Monday, November 24, 2008

Shouldn't We Be Putting Kids Before Unions?

Democrats are fervent supporters of public education, and the party genuinely wants to help disadvantaged kids stuck in bad schools. But it resists bold action. The explanation lies in its longstanding alliance with the teachers' unions -- which, with more than three million members, tons of money and legions of activists, are among the most powerful groups in American politics. The Democrats benefit enormously from all this firepower, and they know what they need to do to keep it. They need to stay inside the box.

And they have done just that. Democrats favor educational "change" -- as long as it doesn't affect anyone's job, reallocate resources, or otherwise threaten the occupational interests of the adults running the system. Most changes of real consequence are therefore off the table. The party specializes instead in proposals that involve spending more money and hiring more teachers -- such as reductions in class size, across-the-board raises and huge new programs like universal preschool. These efforts probably have some benefits for kids. But they come at an exorbitant price, both in dollars and opportunities foregone, and purposely ignore the fundamentals that need to be addressed.

Democrats have to get serious about school choice. The unions oppose it because they don't want one student or one dollar to leave the regular public schools, where their members teach. So the Democrats have been timid and weak in putting choice to productive use -- even though their constituents are the ones trapped in deplorably bad urban schools, whose futures are being ruined, and who are desperate for new educational opportunities.

If children were their sole concern, Democrats would be the champions of school choice. They would help parents put their kids into whatever good schools are out there, including private schools. They would vastly increase the number of charter schools. They would see competition as healthy and necessary for the regular public schools, which should never be allowed to take kids and money for granted.

It all boils down to a simple question. Will President Obama have the courage to unite with the rebels inside his party, champion the interests of children over the interests of adults, and be a true leader who really means it when he talks about change? We can only stay tuned. And have the audacity of hope.

~Terry Moe, Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, writing in today's WSJ

28 Comments:

At 11/24/2008 12:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601109&sid=arEE1iClqDrk&refer=home

 
At 11/24/2008 12:49 PM, Anonymous Fred said...

Why drop a naked link here that has no connection to the topic?

 
At 11/24/2008 1:34 PM, Anonymous qt said...

Not all democrats support the status quo. Exhibit A: Michelle Rhee

School choice doesn't improve the public system any more than reducing class sizes, introducing pre-K, or throwing money at the problem. The data does not support the assertion that loss of customers will motivate public schools to actually improve. Customers have been leaving for years without any improvement whatever. Washington has a 40% high school drop out rate to say nothing of the parents who choose to pay for private school. Why hasn't there been an improvement?

Michelle Rhee is suggesting something a bit more tangible. The ability to hire, pay and fire teachers based upon performance. Isn't it time that teachers joined the ranks of other professionals like engineers, architects, lawyers and physicians who are held accountable for their performance or lack thereof?

A problem with the present public system is that it makes no distinction between excellent teachers and dogs. By changing to a pay for performance model, one can motivate teachers and encouraging excellence. Pay for performance works.

Although changing to a pay for performance model is more likely to bring improvements at the classroom level than school choice, there are some districts like Washington & Chicago that are exceptionally bad where denying school choice is inequitable.

 
At 11/24/2008 1:40 PM, Anonymous Machiavelli999 said...

Democrats' opposition to the school voucher program is probably the biggest reason I refuse to label myself as a Democrat.

Its one thing to prop up a failed auto industry at the expense of the taxpayers. Its another thing to prop up a failed public school system for the benefit of the teachers' unions and at the expense of OUR CHILDREN!

I can only hope that his opposition to the voucher program was all just political rhetoric. I am encouraged by his selection of economic advisors, some of which have written papers showing the benefits of a voucher program.

 
At 11/24/2008 2:15 PM, Blogger Walt G. said...

qt,

You will never convince anti-unionists that the answer to almost every problem boils down to unions. It’s too much like convincing American autoworkers the problem is not the Japanese.

With the decline of union membership the last twenty years, everything should just be rosy now. Perhaps we should be more like the financial sector which is largely non-union. Hey, we’ll trade ‘em one difficult-to-get $25 billion loan for one easy-to-get $700 billion bailout—even up.

