This John Stossel series is a great watch and touches on most of the fundamental points driving the education debate:
This John Stossel series is a great watch and touches on most of the fundamental points driving the education debate:
“I find it maddening how many upper middle class parents energetically “support public education” against the depredations of vouchers and other reforms, while moving their own children into better school districts or better programs. Especially parents in Manhattan and a few areas of Brooklyn who proudly note that their experience shows how great public education is, while failing to note that their schools work because these comparatively affluent parents with a great deal of social and political capital fight like hell to divert as many resources as possible–including the best teachers–into a handful of schools in affluent areas.” — Megan McArdle
Readers of my blog, especially those who comment frequently, know my good friend Jon. He’s a recent convert to the left and believes in it passionately. A common theme of his world view, and those on the left in general, is the tug of war between the rich and the poor. The powerful and the non-powerful. The politically connected and the those with no political power. Basically the heart of leftist’s worldview revolves around this paradigm.
Every political fight, every economic decision and every current event is filtered through this prism. Since I consider Jon a smart, honest and sincere person, I have been trying to understand how he could be so enthralled by such a political philosophy. I try to read, watch and listen to everything he asks me to. And a big part of that is Chomsky and his writings. So I go over to Chomsky’s site and this is the latest article of his, on the Winsconsin union political fight:
As working people won basic rights in the 1930s, business leaders warned of “the hazard facing industrialists in the rising political power of the masses,” and called for urgent measures to beat back the threat, according to scholar Alex Carey in “Taking the Risk Out of Democracy.” They understood as well as Mubarak did that unions are a leading force in advancing rights and democracy. In the U.S., unions are the primary counterforce to corporate tyranny.
By now, U.S. private-sector unions have been severely weakened. Public-sector unions have recently come under sharp attack from right-wing opponents who cynically exploit the economic crisis caused primarily by the finance industry and its associates in government.
Popular anger must be diverted from the agents of the financial crisis, who are profiting from it; for example, Goldman Sachs, “on track to pay out $17.5 billion in compensation for last year,” the business press reports, with CEO Lloyd Blankfein receiving a $12.6 million bonus while his base salary more than triples to $2 million.
Instead, propaganda must blame teachers and other public-sector workers with their fat salaries and exorbitant pensions — all a fabrication, on a model that is all too familiar. To Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker, to other Republicans and many Democrats, the slogan is that austerity must be shared — with some notable exceptions.
The propaganda has been fairly effective. Walker can count on at least a large minority to support his brazen effort to destroy the unions. Invoking the deficit as an excuse is pure farce.
In different ways, the fate of democracy is at stake in Madison, Wis., no less than it is in Tahrir Square.
Lost on Chomsky, and which bears no mention in this article or other writings, is an investigation into whether or not the claims of opponents of teachers unions are actually true. This is typical Chomsky. He doesn’t care about declared motives. There has to be other reasons, and those reasons have to fit into a powerful vs nonpower paradigm. Anything else is not even worth investigating.
Ignored by Chomsky then is the long trail of writings and arguments that opponents of teachers unions have been making. Opponents of teachers unions make the claim (among others) that the teachers union stifles reform and entrenches a low quality public education system. One that ultimately harms the poor most, especially minorities.
The proof of this is so one sided that even traditional supporters of unions have a hard time making a compelling case in their defense and instead resort to distortions and misleading claims (see here for an example). But where is Chomsky on this issue? Nowhere. He is so blinded by his worldview, that anything contrary to union power is ipso facto a power grab against the ‘poor and powerless’ in favor of the ‘rich and powerful’.
I bet you can read all of Chomsky’s material, all of his writings, videos and historical accounts and you will not find anything on say, the unions role in entrenching racism (pdf), or vast corruption throughout history, or more currently, the teachers unions negative affect on public education – his is a simple storyline, unions and ‘workers’ are good, rich people are evil.
This is typical of Chomsky and leftist in general. Their simplistic paradigm is so ingrained in them that they often cannot see the forest for the trees, and miss the fact that it is the students and poor minorities in particular, who are the powerless in need of defending, and it is the teachers unions and their political allies that are the powerful.
News reports are a buzz about the ‘last minute deal that averts shutdown’, but the more important news, atleast to me, is that thanks to the very hard work and arm twisting of Republicans, Democrats were forced to agree to reauthorize the DC voucher program:
Re-establishes a school voucher system for the District of Columbia, a longtime cause of House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio). The program provides low-income children with vouchers to attend a school of their parents’ choice.
Kudos to the GOP for making this a top priority. More here.
A moving short video of the affect the “Parent Revolution” is having in Compton, California. I’m curious: to those who dislike charter schools and vouchers, what do YOU have to say to parents stuck in these failing public schools? Please support the Parent Revolution here.
