19, 2007 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

Other than the obvious teachers union-busting vouchers to me, have always been one more of the quick fix/private sector does things better mantras the right likes to flog. And flog with no evidence/thought as to how it would work in the real world and with any sort of accountability. It sounds catchy and fits within the Republican "we don't like the government" (unless it gets us campaign contributions) box

Posted by: ET on March 19, 2007 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

Hate to say it here, but I sympathize with the administration re: Emmett Till. His case was almost singular (in that most lynching victims weren't northerners raised outside of the system that produced lynching), and extraordinarily violent. As a society we often attempt to canonize violent events in our history and make them fables with which to indoctrinate our children, but Emmett Till???

I don't see anything constructive in that lesson, myself. And, as a parent, I wouldn't want to have to put fingerpaintings of Till's collapsed face on my refrigerator.

Just saying.

Sincerely,

theperegrine

Posted by: theperegrine on March 19, 2007 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK
The problem is the near impossibility of removing even the worst teachers.

Which, insofar as it exists anywhere at all (it is largely a myth in the first place), has to do with the same kind of bureaucratic risk averse attitude among administrators that produces brain-dead "zero tolerance" policies, not unionization.

So, insofar as the problem you point to exists at all, unions aren't the culprit, bad administrators are.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 19, 2007 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

The school I teach at seriously considered splitting into two schools and giving parents choices as to which one to choose. The more we thought about it, the more foolish it became. It would be impossible to project enrollments two or three years into the future, so it would be impossible to make appropriate building renovations. The school report cards would not be exactly equal in terms of test scores, so the community would make assumptions about which school was 'better'. Certain kids would just follow certain coaches. Bus costs would be high.

In other words, it makes sense for a community to just have one school or to divide school populations geographically.

Posted by: reino on March 19, 2007 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

grape_crush wrote: I don't accept your assertion that education is a business, so your questions are meaningless to me

I agree that "spider"'s questions are meaningless, but saying "I don't accept your assertion that education is a business" implies that there are assertions of "spider"'s that might be acceptable, and I wouldn't go that far.

Posted by: Gregory on March 19, 2007 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

PS- Another factor in how I'm siding is that the teachers in question used their influence to persuade students to side with them against the administration. They drafted up a letter of protest and had their students sign it. In my mind that's truly obnoxious behavior. Hardly what one would call 'professional'...or mature.

theperegrine

Posted by: theperegrine on March 19, 2007 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK
I would much prefer licensure to teach be earned after completion of a post graduate course of professional study similar to law or medical school.

Good for you. Other than the authority of your gut feeling, do you have anything to present to convince anyone else that that's a reasonable minimum qualification for teachers rather than a great way to vastly reduce the number of people willing to even bother trying to become teachers without addressing any real problems?

(Heck, while it may be appropriate for law and medicine now, the labelling of law and medical degrees that had historically been bachelor's degrees as "doctorates" to try to share the status of the Ph.D., and the adoption of a norm that law and medical studies should begin after a bachelor's in another field were rather naked efforts to manage public perceptions and raise barriers to entry to justify hire fees by both professions.)

I know my preference is totally unrealistic given todays salary structure but considering how important the task, why not raise both the professionalism and salaries of our teachers.

What your preference lacks is not merely realism in today's salary structure, but any evidence of an existing problem that it would address in any reasonably effective manner.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 19, 2007 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK
Teachers in private schools are more accountable to parents than are teachers in public schools

No, they aren't.

They are more subject to arbitrary dismissal by their supervisors, not more accountable to parents.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 19, 2007 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

why is the NEA opposed to merit pay?

please, someone answer this credibly.

Posted by: oz on March 19, 2007 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

It isn't teachers' unions they're after. It's integration. The whole fuss started with Brown Versus the Board of Education. Thousands of private schools took off in the wake of the decision and they've been looking for public funding ever since.

Posted by: frank logan on March 19, 2007 at 5:34 PM | PERMALINK

How dreadful! Sounds like nearly every other job in the country. Surely we must provide teachers with special protections almost no else has because, um, why exactly?

Because they are performing very important work and we do not compensate them adequately because their pay comes from the public and that gives every single ingrate the right to piss and moan about every penny spent on them.

Sheesh. I think some people want the government to put a gun to teacher's heads and force them to teach for no pay except an apple a day.

Posted by: Tripp on March 19, 2007 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK
It isn't teachers' unions they're after. It's integration.

Some of them are after integration, some of them are after teacher's unions as a wedge against unions (particularly public sector unions) more generally, some of them are just after public education: once they've made it a state-subsidized, private market commodity, the next thing they'd do is work to freeze and then reduce the subsidy, until any kind of education that might provide access to good jobs is available only to the already relatively well off.

Some share multiple of these motives.

And some are misled to believe that vouchers will magically improve public education.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 19, 2007 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely: They are more subject to arbitrary dismissal by their supervisors, not more accountable to parents.

