Which “Market-Based” Education Reform?

Conor P. Williams

Conor Williams on Twitter. More background here.

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292 Responses

  1. Roger says:

    School choice is really all about introducing constructive competition. That is, it is about getting schools to compete fairly at fulfilling their function. Over time the process will allow parents to choose schools that best meet their needs. The competition will force efficiencies and will both drive out inefficient competitors and attract new entrants.

    The fact that labeling something as market based comes across to some people as a slur reveals much about certain peoples misunderstanding of what markets are.Report

  2. James Hanley says:

    Conor, this is an outstandingly thoughtful post. I am particularly bothered by the claim that charter-schools or school choice in general is un-democratic. That sets up a particularly narrow definition of democracy. Not only does democracy mean the right to participate in governance, but includes the right to choose what governance to participate in, via voting with one’s feet. Rather than seeing school choice as parents being consumers, we should see them as voters, each voting on which school they prefer. But better than the limited view off democracy Stokes had, in this form of democracy every voter can win, instead of some being forced to lose–classic Tiebout sorting.

    I particularly dislike the general disdain for letting parents make choices. I truly cannot understand that. In my state, we have a school-of-choice approach, where normally students can choose any school district to attend. Most parents naturally choose the one they live in, but some prefer to go elsewhere. In my town of 20,000, we have parents who don’t want their kid to go to the city(!) school, so they send them to one of the nearby rural high schools. It drives our superintendent crazy, because it’s very one-sided–the rural folk almost never send their kids to the school in town. But his preference, and Stokes’ is to limit parents’ ability to make choices they think is in their children’s best interest. I’m not persuaded that’s really democratic, in the larger sense of that word.Report

  3. NewDealer says:

    Here is a counter-view on Market-based education reform:


    The apt sections of the review note that the school in question:

    “He describes, for instance, how Garza works to meet the state’s goal for the “completion rate,” an approximation of the number of students who graduate or get a GED in four years. Garza points out that if students fail to enroll or are absent often enough that she can kick them out, then they won’t be counted among the students who are expected to finish. And voilà! Reagan’s completion rate rises. “I’m going to run it till somebody stops me and calls me on it,” Garza says, explaining her plan to drop students with unexcused absences.

    Brick slips that quote in without making it clear that Garza has admitted to engaging in one of the most pernicious pitfalls of education reform. Pushed to meet her numbers, she has chosen to cut loose her weaker charges—those for whom reform was invented in the first place. Garza, for her part, doesn’t defend the practice as fair or right; it is simply what she has to do to meet her numbers.”

    In short, some aspects of education success seem to have resorted to fancy accounting tricks and cooking the books.”

    The review further goes on to note that education reform is hard and has simply become another aspect of our political culture that gets lost in strawmen and culture wars.

    I am also sure that a lot of people go into programs like Teach for America and emerge as champions of the Charter Schoool/Waiting for Superman idea but I think they have those aspects of the left that people complain about the most often. Either they intend to do it for a year or two as a resume booster before going on to their positions in the 1 percent or close to it* or they have that pundit-air of “Democracy is pesky. Why doesn’t anyone listen to my preferred policy choices?” Michelle Rhee comes into the pundit-air version. So does my pundit bete-noir of Matt Yegelias (though I don’t think he writes about school-reform, he is certainly a good example of a contrarian beltway pundit who is too clever by half and seems to willfully miss any point that is not economic)

    Before we can decide on what reforms work, we need to decide on the point and purpose of K-12 education. Do we want critical thinkers and writers with a solid and well-rounded education? Do we want people who can be productive employees? Both? Neither? Then we will get into the huge culture war of what to teach and when. All I have to say is that federalism probably works here to keep the culture war at bay. New York does not want their education policy dictated by South Carolina and vice-versa.

    Wow this was a maxi-rant. I am not really sure what my point was except that school-reform is very hard and we should all be able to agree that cooking the books is not a good way to boost completion and graduation rates.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to NewDealer says:

      Charter school/Waiting for Superman idea

      Isn’t that the attempt to reduce serious policy debate to a fight over pejorative rhetorical categories that Conor was criticizing?Report

    • Ethan Gach in reply to NewDealer says:

      “Before we can decide on what reforms work, we need to decide on the point and purpose of K-12 education.”

      Why can’t we have a Presidential commisssion to study this?Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Ethan Gach says:

        I can’t tell whether you are being sarcastic or not but do you think one would be helpful?

        I think it would just become another part of the culture and pundit wars. You would have the social conservatives v. people like me who want K-12 students to have well-rounded educations including plenty of arts education v. the STEM STEM STEM crowd v. the vocational people.Report

    • Chris in reply to NewDealer says:

      Ah, Reagan high school. My girlfriend and I often walk on the track there (she lives about a half a mile from the school).

      I will say this about the reforms: the police helicopter is no longer hovering over Reagan at least once a week as school lets out in the afternoon. They pulled that off.Report

  4. Mike Dwyer says:

    I am a big fan of school choice but I like it in the context of a standard public school system. Here in Louisville we have a system of magnet, optional, traditional and reside schools. This creates a lot of choice for parents and also, IMO, creates a greater sense of accomplishment and ownership for students. But it is all within the context of the school system and retains their governance and oversight. In fact it only works when all of those options are on the table.

    Charter schools are great and I don’t have a problem with them at all, but I don’t like the idea of them being an ancillary part of the school system. If anything I would prefer them to be set up as ‘educational labs’ where new techniques and strategies are carefully tested, but with the schools remaining more integrated with the larger school system.Report

    • M.A. in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      Charter schools tend to “work” for the first 4-5 years or so, after which point their performance and test scores drop back to the level of the rest of the public school system. Reason: initial parents come from highly motivated groups and are highly involved, but once the “newness” and advertising thereof of the charter school wears off, the charter school’s dynamics resemble much more the average non-participating parent crowd.

      “Voucher Programs” just shuffle the numbers. Kids whose parents already want to put them in private or religious schools do so, and other kids get displaced from those schools anyways. The grim truth is that most private schools have waiting lists and entrance exams, so if you put a voucher kid in, some other kid gets sent back to the public school system.

      I really don’t see why anyone except idealists goes into teaching these days. The hours are crap; after the “required tutoring hours for kids who are behind”, you’re there 6:30 am till well after 5pm at least monday through thursday, and at least until 5 on friday. Forget ever going to lunch with your significant other during the week, too. The pay is crap, compared to most fields. The amount of work (grading, curriculum creation) they take home and have to do “after hours” is enormous.

      And if that weren’t all you have all the major complainers. Parents who think their kid is a fucking genius wanting to know why little Chen or Shan didn’t get a perfect 100. Parents who spend zero time parenting at home, then send their little disruptions to school acting out and hitting or biting other kids. The push and pull between those who don’t want religion forced on kids in public school, and the religious fundies who want to try to force religion in the door any way they can. The constant drone of “waste” from assholes going through your school district looking for loose change that can be put to a few vote-buying efforts or a few sweetheart contracts… but don’t you dare point out all the money wasted by the football program while the theater and music programs are desperately trying to hold fundraisers just to make ends meet.

      I really can’t see why people would want to go into that environment. A job where every day as likely as not you’re going to be accused of “liberal indoctrination” by some redneck bible-thumper with more guns in his house than brain cells in his head? NO. THANK. YOU.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to M.A. says:

        “Voucher Programs” just shuffle the numbers. Kids whose parents already want to put them in private or religious schools do so, and other kids get displaced from those schools anyways. The grim truth is that most private schools have waiting lists and entrance exams, so if you put a voucher kid in, some other kid gets sent back to the public school system.

        This misses the point in two ways.

        1. As demand grows, so supply will grow to match it. Supply of private schools is sticky, no doubt (nobody can build and staff one instantly, in response to unexpected increase in demand), but over time the supply will increase. So to focus just on what happens to a student at time T1 is inappropriate.

        2. The voucher kid who displaces another kid is more likely than that other kid to live in a failing school district–that’s why s/he’s getting a voucher in most cases. The other kid, apparently being able to afford private school without a voucher, is more likely to be living in a more affluent school district with better schools. So assuming we don’t have room for all kids in the private school, which one should we send back to the public school, the one who’ll return to a pretty good school, or the one who’ll return to a pretty bad school? It seems wrong to me to treat those two kids as though they’re just interchangeable pupil-units.Report

        • M.A. in reply to James Hanley says:

          It seems wrong to me to treat those two kids as though they’re just interchangeable pupil-units.

          The voucher kids from a “failing school district” who get out will be the top end of that school system.

          You’re not fixing an underlying issue with a school system in an area with high crime, high poverty, and other issues. You’re yanking a few kids out of it and telling all the other kids in that same school system “fuck you.”

          Vouchers aren’t even a band-aid solution. They’re plainly a fraud that fixes nothing in the system.Report

        • Mike Dwyer in reply to James Hanley says:

          James – I’m going to disagree on any net good for vouchers. The reason that private school succeeds is that tuition creates a barrier. This filters out a lot of people who would never succeed in the environment. Remove the barrier with vouchers and private schools lose the exclusivity which makes them succeed.Report

          • James Hanley in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            Mike and M.A.,

            You both seem to assume that private schools/charters can’t do anything different from public schools. That it’s only about the quality of the students. Without disagreeing with your filter argument, which is indisputable, I think it’s a bit much to make that monocausal. At the very least, we know that private schools have to offer something parents value enough that they will pay for the tuition. Sometimes that’s just religion, but it’s not unrealistic to suspect there might be something more.

            As to vouchers being only a band-aid solution, again, M.A., you’re only looking at time T1. What happens to a school that starts losing students? If they don’t respond, they continue to lose students until there’s few enough that the school board closes it down and redistributes the students to other schools. Or they do respond, and they start improving things. That’s not to put all the blame on schools–the primary problem is parents. But in fact one of the responses of the school can be to work harder on parental involvement, or to give more focus to students with uninvolved parents.

            I know in my own school district, school of choice has led to many parents moving their kid out of the “city” (population, 20,000) school to attend rural schools. Many others have chosen to attend a local private school. From the school district’s perspective, it doesn’t really matter whether the transferees have shifted to a public or a private school; it’s still lost students for them. So they’ve been working hard to improve the quality of the school. Among the things I happen to have become aware of are big investments in their performing arts spaces and programs and the addition of the International Baccalaureate program.

            The fundamental problem with limiting choice is that you limit institutional responsiveness. Without the possibility of exit, the only response to institutional decline is voice, and not only doesn’t voice doesn’t always work, its effectiveness is weakened by loss of the exit option.Report

            • Mike Dwyer in reply to James Hanley says:


              I would separate private schools (i.e. paroichial and preparatory) from charter schools. I am a product of Catholic schools and a HUGE believer in what they do. I think what they do is radicaly different from public schools.

              Charter schools are hamstrung by their goal of innovation but their dependence on a flow of students from demographics that seem to cary little for their child’s success (generalizing here). To be blunt, innovation can only go so far when you don’t have a barrier to admission.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Mike Dwyer says:


                I don’t think the future of private schools has to rest solely with religious schools. Many things government provides are actually produced by private actors to a large extent–roads, military equipment, lodging in national parks, and so on. It’s possible education could be different, but I think the long history of private colleges functioning side-by-side with state universities undermines the claim, reducing it to “K-12 education is different” (not a strawman, as I could drag out several of my own–private college!–colleagues who make that claim). Again, possible, but boy does that claim need a lot of demonstration it currently hasn’t gotten.

                As to innovation being limited by uninvolved/uninterested parents and students, I think that’s undeniable, at least in regards to some innovations. But it seems to treat these students as essentially unreachable–there ain’t a damn thing we can do for any of them. I can’t swallow that. There may be a core of truly unreachable students, but I think the most important innovations are/will be the ones that find ways to motivate the unmotivated. That’s hard, but I see no reason to think it’s impossible. Certainly we don’t have enough evidence of its impossibility to give up the effort yet.Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to James Hanley says:


                The problem as I see it is that it’s impossible for schools to replace the thing that these students need the most which is engaged parents and a positive environment at home.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                We’re agreed on what kids need most. And I agree schools can’t totally replace that. But I think they can mitigate it, and I think mitigation is a goal worth striving for. I’m not utopian on this point; I just think we can do better at than we currently are.

                And as I said, not necessarily for all kids. But I don’t think there’s a binary–motivated/unmotivated, or engaged parents/un-engaged parents. If we can’t help those at the far end of the continuum, perhaps we can at least help those from somewhere around the middle to 2/3 of the way down it?Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to James Hanley says:

                Honestly the best data I have seen for mitigating those effects is socio-economic based busing. It works.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                Well, if that’s true, then it’s a bit depressing.

                But I feel like there’s a corollary to the “God of the gaps” argument; just because we haven’t solved a problem yet doesn’t mean it’s unsolvable. It may mean nothing more than that we haven’t yet found the solution.Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to James Hanley says:

                Well, if the problem is parental failure, then maybe the answer is to remove parents from the equation and make all schools beyond basic no-biting, poop-in-the-potty-not-your-pants day-care be boarding schools.Report

            • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

              I should clarify. It’s not that private schools can necessarily do some things public schools cannot do (except for the religion stuff), but that in many places private schools probably are doing things the public schools are not doing. Given increased competition for students (whether from privates, charters, or adjacent school districts), those public schools will have an incentive to start doing the good things that other schools are doing and that they’re currently not doing.

              What really gets me is that this is not really a big issue for good public school districts. It’s a big issue for lousy public school districts. And the complaint that you’re leaving some students behind comes across to me as saying, “don’t let any of them escape; if some have to stay behind they all have to.” I know the standard response is, “well, let’s make those school districts better.” I agree, and competition is a reasonable plan to make them get better–lord know the last 50 years of public policy hasn’t done a goddam thing, so unless you have a superior plan that isn’t effectively to keep on as we’ve been keeping on, I can’t see opposition to charters and vouchers as actually being driven by a concern about the education of poor kids. Other political factors seem to be at play, ones that would consign the poor kids to continued shitty schools so that other political goals aren’t undermined.Report

            • Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

              At the very least, we know that private schools have to offer something parents value enough that they will pay for the tuition.

              E.g, filtering, so that their kids don’t have to go to school with those kids.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                I’m sure that’s one thing. Do you think it’s the only thing (or that it and religion are the only things)?

                Even if so, why should only the rich kids get the opportunity? Back to the inequality debate, one of the things discussed was government policies that reinforce inequality. Is it possible that not giving vouchers is one of those things?

                It seems odd to me that we fret about the rich kids getting stuff others can’t afford, but when the solution is to help some of those others afford what the rich have we object to it.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

                Say a private school costs X, and tomorrow we pas a law that all kids are entitled to a voucher for Y. Why doesn’t the school raise its price to X + Y immediately? The price hasn’t changed for the kids that already go there, and it’s just as out of reach for the others.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                What do you mean that doesn’t change the price for kids that already go there? Their tuition has increased from X to X+Y.

                Some number of parents who can afford X+Y will decide that the extra benefits of the public school aren’t worth Y more than X, so they’ll pull their students (whether to send them back the public school or another private school is irrelevant).

                And not everyone who goes to a private school has unlimited money to do so. Some parents really scrimp to pay for it. They’re not impoverished, but they’re not even upper middle class, just solidly middle class. Raise the tuition and you probably price them out, and the school suddenly has a lot fewer students.