“He ends up taking some odd directions with it, but I think the main thrust of Rick Hess’ article on making school choice actually work is mostly brilliant. His core point is that for the provision of extra options to drive major improvements in quality, you need a much more complete market system than the one we generally have—one where consumers have information about quality, and where providers lose something of value when consumers choose against them. A system where money doesn’t fully follow students into the charter school system, for example, is a system where losing a certain number of students can be beneficial to the incumbent school operators. And by the same token, if the idea is that schools faced with competition are going to start doing something differently and thereby improve they need to actually be given the flexibility to change.” — Matthew Yglesias
Many of my friends still innocently assume that the teachers union is really out to help the students, they have no real self interest in their own personal gain over those of students. Articles like this should remove them of such naive beliefs.
If you want to see how teachers union stand in the way of educational progress, read this New York Times article.
My favorite part of the article:
A building on 118th Street is one reason that the parents who are Perkins’s constituents know that charters can work. On one side there’s the Harlem Success Academy, a kindergarten-through-fourth-grade charter with 508 students. On the other side, there’s a regular public school, P.S. 149, with 438 pre-K to 8th-grade students. They are separated only by a fire door in the middle; they share a gym and cafeteria. School reformers would argue that the difference between the two demonstrates what happens when you remove three ingredients from public education — the union, big-system bureaucracy and low expectations for disadvantaged children.
Same buildings, same resources and in many cases, the same family. In fact, the charter school often has more students per teacher than the public school.
But while the public side spends more, it produces less. P.S. 149 is rated by the city as doing comparatively well in terms of student achievement and has improved since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took over the city’s schools in 2002 and appointed Joel Klein as chancellor. Nonetheless, its students are performing significantly behind the charter kids on the other side of the wall. To take one representative example, 51 percent of the third-grade students in the public school last year were reading at grade level, 49 percent were reading below grade level and none were reading above. In the charter, 72 percent were at grade level, 5 percent were reading below level and 23 percent were reading above level. In math, the charter third graders tied for top performing school in the state, surpassing such high-end public school districts as Scarsdale.
Same building. Same community. Sometimes even the same parents. And the classrooms have almost exactly the same number of students. In fact, the charter school averages a student or two more per class. This calculus challenges the teachers unions’ and Perkins’s “resources” argument — that hiring more teachers so that classrooms will be smaller makes the most difference. (That’s also the bedrock of the union refrain that what’s good for teachers — hiring more of them — is always what’s good for the children.) Indeed, the core of the reformers’ argument, and the essence of the Obama approach to the Race to the Top, is that a slew of research over the last decade has discovered that what makes the most difference is the quality of the teachers and the principals who supervise them. Dan Goldhaber, an education researcher at the University of Washington, reported, “The effect of increases in teacher quality swamps the impact of any other educational investment, such as reductions in class size.”
This building on 118th Street could be Exhibit A for that conclusion.
The full article can be found here.
A quick look will show you why: vouchers pits two traditionally Democratic constituents against each other, minorities and teachers union. In case you were wondering, I am on the side of the minorities.
In this case, the voucher bill passed and the school choice effort marches on.
The Chicago Tribune gives the details:
The legislation got through the Senate in March after being championed by Sen. James Meeks, D-Chicago, and suburban Republicans. But by Wednesday, teachers unions had regrouped and its supporters found themselves pleading with opponents to overcome a furious lobbying effort to stop the bill.
“Think back to why you ran for office,” said sponsoring Rep. Kevin Joyce, D-Chicago. “Was it for a pension? I doubt it. Was it to protect the leadership of a union? I doubt that. Actually in all cases, I believe each and every one of us here got involved to try and make a difference in the lives of our fellow man.”
Joyce could muster only 48 of the 60 votes needed to pass a bill that would have allowed students to get vouchers worth about $3,700 to switch to private or parochial schools beginning in fall 2011.
Joyce said the bill would have passed if it had not faced the union opposition. The bill got support from 26 Republicans and 22 Democrats, fewer votes than Joyce had expected from his fellow Democrats.
Fighting back tears during the lengthy debate, Rep. Suzanne Bassi, R-Palatine, called on fellow lawmakers to “search your souls” to support the measure because “we have failed these kids in the inner-city schools.”
“I’m pleading with you,” said Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, who represents an area with four public schools where students would have been eligible for vouchers. “I’m begging you. Help me help kids in my district.”
Jay P. Greene has more here.
What’s the quickest and easiest way to create a nationwide system of segregation academies? Force people to go to school based on where they live. How do you make them even worse? Let the district lines be drawn by an unaccountable bureaucracy that claims to care about kids but actually doesn’t care how many children’s lives it has to destroy in order to keep the gravy trains running on time. What is the only – the only – empirically proven way to successfully smash segregation? School choice.” — Greg Forster, blogging on the segregation of NY publc schools
Jaime Escalante, the brilliant public school teacher immortalized in the 1988 film, “Stand and Deliver,” died last week at the age of 79. Cato’s Andrew Coulson writes in the WSJ about what his experience tells us:
In any other field, his methods would have been widely copied. Instead, Escalante’s success was resented. And while the teachers union contract limited class sizes to 35, Escalante could not bring himself to turn students away, packing 50 or more into a room and still helping them to excel. This weakened the union’s bargaining position, so it complained.