Those are not mutually exclusive, and private school teachers are both. They are also more subject to the non-arbitrary and well-informed decisions of their supervisors.

unions aren't the culprit, bad administrators are.

they are culprits in different ways. I don't know why you think it is a myth that it is nearly impossible to fire bad teachers. In most cases, they get transferrred, not fired, and replaced by better teachers, at least in the better schools. Within the public school system, there is a gradual migration of the better teachers towards teh better schools. This is one of the things you look for as a parent in the public school system -- to get in the neighborhood of the school with the best reputation. It's where the teachers apply the most when there are openings.

Posted by: spider on March 19, 2007 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

And some are misled to believe that vouchers will magically improve public education.

does anybody believe that vouchers will "magically" improve public education? At best the belief is that improvement will come slowly over time, as parents make use of information about what the better schools are, and choose those schools. These are parents who vote in elections and on juries, but can't afford the posh neighborhoods. There is a secondary belief that many of the underperforming teachers will improve given the excitement of competition.

Posted by: spider on March 19, 2007 at 6:02 PM | PERMALINK

I guess I don't understand how the teacher's unions have done a good job of improving the educational system. I know that they are a big political force but that's different. Busting the unions doesn't improve the educational system, either, of course. So the union discussion really isn't about education - it's about a long-time battle between the left and the right.

Posted by: Lee Stranahan on March 19, 2007 at 6:13 PM | PERMALINK

The public school system that educates my kid is not a business,

Yet, for most people operating it, it is their living. And the prime goals of the union are to increase their wages and job security.

The question is not whether schools should be businesses, or are businesses, or are sort of like businesses. The question is whether, over time, freedom of choice by the parents will raise the overall quality.

That freedom of choice can increase quality in manufactured merchandise is evidence that freedom of choice can increase quality. It isn't evidence that such an effect is necessarily confined to businesses.


And if we can't tell whether choice improves schooling, then why is the monopoly school system the default? In the absence of really good evidence, shouldn't the default in a democracy be choice?


Posted by: spider on March 19, 2007 at 6:14 PM | PERMALINK

"voucher proposals are really just a stalking horse to bust teachers unions"

No, they are a stalking horse for those who send their kids to private schools to have the government subsidize their efforts.

And as for choice? Take away the unfunded mandates public schools have to contend with, or require the private schools to spend on the same requirements that public schools are required to (special education, English as a second language, etc.) and public schools would contend quite nicely with private schools.

If education were truly a market based service, schools could pick and choose which customers they wish to serve. Public schools don't have this luxury - they have to educate everyone. That is a mandate, not a free market solution.

Posted by: sublime33 on March 19, 2007 at 6:21 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think it is rocket science. Teacher's unions overwhelmingly support democratic candidates therefore the right will do almost anything to get rid of them. What a great straw man to blame poor public education upon. Educational achievment is tied to socio economic factors and more specifically mother's educational level are just too difficult to fix so let's blame the teachers.

Posted by: Tom on March 19, 2007 at 6:21 PM | PERMALINK

more about choice:

teachers have substantial freedom about what schools they teach in, especially once they build their reputations that they are good teachers, and get hired into the better schools.

Rich people choose their schools by sending their kids to private schools.

Religious people in good standing in their churches can choose to send their kids to parochial schools, without great expense.

Upper middle class people choose their schools by buying/renting houses in the pricier neighborhoods (school is always a selling point for a home.)

the only people denied choice are poor people with children in the public schools.

As dual earners, my wife and I could afford to rent or buy in neighborhoods that had the best schools. They were racially integrated, and had students from 40+ different languages as primary languages. Parents were doctors and nurses, immigrants (obviously), college and public school faculty, businessmen and women, international traders. But the prices of the homes were in the upper 10% of the counties that we lived in, which was why we sometimes had to rent instead of buying.

Upper and upper middle classed parents don't need an enlargement of choice, because they have plenty of choice. The present system is unfair to secular poor people. They are the only ones to whom choice is denied. This is an anti-liberal, anti-progressive system.

Since enlarging freedom of choice in schooling might work, it ought to be tried more widely. In Milwaukee and Kansas City, it did not make primary schooling worse. Unless it can be shown to make things worse, school choice ought to replace the monopoly model.

Posted by: spider on March 19, 2007 at 6:31 PM | PERMALINK

I meant Milwaukee and Cleveland, not Milwaukee and Kansas City.

Posted by: spider on March 19, 2007 at 6:35 PM | PERMALINK

oz--
I belong to the NEA, and I receive merit pay as part of my NEA-negotiated contract. Sorry to burst your bubble.

Posted by: reino on March 19, 2007 at 6:43 PM | PERMALINK

So the union discussion really isn't about education - it's about a long-time battle between the left and the right.

It's worse: it is a clash between two liberal ideals: for the teachers, there is the long-time issue of union protection from arbitrary judgment and replacement; for students, there is the long-time progressive ideal of publicly-funded schools as a mechanism to help poor people work their way up.