                Sure, they returning students are paying more, so perhaps net revenue is still about the same, but the school has probably targeted a size it wants to be, and probably doesn’t want to be smaller.Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to James Hanley says:

                The kids who get there get the same Y-valued voucher as everyone else, don’t they?Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to James Hanley says:

                The kids who already go there get the same Y-valued voucher as everyone else, don’t they?Report

              • In just about every voucher proposal I can think of, there’s going to be quite a bit of means-testing. So no, the kids who already go to the private school aren’t going to get the same vouchers as the new kids, if they get any vouchers at all.Report

              • We can also means-test vouchers. I wouldn’t be opposed to that. A better idea might be to limit vouchers to those private schools where a voucher equals a full-ride. That might prevent schools from escalating tuition to keep the vouchered kids out, unless they’re happy forgoing them entirely. I understand the concern of some skeptics that private schools will remain only for those who can afford them, thus subsidizing parents who already send their kids to private school, but these concerns can be addressed (and I believe have been in places). I’m not interested in subsidizing the wealthy with their private schools.

                I have a muttermutter for private schools, especially colleges – sorry James! Of course, put me in the right (or wrong) school district, and of course I would go with that option (or home school) if no charter is available.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                No worries, Wil. Like most academics, I took the job that was offered to me. It happened to be private, but I would have taken a job at a public school. My own undergrad education was part private college/part public. I think there’s plenty of room for both. I even think there’s room for the for-profit colleges, although I suspect it’s mostly confined to professional programs. At least if U. Phoenix is an accurate indicator.Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to James Hanley says:

                OK, I was thinking of the “replace public schools with vouchers and let the market fix things once and for all” proposals.Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to James Hanley says:

                @Will: Do you mean allow vouchers only to schools where

                1. Every kid is paying with a voucher (or the cash equivalent), or
                2. Every kid who’s paying with a voucher owes nothing else?

                2 amonts to subsidizing scholarships to expensive private schools. There’s a free-rider problem, but I do trust that most schools would use this to provide more scholarships to deserving kids.Report

              • Trumwill Mobile in reply to James Hanley says:

                Not sure I follow, Mike. In my view, private schools that accept vouchers should not get to pick which vouchers to accept. (Which students they can kick out for what would have to be sorted out by negotiation.) Does that help?Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to James Hanley says:

                Yes, but I don’t see the disadvantage to a school accepting either cash (in an amount larger than the voucher amount) or a voucher. Asking for a voucher plus cash is what I complained about above.

                Picture an expensive, academically superior school that offers some need-based free-ride scholarships. If their getting the voucher amount allow them to offer more scholarships, that’s a win for everyone.Report

              • Ohhh, I thought you were being sarcastic when you apparently weren’t. I was trying to figure out what way they were gaming the system for ill that I wasn’t seeing.Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to James Hanley says:

                I thought you were being sarcastic when you apparently weren’t.

                That is usually the way to bet, but in this case, no.

                There is a game that schools can pay: replace all existing full rides with voucher-compensated full rides. But I’d live with that in return for the schools that use voucher money to expand the scholarship pool.Report

              • Kolohe in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Doesn’t this logic also throw cold water on offering Pell Grants and Stafford Loans?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kolohe says:

                Doesn’t this logic also throw cold water on offering Pell Grants and Stafford Loans?

                What? Don’t you want the poor to be able to go to college???Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to Kolohe says:

                If every single person who sent to college got one? Sure.Report

              • Kolohe in reply to Kolohe says:

                Well, there is the fact that almost every single person that goes to college *applies* for one (though a little less than half get them)

                (19.4 million applicants20.4 million college students)Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to Kolohe says:

                I don’t see how people applying for but not receiving scholarships affects tuition rates.Report

              • Kolohe in reply to Kolohe says:

                The only reason more grants aren’t handed out is because that’s all they have the money for. If we were to say, stop throwing down the pit of Afghanistan, we could double (or triple) the Pell Grant budget, and give grants to everyone.

                Which was pretty much a platform plank of Occupy Wall Street.Report

              • M.A. in reply to James Hanley says:

                “We’ll let a few of them out but the rest have to stay in a shitty school and a shitty neighborhood that we libertarians are not willing to put the effort, time, or money in to fix.”

                FYIGM at its finest.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to M.A. says:

                There he goes again…Report

              • Will Truman in reply to M.A. says:

                Funny, because if I were to assign a FYIGM label here, it would be towards those who send their kids to good schools, have a choice of where to send their kids (they can move or afford private school), and yet vociferously oppose poor kids being able to go anywhere but their local school.

                See, my kids will get a good education. We can private school, we can home school, we can be sure to live in a place with good schools. Association school choice with FYIGM is, in my minds, entirely backwards. I got mine, but I want them to have something closer to it than they still do.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:

                “Brain Drain” is a real issue that should be a part of the conversation, but I find it nigh-impossible to attribute this as a motivation by anyone advocating school choice.

                “You know how we’ll screw the poor brown folks? We’ll steal their bestest and brightest, leaving the rest to flounder!” There is not a mustache twirlable enough for that to be a realistic scenario.Report

              • M.A. in reply to Will Truman says:

                What I have a problem with is the FYIGM mindset that goes:

                – I got mine. My kids have (private school, religious school, public school in a well-to-do area) and therefore have great educational and life opportunities.

                – Therefore, I don’t give a crap about schools in troubled areas.

                That’s FYIGM, entirely. The idea that “vouchers” will fix those schools is completely nonsense. It lets a few kids out and dooms the rest, and never fixes the root cause. Hanley insists that those schools will close “eventually”, that they’ll be replaced by something better (how, exactly? Charter schools don’t pop up in those areas for a reason). After 4 decades, libertarians are still repeating that same mantra even following failure after failure after failure.

                It’s time to address root causes. That’s hard, and yes it will take some serious work and probably money because it goes beyond just the school’s front doors.

                “Screw it, the system is fine for me” is FYIGM, and so is the voucher nonsense. Neither of them addresses root causes.Report

              • M.A. in reply to Will Truman says:

                Kazzy, brain drain is a problem, but the real problem is leaving the rest behind. The best voucher programs available in the nation have ONLY been available to a very small percentage of the populations where they were created. They operate by application process or by lottery, or some conjunction of both.

                The worst thing about voucher programs is that they tell parents “your kid has a chance at a better education, see we’ll let them play the lottery for one.” It doesn’t do a goddamn thing to make the educational system better, and it doesn’t do a thing for those who don’t wind up winning the lottery to get the voucher even when they get into the waiting line.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Will Truman says:

                What I have a problem with is the FYIGM mindset that goes:

                – I got mine. My kids have (private school, religious school, public school in a well-to-do area) and therefore have great educational and life opportunities.

                – Therefore, I don’t give a crap about schools in troubled areas.

                Good thing I didn’t do that then, eh?Report

              • Trumwill Mobile in reply to Will Truman says:

                It is 100% wrong to me to take the side that says “I want people who can’t afford to have te same options as I do and give them more options” and label it FYIGM.

                To be perfectly honest, the whole “we have to fix the underlying problems and make all of these schoolls great” strikes me as much as anything as a dodge because, well, I am skeptical of our odds. And in the meantime, I have disctretion on schooling and they don’t.Report

              • M.A. in reply to Will Truman says:

                Pushing vouchers is exactly that, Hanley. Vouchers do nothing to fix the schools they yank kids from. At best, they offer a lottery-based (in most areas) option for parents who go in, praying they get lucky in the drawing. And of course, the kids who are pulled away are those whose parents were already involved, which further drains the pool of involved parents from the school that desperately needs MORE parental involvement.

                In the unlikely event a school loses enough kids to close, it’s not likely to be replaced by a charter school; more likely, the kids wind up overpopulating nearby schools as they are divvied up and the geographic attendance lines redrawn. It exacerbates the problem instead of fixing it.

                That’s the reality and that is why vouchers and voucher proponents are FYIGM. It does NOTHING to fix the system while pretending to be a fix, which is even worse than just admitting you don’t want to fix the problems.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Will Truman says:

                Hanley insists that those schools will close “eventually”, that they’ll be replaced by something better

                A closer reading would reveal that I didn’t insist on any such thing.

                Charter schools don’t pop up in those areas for a reason.

                Well, that’s just not true.Report

              • M.A. in reply to Will Truman says:

                “You’re poor and you’ve been disadvantaged all your life so here, have a lottery ticket, good luck.”

                That’s FYIGM.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Will Truman says:

                Everything Wil said.

                And for the record, the public school where my kids go was rated failing a year ago by the state board of education. It’s not really that bad–we have a large number of grads go to top colleges/universities every year; there’s just a large number of students who didn’t take the state standardized test seriously because, well, because both their parents and the school failed to motivate them. This past year we got a better result, much improved.

                But to think my kids are going to an elite school is to make unwarranted assumptions about me. That said, if my kids’ school had declined, instead of improving, I would be able to take the 20 minute drive every morning to a somewhat higher performing school in an adjacent school district (it’s all rural and lower middle class around here–there are not phenomenal schools). So I’m relatively privileged, but not impressively so.

                And what I want is for kids in shitty schools to have at least as much ability to transfer to a better school as I have.

                And that makes me FYIGM. Got it. Maybe I’ll get the t-shirt.Report

              • ““You’re poor and you’ve been disadvantaged all your life so here, have a lottery ticket, good luck.”

                That’s FYIGM.”

                At what point do we get to point out that the reason it’s rarely implemented beyond a lottery system is because opponents are only willing to allow it on an experimental basis, rendering the far more accessible programs that advocates would vastly, vastly prefer politically impossible?

                It’s only FYIGM if you’re unwilling to push to expand the program or, in the alternative, unwilling to make other fundamental changes to the system (and no, throwing more money at the problem isn’t a “fundamental change”). Repeating the mantra “Public Schools Work!” over and over again is a hell of a lot closer to FYIGM than “hey, it would be pretty cool if we could give people who don’t ‘got theirs’ some more options.”Report

              • “Don’t worry, your school may be terrible, but we’re going to fix the underlying causes any day now. So don’t you go anywhere. (Nevermind where my kids go.)” doesn’t come across to me as it comes across to you, I suppose.

                The lotteries are imperfect, but as much as anything a reason to support the creation of more charters and options so that more and more kids win the lottery.

                If I were to stop caring, I’d actually just support the pre-charter no-choice status quo. That would keep the market for alternative schooling primarily limited to those like myself. Especially vouchers, which would allow those public school kids into the private schools I might be sending my kid to. Or otherwise, require my private school to raise tuition in order to continue to price them out.

                I can live with the status quo. I might defend the PCNC status quo by talking smugly about how we can’t fix anything until we fix everything. I might defend the pre-charter no-choice status quo by talking about how it’s important that we keep the brain drain plugged (coincidentally, my kid is on the right side of it). I might defend the PCNC status quo by talking about change that is so immeasurable and hard to accomplish, that if it is never accomplished, we’ll just have to keep spinning the wheel harder. Whatever. I got mine.

                (Note, I do not believe that supporters of the PCNC status quo and/or hopes to address the root causes of being so disingenuous. I just vociferously reject the notion that we know they care while assuming that those who want them to have education options – even imperfect ones – are somehow operating from the lofty perch of privilege-maintenance.)Report

              • M.A. in reply to Will Truman says:

                At what point do we get to point out that the reason it’s rarely implemented beyond a lottery system is because opponents are only willing to allow it on an experimental basis, rendering the far more accessible programs that advocates would vastly, vastly prefer politically impossible?

                At what point do we get to point out that the reason this fake “solution” doesn’t get expanded is that study after study, over and over, for 40+ years has shown that it does not work long term?

                The gains found by charter schools happen in the first 3-4 years, after which the charter schools sink back to normal public school performance because the “new school, crop of involved parents” glow wears off.

                There are no gains to be found by shuffling a few kids around parochial or private schools back and forth. It does not improve the overall system or student performance.

                The myth propagated by advocates like you is that somehow if there were vouchers for everybody, there would be a magical crop of magnet-level schools popping up on every street corner. It’s not going to happen, and you know it just as well as I do.Report

              • NewDealer in reply to Will Truman says:

                This seems to be a wicked problem between two intractable sides who just shoot past each other.

                I think M.A. is correct that vouchers can be a lotto ticket and do nothing to solve the structural problems.

                However, I am not sure what the solutions are. I am not a parent yet but do fit Kazzy’s portrait of brain drain. I am a professional who is part or on my way to being part of the upper-middle class. If I ever get married and have kids, I will likely move to a suburb that is also filled with upper-middle class professionals because I think public school is important but I am not willing to take a gamble on the public schools in large cities and private school tuition is crazy.

                What is the solution? Do we encourage people like me to stay in urban areas and send their kids to public school? When I lived in Brooklyn, I had a very specific neighborhood that I wanted to live in. Said neighborhood had two public schools, one was good and the other was considered not good. My real estate agent always pointed out which apartments were part of the good school district. Even though I was a 26 year old single guy, she saw me as being part of the class of people who would care about such things.

                I think NYC has a lot of parents who are willing to send their kids to public school for K-8 but not for high school unless their kids get into one of the handful of magnate schools like Bronx Science, Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech, etc.Report

              • Debating whether school choice policies work is one thing; saying that the motivation for supporting those policies is FYIGM due to the limited availability of spaces is absolutely outrageous given that it’s opponents, not supporters who make sure availability is limited.

                If you’re objection is that it’s a lottery system, then that’s an objection that favors supporters, not opponents.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Will Truman says:

                Regarding the Center on Education Policy link M.A. provided:

                The report critically notes that many studies of vouchers were published by organizations that support vouchers. But CEP bills itself as “an advocate for public education.” So by their own standards, they’re no more to be trusted than the organizations they criticize.

                And notably, among their findings is this:

                “The SCDP study of the Milwaukee voucher program found slightly greater gains in achievement among public school students most affected by voucher competition…than among public school students less affected by vouchers.”

                An analysis of the Milwaukee program by Federal Reserve economist Rajashri Chakrabarti concluded that test scores improved at a much greater rate in high-poverty schools that were eligible for the voucher program than in a control group of similar schools that were not eligible.

                That sounds a lot like vouchers actually changing the low performing schools, as predicted. The CEP report niggles that causation is hard to sort out, which is true enough, but they offer no competing evidence for any other cause except to hint at NCLB.

                This is a critical point, because if the voucher-eligible school districts are improving as a consequence of being voucher eligible, we would expect to see less difference between the kids who took the vouchers and those who stayed in the public schools. But that would mean the vouchers were actually working, not that they weren’t working.

                As to M.A.’s “40 years” claim, the reports I see say that Milwaukee was the first, in 1990.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:

                Can’t it be both/and? Vouchers and broader school reform?

                If we live kids in failing school districts until we can stop them from failing, how is that better than at least giving some a better oppourtunity? If vouchers are not coupled with other reforms, I am much more squishy on my support. But I certainly see them as a piece of the puzzle.


                I agree wholeheartedly that “Brain Drain” is an externality problem that can’t be ignored. But we shouldn’t foist that responsibility on the kids and parents who seek better options. Otherwise, we’d have to forbid those kids from going to private schools on their own dime.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:

                “What is the solution? Do we encourage people like me to stay in urban areas and send their kids to public school?”

                How can we incentivize this? Tax deductions if you send your kid from a higher-performing school to a lower one? This could motivate some parents who are confident they can see their kid to success no matter the school and who could use the cash. Half baked idea, admittedly, but thoughts?Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to Will Truman says:

                If you want to ensure that nothing gets done, make improving education dependent on solving the entire problem of inequality.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to M.A. says:

                Can someone please explain to me how helping at least some poor kids instead of none of them is FYIGM?

                And isn’t a bit sad that Conor’s criticism about “attempts to reduce these serious policy debates to a fight over pejorative rhetorical categories” is proven right even here in the responses to his post?Report

              • NewDealer in reply to James Hanley says:

                I think it sends a message that the structural problems facing poor-school districts are daunting that we are not going to even try.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:


                But charter schools are part of the public school, system–they are an attempt at addressing the structural problems of poor school districts.