 
At 11/24/2008 3:14 PM, Anonymous Eric H said...

"School choice doesn't improve the public system any more than reducing class sizes..."

Improving the public system isn't the goal. Educating children is the goal. I would venture that things improved for most children allowed to leave the failure for something else.

"The union leadership claims its members oppose to the plan, but the WTU has refused to allow a vote."

Here they are again, same old roadblock. No vouchers, no accountability, no merit pay....just pay your dues and keep your mouth shut union sheep.

 
At 11/24/2008 3:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

U.S. Treasury CDS Hit Record Wide Levels
By Richard Leong and George Matlock in London
Mon Nov 24, 2008 11:21am EST

NEW YORK, Nov 24 - The spread or risk premium on 10-year U.S. Treasury credit default swaps hit record wide levels on Monday, prompted by worries about how the cost of rescuing banks and carmakers would affect U.S. creditworthiness, CMA DataVision said.

Hum. Must be thinking this little banana republic is just gonna start printing money.

 
At 11/24/2008 4:24 PM, Blogger Walt G. said...

Many of the prior posts on this blog have echoed this theme: Income inequality is normal even in families. So, I extend the argument with this thought: Educational inequalities are normal, too.

But, think about it. If all the students in Washington D.C. public school system had both parents who were educated at Harvard, would there still be a problem—even with the unions? I'll bet that President-elect Obama’s girls will thrive regardless of where they are.

I think the educational problems we see are more highly correlated with poverty and lack of parents who value or who attained college degrees than unionization. My hypothesis has credible evidence to back it up. Don’t compare public inner-city schools to private schools, instead use a unionized suburban school district (like New Lothrop in our area) where even the parents work in union shops and compare them to private schools. All of their MEAP scores surpass the private schools. Do you think that is an anomaly? Then try another suburban school district like Grand Blanc or Flushing and you will find the same thing. If unions were the real problem, why can these unionized school districts outperform the non-unionized private schools in their area?

Most of the debate about public and private schools is actually a thinly veiled anti-union debate. This is not a debate about educating students for the twenty-first century. Give the public inner-city public school district students the same things that public suburban school districts have and you will see the same results.

 
At 11/24/2008 5:40 PM, Blogger destilando cafe said...

Walt G. is right. Students in affluent unionized public school districts in Michigan and the northeast outperform students in affluent non-unionized public school districts in Texas, Florida, and other Southern states on such measures as the SAT and acceptance to competitive universities. Unions in the north bring up teachers' wages and benefits to middle class levels. The only way you can afford to be a teacher in the South is to be married to someone who makes more money than you. I once interviewed for a job in the South in which I was expected to paint my own classroom prior to opening day. Might have been a fun project--except the air conditioned wasn't on until the first week of school.

 
At 11/24/2008 7:06 PM, Anonymous qt said...

Walt, Destilando cafe,

Have to agree that the family of origin is critical in terms of developing life skills like goal setting, self-regulating, intelligence, socialization, etc. then, there are the negatives like substance abuse, verbal and physical abuse, poor nutrition and family history of mental illness.

There are many non-profits that offer programs to develop leadership and life skills as well as offering community outreach to families/single parents at risk of abuse. In high risk inner cities, these programs are incredibly important and teachers are often at the frontline identifying children at risk and helping to provide support and stability.

Have to agree, Walt, that unions are not the cause of all problems in life. That being said, I also have encountered teachers who are abusive to children, often to the poorest and least able to fight back.

I have watched a teacher bully the poorest kid in the class until the entire class was picking on that kid. Watching someone use a position of power for the purpose of abuse is neither impressive nor inspiring. Ten years later, this teacher was still there browbeating the next batch of students. If you dislike kids that much, why not take a job in administration? His teaching was mediocre at best. As long as you pick on those whose daddies aren't doctors or lawyers, it's open season.