This clash of liberalisms was very prominent in the debates in Cleveland.

There are also coercive elements: people are required to pay property taxes to fund local schools with practically no say on how the money is spent (really, what school district implemented sex education in fifth grade because voters demanded it? It was done over parent protest.) And parents are required to send their children to public school, complete with immunizations and threat of jail time for non-compliance, with restricted choice of school.

Posted by: spider on March 19, 2007 at 6:46 PM | PERMALINK

My Father was in the union for 27 years, on the negotiating team too, before we went to the other side in Administration. He knows what he's talking about.

According to him court decisions have upheld the right of public teacher union employees to vociferously protest performance-related firing. It's very hard, for very good reasons.

More importantly this is the fact that teachers can easily be fired, jesus where did this utter horseshit come from? I personally know this story, the guy worked at my Dad's school, hell I took his class.

He took female students on a field trip and said his wife was going. His wife didn't go and a student slept with him.

Word got on Monday next. He was not on campus Tuesday, and fired Wednesday. Happens all the time, for different reasons.

Posted by: paradox on March 19, 2007 at 6:56 PM | PERMALINK

Spider wrote: "Teachers in private schools are more accountable to parents than are teachers in public schools, and this results in higher quality teachers, on the whole, not lower quality teachers."

You will find little, if any, research to support this claim, with the exception of teachers at the high-end private schools. What you will find are surveys of parents of private school students showing that those parents claim that their children are being taught by better teachers.

However, far too many parents equate teacher quality and their children's learning with the grades their children receive. In graduate school my wife did a study comparing parents' opinions of their children's teachers with the grades those children received. The results? You guessed it: the higher the grade the better the parents rated the teacher.

I have been publicly and privately tutoring both junior high and high school level public and private school students in math and science for years. My students have come from over two dozen different schools over the years, out of over 45 public schools and 15 or so private schools in this well-educated, high income, suburban area.

On average, my private school students have nearly a whole letter grade higher marks for the same level of achievement than my public school students. Other math/science tutors I know see the same thing.

Unfortunately for truth in teaching, the gap is closing as as public school teachers continue to get heavily pressured to raise the average grades they give to their students.

Too many of the parents of the students I've tutored believe that a good teacher is one who gives their child good grades and a responsive teacher is one who agrees to any request from a parent, especially ones to change grades, to accept late work, to ignore absences and to overlook unacceptable behavior.

As an aside, I have on my desk a pamphlet from the large religious-based school down the street from me explaining their calculus course. It says the course covers 75% to 85% of the material covered in the Advanced Placement Calculus AB exam. The difference is the material they removed to reduce the secular aspects of the course curriculum and to reduce the workload in the teachers.

I have so far been unable to identify secular content in the AP course materials I have available.

Posted by: WorldFlier on March 19, 2007 at 6:57 PM | PERMALINK
Those are not mutually exclusive,

Nor, you'll note, did I say they were.

and private school teachers are both.

No, they aren't.

They are also more subject to the non-arbitrary and well-informed decisions of their supervisors.

Which is both largely untrue (due process protections and grievances procedures do little to interfere with supportable, non-arbitrary actions) and largely irrelevant to the claim that they are more accountable to parents, since private school administrators have no more (and often less) accountability to the average parent of a student in their school than public school administrators.

Private school teachers as a class may be more subject to action by their supervisors (though less so the less arbitrary the action is), they are not more accountable to parents.

OTOH, parents who choose to put their child in private schools are more likely to have both the ability and inclination to be active, involved parents when it comes to their children's education, and to apply pressure, and so are more likely to take full advantage of what accountability teachers, administrators, and others have. Of course, those same parents would be equally more likely to do so even if their child wasn't in a private school.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 19, 2007 at 6:58 PM | PERMALINK
It's worse: it is a clash between two liberal ideals: for the teachers, there is the long-time issue of union protection from arbitrary judgment and replacement; for students, there is the long-time progressive ideal of publicly-funded schools as a mechanism to help poor people work their way up.

There would only be a clash if there was any evidence at all that the "two liberalisms" here were at odds. But there is no evidence that they are. Which should surprise no one: just as in the criminal justice process, "due process" protects both the innocent victim of arbitrary abuse of authority and the broader social good, because it takes away the ability of the administrator to take arbitrary action to be seen to be "doing something", and requires them, if they wish to be seen to be doing something, to actually demonstrate that they are taking action in the right area.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 19, 2007 at 7:01 PM | PERMALINK
There are also coercive elements: people are required to pay property taxes to fund local schools with practically no say on how the money is spent

Really? Who elects school administrators? And most states have sunshine laws which require that local government (including school district) decisionmaking is far more accessible to anyone who bothers to pay attention than, say, Congress is.

People (at least those legally eligible to vote) don't have a say only to the extent they choose not to have a say.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 19, 2007 at 7:05 PM | PERMALINK

Since everyone knows strong teachers unions lead to bad schools, we should look to the South as a model, since unions are weak/nonexistent and education superb.