                And since we currently aren’t seriously trying to address the structural problems of poor school districts, are we going to condemn individual students–real live kids–to being stuck there, just on the principle that someday somehow we’ll seriously address the problem?

                I guess I don’t get why the focus is on the schools or the districts, instead of on the kids.Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to James Hanley says:

                Because helping ninety-nine percent of students is exactly the same as pushing one percent down.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

                The charter school, at least the American version, is hardly a structural reform. The charter school isn’t private, to the extent that it has to raise its own money, and it isn’t public, to the extent that it isn’t accountable for that money.

                The charter school represents the worst of both worlds. He who takes a tax dollar is ultimately responsible to the taxpayer. Teachers don’t last in charter schools. Where charter schools succeed, they can cherry-pick the most motivated students and can oblige parents to sign contracts, as in the KIPP schools. Where charter schools fail, such ground rules are missing.

                All this hooey about condemning real live kids to real bad schools is just so much blethering. The USA is unwilling to effect structural reforms which might give teachers mandate and hold parents accountable. The charter school, where it has succeeded, has done both.Report

              • Liberty60 in reply to James Hanley says:

                The “helping x% vs helping 100%” gets to the heart of the issue.

                We pretty much know for a fact that engaged and committed parents, regardless of income or status, can create a terrific school system. Charter schools themselves have proven this.

                We also know that there are plenty of such schools where that doesn’t occur. Charter schools have also proven this. Some ar no better than the public schools they replaced.

                Public or private isn’t really the driving factor; sure, higher income parents who might be disengaged or uncommitted can cover over that fact by paying others to do it for them; poor people can’t, so their failings are much more apparent.

                Market-based, vouchers, charter schools; they all have one thing in common which is they- by design- weed out the uncommitted and disengaged.

                The struggle is what to do with the rest; I am not aware of any scheme that proposes delivering high quality education to families who are uncommitted and disengaged.Report

              • I am not aware of any scheme that proposes delivering high quality education to families who are uncommitted and disengaged.

                There are, alas, limits to any system. I’d consider helping those that are committed, engaged, but saddled in a bad school to be a win, even if not a gloriously complete victory.Report

              • Liberty60 in reply to James Hanley says:

                Which gets back to why public school reform immediately gets into”perjorative rhetorical categories”;

                Reforming education is easy if you think of it as a market; a market exists only to serve those who want to purchase the product.

                Public school was never envisioned as being about that; it isn’t conceived as a method of delivering the benefits of education to the students or their families; its about delivering the benefits of education to society as a whole, meaning it is intended to reach the widest possible number.Report

              • Liberty60,

                Public or private, market or government, I’m cool with the desire to deliver an education to those who want it. Where I come up short is how the inability of education-markets to solve the unsolvable problem represents some special weakness. I guess I can sort of understand “It’s conceptually better if they’re not getting an education under this market here than if they’re not getting an education under this other market,” but I don’t find that very convincing in light of the drawbacks of the current system.

                I’m not enthusiastic about telling the parents who are engaged that they are stuck with those who are not because we can’t figure out what to do with those who are not and, unlike us, they don’t have the ability to buy themselves out of it.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

                Public schools are funded by property taxes, in the main. Thing is, and you know this well enough to quit trying to put these two words together, “rich kids” are only the children of rich people, rich, not in money, but in what they have to offer their children, things money can’t buy. Such children were read-to when they were babies. Such children had good examples in their lives. Such children have some structure to their days and nights. Their parents attend the parent teacher conferences. Their parents sit down with them and help them with homework.

                Children rise to the level of expectations. Magnet schools do well because “rich” parents exhibit the initiative to apply for them.

                Vouchers aren’t going to ameliorate this situation. What’s more, anyone who really wants a market-oriented solution is already contradicting himself in saying a voucher will solve the problem. A voucher is just a messy form of redistribution.Report

              • Michael Cain in reply to BlaiseP says:

                “Public schools are funded by property taxes, in the main.”

                In many locations, this is becoming less and less true every year. Here in Colorado, about 60% of the aggregate local school district budget comes from state and federal funding, none of which is based on property taxes. Some rich districts may still get a majority of their funding from property taxes; some poor districts get 80% of their budget from state/federal funds. Despite that, all districts are guaranteed local control of spending by the state consitution. Generally speaking, the same rich districts that have large property tax revenues are the same ones that have large income and sales tax revenues that are transferred to the poor districts. Over the last several years, I think I’ve seen a growing enmity between the rich districts and the poor ones.Report

              • Mr. Blue in reply to Michael Cain says:

                I also have to point out: per-pupil spending in San Antonio ISD is now higher than Alamo Heights ISD, though not by as much as the disparities elsewhere in the state – disparities which run against “rich schools” and towards “poor schools”. Houston ISD spends more than Katy ISD, Plano ISD spends more than Dallas ISD, and so on.Report

            • NewDealer in reply to James Hanley says:

              I agree with Mike Dwyer on the voucher issue. Voucher students seem to rarely go to elite private schools like Dalton, Horace Mann, St. Ann’s, etc. My examples are all NYC or East Coast because that is what I know. I can tell you the stereotypes associated with almost every elite NYC prep school. For example, DWIGHT’s joke nickname is Dumb White kids Into Getting High Together. Dwight’s most famous students are Paris Hilton and Truman Capote. Make of this what you will. Dalton and Trinity are for overachievers. St. Ann’s is for arty/hippie kids.

              Rather voucher students tend to go to parochial or evangelical schools which historically had much lower fees than their secular counterparts. This is why vouchers were a big deal for the Separation of Church and State crowd.

              So I think Mike is partially right: The really elite private schools are able to use tuition as a barrier. This is not to say that every student who attends is a star or from a rich background. All those fancy schools have scholarship students but they probably have a bigger share of rich dolts.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to NewDealer says:


                Let’s say that’s all true. Is the main problem that kids can’t get into an elite school, or that they can’t get into a decent school? The choice shouldn’t be, “elite or go to the school where teacher are afraid they’ll get shot.” Just moving these kids into schools that are safe and disciplined, even if they’re non-elite, is a net gain for them.Report

              • NewDealer in reply to James Hanley says:

                I agree but I am not sure that I would qualify the fundie schools that take school vouchers as being decent. Though this is largely because of socio-cultural biases of mine.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to NewDealer says:

                Tell y’all a dirty little secret about fundie elementary and high schools. I went to a few of them. They’re staffed out of fundie colleges. These positions are viewed as missionary slots, for all practical purposes. That’s why the tuition is so low.

                And here’s another dirty little secret: the expulsion rate is rather high in fundie K-12 schools. Many of the kids who enrol have already been suspended or expelled from other schools. Often these kids bounce from one such school to another.Report

              • NewDealer in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I pretty much thought this would be the case.

                If I have kids, they are not attending any school that thinks teaching evolution denialism is valid. Creationism and Intelligent Design have no place in any biology class.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                The unscientific content is just the start of the problem. These kids are obliged to go to religious services every day. See, the fundie school serves as a great bulwark against these kids ever coming in contact with the real world. They are kept away from their secular peers all their lives.

                My sister’s kids went to fundie schools and were taught my kids were heathens because I told mine to think for themselves, that Christianity was something I believed in but they were supposed to reach their own conclusions. You can’t believe how horribly this position went down with my parents and my sister. My brother felt the same way I did and it led to a fracture which still hasn’t really healed: I haven’t spoken to my sister in well over a decade.

                You’d look at these people and never realise they’re as insular as the Amish who go up and down my street every day. But they are.Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

                But without them, who would attend Liberty University and go on to rewarding careers disenfranchising dark-skinned people?Report

              • James Hanley in reply to NewDealer says:


                I don’t think there’d be any problem restricting the vouchers to schools that meet state standards, which would–well, should, both by right and by constitutional law–mean teaching evolution instead of creationism. And if they spend so much time on JesusAndGod that the kids’ can’t do their maths, they’re out.

                Constitutionally, it might be easier to deny them the funding than to give it to them.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley says:

                Then, you might want to let actual charter school advocates know they should stop cheering Bobby Jindal, whose education “reform” bill did exactly that.


              • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:


                I don’t see anything in that link that says state money via vouchers is being given to fundamentalist religious schools that don’t meet state-determined educational standards. I’m not saying Louisiana isn’t doing it, because they’re just the type of state that might. I’m only saying the link doesn’t demonstrate that, so I don’t yet have any reason to believe they did.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

                Well, James, Google doth make geniuses of us all. You’ll be pleased to know how this is all going down:

                The school willing to accept the most voucher students — 314 — is New Living Word in Ruston, which has a top-ranked basketball team but no library. Students spend most of the day watching TVs in bare-bones classrooms. Each lesson consists of an instructional DVD that intersperses Biblical verses with subjects such chemistry or composition.

                The Upperroom Bible Church Academy in New Orleans, a bunker-like building with no windows or playground, also has plenty of slots open. It seeks to bring in 214 voucher students, worth up to $1.8 million in state funding.

                At Eternity Christian Academy in Westlake, pastor-turned-principal Marie Carrier hopes to secure extra space to enroll 135 voucher students, though she now has room for just a few dozen. Her first- through eighth-grade students sit in cubicles for much of the day and move at their own pace through Christian workbooks, such as a beginning science text that explains “what God made” on each of the six days of creation. They are not exposed to the theory of evolution.

                “We try to stay away from all those things that might confuse our children,” Carrier said.

                Other schools approved for state-funded vouchers use social studies texts warning that liberals threaten global prosperity; Bible-based math books that don’t cover modern concepts such as set theory; and biology texts built around refuting evolution.


                To date, private schools have not had to give their students state standardized tests, so there’s no straightforward way for parents to judge their performance. Starting next year, any student on a voucher will have to take the tests; each private school must report individual results to parents and aggregate results to the state.

                The 47-page bill setting up the voucher program does not outline any consequences for private schools that get poor test scores. Instead, it requires the superintendent of schools to come up with an “accountability system” by Aug. 1. Once he does, the system cannot be altered except by legislative vote.

                So… how’s them state-determined educational standards apples for yez?Report

              • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:


                That’s good. I appreciate the info. My standard rule, though, is that whomever makes the claim has to provide the evidence. I’m not going to do their homework for them.

                As to “how’s them state-determined educational standards apples for yez?”, they suck, obviously. So what does that prove, that Louisiana, as usual, has lousy educational standards? If you think Louisana’s non-standards on voucher-receiving schools undermines the concept of vouchers, what does Louisiana’s traditionally lousy educational standards for public schools say about public education?Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley says:

                Because there’s been 40 years of de-facto segregation among public/private lines in many parts of the South and as a result, the public schools have been chronically underfunded for decades since they’re for the other?

                When you have people in power who see no need for public education, don’t be shocked when public education is no good. Of course, after a disaster like there was in New Orleans, a city-wide education system is a nice profit center to be scooped up.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

                Vouchers are only a messy form of redistribution, as I’ve said before. They’re particularly prone to abuses such as I have outlined in the case of Louisiana. You might also be interested to know there’s a big foofaraw in Louisiana: they’ve inadvertently opened the door to voucher funding for Muslim madrasa schools.

                Now I have set forth the two cardinal issues: teacher mandate and parental accountability. Insofar as the only accountability I’m hearing bandied about these days is teacher accountability, we are only hearing half the story.

                I took a call this morning. Some Indian software outfit wanted me for an architect gig in New Jersey. They had already gotten their RFP approved. Now they wanted someone to go there and step between the hammer of their client and the anvil of their deliverable.

                I asked them “Will I be able to control the offshore team?” “Sorry, no.” “Will I be able to control the delivery schedule?” “Also, sorry, no.” “Can I manage this remote?” “Alas, no.”

                “In other words,” I told them, rather more harshly than perhaps they deserved, “you want me to keep rash promises you made. I have been in that position before and it was nearly the death of me. I am not leaving my shop in Wisconsin to fly to New Jersey to issue spec to a team in Pune over whom I have no control. You must either give me control of the deliverable or of the developers.”

                As a society, we want results from the teachers, who have no mandate. Everyone else gets to sit in judgement of these teachers, though these judges have no accountability. That the nation’s future rides in the weighing pan of those balances, that the literal future of the world depends on the next generation learning critical thinking skills to cope with a world we cannot yet envision, all this seems to be of no account.

                And still these maniacs get up on their hind legs to damn public education and public educators. Those whom the gods would destroy, they answer their prayers. Soon enough, this harvest of idiocy will come a cropper. Of that there is no doubt at all.Report

              • Jesse, don’t know which corner of the South you’re talking about, but the parts where I’ve been public school is the norm even for the relatively well-to-do. Exceptions: Louisiana and parts of Virginia. I generally find the importance of private schools to be emphasized elsewhere more than back home.Report

              • Don Zeko in reply to James Hanley says:

                That’s consistent with my experience of getting educated in (one small corner of) the South. The public schools in my area were generally good enough (also tracked enough and de-facto segregated enough) that affluent white parents kept their kids in public school.Report

              • NewDealer in reply to James Hanley says:


                The Supreme Court gave an all-clear to vouchers in this case:


                Basically following the Private Choice Test, it is okay for parents to use vouchers to send their kids to fundie schools as long as there are adequate nonreligious options for parents who do not want their kids to be sent to fundie schools.

                I suppose allowing this is market based but I stand with the dissenters on this one.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to M.A. says:

        I think you are hitting upon a really good point. The issue is not what kind of school it is but largely how involved the parents are.

        I went to a public high school that could rival the most elite private schools in the U.S. This is probably because it was in an upper-middle class school district and most of the students were the children of professionals: lawyers, doctors, engineers, professors, MBAs, etc. Our parents made their incomes based on professional degrees and expected their children to do the same.Report

        • Liberty60 in reply to NewDealer says:

          I lived 2 miles from El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills, CA.

          It is in the dreaded, hell-on-earth unionized, publicly funded Los Angeles Unified School District, and holds the record for most Academic Decathlon championships.

          It also has, not coincidently, has a ferociously competitive group of parents who drive the kids and teachers to excel.Report

  5. Jaybird says:

    What is the point of education? If it’s to provide employment to the middle-class, the only reform we need is more funding.Report

    • Ethan Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

      Education and healthcare seem to tbe the only sectors that can absorb that labor. If the investment pays off, why not.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Ethan Gach says:

        Some might say it’s because the point of education is not to provide work.Report

        • Ethan Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

          But if it’s a fortunate consequence of more funding and more human resources there’s no reason we should let that stop us.Report

          • James Hanley in reply to Ethan Gach says:

            If all you’re looking to do is create jobs, why not dig and fill in holes?

            Creating jobs is insufficient justification for a policy, and not even very good supplementary justification. The issue is creating more value than we’re spending. Obviously at some point spending more on education, no matter how many people we put to work in the field, becomes a losing proposition. I don’t know that we’re their yet, so please don’t think I’m arguing against more funding at this time. I’m just arguing against your justification.Report

            • As a supplementary justification I think it works.

              People need work to do and money, or else they’ll end up doing some bad stuff. Now if that work is going toward investing in future human, social, and cultural capital, as well as boosting demand because of a comfortably middle class, I think that would be preferable to getting machines to do it, if we could, even if they did as good a job, and were somewhat cheaper (note: read “as good a job” as the assumption that we could detect no deficiency whatsoever in machine taught kids as opposed to non machine taught kids, stressing emphatically the “whatsoever” part.)Report

              • Ethan Gach in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                *comfortably paid.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                For the record, the whole fact that we are able to talk about Education without talking about education is what sets off all of the klaxons in my head.

                All of them.Report

              • Ethan Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

                I’m not claiming to talk about education anymore. I assumed that this subthread had already moved into the territory of:

                What do you do with an economy that’s so efficient and productive that it’s flush with excess labor?Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                If that in fact is the case, which many people doubt. Rather than having reached an equilibrium of surplus labor, we could just be going through a restructuring. Or economic conditions could still be uncertain enough for businesses that they’re hesitant to commit to more labor until they have a better outlook.