One question: Why should it be so difficult to fire a bad teacher (see numbers in link above)? Why is a union such a haven for the Wood brothers, Drift & Dead?

 
At 11/24/2008 7:13 PM, Blogger bobble said...

walt g:"Most of the debate about public and private schools is actually a thinly veiled anti-union debate. This is not a debate about educating students for the twenty-first century. Give the public inner-city public school district students the same things that public suburban school districts have and you will see the same results."

yes.

i live in an affluent suburb. my two kids got a superb education in the unionized public schools.

 
At 11/24/2008 7:43 PM, Anonymous Eric Holcombe said...

"Give the public inner-city public school district students the same things that public suburban school districts have and you will see the same results."

This is simply not possible for any government or other surrogate parent (union or no) to provide. Unless you want full-blown communism. More money is always the NEA mantra, yet it has been proven (Wash. DC schools are a great example) that more money does not produce better academic results. You cannot force people to be "responsible parents" any more than you can make them all Harvard graduates, so this educational equality is no more than a fantasy.

However, your move to include parents in the formula seems to be the union's next target after the funding doesn't do the trick. Then the parents are blamed for being lazy, uneducated (remember they were probably public school students from the same system), non-readers, etc. and it is their fault Johnny can't read because they do not force completion of two hours of homework after a mere 6-8 hours of school.

These are the same folks that declare in their union resolutions that parents cannot possibly provide a comprehensive education to their children equal to the union "professionals", yet the parents are their "responsible party" when it comes to evaluating failure.

There are also studies available comparing homeschool student performance on standardized achievement tests based upon the parent's education level that show little difference in student performance where the parents have only a GED to the ones that have a PHD - even single parent homes. The same holds true for household income level (which still generally follow the education level as you might expect). They still fall about the 80th percentile and therefore have outperformed the majority of public and private school students taking the same exam. This throws the Harvard education argument out and the need for $10,000 per student per year.

What is common is that these parents have a vested interest in the success of their child. That cannot be manufactured by the government or a private entity at any cost.

 
At 11/24/2008 8:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How many children benefited from the increase in unionism after 1920? All of you most likely did, yet you place the blame on unions and not the fact that the communities these schools exist in are battlegrounds. Communities fail, not school districts. Stop perpetuating the myth of the lazy union worker and get off the blogs and actually go into a community that is failing and make a difference.

 
At 11/24/2008 8:47 PM, Blogger Walt G. said...

qt,

The question should be why is it so difficult to hire a good teacher?

Also, abuse of power is usually an argument for unions and not against them.

Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that unions don't share equally in the blame, I'm just saying the focus should lie elsewhere, and the whole picture needs to be examined.

 
At 11/24/2008 9:37 PM, Blogger Mrs. Freedman said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 11/24/2008 9:51 PM, Anonymous poor boomer said...

Poor Boomer's Law of Politics:

When the interests of the poor are challenged by any other substantive interest(s), the poor almost invariably lose.

*

 
At 11/24/2008 10:28 PM, Anonymous qt said...

Walt,

These are 2 passages from the link above:

"Washington is the lowest-performing school district in the nation. Only 12% of D.C. eighth graders are proficient readers, 8% in math. A mere 60% of high schoolers finish in four years with a diploma. The problem can't be money; Washington's per-pupil spending is the third-highest in the nation, at $13,000 a head."

Can you honestly tell me that parents are responsible for proficiency levels this low? Does it require university educated parents to produce an Grade 8 student capable of elementary school level math and reading?

"In New York City, it costs an average of $250,000 to fire a teacher; the city last year dismissed 10 out of 55,000. New Jersey fired precisely 47 (of 100,000) in the 10 years ending in 2005."

When you look at turnover in any other business or profession that you wish to name, can you show me any example comparable to the above outside of France?

You have mentioned increasing funding but per pupil costs in Washtington, DC are already high. Does increasing funding really solve the problem?


I agree that attracting, developing and retaining staff is a difficult job in any business. For many years, teaching and nursing offered the best paying opportunities for working women. Both of these professions have been heavily dominated by women for decades. Now, there are multitudinous career opportunities for women. Women have also evolved beyond being nurturers and caregivers.