Oh wait, this is reality, not wingnuttia.

Posted by: Arr-squared on March 19, 2007 at 7:15 PM | PERMALINK

paradox: He was not on campus Tuesday, and fired Wednesday

Yes. I meant to say that bad teachers can not be fired for being bad.

Posted by: spider on March 19, 2007 at 7:26 PM | PERMALINK

Jane Galt is not writing about unions. She's writing about vouchers. She's talking about employing markets in the finance and construction of new schools, the decision who to hire, and who to fire.

However, no private company could operate under the systems that now protect teachers in the public schools.

And that's a big part of why public schools don't work and, as a result, our child do not have the expectation of a consistent quality education.

So Drumm, answer the question. What voucher plan would you support? What are you afraid of? Why not offer at least a limited program with lots of opportunities for students to jump back to public education if any problems arise? How about guaranteeing the financing and composition of the local public schools for a period of time until the private schools can be fully assessed? Or how about focusing first on the most distressed and underprivileged areas, with the worst public schools?

Galt is sincere: double the funding if that's what it takes. As a serious critic of public education, I would absolutely throw my support behind doubling *aggregate* funding -- federal and state -- if that's what it takes to get bipartisan consensus. Higher taxes too. This is *that* important. Private schools funded by vouchers could take that 100% increase and multiply it again two or three times in terms of value for dollar invested in our children.

However, it is difficult to discuss this topic without addressing the union issue. Why? Becuase opposition to vouchers is not about concern for our children. It's pro-Union advocacy, taken so far that our children be damned.

Connecting this to a topic of a recent item by you, Drumm. Insiders at the American Federation of Teachers told a reporter recently that they were a primary driver of "check card" legislation, in order to unionize every charter school in the nation, and thereby defeat the charter school movement. Teachers unions are a dark and self-interested force in our democracy, working against the interests of our children.

We might as well collectivize agriculture and supermarkets and proclaim "public food", and power plants and proclaim "public power", and all forms of transportation (including private autos) and proclaim "public transportation" (!)

Why do we, as the center of global free markets, allow special interests to do so much damage? And to our CHILDREN for goodness sakes!

The public schools have failed. A sensible, in fact, robust and superior alternative lay before us

Posted by: anil petra on March 19, 2007 at 7:33 PM | PERMALINK

wordflier: WorldFlier on March 19, 2007 at 6:57 PM

FWIW, I liked that post. All of the people whom I know judged the quality of their schools and teachers from the quality of the homework assignments and the test score averages of the schools.

On average, my private school students have nearly a whole letter grade higher marks for the same level of achievement than my public school students. Other math/science tutors I know see the same thing.

you should write that up and publish it. I'm not kidding. It's an interesting result, and if it's applicable it should have an audience. You probably know already that standardized performance scores correlate more highly with college grades than grades do, and that is an example of the reasons.

The problem, of course, is that the tutees have been self-selected, or parent-selected. It would be interesting to compare them to student/parents in the Kumon program.

cmdicely: There would only be a clash if there was any evidence at all that the "two liberalisms" here were at odds.

Since teachers' unions do in fact oppose school choice, there is a clash. Unless, that is, free choice would reduce, not increase, the progressivism of the school system -- another claim no one has actually made. The present system treats upper, upper middle, and religious students quite well; it's the poor who suffer most. I think that giving the poor more alternatives, through vouchers, would modestly improve the system.

Posted by: spider on March 19, 2007 at 7:45 PM | PERMALINK

First and foremost: parents are generally satisfied with the quality of their schools. If they weren't, they would have moved to a neighborhood where they were happy with the local schools.

Next: vouchers. The only use of vouchers is the following: in inner cities, vouchers can serve as a means for families to take their children out of a local school they're dissatisfied with and place them in a school they are satisfied with. The alternative is for the parents to move to a new town with schools they will be happy with (see above). Vouchers can then serve to keep parents with the means of leaving the city to be satisfied enough to stay in the city, rather than taking their families and tax dollars with them to a suburban school that they're happier with.

Note that for the program to "work," vouchers don't actually have to produce better educational outcomes. They need only ensure that parents are "happier" with the schools in their current city than they would be otherwise. That, as far as I can tell, would be the most salient benefit of a voucher system.

Posted by: Constantine on March 19, 2007 at 7:47 PM | PERMALINK

another note about choice. The Kumon program is available for parents/children willing to make the investment. for roughly what it costs to keep a kid in a soccer program, and less than music lessons, football or hockey, a child gets an excellent, self-paced mathematics program up through about second year college, if desired. In my experience, almost everyone else besides me and my son was Oriental.

People enrolling their kids in Kumon would not, most likely, be hiring other private tutors. I'd expect that Kumon parents, like me and my friends, would not be judging our schools from our own children's grades.

Posted by: spider on March 19, 2007 at 7:52 PM | PERMALINK

parents are generally satisfied with the quality of their schools. If they weren't, they would have moved to a neighborhood where they were happy with the local schools.