                There’s an on-going debate among economists about which of these is the case. The equilibrium of surplus labor argument does happen to be the one with the least theoretical support, I’d say.Report

              • Don Zeko in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                Or, at risk of going wildly off-topic, we could have insufficient aggregate demand because of our feckless monetary and fiscal policymakers, most of whom seem unconcerned about the tremendous damage that this recession is doing to our long-term economic potential, to say nothing of widespread human suffering.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                I think you’re talking about a matrix of value-measures here, Ethan. The primary value justifying an educational institution is the provision of lernin based on the premise that doing so increases the value a citizen can add to society. More better-thinking people is preferable – both as a means as well as an end – than fewer better-thinking people.

                Secondary values – at least historically – have entered into the calculus as a consequence of accepting the primary justification. 1) As parents of both sexes have increasingly entered the work-force, school functions as day-care, liberating them to the virtues and value of other work-choices. 2) It keeps kids “busy” and “off the streets”. 3) Public education acts to socialize kids to both the cultural complexity as well as economic-related mundanity of modern life. 4) Funneling tax revenues into education provides jobs for people (this one I hadn’t heard before).

                All of these may (or may not) be valid arguments, but it seems to me they depend on accepting, both in theory and in practice, the primary value education ostensibly provides.

                On the other hand, I do think that mechanization as it applies to teaching is actually a big worry.Report

  6. Ethan Gach says:

    I’m not well versed in Parent Trigger laws. They sound great in principle (obviously necessary even).

    And yet my cynical side wonders if there isn’t something in their execution that favors private entities. That is, once the school is closed, I assume it doesn’t get replaced with another public one, correct?

    What stops it from being a tool for gutting union contracts and building a profitable venture on the ashes?Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Ethan Gach says:

      Normally it gets turned into a charter school.Report

      • All (most) of which are established through private investment?Report

        • James Hanley in reply to Ethan Gach says:

          Maybe in part, but my understanding is that they normally receive public funding and in consequence cannot charge tuition. They are, in fact, part of the public education system–they just have more flexibility in their operations, including fewer bureaucratic constraints and, I would guess you’re right, some degree of flexibility with regard to contracts. Wiki backs up the statement about public funding/no tuition, but with 50 different states, I’d hesitate to assume charter schools take precisely the same form in all of them.

          I think, and if I’m wrong I hope someone will correct me, that the organizations that run charter schools do effectively get paid by the state for running it, but a) I think a lot of them are non-profit orgs, and b) I don’t think there’s that much money to be made running a charter school. And as part of the public education system they remain under the authority of the state, so they’re not wholly unconstrained.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to James Hanley says:

            Charter schools are bound by their charter, hence the name. They must be approved initially and continually are measured against their charter (I’ve generally heard on 4 to 5 year increments, but I’m sure it varies). If the fail to fulfill their charter and/or have one that does not gain approval, they’re out. I don’t know if approval is given at the state or district level, but I’d guess the latter.

            Private schools generally go through a similar process to maintain accredidation, though this is theoretically voluntary (I don’t know of legal penalties for not being accredited by an indepedent agency, but good luck being taken seriously without it).

            If you ask me, measuring folks against their own stated goals seems wise, provided their goals are sound.Report

            • James Hanley in reply to Kazzy says:

              Thanks for adding that. Good info to know.Report

            • M.A. in reply to Kazzy says:

              Charter schools also offer no significant improvement over normal public schools, save for the initial surge that comes with the publicity of opening one and the initial surge of highly-involved parents.

              If we want to close the achievement gap we need to look beyond the classroom and recognize that effective schools and teachers are just one important part of a network of social services required for student success.

              Yes, we absolutely have to improve the achievement of African-American, Latino and low-income students. However, as the Washington state Legislature considers charters as a possible option in our state, I hope they understand that the charter school reform agenda is based on politics and not what works for kids.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to M.A. says:

                I offered that simply as a clarification on the structure of charter schools, not as an endorsement. The problem with referring to charter schools as a monolith is that they are anything but. Some make great achievements that are sustainable. Others follow the path you offered. Some crash and burn out of the gate.

                Saying “Charter schools do X” is like saying “School reform efforts do X”… To vague to be useful.Report

              • Trumwill in reply to Kazzy says:

                According to Conor, they’re having some good success with them in New York. Maybe we should look and see what they’re doing right. Charter schools across the country give us some pretty good stuff to look at. Not that what works in New York will necessarily work anywhere else, but information is good. As you say, all charter schools are not created equal. We need to see which ones are working and which ones aren’t. Let’s replicating the former.

                As an side, the increasing meme among some that the schools themselves don’t matter all that much because the parents and environments are so important (as demonstrated in MA’s link, the 20% figure sounds about right, but it’s the 20% we have the most control over)… does not actually lend me to support policy prescriptions they would find preferable. Many of the same people have been saying for decades how important our schools are. Now that we are looking increasingly towards solutions they do not endorse, it’s unfair that we’re treating out schooling system with such importance?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Trumwill says:


                Your first paragraph is exactly my thinking. Rather than standardize everything with a one-size-fits-none model, allow schools to experiment and figure out what works on the ground. Not everything will be able to be transferred elsewhere, but even if it only works in that building, if it works, it works!

                Also, how can we judge a school before they’ve passed at least one class through from beginning to end? Reform movements tend to focus on the top, which is silly. As callous as it is to say, most high school juniors aren’t going to have their futures dramatically changed by ed reform. Some, yes, but not most. Put together a K-12 initiative, allow it to work itself through (ideally a few times over) and see what you have after 15 years, after 3 or 4 groups of students got the full compliment of its efforts. Really, anything else seems completely assbackwards. But given that no one in position to do this has a 10, 12, or 15 year leash, it won’t happen.Report

              • Don Zeko in reply to Kazzy says:

                Sure, but then isn’t is also true that saying “Charter schools do X” is like saying “Traditional public schools do X.” It’s a big country, so there are plenty of data points out there.Report

  7. Kazzy says:

    As a teacher, I am increasingly uninterested in conversations about “fixing” education that are predicated upon a notion that American schools are failing but which fail to offer an objective criteria and specific goals against which the schools are being judged. How do we know how well we are doing if there is no agreed upon idea of what we are trying to do? Seriously, what is the goal of education, specifically public education?

    Note: This is aimed at the quoted article and not Connor’s piece, which I’ll concede I have not read fully. I’ll weigh in more fully after reading thepiece, but I just had to get that off my chest.Report

  8. BlaiseP says:

    After opening a fresh tab for all these links and working through them, I’m left with a few questions:

    By the look of it, you taught ElEd for two years and went on to do postgrad work. Why didn’t you continue teaching ElEd? I put my wife through four years of undergrad and two master’s degrees. She went on to become a tenured bilingual special ed teacher in a middle school. She worked for fifteen years, was physically attacked three times in the same year, burned out and quit.

    And what are the odds of you going back to ElEd? I mean, really, it’s all fine and good to call this a personal and political issue. But you didn’t stick it out in ElEd.

    See, this is what happens to good teachers like you and my wife. It’s up – or out. My wife had a missionary instinct, derived great satisfaction from the work she was doing in one of the worst classroom situations in one of the worst school districts in Illinois. Everyone who gets into ElEd has a certain amount of courage and goodwill. Every bad incident slightly erodes that reserve of courage until eventually there’s none left. She’d come home and weep. The administration was already between a rock and a hard place and her students’ scores were dragging down their NCLB numbers: these were semiliterate children whose parents were often entirely illiterate. We’d bring the parents into our own living room and do literacy work on nights and weekends.

    You describe the hard work of teaching – and it is hard. It’s harder if you don’t have the support structures required to do that hard work.

    She gave up and went into community college administration.

    Want educational reform? I’m so sick and tired of hearing about how the unions can’t get rid of unqualified teachers. I can’t speak for your situation but that’s bullshit in Illinois. Bad teachers are removed. But the larger problem, once you haven’t spoken to — and one you’re uniquely qualified to speak to – is why good teachers leave the ElEd classroom.Report

    • Ethan Gach in reply to BlaiseP says:

      I think this is extremely important.

      I grew up in and attended a school district that was somewhat renowned for having the lowest property taxes in county (or surrounding counties) and yet still producing pretty good results (high graduation rate, lots on to college, many to top state schools, even some to the Ivys). Of course, that was mostly do to the inputs (good kids from socio-economically comfortable households).

      A teaching position in this schoold district would probably be considered pretty cushy. Niec place, no real crime problems, fights pretty rare, etc.

      And yet your beginning salary barely tops 30K a year to start out taking on some of the hardest classes (because of seniority) with a half hour lunch and one planning period per day, a homeroom to take attendence of, after school responsibilities to attend to (monitoring, bus duty, etc.) and then lots of work to take home and grade.

      Now why, if I were extremely intelligent, as well as especially empathetic and great at communicating, I would take a job for 30K doing 60 hours of work a week when I could make 40K working less and on a faster track to promotion, let alone stay in that sector after being broken down within the first couple of years (Teach for American retention rates?) when I could take that experience and move into much less high strung and more lucrative positions?

      A mentoring program (i.e. more than student teaching, and which lasts more than one year) would probably be important in this regard. Anyone have an research on efforts of that kind?Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Ethan Gach says:

        The money doesn’t seem to be the prime motivator. As a society, we don’t give teachers enough mandate and we don’t hold parents accountable. The only known predictor for educational success is parental involvement. Get that straightened out and the rest will largely take care of itself.

        The entire premise of K-12 education in the USA hasn’t advanced much (and has arguably declined) since the era of John Dewey, which is why he’s still quoted. First as tragedy, then as farce, we’re still using educational models unchanged since the era of the horse and buggy. Look at the school day, the vacations, all congruent with the life of a farm child.

        This isn’t to say the Teacher Factories haven’t been trying to make changes to this model, but most of these efforts can be charitably described as well-meaning theories which shall never find a home in an actual classroom. The politicians love to thump the lectern and loudly decry the parlous state of K-12, it’s all mendacious nonsense. No Child Left Behind became a hideous parody of educational reform, a series of flaming hoops through which we’ve tried to push the schools. The situation is now worse than ever, completely disconnected from any meaningful efforts to instil reading, mathematical or critical thinking skills in children.

        “Market-based” reforms ought to be taken out of quotes. Our educational system is as important a national priority as national defence and ought to be thought of as an investment in the nation’s future. Even the military administers an ASVAB test to determine a trainee’s skill set. They’re not merely looking for minimum standards, they’re also looking for pleasant surprises. Some guy enlists as an infantryman, the military will take that kid aside and tell him “Private, we’ve got plenty of 11B but you’ll serve your country better over here as an electronics tech.”

        It’s not the money. It’s the mandate. There are always two sides to success: doing what you’re any good at — and getting paid for it. People will trade one for the other, finding a balance in their own lives. People stick in out in the military where they won’t stick it out in teaching. After a while, the idealistic impulses which got someone into a profession like soldiering or teaching wear off. What replaces them as motivation?

        Money won’t fix the teacher situation. People quit other sorts of dead-end jobs and for the same reasons. Anyone who’s ever been an instructor knows the visceral pleasure of seeing progress in a student. Good teachers, like good soldiers, arise from emulating good examples. All leadership is by example. There is no other kind. Want to drive a soldier out of the military? Put him under a bad command. Take away his mandate. Quit supporting him. The same is true of teachers.Report

        • One caution: over 60% of Teach For America alums stay in education. (Ed: Intended as a reply to Ethan)Report

        • James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

          No Child Left Behind became a hideous parody of educational reform, a series of flaming hoops through which we’ve tried to push the schools. The situation is now worse than ever, completely disconnected from any meaningful efforts to instil reading, mathematical or critical thinking skills in children.

          This can’t be repeated too often. Although I’ve seen no actual studies on student performance in college pre and post NCLB, a great number of my colleagues believe they experience a negative effect in their classes. It goes beyond the usual aging prof’s bitch that students these days…you now? It’s really targeted complaints about a rather sudden decline in students’ preparation in reading ability and critical thinking skills. (Math, too, probably, although I don’t hang out with many math profs, so I just can’t speak to it.)

          “Market-based” reforms ought to be taken out of quotes.

          If “market-based” as a general concept didn’t have so many negative connotations for people, I’d fully agree. But I think an even better strategy is to drop that word and start talking about “competition-based” reforms, or perhaps even better, “parent choice” or “parental control” reforms. You know how pro-market I am, but I can’t deny the term carries some baggage that makes it a bad marketing slogan in this case.Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

            While the issue of Parental Accountability remains unaddressed, Parental Choice is a bad joke. As for market-based, freed from its snarquotes, we might well ask ourselves why a program like TFA exists at all, if K-12 teaching were a meaningful long-term career path for the college graduate. We don’t see such programs for my industry, software.

            Here’s the truth about my industry, I’m currently employing kids straight out of the local community college. There are two professors who have a clue over there and I like their product. I get recommendations from them. I start them out right, in a structured environment. I pair them up, get them working together, using Extreme Programming and Agile methodologies. I’m getting better work out of those kids than people with ten times their experience.

            Good teachers need good disciples. I want to see a hierarchy of competent teachers who regulate themselves, not some Catbert type. K-12 is so fucked up these days, someone has to impose some professionalism on that industry and by God it ought to be the teachers, not some pompous old blunderbuss down in the State Capitol Building.

            Not only do we need a Teacher’s Union, we need a Teacher’s Guild, which would feature enough political ass meat to push back against all these inane regulations of the sort which would keep Conor Williams from returning to a classroom. Colleges and universities don’t put up with this sort of nonsense. As a department head, you don’t and I know you don’t.Report

          • Chris in reply to James Hanley says:

            Where I’ve seen it is in writing skills. I still remember when I got my first email, and then my first paper, written in Textlish: that bizarre and, for readers over a certain age, unreadable Text message-English creole.Report

      • Ethan Gach in reply to Ethan Gach says:

        I’m not stressing the money, so much as demonstrating what is sacrificed by the worker in this scenario, and the kind of support they are getting in return.

        Which is to say that burn out will be a problem despite the amount of pay as long as the problems you note persist, specifically regarding issues of mandates and professional support.Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to Ethan Gach says:

          The current situation is untenable on a practical basis. While we are regaled with horrifying tales of how hard it is to remove “bad teachers” and dodgy statistics about TFA retention rates, the good teachers are leaving the profession in droves. That’s beyond dispute any longer. Damning the unions in the face of the financial realities of running an educational system where school administrations are on one side of the table and the unions are on the other and NCLB continuing to shove its index finger into the fundament of every teacher in this country is… well… unhelpful. What’s wrong with this picture? I have a few thoughts on this subject which I shall keep to myself.Report

    • It’s a long story, as you might imagine, but here’s the short version: I left the classroom after being violently robbed while walking from my school to the subway. I woke up in the hospital with no memory of the preceding 3 hours, no wallet, a concussion, and a badly swollen face. If you’ll excuse a little chest-beating, I’d like the record to reflect that I missed two days of school and returned to the classroom with two black eyes. Though I shuffled through the rest of the school year, the physical and psychological aftereffects were intense and prevented me from returning the following year.

      Will I return to the classroom? Maybe. I’m nearly done with my PhD now, and have been considering returning to teach. Because of various nonsensical public education rules, my three post-graduate degrees and previous teaching experience would probably leave me short of teacher certification, so I’d have to teach at one of DC’s charters (which would be fine).

      Here’s how hard it is to get rid of incompetent teachers in NYC. The city spent approximately $2 million dollars (over a number of years) on lawyers and arbitration processes only to dismiss 3 of its 55,000 tenured teachers.