The upside is that those who choose teaching have a higher commitment level. In my youth, many an Arts BA picked teaching because they couldn't think of any other career alternative. Some became great teachers while others didn't really like kids or teaching much. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next 10 years as boomers retire.

 
At 11/25/2008 10:31 AM, Blogger Walt G. said...

qt,

Money is not the problem. To attract a large applicant pool to hire from, the job must be desirable. If the applicant pool is large enough, and the hiring process is efficient, quality teachers will be attracted to the job and hired. If quality teachers are attracted to the job and supported, there will be no reason to worry about firing them because the problems will be minuscule.

I’ve been on a committee that selects apprentices since 1983; we have had very few problems that could not be handled through the available support systems. I don’t have exact numbers available here, but our retention rate of apprentices that complete the training program and earn their journeyman’s card is in the high 90% range.

Anyplace that needs to fire very many people has a broken hiring process. You can’t build an excellent workforce by churning your employees.

I'll repeat what I said earlier, this is not about education. Many thousands of students are educated very well in public schools. This is a union-bashing post.

 
At 11/25/2008 11:31 AM, Anonymous qt said...

Walt,

Will agree that one cannot take the worst districts, ie. Washington or Chicago as representative of the nations public schools. I agree that there are many students who are well educated in the public system.

Will also concede that hiring candidates that are a good fit makes a huge difference in retension and job performance. Peter Drucker, the management guru, once noted that people decisions are one of the areas where managers have typically very poor performance. Those with this ability are the exceptions like a Sam Walton or an Alfred P. Sloan.

The chances that a 99.98% retension rate for NYC or 99.95% for New Jersey are attributable to selection of great teachers strains credulity. Is it union bashing to consider the statistical possibility that some of these are less that optimum teachers.

 
At 11/25/2008 12:00 PM, Blogger Colin said...

Thought exercise: Why don't we just abolish public schools? Seriously. Just say that each kid will get X amount of dollars paid for by the government toward their primary school education. Then the parents can choose whatever school they want. The schools can be unionized or non-union, religious or secular.

Explain to me why that would be wrong. I mean this as a serious question.

 
At 11/25/2008 1:02 PM, Anonymous Eric H said...

Or asked another way: why should Colin, Walt or qt be forced to pay to educate my children?

I am responsible for their food, shelter, clothing and education to age 5 (age limit dropping fast due to pre-K). Why is my child's education suddenly my neighbor's responsibility?

Public education (as all government welfare services) should be in the business of only helping the most needy AND working themselves out of business - not enlarging their kingdom of generational welfare dependents. The government education welfare system has now become a "right" in most people's minds.

 
At 11/25/2008 2:40 PM, Blogger 1 said...

"Students in affluent unionized public school districts in Michigan and the northeast outperform students in affluent non-unionized public school districts in Texas, Florida, and other Southern states on such measures as the SAT and acceptance to competitive universities"...

You got something credible to back up this statement you made destilando cafe?

"my two kids got a superb education in the unionized public schools"...

Well bobble it sounds like your kids are now out of school...

If their unionized school was so good, could they past this test today: Civics Quiz?

 
At 11/25/2008 2:41 PM, Anonymous qt said...

Eric,

...like homeownership?

Unfortunately, there is this thing called precident. Once a system has been in place for a few years, it generally becomes very difficult to change. The new system becomes the norm and society adjusts to the new reality.

The reason union membership has declined outside the public sector is that unionized companies are at a competitive disadvantage.

Since governmental services never have to generate income or attract investment through competitive yields, competition does not provide any incentive to improve a publically provided service. The government service is funded whether it is good, bad or indifferent.

You have to think of it as a closed system like permit Raj or Imperial China where there is very little incentive to innovate. Unless you can introduce a mechanism which changes the internal culture, what prevails is stability, continuity, and mediocrity.

 
At 11/25/2008 5:03 PM, Blogger Walt G. said...