In some places the parents are generally dissatisfied and can not afford to move to where the better schools are. That was the case in Cleveland where, for example, the poor people in the projects could not afford to move to Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights, University Heights, Beachwood, Rocky River, and all the other places where the good public schools were. They worked for, and got, a voucher system to send their kids to some of the private schools closer by.


As I wrote, the system works well for the people who have resources.

Vouchers can then serve to keep parents with the means of leaving the city to be satisfied enough to stay in the city, rather than taking their families and tax dollars with them to a suburban school that they're happier with.

That might be true, but I don't think that should be looked upon as the primary benefit.

I keep using this word "poor". Poor people are not a homogeneous lot. Given vouchers, some will make good choices, some not. Without vouchers, some will find ways to improve the education of their children, and some won't. On the whole, the system does not serve them well, and I think vouchers will improve the system. Since voucher programs have not been shown to reduce overall achievement, they should be the default system instead of having the public school monopoly be the default.

Posted by: spider on March 19, 2007 at 8:16 PM | PERMALINK

First, I don't understand why private schools couldn't have teachers' unions as well, so I don't understand why an argument about vouchers is being conflated with an argument about teachers' unions. People can choose their plumber, but they have unions, don't they?

Secondly, Most low-income parents don't get vouchers to get their kids away from their horrible teachers. Most get the vouchers to get their kids away from the general environment of the school, which has much more to do with the other students in the school than it does with the teachers. They generally don't know jack shit about whether the teachers in the crappy local school are "better" or "worse" than the ones in the nice posh suburban school. How would one even make that comparison? It's comparing Apples and Oranges, of course. That is the crux of the problem with the entire damned "accountability" shibboleth. And if education analysts can't figure it out, your average parent ain't going to be able to either. Parents see bad kids in the local school and want their kids far away from them. They see these bad kids as bringing down their own kids.That's their motivation. Hardly anyone mentions pedagogical methods.

Busting unions ain't going to fix the inner city schools. Everybody knows that teachers in inner city schools get burned out pretty quick and try to escape to better school districts anyway. Where there are just as many "bad" teachers, believe me. Yeah, it's easy to get scores of great idealistic young teachers in there at first, but then they want out right quick...you don't need a streamlined grievance procedure to get them out the door. How would schools even function without the long-timers in an age when the teacher turnover rate is so high in these systems?

Finally, the sad thing is that everyone views public education as a zero-sum game. The poorer parents see sending their kids to better private schools as a way to better their lives, but the richer parents of the kids already in the private school do not want to see much more than a trickle of these lower income students in their kids' schools. Once a certain psychological threshold is met, and any voucher program that wasn't window dressing would quickly cause this threshold to be met in many private schools, the reputation of the private school would decline, the middle class parents would flee to a more expensive or more exclusive school, and eventually the pathologies of the public school will be replicated in the private setting.

That this is generally not the fault of the teachers is so obvious it is painful. There are clear examples that disprove this ridiculous claim. In many parts of the US, certain inner-ring suburbs have experienced downward mobility over the past thirty years...the southern burbs of Chicago and certain parts of Prince George's County in Maryland come to mind...places to which inner city residents have fled in droves, either due to personal preference or to escape rising costs associated with gentrification. In these school districts, performance measures have generally suffered large drops. The funny thing is, though, that this happens even though the same teachers remain in place throughout the transition. And the truly disheartening thing is that as soon as a certain very low percentage of the student body becomes low-income (20-25% percent), this sets off an accelerated exodus of middle-class kids from the school, with the end result that over 90% of the kids end up being low income. This will happen in private schools as well.

What is the main mechanism by which private schools function better than public schools? One thing: the ability to select their students. That is the "school choice" that really matters because that is at essence really what defines a private school. As far as methods and procedures go, you can't point to any particular practice that goes on in some private school that hasn't or couldn't also been tried in a public school somewhere. But certain things work better when you can control the population you are working with. It's the same reason why families are so much more dysfunctional than groups of friends.

That is where the rubber hits the road: will private schools willingly open their doors to poorer-performing voucher students? Which schools will? Will the government force lower admissions standards at the schools that protest? The ugly truth of class will sink this scheme just as it has sunk the scheme of "equal" public education. A lot of money will be wasted in moving chairs around. The masses of more experienced teachers--good and bad--- will follow good students, whether they are in public or private schools. The mass of good students will run (or be compelled to run by their parents) from schools with bad students. The worst private schools will struggle to win voucher funds, while the best ones will shun them. From a two-tiered public system to a two-tiered pseudo-private one. Great.

Here's a better idea: focus on the substance of education, make a high school diploma meaningful to these young adults. Don't waste your time on laughable schemes like this. Low income kids with uneducated parents are just not as likely to be interested in going to college. Instead of trying to pretend that this obvious social fact doesn't exist, why not work to make high school itself meaningful to these kids. Ask yourself why they don't find it meaningful. It ain't because of "bad teachers", it's because of unrealistic and counter-productive "one-size-fits-all" mad stampedes to the college admissions table. It's because of the pervasive stigma in America that if you don't go to college, you ain't worth shit and shouldn't even expect to get any kind of job, much less a well-paying one.