      (Ed: intended as a reply to BlaiseP)Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Conor P. Williams says:

        It’s worth emphasizing that as with all education policy, there are 51 (states+D.C.) possible approaches. No doubt in some states it’s hard to get rid of teachers (NY is famous), and in others not so hard. Perhaps the best thing to say is that–among other important changes–we ought to encourage states to shift away from NY style policies and toward more flexible ones.Report

        • NewDealer in reply to James Hanley says:

          Ah yes the infamous rubber room.

          My mom spent most of her careers in NYC public schools. First as a teacher and then in administration. She was laid off briefly during the 1970s but hired back because of her union I believe. She was never sent to the rubber room.

          Though as someone who went to NY suburban public high schools, I do like the Regents system and thought that it tried to teach actual knowledge instead of better test taking skills. Though I was in high school before NCLB so who knows what it is like now.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to NewDealer says:

            Rubber rooms are used for slaps on the wrist. They’re for teachers the district wants to fire but who are waiting their union appeal. FWIW, the union publicly opposed measures to speed up the appeals process without substantively changing it (i.e., the process was no more or less fair, just quicker). This meant teachers wouldn’t get paid full salary dor two years for keeping chairs from floating away.Report

            • James Hanley in reply to Kazzy says:

              This meant teachers wouldn’t get paid full salary dor two years for keeping chairs from floating away.

              In the current economy, it’s crucial to create as many jobs as possible. And how else are we going to do that? Bricks? And who’s going to make those?Report

    • NewDealer in reply to BlaiseP says:

      This is a very good comment.

      I know a lot of people who did the same thing that Conor did, teach for a year or two in NYC (or other large school districts). Conor, did you do the NYC teaching fellows program?

      These programs are often very manipulative or at least advertised in very manipulative ways. The NYC ads for the program seemed designed to appeal to idealistic, college students with a strong passion for doing right. I would always see ads on the subways that had lines like “Take your next business trip on a big, yellow bus” or appeal to some sense of mission. The same kind of do-gooder spirit that causes people to be chuggers even though that is also a fraud.

      What the ads do not say is that people will be placed in the worst of the worse school districts and probably end up burnt-up after a year or two because they were assaulted and such.

      Is this the best we can do? Is all we can give these school districts are idealistic 22-year old kids for a year or two, let the kids get chewed up, and then move on to a new batch?

      This is a very wicked problem indeed.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to NewDealer says:

        The day I see these critics of the teachers’ unions address the problem of teacher retention, there will be two moons in the sky.Report

        • NewDealer in reply to BlaiseP says:

          Well the critics did not attend schools where teacher retention is a problem nor do they send their kids to schools where teacher retention is a problem.

          So yeah….Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to NewDealer says:

            Heh. And the odds of a Jill Harper Memorial Teaching Fellow returning to teach first grade in a DC charter school after teaching an honours program at Georgetown are equally asymptotic.

            Not impossible, mind you. It would, however, cut down on blogging very considerably.Report

            • Careful, Blaise. You’re coming pretty close to snarking me personally. We don’t know each other—it’s unnecessary for you to handicap my career path to make your point.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Conor P. Williams says:

                Aw, c’mon, you’re not being snarked. What did I say? “With good teachers, it’s up or out.” You were a good teacher and you rose. You’re also an effective blogger. We both know how much work being a K-12 teacher entails: to find time to blog and run a 30 seat classroom, you’d need to clone yourself.

                You might still have some missionary in you, ready to go back to K-12, the money and the risks notwithstanding. You’ve been attacked. My wife was attacked.

                Up. Or out. No two ways about it.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to BlaiseP says:

          Want reasons why unions are bad for teacher retention? Their refusal to clean their own ranks makes all of us look bad. How can I deny the bad rap that teachers get when it is so well deserved when you look at us in aggregate? A lot of teachers don’t want to be lumped in with incompetent teachers and treated as if they, too, were incompetent through micromanagement and paid only slightly more than someone with an Associates or Bachelors despite their having a masters because, hey, we’re all in this together.

          Ready to see the second moon?Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to Kazzy says:

            And this answers the problem of excellent teachers like Conor Williams and my wife leaving the ElEd teaching profession — how? Want to know why the teachers’ unions are so bad? Only the bad teachers stay in the profession. Everyone else leaves.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Teachers unions cause good and great teachers to be treated the same as bad and terrible teachers. They’re not trusted, paid poorly, and treated like cogs in the machine.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Kazzy says:

                If teaching were an actual profession and not some miserable adjunct to DensityDuck’s agoge, we should see more and better teachers in the K-12 system. If, as you say, teachers have become cogs in a machine, not trusted and paid dogshit wages, we might ask what sort of machine we’re talking about here.

                Now I will tell you what sort of machine it is. It is a wretched old sausage maker which hasn’t been upgraded in at least a century. It was engineered to teach the children of recent immigrants which is why the children of recent immigrants do so well in them, children who were raised to respect authority, children whose parents give a damn about the educational process. In those days when this sausage maker was new, teachers worked for contemptibly low wages but they did have the respect of the community. Schools, then and now, are funded by property taxes: communities once considered their public schools to be engines of literacy and prosperity.

                Look at the modern schoolroom and look at the schoolroom of a century ago. Little has changed. There’s the blackboard and the teacher’s desk, the uncomfortable little student seats. A few more pages in the history book (though the Flesch-Kincaid grade level index is lower) and fewer pages in the mathematics texts.

                And there’s the little schoolmarm, trying to teach a classroom full of disrespectful children. Now that disrespect is a relatively new thing, but hell, nobody else respects these teachers either. Look at ’em, working an 11-12 hour days for shit wages when they could have gotten into some more profitable line of work. And the teachers don’t respect each other, either. Look at ’em all, they know they’re treated like cogs. While they go on tolerating this situation, they’re going to be shit on until the sun burns down or the school does.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to BlaiseP says:

                You do realize I’m largely agreeing with you, right?

                Teachers unions do little to improve education.

                The again, auto workers unions do little to improve fuel efficiency.

                So, there’s that…Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Kazzy says:

                Who do you propose should negotiate for teachers’ wages and workplace conditions? If you do not like the teachers’ unions, ask yourself how and why they arose and why teacher tenure became an issue in the first place. You don’t like the consequences but haven’t quite come to terms with how things got so bad.

                Well, we won’t have to worry about the teachers’ unions for much longer, not with our tax dollars going to fund Creation Science and madrasa schools. There’s progress for yez.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I am an actually relatively neutral on teachers unions. Well, more of a mixed bag. In the abstract, I have no opposition to teachers unions and recognize the important role they serve. In reality, I am critical of SOME of the practices they engage in because of the impacts of the practices on education. But my broader point was that the teachers unions are not charged with improving education. They are charged with serving teachers interests. No one faults the auto workers unions when cars cost too much or don’t work as well as expected. So why do we fault teachers unions for the struggles of schools? Yes, their actions have a direct and sometimes negative impact on education. But so do a lot of other individuals and groups, which don’t get raked over the coals the way the unions do. A teachers union is not an education union nor a student union. The expectations we place on it are absurd when compared to those we place on other unions.

                But, yea, a lot of what they do is terrible for education and I have no problem calling them out on it.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Which educational practices are ill-served by the teachers’ unions? School curriculum? That’s the province of the state and the district, the teachers have no input there. Working hours? Ever seen a teacher grading papers well into the night? Classroom head count? Teacher aides? The aforementioned NCLB pressure on a classroom full of IEP kids?

                Dude, I lived with this every day for twenty years, five of helping my wife write papers, fifteen of her miserable career. Nothing happened but what I wasn’t told in painful detail about all of it, every night. The union wasn’t there for my wife. I’d probably still be married if that situation hadn’t degenerated into an absolute shithole.

                And people wonder why good people leave the teaching profession. Every time the state or the district or the administration says Boo, the teachers run like terrified mice in search of some hidey hole. Now maybe, instead of all this business about how unions defend bad teachers, I’m here to tell you, to your face, as a friend, they don’t even defend good teachers.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Honestly, I don’t even know your position at this point.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                What’s so bad about teachers’ unions? Look, teachers’ unions are no different than any other sort of public worker’s union. Cops have them, firefighters, nobody seems to whinge about them.

                Teachers’ unions represent teachers. All this hand waving and dismissive talk about teachers’ unions… it’s your turn to point out why they’re so bad. And oh, by the way, some meaningful citations might be awfully useful in convincing me. The Rubber Room is gone in NYC. The teachers want speedy justice, hearings and such and Bloomberg said that’s what he wants, too. So Bloomberg hired more arbitrators.

                There’s one case in point I’d like to put up as proof of all this: Steve Ostrin, a teacher falsely accused by a student of improper conduct. Proven false. But now he’s not allowed back into a classroom. Due process issues stinking up this case to high heaven. Demonstrable malfeasance.

                Your turn now, Kazzy. My point is this: teachers’ unions are not the problem.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Did you read where I said teachers unions get an unfair shake compared to other unions? Teachers unions are part of the problem facing our education system; they are not the entirety of it.

                If you’ll tolerate an anecdote, my friend worked in BPS during their protracted labor dispute. At one point, they utilized a “work to contract” tactic, which meant no one in the building more than a minute before they were contracted to be and and everyone out one minute after the day was complete. Union officials at the door to enforce it. My friend couldn’t go in and offer the free tutoring he normally did or lesson plan. Was that good for education? Not at that point, no. Is it possible that, long term, the strategy was a net good? Sure. But it sure as hell doesn’t look that way.

                So, yea, I agree that teachers unions get a bum rap when they are blamed for failures in the education system as that is not on their list of charges. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the ways in which they are dentrimental.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                What a horrible notion, for people to arrive and leave work on time — and to use this tactic — during a labour dispute, you say.

                Clearly this can only mean unions are against Little Johnny getting his tutoring. What wicked, wicked people these unions are! The very idea, that contracts might actually mean something. Why, when the school bell rings and those kids go charging out the door, all cheerfully yelling, it’s at the same time every day.

                Oh those unions, these Tools of Satan, insisting, oh it pains me so to even mention it, that such palpable evil is at work in the world today — insisting upon going home on time! Just like those children they teach.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Seriously? THAT is what you take away from it?

                First off, you asked for an example of how unions can harm education. Do you think that practice aids or harms education? Regardless of its legitimacy as a negotiation tactic… does it aid or harm education?

                Second, it’s not like the teachers were chained to their desks. Some teachers were being forbidden from doing what they wanted to do by their union.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                No. This is the precedent order, Kazzy: you said Rubber Rooms were a slap on the wrist. They aren’t. They’re a holding tank for teachers who have been accused, often unjustly.

                You said unions don’t clean their own ranks: that’s impossible, since they don’t have the authority to terminate, that’s reserved by the district and you know it.

                You said unions were bad for education and when I ask for evidence, not that you have any, you regale me with some anecdote about how a union used Work To Contract during labour negotiations. Work To Contract is a simple and effective and entirely legal demonstration of how much unpaid work teachers are actually doing and it’s not an impediment to anyone’s education.

                This is not Relatively Neutral. It’s a confabulation, a game of Telephone about these supposedly direct and negative impacts on education. Your problem, Kazzy, is finding a problem to call them on.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to BlaiseP says:

                For what it’s worth, my willingness to give teachers more autonomy is directly related to my ability to select my (future) kids’ teachers or pull my kids out of a school if I believe their teachers are using their autonomy poorly.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Will Truman says:

                Insofar as you’re willing to have your kid educated by the same rules by which you choose the teacher, sure, more power to your autonomy. Go see if you can get him enrolled in another school when the teacher chooses not to educate a disobedient child.

                When that classroom door closes, the teacher’s in charge.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I’m all about being able to kick bad kids out of the classroom. That does lead to the problem of where we put them. I am a big fan of alternative schools for the like, though there is a fair amount of resistance to them.

                I’m not worried about a teacher disciplining my child. I’m more worried that they might avoid algorithmic multiplication and such. Or Every Day Is A Free Day. Or an inability to manage the classroom more generally.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                School choice, being what it is, I’d be more worried about the madrasafication of public education if I had small children these days.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Unfortunately, right now, the people whose support we could use on putting constraints on some of the things going on in Louisiana are unreliable allies because they’re opposed to charter schools more generally. So the conversation includes a disproportionate of people who like charter/vouchered schools for… different reasons than I do. They’re the allies I’ve got, though not particularly the allies I would prefer.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                It’s a continuum, Will. Either we’re going to regulate the educational marketplace or we’re going to have more Lilywhite Christian Academies teaching unscientific rubbish at taxpayer expense. There’s no two ways about it. If we want effective schools, we will need effective teachers with genuine mandate.

                The charter school movement is a fig leaf over a much larger problem. It’s an attempt to saddle the teacher with responsibility for a situation over which he has little control. What passes for Reform these days is nothing of the sort. Until the accountability issues are resolved, until the dialogue is between parents and teachers and yes, Junior, too, is set upright again, it doesn’t matter what sort of Reforms might be tried. Some charter schools have made parental accountability part of their contract with the world at large. It’s a good start. But by no means is it the end.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:

                Which is almost EXACTLY how the private school model works, for what it’s worth…Report

              • NewDealer in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I was talking with an elementary school teacher recently. She said that desks are largely not present in elementary schools anymore (at least in CA). Now it is group tables and seems trying to be more modern.

                Though the recent immigrant issue is an interesting angle. It also possibly explains why cultures that largely care and are based on academic education as a route to success still thrive in pubic schools. Basically, school districts with large Jewish and Asian populations. A lot of these people might be third or fourth generation Americans but they retained enough of the old culture to consider schooling to be very important.Report

          • James K in reply to Kazzy says:

            Plus they force a pooling equilibrium on the market for teachers. To pay good teachers well you need to be able to identify them, and that means performance measurement.Report

        • Wardsmith in reply to BlaiseP says:

          The analysis of teacher retention is a simple meta lookup of teacher retirement statistics. If so many were leaving less would last to retirement no?Report

      • I was in Teach For America.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to BlaiseP says:

      Parental involvement? Hey, that’s great. I’m sure that a single mother who leaves for her first job at the same time the kids go out the door, and gets home from her second job three hours after they get home, and has to spend another two hours putting the baby and the two-year-old to bed, is just ecstatic to hear that the entire intellectual development of her six- and eight-year-old children is her responsibility. Especially when one of every five dollars she makes goes to pay the teachers who, apparently, can’t be trusted to get the job done.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to DensityDuck says:

        Mirabile dictu! The solution is so obviously apparent. Why haven’t I seen this before? We take that child away from the single mother and put him into a Spartan-style agoge and we shall turn our teachers into paidonomoi. They shall all live in barracks, that boy shall be taught the arts of war, he will be half-starved and taught to steal food. And when he is ready, he will be sent forth to kill a helot. He will learn the virtues of loyalty and every semblance of human decency shall be beaten out of him.

        And should he fail to master the arts of war, he will be denied citizenship.

        Problem solved. Many, many thanks, Duck. This satisfies my first issue completely: giving the teacher accountability in all things means I can dispense with my second issue of parental responsibility entirely.Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to DensityDuck says:

        Hey, I’m not the one saying that when a student fails it means the parent failed.Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to DensityDuck says:

          Failure is such a harsh word, eh, Duck? While parents have custodial rights, they also have custodial responsibilities. But hey, I’m glad we agree on the solution. Your agoge system ought to appeal to the taxpayers, who seem quite willing to incarcerate the wretched refuse of those teeming schools once they reach the age of majority.

          As you say, the parent didn’t fail, the student failed. And when that happens, it’s off to the agoge. Terminate those parental rights and get those kids on the right track, while we still have a chance at redeemin’ those li’l bastids with some industrial strength indoctrination.