1,

Here’s a credible source:

This point was underscored last week when the United States Education Department released a controversial and long-awaited report comparing public and private schools in terms of student achievement as measured on the federal math and reading tests known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress. As with previous studies, this one debunked the widely held belief that public schools were inferior to their private and religious counterparts. The private schools appeared to have an achievement advantage when the raw scores of students were considered alone. But those perceived advantages melted away when the researchers took into account variables like race, gender and parents’ education and income.

(Source: New York Times, Public vs. Private Schools Published: July 19, 2006)

 
At 11/25/2008 5:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If their unionized school was so good, could they past this test today: Civics Quiz?"

Could you have passed a grammar test?

 
At 11/25/2008 5:38 PM, Anonymous Eric H said...

"Simple or causal inferences related to, for example, student group membership, the effectiveness of public and nonpublic schools, and state- or district-level education systems cannot be drawn using NAEP results."

"Results for students in nonpublic schools are reported as a national average, since the numbers of nonpublic school students asked to participate are too small to produce reliable results if reported for each participating state."

From NAEP's website here:

http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/about/nonpublicschools.asp#results

So, if you take a statistically insignificant number of students and break them down even more (and throw in the Bureau of Indian affairs and military students as "private" students) into race, gender, household income, in other words, student group membership in order to compare school effectiveness, then you have a "credible" study?

On the other hand you can look at the Long Term Trend Data at the bottom of that same page and see the public vs. private results with all the students included.

These NAEP report cards always show the same thing. The older your children get, the less proficient they are, regardless of subject. Regardless of money spent. Regardless of location. Private schools, "on average", always outscore public.

This totally ignores cheering about "outscoring" when the proficiency rate is in the 40th percentile...my "F" is higher than yours.

 
At 11/26/2008 7:07 AM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> You will never convince anti-unionists that the answer to almost every problem boils down to unions.

Uh, Walt? Shouldn't that be "pro-unionists"? LOL.

.

The comments made by Walt and others fail to grasp that the problem is not merely "unions in schools" (hence comparing a few special cases where union districts exceed non-union districts is specious at best) -- it's the effect of the Teachers' Union itself (inarguably one of the largest and most powerful lobbying bodies in the USA) on general policy.

It is almost impossible to get any sort of voucher plan or school choice bills past them. At the first whiff of such an idea being implemented, they mobilize an army of attorneys to create judicial challenge after judicial challenge to prevent any further consideration. If those fail, they then bring in a host of disinformation to sway public opinion against "this" implementation of it.

And, after all that -- any voucher system that is passed, subsequently tends to be under constant legal attack -- from the Teachers' Union -- attempting to abrogate, invalidate, or violate it.

In short, the TU *is* very much the EXACT problem.

The TU is an enemy of Good Education. It does not care, or represent, any effort to do anything but protect its membership from ANY responsibility -- for ANY act.

If a teacher is charged in most states -- in court -- with PEDOPHILIA, with numerous witnesses and evidence to support the claim -- it can be more than six months before they are fired, and TWO YEARS before the firing has completed its legal challenges. In the meantime, the teacher is set aside into a desk job which does not put them into contact with students... and the school district is forced to pay them a salary for what is often a make-work job for the entire time.

Sorry, that's just RIDICULOUS. The TU does not care ONE WHIT about students or what happens to them.

They protect their members from ANY and ALL challenges to their teaching position, no matter how valid or reasonable they may be.

And that is why we have an education system that, were it inflicted on us by a foreign country, would classify as an Act of War.

The whole Public Education system needs to be utterly scrapped, the TU dissolved, and its leaders at all levels denied the power to be in charge of any teaching union in the future, ever again.

.

 
At 12/01/2008 4:36 PM, Blogger flintcitylimit said...

Trust me, your kids would be achieve more in a school like Scarsdale High School, Scarsdale, New York, where proud UNION teachers earn at least $100,000 a year, than in any non-union school in the South (except maybe those teeny-weeny charter school like BASIS in Tucson.)

 

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