Posted by: kokblok on March 19, 2007 at 9:18 PM | PERMALINK
Since teachers' unions do in fact oppose school choice, there is a clash.

No, there is not. "School choice"—usually, a euphemism for private-school vouchers, though sometimes a label for largely open choice of site within the public school system—proposals are opposed precisely because they tend to be regressive, providing the greatest benefit to those with the most resources while drawing energy away from efforts to fix the schools for all.

Unless, that is, free choice would reduce, not increase, the progressivism of the school system -- another claim no one has actually made.

Two points: first, you make a logical error. There is only a conflict if "school choice" would make the system more effectively progressive, not merely if it would not make the system less regressive.

Second, you make a factual error. Lots of people have made the point that "school choice" can be most effectively utilized by those parents with the most existing resources (even when it is completely within the public school system, researching competing schools and providing longer-distance transportation are not free; when it is the form of vouchers that can be used at private schools with no cost controls in the program, the balance in favor of the wealthiest is even more extreme) and therefore likely leaves those with the least resources behind while providing an even greater advantage than does the status quo to those with the most resources.

If some public schools aren't working, the answer is not to let the people who are most able to do so opt out of those schools and take resources to other ones, public or private, it is to figure out what isn't working and fix it.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 19, 2007 at 9:28 PM | PERMALINK

On the whole, the system does not serve them well, and I think vouchers will improve the system.

I just don't think the evidence bears this out. Private schools with tuition low enough to be useful to voucher-holders haven't been shown to be an improvement over public schools, in the aggregate.

However, since parents might be happier with their children's neighborhood school with the benefit of a voucher system, I would rather that the parents in Cleveland stay in their neighborhoods, happy with their children's school, rather than move to the next suburb. I don't think vouchers have been shown to result in better test scores or academic outcomes. I do think there's a benefit to having a family stay in its neighborhood rather than moving around in search of the school that's the "right fit" for their child, and that's why I think that vouchers are worth working with in inner cities.

Posted by: Constantine on March 19, 2007 at 10:06 PM | PERMALINK

providing the greatest benefit to those with the most resources while drawing energy away from efforts to fix the schools for all.

that's the system that we have now

the answer is not to let the people who are most able to do so opt out of those schools and take resources to other ones

that's the system that we have now.

There is only a conflict if "school choice" would make the system more effectively progressive, not merely if it would not make the system less regressive.

I disagree with you there. If a system of choice would make the system "not more regressive" (I think that's what you meant) then it should be the default. Opposing the change prevents the opportunity to learn whether is is an improvement, so I think in this case that opposition to vouchers is in fact opposition to progressivism.

The default is what to do when you can't tell for sure what is best. If you can't tell for sure whether vouchers or the monopoly system is best, then the default ought to be the option with the most freedom of choice.

In most of my experiences discussiing this issue, it has seemed to me that most people who argue in opposition to vouchers do not want to admit that the people who are poor are the people who are ill-served by this system. People with resources already have choice.

Posted by: spider on March 19, 2007 at 10:06 PM | PERMALINK

kokblok, that is an excellent comment (and cmdicely is also at their usual high standard).
----
Koneko - I wish you luck, whatever you decide at the end of the year. Ultimately, personal - preservation, basically - has to come first. But if in the end you think you can keep going, it does sound like they'd be lucky to have you.
----
To paraphrase and elaborate rather badly something my wife always points out, for parents in that situation, their duty as parents is (as was already mentioned) to their kids - basically, they want to get their kids on the lifeboat and away from the sinking ship, whatever happens to everyone else. This comes into conflict with our duty as citizens to the public good, as people to the community - which is to patch up the boat, to save all of the children from drowning, not just the few who can fit onto the lifeboats.

And goddamnit, they are drowning. I'm not even going to get into Megan's little 'double spending per student' bullshit. How dare she?

"In some places the parents are generally dissatisfied and can not afford to move to where the better schools are. "

Arguably a much-expanded and better funded housing voucher program might be the best bet in terms of voucher solutions. But there are other issues here.

Posted by: Dan S. on March 19, 2007 at 10:44 PM | PERMALINK

spider - this monopoly stuff you keep bringing up - unless you're talking about possible ways to use the board game in classroom instruction, you're just wildly off the mark here. Public schools don't have a monopoly on education - there are many educational providers. It's as if the local, state, and federal governments all funded local free widget stores - you can just come in and get a widget - alongside numerous other privately run widget stores.

All this talk about market forces - these are already in play: folks are just thinking way too small. What, for example, do you think white flight is? Really, public schools are in a vicious competition with other kinds of providers, both for tax-base dollars and human capital.