          The Spartan example is just wonderful. Someone once told Lycurgus the Spartans should set up a democracy, to which he replied “Start with your own family.” See, the Spartans didn’t have families. The boys were raised in herds.Report

          • DensityDuck in reply to BlaiseP says:

            You seem to have this idea that it’s a horrible, awful thing to suggest that parents might not have the time to do half the job we used to expect teachers to do all of.

            If that’s not what you’re actually saying here then maybe you need to explain what you want us to take away from your statements.Report

  9. Ethan Gach says:

    I should add that the problem with education isn’t the unions or the for-profits, the public schools or the charter school, the administrators or the teachers, or even the parents.

    It’s time our kids stopped failing us.Report

  10. Jesse Ewiak says:

    Of course, the problem that’s not be talked about is child poverty. Our child poverty rate is double that of a lot of Western European nations. If we knock child poverty rates down a peg or two, we’ll see a whole lot more out of that than throwing a charter school in every neighborhood.

    But, of course, that’s not a serious policy prescription because “it’s just throwing money at the problem,” and not say, destroying teacher unions and making immense profits for contributors to various gubernatorial and national campaigns of both parties.Report

    • James K in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

      Bear in mind, the definition of “child poverty” used to produce this statistic is laughably bad. It defines poverty as a % of median income, so it’s really just a crappy income inequality measure.Report

  11. Morat20 says:

    Simpler “Public Education in Crisis”

    “Why can’t schools fix poverty?”

    You know what marks a failing school from a good one? The median wealth of the students parent’s, and the crime rate of the neighborhood.

    No miracle teachers, no charter school, no method of education, no union or union busting will change that fact.

    All vouchers do, all ‘school choice’, does is self-select the very few whose parents somehow buck that trend and move them to another school. Or cherry picks the other way, by tossing out those who drag down the stats.

    What’s wrong with American public education? Nothing — unless you’re dirt poor, in which case the problem is no amount of schooling seperates you from your non-school burdens.Report

    • Don Zeko in reply to Morat20 says:

      There was a good Kevin Drum piece on this subject a couple of days ago. Basically it suggested that we’d get far more educational bang for our buck if we were worrying about early child interventions, lead paint removal, and so forth. After all, preventing poor kids from being cognitively damaged by their environment before they get to school is an awful lot easier than finding a way for teachers to educate around those problems when they’re already a done deal.


    • Roger in reply to Morat20 says:

      Morat and Jesse
      Doesn’t this just point back to the “Don’t eat the marshmallow” concept? Poor people have shorter time horizons, are more likely to get knocked up while single , to not marry and to not apply themselves in school. It is reasonable to assume we now have an uneducated single parent with little time and less long term concern for her kids future. On top of this the kids inherited the same marshmallow eating genes of their parents.

      Larger Income transfers won’t change this. They will just further destroy what little dignity they have left. Heck if a trillion dollars a year isn’t enough then what is?Report

      • North in reply to Roger says:

        Actually Roger larger income transfers can and do change this. It’s pretty well accepted science that willpower is much like a muscle. We all have varying amounts of it to start out, you can build it up with effort and (most importantly) you can tire it out. Poor people who start out worrying about where they’re going to sleep, eat etc… have much less will power to, say, sit down and discipline a kid or make them do their homework after a fifty hour day on the job. Same with their kids.

        Poorer people also have very different incentives than medium income or high income people. For instance they usually depend very much on social support networks. When you’re between minimum wages and get evicted you can sleep on your friend/sister/mothers couch or ask them to help you our with money or give you a ride etc… That cuts the other way too though, if you have a windfall you’re expected to distribute it out to your social network. If you save then what ends up happening is that someone in your support network will need help and you end up having to give your saved surplus to them. Immediate consumption/gratification is the rational choice in that situation.

        This isn’t an excuse, obviously, people do have to rise or fall largely on their own merits but society and government can and does make it easier (transfer payments*) or harder (the war on drugs) for people to succeed and a major way it does is by bolstering or draining their available willpower resources.

        *This isn’t counting the cycle of dependency, if your transfer payments are too large and have too few strings attached you run the risk of people just deciding that living on the dole is a good deal. I’ve not seen any persuasive arguments since welfare reform in the 90’s that this is a very serious risk at the current time.Report

        • Roger in reply to North says:

          I’m not sure operational time horizons are something that builds up like a muscle. If it does then my guess is those born with stronger muscles will gain just as much or more by exercising. In net the inequality never goes away. Especially considering that the muscle in question is the desire to exercise itself.

          Second, a trillion bucks on top of income and “side” income means that we are already transferring enough wealth to put our poor into the upper tier of incomes worldwide. Indeed they are basically lower middle class.

          I’m not seeing that larger income transfers improve anything.Report

          • Murali in reply to Roger says:

            There might be diminishing returns. My own time horizon is fairly short (like a lot of other grad students I tend to do a lot of last minute work). nevertheless, when I get into the rhythm of things, I can delay gratification sufficiently to do reasonably well. This would be the case even if I overall tend to delay gratification less than a lot of my peers.Report

          • North in reply to Roger says:

            Operational horizons are not the same as willpower or mental discipline.Report

            • Roger in reply to North says:

              Want me to relink you guys to my marshmallow article? I dont care what we call it, the kids that can’t wait for two treats have trouble later in life with school, grades, drugs, alcohol, obesity, jobs, marriage, avoiding unwed pregnancy and just about every other social problem. They are substantially more likely to become poor, pregnant drop outs.Report

        • Kris in reply to North says:

          Great post.Report

  12. Roger says:

    Can the liberals or progressives please explain why they would be against a well designed system of parental choice for their childrens education?

    It’s hard to argue that competition would fail to drive efficiency and improvement over time do to parental choice and creative destruction. Isn’t it?

    It’s hard to argue that results would improve because patents could maximize utility by sending their kids to the type of school they desire. Isn’t it?

    It’s hard to argue that this will unleash valuable much needed experimentation in the education of children. Isn’t it?

    Obviously these things can be constructed poorly. That is not what I am asking. I am asking why a liberal would reject the idea of competition and choice if it was designed well.

    Those of us on the other side don’t even get your concerns.Report

    • greginak in reply to Roger says:

      Well simply because it is easy to argue with questions 2-4. I don’t think competition would improve everything. Since i don’t agree with your view on 2-4 then the answer to 1 is, i dont think it would improve things. My guess is others answers will be along the same lines. Compittion can be a good thing but is not a the answer to everything and i doubt it would help here. I don’t really want to debate the merits of competion since we are in very different places on that and we aren’t going to change each others minds. But if you want to understand, that is the reason.

      Regarding “well designed” , my guess is, however, that there are many well designed systems that could work but how to get there is more of the issue.Report

      • Roger in reply to greginak says:

        But how can complex systems advance without constructive competition and creative destruction. My experience is that systems will become sclerotic, bloated, parasitic, inefficient and ineffective without competition to drive the process forward. Competition and choice provide the incentive to change, create benchmarks , create multiple experiments that can learn from each other and that frees up wasted resources locked into bloated systems. Do you operate under different assumptions?Report

    • North in reply to Roger says:

      Well first off your “well designed” steals a lot of ground there. Heck, who’s against a well designed anything that produces good results?

      Second I dare say most liberals would point out that school “choice” isn’t much of a choice for the lower sections of society. You generally send your kid to the school that they can get to. The school they can get to is usually dictated where you live. Good schools generally occur in higher cost neighborhoods so your school choice is arguably an illusion. Or are we also imagining a well designed competitive student bussing system that uses non-coercive charitable donations to efficiently whisk low income children from their poor neighborhoods to the good schools?

      Also there’re a lot of questions about this “well designed” school choice system. What happens when a school fails? Do kids go flying in all directions? Lose a year or two of education? Go back to go? We’re not talking about factory conveyor belt here, kids ain’t widgets.

      Arguing with results? Do we have any examples of highly effective school choice systems? I mean heck, I love your passion for libertarianism but you speak in such sweeping vague terms. Would you be against a well designed liberal non-choice offering system? It’d be equally hard to argue against because it’s well designed.Report

      • Roger in reply to North says:

        Good points all North.

        First of all, yes. If we had a centralized top down system that efficiently educated kids in all communities to a level that exceeded other nations then I would say don’t mess with it. We have a system that has doubled costs in last generation and made no improvements and which is inefficient and ineffective compared to other nations. Thus it is broken.

        Why can’t a choice program be built which caters to the underprivileged? That directs funds to inner cities and allows firms to compete with simple rules for the funding of inner city kids? Isn’t this exactly what parents keep asking for that nefarious forces (rhymes with bleachers communion) oppose? If a school begins to fail the parents can redirect them to another. Busing is not an issue as multiple competing entities can exist in the same area. Think school malls.

        Of course kids aren’t widgets. That is why they need to be given freedom to go to a good school and not condemned to a bad one.Report

        • Stillwater in reply to Roger says:

          Seems to me that the liberal argument on this issue is focused primarily on the other side’s proposals, as if refudiating those suggestions settled the debate. And it may. But at some point liberals need to put forward a coherent, intelligent proposal to solve – at a minimum – the agreed upon problems. As I read more about the topic I’m increasingly concerned that liberals simply don’t have one.

          Or if they do, it includes factors other than education into the mix. That might be a fine argument, but it needs to be made explicitly.Report

          • Kris in reply to Stillwater says:

            Here a three things liberals will be in favor of:

            1. Pay for universal pre-K, or at least subsidize it to the point of it being free for the poor. Early education is everything.
            2. Increase the school day and the school year. (Helps working poor families, keeps kids off streets, and helps them catch up in test scores. Not all students around the world get months off.)
            3. Enact social programs that benefit the poor and working poor to reduce poverty and extreme inequality, (Places that have less inequality and poverty do better than the U.S. educationally, and wealthier and middle-class students are doing quite well by international standards.)

            There are a variety of programs that fit with #3: Universal healthcare, increased minimum wage, etc., etc. (In general, laws like they have in Sweden and Canada.)Report

            • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Kris says:

              Pretty much this. Oh, also, centralize school districts. Entirely too many exurban and suburban school districts have created little conclaves of school districts where they don’t have to worry about the kids in the inner city, ’cause they can’t go to the suburban schools for any reason.

              There’s no sane reason why we have somewhere around 16,000 school districts. I mean, local control and all that, but I think there wouldn’t be tyranny if maybe we only had 4,000?Report

            • Roger in reply to Kris says:


              One sounds reasonable but doesn’t the data on head start show it was a total bust?

              Two sounds great. Let’s make school near year round.

              On three, what says we give the poor an even trillion in annual means tested transfer payments bringing them up to lower middle class standards and call it a day? We can now check that one off our list.

              What are you suggesting to lower expenses? Any thoughts on administrative headcounts?Report

              • Kris in reply to Roger says:

                1. I’m unaware of any data saying universal pre-K isn’t very succesful.

                2. I’m glad you agree. School year length is really, really important.

                3. How do you think Sweden and Canada afford to have less poverty? Are they that much richer than the U.S.? Maybe this is a debate for a different thread.Report

              • Kris in reply to Kris says:

                I did some research and the data on head start is mixed, but certainly not “a bust.” Its also hard to make conclusions about longterm effects for amvariety of reasons.

                Its also not exactly universal.

                Some states have pre-K programs that are working well, Oklahoma I think is one.

                Finally, universal pre-K is designed to ameliorate the effects of poverty on education somewhat. The only way to truly solve the problem is to reduce poverty to the levels seen in other countries.

                I’m also for some pretty radical curriculum changes.Report

              • greginak in reply to Roger says:

                Data on Head Start does not show is a bust. Not at all. The most frequent criticism in the data is the gains made in HS peter out in grade school which isn’t a problem with HS.

                Anecdotally i’ve had hundreds of clients in HS programs over the years and i can’t think of one complaining about it. Most of them, if they said anything, were happy to have their kids there.Report

              • Mr. Blue in reply to greginak says:

                That the results evaporate seems like a pretty valid criticism, if lasting results are the goal.Report

              • Roger in reply to Mr. Blue says:

                Yeah that is what I recall. The program makes zero long term impact on education. Greg, what were you using as a barometer of success?Report

              • greginak in reply to Roger says:

                Exactly how much long term impact is a pre k going to have. The measure is that kids do well at the time and soon after. After kids finish pre k their grade school is going to have a lot more impact on their performance than pre k. The farther into grade school the more the grade school is responsible and the less impact any pre k can have. Its sort of like saying gym class or sports in high school is a waste of time since most freshmen put on weight.

                I’ll google around for research on the long term fx of HS.Report

              • greginak in reply to Roger says:

                After a quick trip to the google machine i found several citations for research in the last decade showing long term benefits for HS attendance. HS attendance is associated with fewer criminal convictions, increased college attendance and higher rates of graduating high school.

                There is a fair amount of positive data on the long term positive effects of HS, especially since this kind of research is inherently hard to do.

                I should have noted in my comment above that poor kids, the kind that get into head start, are mostly likely to have worse schools and suffer from other problems that go with low SES. So saying the short term gains, like school readiness which is valuable on its own, fade sort of misses the other reasons why that might happen. HS is good, nobody is claiming it is a miracle that can overcome every problem in a childs life.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Roger says:

                Mr. Gregniak, Head Start was the magic bullet, spiriting away the kids fate gave bad start to, while they are still young, before they’re damaged.

                It’s not that it’s a failure, it’s that its failure is a heartbreak, man. If only. If only. Pls know this, that every American feels this way: If ever any government program were worth trillions, it would be this, without complaint, without reservation.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Roger says:


                There are a number of ways Pre-K can be instrumental for kids, especially those who are “at risk” for one reason or another. Of course, any reform that focuses solely on Pre-K is destined to fail. But so is any reform focused solely on senior year of HS. Really, any reform that isn’t system wide, including but not limited to access to robust preschool experiences, is likely to fail.

                Increase access to and the quality of preschool programs. Then, reform Kindergartens so that they are more aligned with the preschool and pre-kindergarten program. Then, 1st grade. Onward and upward. A bottom-up approach is really necessary. Trying to grab a kid at 14 or 16, after he’s been through 10 or 12 years of shitty schooling, is a failing effort 9 times out of 10. But if you can get him to 14 or 16 in a quality system, well, you may not even need to do massive reforms at that point. This proposal risks there being a “lost generation” which sounds a bit callous. But how many lost generations have we already tolerated?Report

              • greginak in reply to Roger says:

                Kazzy- I agree completly. I ‘ve always supported families i worked with getting kids in HS. Its a good program.

                Tom- The data says HS works in a number of ways. You’ll need to ignore the stuff you don’t like harder.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Roger says:

                Geez, Greg, don’t shout down every fact. The US gov’t admits Head Start’s a failure.


                It breaks every American’s heart, man, or at least mine.

                What’s really interesting, though, is that the HHS had the moral fibre to actually issue a press release about this damning study. That showed courage — and a certain panache. I particularly liked this, from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius: “Research clearly shows that Head Start positively impacts the school readiness of low-income children.”

                Umm, yes Ms. Secretary, but the same research shows those effects vanish by the end of first grade. I guess that information is on a need-to-not-know basis. The public needs to not know about it or the administration hasn’t got a snowball’s chance in Kauai of getting American tax payers to throw another $100 billion or so at government pre-K, as President Obama is so very keen to do.Report

        • North in reply to Roger says:

          Roger, I’m still waiting on the examples of functioning well designed choice programs. The standard valid Liberal objection to all of what you’re saying is that centralized statist programs have worked well in the past here, currently work well in other countries and examples of them working well abound Ontario, Finland etc…Report

      • NewDealer in reply to North says:

        As far as I can tell our problems relate to federalism.