By 1990, Escalante was stripped of his chairmanship of the math department he’d painstakingly built up over a decade. Exasperated, he left in 1991, eventually returning to his native Bolivia. Garfield’s math program went into a decline from which it has never recovered. The best tribute America can offer Jaime Escalante is to understand why our education system destroyed rather than amplified his success—and then fix it.
A succinct diagnosis of the problem was offered by President Clinton in 1993 at the launch of philanthropist Walter Annenberg’s $500 million education reform challenge. “People in this room who have devoted their lives to education,” he said, “are constantly plagued by the fact that nearly every problem has been solved by somebody somewhere, and yet we can’t seem to replicate it everywhere else.” Our greatest challenge is to create “a system to somehow take what is working and make it work everywhere.”
The most naïve approach has been to create a critical mass of exemplary “model” schools, imagining that the system would spontaneously reconstitute itself around their example. This was the implicit assumption underlying the Annenberg Challenge and, with donor matching, more than $1 billion was spent on it. As a mechanism for widely disseminating excellence, it failed utterly.
President Obama wants a government program for identifying and disseminating what works. In his blueprint for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act released in March, he proposed the creation of “‘communities of practice’ to share best practices and replicate successful strategies.”
He’s not the first to advocate this approach. The secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education pursued the same idea—in 1837. Horace Mann, father of American public schooling, thought that a centrally planned state education apparatus would reliably identify and bring to scale the best methods and materials in use throughout the system. Despite a century-and-a-half of expansion and centralization, this approach, too, has failed. Without systematic incentives rewarding officials for wise decisions and penalizing them for bad ones, public schooling became a ferris wheel of faddism rather than a propagator of excellence.
Jay P. Greene, professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas, writes on the recent vote to end DC Vouchers:
It was perfectly predictable but still sad to watch. The U.S. Senate voted 55-42 yesterday against continuing the DC voucher program. Among Republicans only Olympia Snowe voted against the program. Among Democrats (or Independents), Feinstein, Lieberman, Nelson, and Warner voted for the program.
What was the reason Democrats gave for voting against the D.C. Voucher program that primarily helps minorities? He explains:
the quality of the opponents’ scientific reasoning was exemplified by Sen. Byron Dorgan of South Dakota. As you can see in this link to CSPAN coverage (starting around minute 21), he argues that there is no need for vouchers because our public school system is doing a great job. And we know this because graduates of American public schools were the people who put a man on the moon. I’m not sure what public school Wernher von Braun attended.
But it sure wasn’t a public school like those in DC…or any public school in the ghetto, schools that minorities are forced to attend. Like I’ve said a thousand times on this blog, Democrats first and foremost priority is to the teachers union and public school, Republicans, atleast on Education Vouchers, are on the side of the students – especially minority students.
I remember reading that Malcolm X, being the radical that he was, increased the support for Martin Luther King Jr. In a world without a Malcolm X, MLK would have been the radical one. But with Malcolm X in the picture, it pushes people to compromise on a more ‘moderate’ person – and MLK fit right in.
Today, vouchers do the same for charter schools. Because vouchers are considered the ‘radical’ alternative, they make charter schools look moderate.
Is there a compromise approach? Sure. Let’s continue to expand charter school programs and try out the most innovative ideas from private schools. But let’s not give up on public education.
In a world with vouchers as an alternative, charter schools seem much more reasonable. Greg Forster has more here.
Jay P. Greene, professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas, writes on Obama’s Education policies:
In a major address last March, President Obama declared that his administration would “use only one test when deciding what ideas to support with your precious tax dollars: It’s not whether an idea is liberal or conservative, but whether it works.” Unfortunately, the test that seems to guide the administration’s education priorities is not whether a policy works, but whether it serves a political constituency.
Consider the administration’s treatment of two federally funded programs: The D.C. voucher program, which it is helping to kill, and Head Start, on which it has bestowed billions more dollars. If the administration actually did care about results, its positions would be just the opposite.
If you look at Obama’s education policies from the point of view of what works you will come out seriously disappointed. The way to make sense of his education policies is not to look at what works and what doesn’t work but what serves the interest of one of his strongest constituencies: the teachers unions. Sure, Head Start doesn’t work but what matters is whether it benefits the teachers union. And because Head Start – like universal preschool, smaller classrooms, and higher pay for teachers – means more teachers, directly benefiting the teachers union, Obama and Democrats in general will support it.
This is why I have long given up hope of any real education reform coming from the Democrat side.