Posted by: Dan S. on March 19, 2007 at 11:03 PM | PERMALINK

. . . And those other providers include other districts, and other kinds of public education. What we've seen over the last few decades is a massive transfer of tax dollars from urban districts to suburban ones (as part of the general tax base), and a massive transfer of human capital from urban to suburban-public and private schools. Although there are various other players - businesses, for example.

Posted by: Dan S. on March 19, 2007 at 11:14 PM | PERMALINK

The majority of private schools in my county are religious-based. There are also a couple of charters and a military school. The rest are higher priced privates. The latter group do fairly well at educating their students. The others range from tolerable to mediocre to a waste of time.

Thing is, only the higher priced schools pay starting teachers, much less experienced ones, salaries competitive with the public schools in this area. Twenty years ago when my wife first talked to this district about a job there were over 300 math teachers on the waiting list to get hired here. Now there are none. It is only because this is a very highly regarded district that they can recruit enough each year to keep up with attrition. Even then, once the school year is underway it is very difficult to replace unexpected losses.

The same is true for science teachers. Also special ed and ESL. Now, if that is the case for the public schools, what are the odds that most of the private schools are going to be hiring better quality teachers when they pay substantially less, often require more non-teaching additional duties, offer less professional training and support and have fewer options for transfer and professional growth?

Firing teachers in this right to work state is relatively easy, even for ones with tenure, as long as a principal takes care to follow the steps laid out in the district guidelines and documents each step. From start to finish it can take only a couple of weeks for non-tenured teachers, a month or so for tenured ones, less in extreme cases. Then what?

NCLB says Jr High and High school teachers have to have Bachelor or higher degrees in their content area as well as meeting state certification requirements. Qualified replacements are simply not sitting around waiting to be called. A principal is not going to want to fire a teacher mid-year, go through the difficult process of finding a minimally acceptable replacement to make it through the end of the year and then go through the whole process again to get a qualified replacement for the next year.

Of course, private and charter schools, in this state anyway, do not have to meet NCLB requirements so replacing a fired teacher is much easier - not that it means the replacement is any better, it is just that it is easier to get a warm body to fill the slot.

And, those schools are not required to test for minimal grade and subject proficiency, and if they do test they are not required to post the test results. Unlike with our more than one hundred public schools in this district, parents cannot quickly look up test results and use them to compare private schools.

This county, with some of the best paid teachers in the USA, does better than the national average at recruiting quality teachers. It receives more resumes and inquiries for open positions than most. As a result, it is able to use higher standards to pick its new teachers. Even so, one in 5 does not make it past three years. One in three doesn't last beyond 5 years.

My wife and her long time teacher friends, all of whom are rated among the very best in this very big district, are more than happy to get rid of unsuitable and incompetent teachers. Such teachers make them all look bad. However, getting rid of bad teachers is one thing. Replacing bad teachers with better teachers is another.

Posted by: WorldFlier on March 19, 2007 at 11:20 PM | PERMALINK

Worldflier at 6:57.

Wow. Just wow. Theoretically, all of the AP Calculus AB content is secular. I mean, it certainly isn't religious. However, being fairly straightforwardly mathematical, it isn't really anti-religious either, if that is what they mean.

However, I am almost more surprised by the fact that they don't cover all the material in order to "reduce the workload on the teachers." I teach mathematics at a mid-large (for OK) HS in a very economically and ethnically mixed town of around 30k people. We take all comers. I have found that students with a solid groundwork in mathematics should be able to cover the material with time to spare. My class will spend 5 weeks reviewing the material this year and I am behind pace due to being fairly new to teaching this course. I just have a hard time imagining what would justify basically teaching what I cover in the first 1/2 to 2/3 of my year and then cutting out the rest.

And of course, you are right about what what most parents consider a good teacher for the vast majority of the parents out there. The upside of being moved into classes where I teach to largely advanced children is that it only takes a half hour to explain to their parents why lower grades and more highly developed conceptual frameworks are better for their kids in the long run. For many parents, that is a 2 hr or more discussion.

Posted by: socratic_me on March 19, 2007 at 11:41 PM | PERMALINK

Karmakin wrote: "Remember that special teacher? The one that tought you just what learning could be, that inspired your love of knowledge throughout your life?

Chances are, that teacher would be the first one out the door. "

Too true. In fact, even with unions, in my high school days the only two teachers who I recall ever being fired were the two most influential teachers I had.

Posted by: gg on March 20, 2007 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

Karmakin wrote: "Remember that special teacher? The one that tought you just what learning could be, that inspired your love of knowledge throughout your life?

One of the best teachers I had -- we ran our entire class on fake money we were paid for our grades or good deeds, memorized long poems and wrote stories, and worked, worked worked -- was moved to a junior high for some reason, then let go after awhile...

As a new teacher it makes me sick.

Posted by: Percy on March 20, 2007 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

Here's a scenario that explains much: Your child is having some problem with the school. You go in and talk to an administrator, and propose some solution, an accomodation, that the school could do to help your child. The administrator says, "oh, the union won't let me do that." The administrator is lying through her teeth. She just doesn't want to set a precedent, or she thinks your being whiny, or whatever. But she doesn't want to portray herself as weak, and she doesn't want to take you on directly, so she passes the buck to the union.