        European schools seem largely more equal because the standards and subjects are taught dictated at a national and centralized level. Everyone seems to marvel at Finland’s schools. However, most European countries are also much less diverse than the United States. Homogeneous societies seem to care a lot less about federalism.

        For better or for worse, education is done at a state and local level in the U.S. For better, it saves us a lot of strum und drang culture war issues (well maybe not). For worse, it leads the horrible way we fund school in the United States.Report

        • Kolohe in reply to NewDealer says:

          My understanding of the main difference between European and US educational systems is that Europe puts kids on tracks a lot earlier and a lot more often.Report

          • NewDealer in reply to Kolohe says:

            There is that aspect as well but they also don’t have the property tax and federalism issues.Report

          • Stillwater in reply to Kolohe says:

            That’s what I think is part of the problem, here. If we had more unilateral state authority, things would probably be better. If we had less unilateral state authority, things would probably be better. We’re stuck in the middle.Report

            • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

              Of course, part of the problem we have in the US is political resistance to letting the state run things – and change things – unilaterally. Even if that were to mean eliminating the state’s role in education provision.Report

        • Roger in reply to NewDealer says:

          If we funded schools at the levels of these homogenous societies would that entail a substantial increase or decrease per child?Report

          • Roger in reply to Roger says:

            Since nobody answered me I googled it. Looks like the US spends more per pupil than the homogenous societies. Using Kris ‘logic maybe we can improve our schools by reducing spending per student.Report

  13. Kris says:

    As an educator of 10 years, here are my two cents.

    1. We have a question about what education system will cause our children to become as educated as possible. This is am empirical question, as it is a question about cause and effect, which -as Hume and Locke taught- must be empirical.

    2. When we look around the world we see lots of education systems that clearly seem to be “good”*, i.e. that are causing children to become very well educated in terms of standardized tests. We sees these schools in Canada, Finland, Japan, etc.

    3. The schools in Canada, Finland, and Japan that are succesful are more unionized and more government regulated than American schools. Moreover, there is less reliance on private schools, i.e. far more children go to public schools. (Some have longer school years, too, which is a huge, huge deal for standardized test scores.)

    4. If we want to be empirical, we should try to copy these school systems.

    5. We don’t try to copy these systems. Only crazy left-wing idiots would try. We experiment with implementing the exact opposite of the systems that we have observed to be better than our system.

    6. Instead, we are trying to institute a system -and are experimenting with such systems now- with less unionization, less public regulation. Initial experiments with a more privatized system within the U.S. with ” teacher accountability”, charters, etc. has shown pretty mixed and generally poor results. In the aggregate, over time non-union charters do about the same as public schools. There may be a way of making all charter schools like New Yorks, but then again, if you can do that, then there may be a way of making public schools as good as New York charters, too.

    7. Complete refusal to experiment with systems we know are succesful -Finland, Canada- is madness. It is fueled by a lot of misinformation and myths about bad teachers ruining education. I should also point out that performance pay schemes fail pretty commonly in industries outside of education.Report

    • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Kris says:

      Conor: Good stuff. Our schools are public utilities, but they are also hospitals, and that’s the rub.

      I’m having the same thoughts as Kris, but to opposite conclusions. Yes, absolutely, let’s look at what’s working instead of looking at the pits and condemning them.

      But conjuring up unionization in Finland ain’t gonna get ‘er done. We have 50 states, 55 million K-12ers, 7 million teachers, 100,000 public schools, 33,000 private schools, 5,000 charter schools.


      Hey, that was cool, just looking up the numbers, to see what we’re dealing with.

      Anyway, the point is, we have enough “laboratories of democracy” and “laboratories of education” to mine for clues about what works here in America. Without doing a righty rant on the educrat-industrial complex, from my chair, that’s what America’s schools have most in common. I want to know what works, dammit, and it’s the AFT and Randi Weingarten and that establishment that keeps insisting none of the alternatives to their regime work.

      In the very least, from what I’ve read, charter schools may indeed be no better than the others, but they seem to get similar results for a lot less money. If we could save money on the meat-and-potatoes, then we could pay more attention to our kids who have problems. Who ARE problems, both now and likely for the rest of their lives.

      I’m not a teacher fan on the whole, esp their unions, sorry, but it’s entirely fair when the ones in our failing schools say the last thing they do in school every day is educate children. We hand them our doomed, and say, here, make them productive citizens.

      What the hell happened here? anybody?


      JUDY WOODRUFF: But, on Monday, that spat between a school board and a teachers union got a lot more public.

      U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If a school continues to fail its students year after year after year, if it doesn’t show any sign of improvement, then there’s got to be a sense of accountability. And that’s what happened in Rhode Island last week at a chronically troubled school, when just 7 percent of 11th-graders passed state math tests — 7 percent.Report

      • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

        Great, go see what works, get some billionaires and millionaires to pay for it, and when you’ve found a better model than universal public education paid for by the commons using well-paid teachers with union rights, get back to us and then maybe the taxpayers can pay for that instead of experiments that just happen to make lots of money for connected corporate-friendly institutions.

        As for the “teacher unions don’t want reforms” canard, go actually talk to teachers or even teacher unions. They’ll tell you plenty of reforms, but since none of them involve dissolving teachers unions and allowing administrators to fire them for whatever reason they decide, the reform crowd don’t seem to be interested that much.Report

      • Kris in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

        Thanks Tom,

        Liberals will be in favor of universal pre-K and economic help for the poor. (Let’s be honest. The educational system in the U.S. is fine for all but the poor.)

        The AFT and the Michelle Rhees of the world are experimenting with school systems that have never been observed to work better -or significantly better over a long period- for anyone.

        And by the way, Japan isn’t a tiny country like Finland. They succeed by paying their teachers more and letting them retire early. They don’t fire bad teachers; they retrain them. This isn’t academic, but take a gander: http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-18563_162-6912732.html

        Canada is like the U.S. culturally and does well by international standards. Unions their, too.

        In short, an empirical study of the world’s successes and recent experiments here showing charter schools average performance suggests that unions are not the cause of any problem in the educational system. Indeed, there is a strong case for concluding that strong teachers unions cause educational systems to be better.Report

        • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Kris says:

          Kris, surely there are American schools, school districts, counties and states already following this model. Let’s look. I find it unhelpful to drag in other nations and cultures. Let’s stay with America, a legitimate sample size:

          50 states, 55 million K-12ers, 7 million teachers, 100,000 public schools, 33,000 private schools, 5,000 charter schools.

          Jesus, man, the entire population of Finland is only 5 million! As for Japan, the poor kids jump out of windows if they don’t make the higher ed cut, so let’s not even go there. Their system kills more people than the Aurora Joker, and I mean this with deep sincerity and concern for both Japan and America.

          I think we might agree in two points floated in my previous, that our schools are utilities but they are also hospitals, and that one size does not fit all. This was the core fallacy behind the Bush-Kennedy “No Child Left Behind,” that a national policy can educate even a single individual.

          Well, it could educate one, but not two. We are all individuals afterall.Report

          • Kris in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            See my point above about U.S. states with no collective bargaining for educators being amongst the worst performers in the country.

            The empirical data suggests that Blaise is right. Places with better unions have better teachers. The good teachers stay in those places and they make the teaching profession better bynhelpng their peers and setting high standards. That’s a fact.

            Here is why it this is a fact, as far as I can tell from my experience as a tacher: Unions protect teachers and ensure a good wage, respect, and the ability to be confident you won’t be fired. That makes them feel safe, which leads them to stay teaching and to succeed. They succeed and when they are struggling they don’t quit. They ask for help and get it. This is the secret of Japan, Finland, and Canada.

            Rhee’s dream is a system that pays teachers for performance and keeps the good and fires the bad. But no other country does that succesfully. Succesful countries do the opposite. The worst states in the country, educationally, have been firing teachers to no effect pr possibly bad effect for some time.

            I can tell you why I wouldn’t want to teach in Rhee’s dream world. I enjoy teaching because I get to determine what I am doing. I am in control and having fun. That leads to me set goals for myself, talk with my friends about how they are doing things differently. I do okay as a teacher and am getting better. When I started, I would’ve been fired in Rhee’s world. I took time to develop.

            If I had to make sure my students did X, Y, and Z or I would lose pay or my job, I’d be a basket case. The fun, creativity, and experimenting with self-improvement as a teacher is gone immediately. All of a sudden I’d be a salesman, selling these kids on doing X and getting mad and nervous when they didn’t. I’d guard my secrets if I had success for fear of competing teachers making me look bad. I’d quit pretty quickly.Report

            • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Kris says:

              Go guys sure got Rhee. When I google her, a PAID AD comes up: “Rhee Under Investigation | nytimes.com.” That is really bizarre.Report

            • James Hanley in reply to Kris says:

              See my point above about U.S. states with no collective bargaining for educators being amongst the worst performers in the country.

              Not to be anti-union, but I’m skeptical of the implied causal claim there. Ig the correlation is real, I”d hypothesize it’s not unions causing good schools, but the type of states that are traditionally anti-union also traditionally investing less in education.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

                James, you’re right. If the situation were squared away to everyone’s mutual satisfaction, the teachers’ unions would look more like bar associations and other forms of licensing. Pitting the State against the Teacher is hugely counterproductive. We want qualified teachers and they obviously need representation — but of what sort? They’re professionals with specialities, not a lumpen gang of ditch diggers. The teacher has the worst of both worlds: the teacher has to be licensed by the very organisations that pay his salary.Report

              • Kris in reply to James Hanley says:

                All the evidence we have shows a correlation, in the aggregate, between strong unions and good teaching, while weak/non-union schools are correlated with equal (charters) or worse (Texas, NC, etc.) performance.

                I admit that the data is hazy and its hard to infer causation, but that will always be the case with educational debates. Experimenting with a whole school or school system has too many uncontrolled variables.

                But all the data points towards unionized systems working well. And none of the data points towards less unionization working well.

                In the U.S, we want to experiment with less unionized systems, pay for performance, etc. Even though all the empirical evidence is pointing us to experiment with more unionized, centralized systems where teachers are not fired for student performance, like Canada, Finland, etc. Instead, we’re moving towards Texas and NC systems for all.

                Its crazyReport

    • Roger in reply to Kris says:


      You start well but then lapse into dogma. You are suggesting the solution to Chicago or DC public schools is more unionization. Seriously? What maybe a hundred and ten percent unionization? Hundred and twenty?

      Next you state they have fewer private schools. Of course not, the public ones work there. Are you really prepared to state that the problem with DC schools is that some kids aren’t forced to go there? Really?

      May I suggest that public schools are local monopolies? Monopolies have little incentive to be either efficient or effective other than the compassion and heart of individual teachers. Given enough bureaucracy and regulation we can cure them of that as well.

      I tell you what. Let’s allow ten states to make their schools completely free market for ten years and see what happens. If nothing else we will save a fortune.Report

      • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Roger says:

        No, what Kris is saying and he can correct me if he wants is let teacher’s actually run their classrooms instead of administrators with MBA’s and random fellows from think tanks who have never been in a classroom in their life.

        Give teachers actual power instead of just all the responsibility and let’s see what happens.Report

        • Kris in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

          That is what I’m saying, E.D. was in favor if the same, IIRC.Report

          • Roger in reply to Kris says:

            I agree with this. But with responsibility comes accountability. You guys still on board? That means differential pay or rewards and punitive action for the worst. For example demote the chronically unsuccessful to substitute status and let schools select from this pool based upon performance.Report

            • Kris in reply to Roger says:

              I am a very responsible, concerned, and accountable teacher. My pay is not based on my performance except in the loosest way that all teacher pay is based on, i.e. if I taught horribly and then refused all attempts at help from colleagues, I would be fired. If I show extra effort around the school, participate in teacher development, get good reviews from fellow teachers and students, I might get some kind of promotion. That is a reward for good performance. (But I don’t go to bed at night worried about whether my students are going to improve by three points in a standardized exam.)

              Lots of policemen, firemen, doctors, social workers, and more around the world are extremely accountable without the kind of performance pay the Rhee crowd wants. (In general, this kind of performance pay doesn’t work that well to motivate people, IMO. )

              That said, some bonuses for performance are okay as long as it is within moderation. Everything in moderation.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Kris says:

                I am a very responsible, concerned, and accountable teacher. My pay is not based on my performance except in the loosest way that all teacher pay is based on, i.e. if I taught horribly and then refused all attempts at help from colleagues, I would be fired.

                But if you’re just subpar, not horribly, but generally badly? I’m in the same position, really, a unionized college prof (with tenure). I like to think I’m responsible, concerned and accountable, too. I think every one of my colleagues believes the same about themselves. Some are truly deep in denial (let’s hope I’m not one, but am I really the best judge of my own case?). What do we do about them? They’re not bad enough to get fired from a unionized college, but they’re not doing a lot of good for students.

                I’m with you on the weakness of standardized testing as a way of evaluating teachers, and I honestly don’t know the right way to do it. But as someone on he inside, I’m going to say that your claim that we’re truly accountable us just not true. Being accountable doesn’t mean doing a good job, or even taking personal responsibility for doing a good job. It means someone else can effectively hold you to account when you don’t do well, not only when you do horribly.

                I’m fully on board with giving teachers more freedom in the class room, but Rogers’s right that the flip side of that is tighter accountability.Report

              • Kris in reply to James Hanley says:

                Lots of college teachers are worse than they think, sure, But if you do a review of their in-class performance, teaching materials, and student aurveys, you can get a sense of their problems. If you confront them the right way, most are willing to put some effort into improving. (I’m all for firing teachers and profs who refuse to even try to improve.) Of course, as we know, college profs aren’t really paid to be teachers in the same sense as K-12 teachers, though that is slowly changing, for better or for worse.

                I’m all for evaluating teachers with inclass video and observation and then working with teachers to help them improve. But I am against the kind of “accountability” where your pay and continued employment is based on test scores and whether you’re doing X, Y, and Z.

                Give teachers freedom to try new things, the courage to do it, and control over their classes. Only fire people when they’ve demonstrated refusal to take simple steps to improve their performance.Report

              • Kris in reply to James Hanley says:

                I am in favor of using the same methods of holding teachers accountable that they use in succesful systems like Finland and Canada.Report

              • Roger in reply to Kris says:


                With all respect, your arguments seem to be full of holes.

                What percent immigrant Hispanic and African American are Finlands schools compared to Texas?

                What is the unionization rates in NYC and DC and Chicago schools?

                You say if we empower you all will be great, but then suggest we just trust you. And you also say that if we really want to fix things it will take the eradication of poverty even though our poor are already better off than average worldwide.Report

              • Kris in reply to Roger says:

                I’m saying deunionization to fire teachers, charter schools, choice,a accountability, etc. has no evidence of success in the aggregate (being better than current public schools over a long period) in the world or the U.S.

                I’m also saying that succesful systems -even in heterogeneous places like my homeland of Canada- protect teachers with strong unions.

                I have no doubt that poverty in latino and african american communities in places like NC and Louisiana is the primary cause of low test scores there. This is why we should aim attempts to improve education at getting rid of that primary cause. This is why I am in favor of poverty reduction to make us more like Canada, Finland, and Japan. But clearly, those states haven’t solved their problems by weakening unions and making it easier to fire teachers. The problem is worst in those places.Report

              • Johanna in reply to James Hanley says:

                I think you have an unrealistic ally rosy view of college prof’s motivation and response to critique.

                My basic point is that few professions are as little accountable as teaching. And we ask the public to trust us, because really we care a lot and are doing our best. But it’s perfectly legitimate fortune public to say they’d rather not just take our word for it, they want real evidence.