This has happened to me. I bet it happens a lot. I'm sure there are lots of parents who are pissed off about it too. But most of them are pissed off at the union, instead of at the administrator who has successfully lied to them.

I'm prepared to support vouchers statewide in CA. We already have the exit exam for High School, and the STAR tests for standards. Just mandate that any school accepting vouchers administer these tests, and publish results.

Oh, and since Megan allowed it, we'll increase spending too. Though I think we probably won't need a 100% increase, since I expect smaller schools to result in specialization and more cost efficiency.

Posted by: Doctor Jay on March 20, 2007 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

The issue is what Gonzales’ presence does for ongoing investigations into the AG office. (The wire tapping, torture, extraordinary rendition etc.) If he stays does it become easier or harder to investigate? For Democrats, I think it becomes easier, as epublicans will not jump to his defense and underlings will feel free to sell him out. I can see the Republicans (and Media coverage) fighting new investigations if there is a new AG since everything bad was Gonzales’s fault and there is no need to keep looking. This would be unfortunate because Gonzales has done nothing on his own and it is all Bush/Rove pulling the strings. Unfortunately, from Bush’s perspective, his popularity can’t really get any worse and it might distract people from other investigations. From my perspective the more dirt that comes out the better.

Posted by: ecxlitigator on March 20, 2007 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

spider,

I don't think you understand me. Of course those with more advantages in the current system are most advantaged by the current system. The problem with vouchers as a reform is that they provide the most benefits to those same people who already are best served by the current system, and do the least for those who have the least ability to take maximum advantage of vouchers (either because they don't have the extra resources to meet private school tuition when vouchers aren't required to be accepted as payment-in-full, or because they don't have the background or skills to do effective qualitative comparison of schools in advance of a decision) and nothing to deal with the fundamental problems.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 20, 2007 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

If the unions were busted, how would we be able to tell? Unionism is already busted. Fewer than ten percent of private sector workers are unionized. The current structure of unions was conceptualized for a transforming agrarian society when the supply of workers coming of of farms was essentially endless, keeping wages low and working conditions tenuous. This isn't the case anymore in the US. Labor is scarce and it's price accordingly dear. Unions should be reformed into worker-member owned labor corporations which compete openly in the marketplace.

yours/
peter.

Posted by: peter jackson on March 20, 2007 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

As Spider mentioned, one reason our system isn't doing well right now is because it's very nearly a
monopoly, especially with regards to the middle- and lower-class. In response to Dan S.'s point that there are many government/private providers, it's roughly analogous to the government slapping a seven-thousand dollar sales tax on all cars NOT made by Ford, and calling it competition. The point is, it may not technically be a monopoly, but we're well close enough to see it on a clear day. Again, especially for the poor, who can't afford the very roundabout methods of competition that the wealthy can in switching from school to school.
Remember, also, that there's a reason that we don't have a lot of government monopolies. They tend to stifle innovation, first of all. The strength of competitive markets is that they allow anybody who has an idea to give it a shot-- the investment of the entrepenuer's own time and money is assurance of their belief in the idea. While it's true that many (very many) bad ideas come out of this system, the good ones replicate because profit-interested folks will adopt them, and the bad ones die out. The system improves-- over time.
But in government monopolies, every decision becomes not technical-- because nobody in the hierarchy will profit from it-- but political. If somebody proposes something really radical or unpleasant for the administrators, like a big headcount reduction or drastic reorganization, the idea will likely be shot down. With significant competition, however, the administrators are forced to act on the ideas that are truly best or else be outcompeted. It is true that there will be some amount of fraud in the system, but we can handle that the same way we handle it in most business-- regulation and lawsuits.
The core of the issue's that none of us knows for sure what the problem with our education system is, why our kids aren't learning. We all have guesses, and ideas, but we don't really know because the ideas don't get tried because we have a change-averse government near-monopoly. The private sector is a way of testing and judging the most promising schemes.

Posted by: 25Hour on March 21, 2007 at 12:38 AM | PERMALINK

Somebody up above seems to think that under a voucher system, there wouldn't "magically" be any more qualified teachers appearing to take the place of those fired.

Well, here's one, potentially.

I am a 48-year old Ivy-league-trained chemist, with a BA. I would be a FABULOUS high school chem, physics, biology, or math teacher. The best you ever saw.

For the right pay, I'd do it. It would be in the ball park of what they pay experienced teachers now. But of course they won't hire me for that. They want to hire me for what they pay some 22-year old with no experience.

I'm not willing to do that.

They want me to join a g.d. union.

I am not willing to do that.

They want me to go back to education school and get some g.d. useless certificate.

I am not willing to do that.

This is where much of the breakdown is, you union supporters.

Posted by: Chester White on March 21, 2007 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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