                Again, I’m not arguing for test scores as the measure. We’re on the same side on that. And unfortunately the public doesn’t actually know what we do (I knew a college VP who thought his college’s faculty only worked 12 hours a week-until his son-in-law got a tenure-track job). But anything that smacks of, “we’re really doing good, trust us,” is too self-serving and is rightfully rejected by the public.Report

              • Kris in reply to Johanna says:

                Are teachers in Finland accountable? Seems like they are.

                I am a broken record here, but why add some layer of so-called “accountability” here that doesn’t exist in systems that do a great job.

                Teachers in Canada are accountable and successful, despite their being non-white students in those classes. They have strong unions and they don’t threaten teachers with dismissal or lower pay based on test scores.

                Let’s try to copy Canada’s successes. (Note, this requires attacking endemic poverty.)Report

              • Kris in reply to Kris says:

                I can see you’re on board with my recommendations.

                I’m curious as to why you think teachers are not accountable besides some anecdotes about bad teachers not being fired. (Every industry has bad members that can be hard to fire. I’d hardly single out teachers asbeing unaccountable in general, accept in the same sense that doctors, lawyers, police men, factory workers, etc. are unaccountable.Report

      • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Roger says:

        There’s no rule against private citizens creating their own schools and opening them up free of charge to the public aside from basic accreditation and such. No one here thinks people should be banned from creative private schools. We just don’t think the commons should be funding for-profit education.Report

        • Roger in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

          Profit is the voice of the consumer. If you remove profit from the system you also remove consumer voice and input. Profit systems are thus bottom up rather than top down.Report

      • Kris in reply to Roger says:

        The reason that schools in inner city areas do poorly is that the students on average aren’t very good. The students, on average, weren’t read to enough at home and aren’t pressured to succeed. (Immigrant kids in these same communities do substantially better.) Their parents are impoverished and drugs and thendrug war have ravaged the community, causing a variety of discipline problems, and a lack of pre-K learning. Pre-K is a big factor in education.

        If you transferred a bunch of rich and middle class studentsnto to those schools, they’d be fine.

        Not firing these unfirable teachers isn’t a problem for the educational system in Japan or Canada or Finland.

        The threat of firing and low wages that will come as unionization decreases will make good teachers leave. Or they will teach for a year or two, TFA style, and then start investment banking.Report

        • Roger in reply to Kris says:


          I worry too that it isn’t just that they were not read to. It is that people who don’t value education don’t read to their kids and that they tend to have kids that don’t value education or want to read. My worry is even tougher to solve.Report

      • Kris in reply to Roger says:

        “I tell you what. Let’s allow ten states to make their schools completely free market for ten years and see what happens. If nothing else we will save a fortune.”

        Depending on how you view educational success, you already lost the bet. According to ACT data, the five states that don’t allow collective bargaining for educators are ranked against other states on SAT/ACT scores as follows:

        “South Carolina – 50th

        North Carolina – 49th

        Georgia – 48th

        Texas – 47th

        Virginia – 44th”


        • Roger in reply to Kris says:

          How did free market convert to right to work? Sorry if I was unclear. I meant allow open competition in schools with parental choice and creative destruction. Preferably by establishing several competing entities in each school commons. Government could spend efforts on transparency measures of success and publishing results and parents could direct their funds to entities which delivered the best results.Report

          • Kris in reply to Roger says:

            I’m fine with charter schools that are unionized as long as the charter is sufficiently accountable to democratic governance, which some clearly are. You take money from the tax pYer, you need to be governed by the people. I’d do a no-religion rule and some curriculum rules for all charters. Louisiana looks like they might have publically funded Scientology schools soon.Report

            • Roger in reply to Kris says:

              Sounds good to me. My guess is once you get local schools competing for good teachers that they will want nothing to do with a union. I’d let the teachers decide.Report

              • Kris in reply to Roger says:

                Has this ever happened on a large scale in some country? Why pin hopes on unproven solutions that make our system less like proven, succesful systems.

                This is less likely to work than copying successful countries. The lefties are empirical on this. They want to copy success.

                The neo-liberals and reformers want to try something unproven on the suspicion that it should work given a bunch of shaky assumptions about bad teachers, union, competition amongst public institutions, etc.Report

          • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Roger says:

            Transparency, Roger? In 2010, LA Times reported on individual teacher effectiveness scores. It was criticized as a violation of privacy and shit. Ain’t heard nothing about it since.


            The Los Angeles Times has produced an analysis of how effective Los Angeles Unified School District teachers have been at improving their students’ performance on standardized tests. The Times has decided to make the ratings available because they bear on the performance of public employees who provide an important service, and in the belief that parents and the public have a right to the information.Report

            • Meh. I think without knowing better the context, we need to be really, really careful about calling out individual teachers. As in, we shouldn’t.Report

              • Roger in reply to Will Truman says:

                I concur. I would do it at a higher level of entity. Competing entity within the school for example. For example if there were three or four businesses that competed for class room space in each school district. They could compete for students based upon their programs, their results , word of mouth from customers etc. Over time less successful and less efficient businesses would lose class spaces to better competitors. Good teachers would be in demand and parents would be assured multiple choices competing for their dollar.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Will Truman says:

                Actually, Will & Roger, I do agree with you about the LA Times’ brutality, but on the wisdom, care, and kindness level, not on the utilitarian one. The best teachers are apparent from Day One or at least Year Two, let’s not get precious or theoretical about this.

                Will & Roger and at least half the LoOGateriat would make for better teachers with no further education certification courses than 90% of the teachers any of us ever had.

                Even LoOG denizens I don’t get along with. Come to think of it, they’re all professional educators. Hmmmm.

                But never mind that, heh, heh. I do feel bad about the crappy teachers that the LA Times called out, Will. But if we met them, chatted with them, if we asked them to write a piece as a commenter or guest poster for the LoOG…

                You wouldn’t let them wash your dog let alone educate your kid. There’s a here here.Report

              • My original minor was in education, so I took College of Education classes. It has taken me years and a job at a school district to look at teachers again how I saw them when I was growing up. So depressing.

                Having said that, if I were a teacher I would not take a job in a place where the local paper posted my progress that is so dependent on the actions of kids. No way. If everywhere did it, I would probably not become a teacher.

                I say this as someone interested in a career-shift in teaching, and probably would be on my way towards that, were it not for the credential requirements and the amount of schooling it would require to go back and get them.Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to Will Truman says:

                If the teachers’ argument is that their performance is entirely due to the material they’re given to work with, then why do teachers who’ve been teaching longer get paid more?Report

            • Roger in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

              Not sure what point you are making, Tom. Is it that we should not have chickened out? That teachers unions shouldnt have been so dastardly? That we should have done it at the level of parent choice (school or program) rather than teacher? Or something else?Report

        • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Kris says:

          Kris, I found that rather a killer argument. However, upon further review, your own link says:

          Update: A commenter points out this fact uses test scores from 1999. Based on 2007 test scores the trend is weaker: NC is 47th; TX is 45th; SC is 39th; GA is 26th; VA is 25th. These rankings come from a composite of ACT and SAT scores among high school graduates, which is a measure that accounts for different participation rates.

          Read more: http://articles.businessinsider.com/2011-02-23/news/30101220_1_union-battle-teachers-unions-test-scores#ixzz21n5ZkVfJ

          Our problems remain epistemological.Report

          • Kris in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            Still pretty bad overall scores. If firing helps, it should show in those scores.Report

            • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Kris says:

              Kris, that lapse doesn’t mean your pro-union argument is wrong, just that it was bum evidence, is all. Me, I think the constellation of factors obviates the union question: Instead of paying lucrative pensions to retirees, we could have more teachers in the classroom right now, lowering the teacher-student ratio.

              And so on.Report

              • Kris in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Lowering pensions and pay is going to improve teachers? The beatings will continue until morale improves.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Kris says:

                Did I say that, Kris? I don’t think so. I said if we were paying fewer fat pensions at the moment, we could have more teachers in more classrooms, thus lowering the teacher-student ratio even as we speak.

                If I didn’t say that, that’s what I meant to say. Sorry for the confusion. I was actually trying to agree with you on at least a point or two.Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to Kris says:

                “Lowering pensions and pay is going to improve teachers?”

                Would you rather be getting paid twenty dollars an hour and working sixteen-hour days, or you and a buddy get twelve-fifty each and you both get the job done in eight hours?Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Kris says:

      Interesting points. Some thoughts:

      #3. IIRC from studies and my time in Japan, they have just as many private schools and universities as the U.S. or at least it is just as present. Canada and Finland are different in this regard. I don’t think Canada has very few and most of those seem to be religious universities and one Canadian branch of an American university according to wiki.

      There are also plenty of things about Japanese education that are not worth carrying over like the crazy cram schools and entrance exams. Japanese universities are not known for their academic rigor. The trick is getting into one of the top 5-7 universities and then you coast for three years. There was another thread in which this site discussed that American universities tend to be more academically rigorous than those found in other countries.

      Also Japan is part of a much more streamed system that most Americans, left and right, would balk at. For all our faults, it is easier to have second acts in the American system and late blooming success. This does not seem as true in other countries.

      Though I would go for more Finland and Canada in the American system.Report

      • Mr. Blue in reply to NewDealer says:

        I’m pretty sure Canada has publicly-funded Catholic schools, doesn’t it? If we had that, we would probably have fewer students enrolled in private schools as well.

        Something like 10% of Americans go to private school. That may be a lot, but’s not an overwhelming amount.Report

        • NewDealer in reply to Mr. Blue says:

          I don’t know whether Canada has publicly-funded Catholic (or other religious schools) or not. I think in the UK religious schools do receive state-funding.

          Religious schools in the United States can and do receive government money but that money cannot be used for religious purposes. They can use it to build a chemistry lab or go on a band trip, they can’t use it for religious classes.

          Thanks for the numbers, 10 percent might not be a lot but I would want the socio-economic data on those 10 percent. I imagine it contains a lot of people who can make school systems better because of the parents of said kids.

          My mom (former public school teacher and administrator) is very against private school before college/university. She finds it somewhat decadent and sinful. Though she is also pragmatic and I was raised in a well-to-do suburb with good public schools. Coincidentally my mom and uncle attended the same school district. We had teachers in high school in common (though 34 years apart. My mom was class of 1964, I was class of 1998).

          Interestingly, my mom supports homeschooling as a good alternative for people stuck in bad school districts. I don’t think she would support fundies doing homeschooling because they hate what the public school teaches though. She is probably not going to be a fan of unschooling*

          *Neither am I. Unschooling is where I think my fellow liberals start getting very silly. I am not hippie or alt enough to support unschooling.Report

          • Mr. Blue in reply to NewDealer says:

            Well, the Masters of the Universe aren’t going to public schools, that’s for sure. I would be surprised if the Canadian Masters did, either. Public school is still a pretty strong norm, and 10% here versus 5% there doesn’t seem to me to be a huge disparity. Especially when a lot of private-school attendees down here aren’t wealthy so much as Catholic.

            Someone from Canada can correct me on this, but I think religious schools get the same sort of direct funding that public schools do, not just grant money.Report

    • Nob Akimoto in reply to Kris says:

      Japanese secondary education is actually highly stratified, with something like 25% of the schools being private, and those being highly selective and ranked. Public institutions are divided into municipal, prefectural and national schools, with the national schools tending to be the most selective of the public institutions.Report

      • Kris in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

        Cool. Did not know that. Certainly the public schools are still considered good by U.S. standards, no? That was really my point. Canada et al have great public schools that poor, middle class, and many wealthy people go to. They do fine even without threatening the bad teachers and even without that much “school choice.”Report

        • Nob Akimoto in reply to Kris says:

          Sort of.

          It generally goes: National, Private, Prefectural then Municipal schools for most people in terms of preferences. It helps that upper secondary education is voluntary (even if like 95% of middle school students eventually go to high school)Report

    • Mr. Blue in reply to Kris says:

      How do Finnish-Americans do in comparison to native Finlanders?

      On the ACT scores, if you look at the NAEP instead, and adjust for race, you may find some interesting results. Some of those states start looking pretty good.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Mr. Blue says:

        Random note:

        I have never known anyone who took the ACT. Is that geographically specific?

        Everyone in the Northeast seems to just take the SAT and SAT II exams.Report

        • James Hanley in reply to NewDealer says:

          Yes,mthe ACT and SAT are somewhat regional. Both come from the same company, though (ETS, Educational Testing Services). There seems to be a kind of monopoly there, which I find discomforting.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to NewDealer says:

          When I lived in NY, everybody (*EVERYBODY*) took the SAT. I moved out to Colorado for my Senior Year and everybody had taken the ACT and seemed to pity me for not taking the test that all of the schools in Colorado would care about me having taken.Report

        • Mr. Blue in reply to NewDealer says:

          I grew up in Tennessee, where the ACT is the norm. Here in Texas, it’s the SAT. I don’t really know why.Report

  14. Kris says:

    I would also like to point out that the U.S. has pretty much always been pretty average in Math and Science standard by international standards, even in the heady days of decades yore.

    I’d also like to point put that we aren’t defining “good education” here at all. Standardized test scores are not the be all and end all of education. Nor is the ability to regurgitate facts, dates, and equations after hours of rote learning. I’ve taught here, and in China, and, in my opinion, the average American student is significantly more educated than the average product of high-test score Chinese schools (of course, millions of kids in China, living in poverty don’t even get a high-test score school education.)Report

    • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Kris says:

      Also, this. Schools have been horrible according to newspaper reports since the 60’s, but people consistently think their schools are doing well in the same time period. It’s those other schools that need reform, not mine!Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Kris says:


      I recently saw an article about China starting to move away from the rote memorization model to more of a critical thinking model, and one Chinese education expert expressing astonishment that the U.S. was moving in the direction of the model they were moving away from. Said one thing like, “But we know it doesn’t work!”

      Sad days for American education.Report

      • Kris in reply to James Hanley says:

        Yeah, China has legitimage problems with its educated students. The kids I taught were so nice, but really lacking in lots of skills.

        Also, their college students seemed less engaged (though more polite and respectful about cellphones, sleeping in class, etc.) than ours, and I don’t teach at an elite school here. Some of the kids I talked to said they worked hard to get into college, but that they didn’t have to work as hard anymore. I’ve heard kids in the US say that, but they don’t mean it in the same degree, IMO.Report

  15. Kris says:

    And please forgive all my typos and grammatical mistakes. I shouldn’t write so badly when the topic is education.Report

  16. Kris says:

    Tom said,

    “Geez, Greg, don’t shout down every fact. The US gov’t admits Head Start’s a failure.


    It breaks every American’s heart, man, or at least mine.

    What’s really interesting, though, is that the HHS had the moral fibre to actually issue a press release about this damning study. That showed courage — and a certain panache. I particularly liked this, from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius: “Research clearly shows that Head Start positively impacts the school readiness of low-income children.”

    Umm, yes Ms. Secretary, but the same research shows those effects vanish by the end of first grade. I guess that information is on a need-to-not-know basis. The public needs to not know about it or the administration hasn’t got a snowball’s chance in Kauai of getting American tax payers to throw another $100 billion or so at government pre-K, as President Obama is so very keen to do.”

    This is why I said the research on the long term effects of headstart is mixed. (Pre-K in general is pretty widely admitted to be valuable long term.)

    There is the data that says the results don’t last through grade one that Cato and Heritage are all over like flies on poopy. But there is a lot of data saying headstart improves long term cognitive ability and increases highschool completion rates. (State level pre-K and pre-K in other countries is also well established as effective.) 3 such studies, peer reviewed, showing lots of long term good from headstart are cited at the end of this link.


  17. Roger says:


    I not sure where your question is but here is my best answer.

    My understanding is that there are evil forces at work to discourage free market reforms and experiments in the US. I’d like to try it and see what occurs.Report

  18. Kris says:

    Are teacher salaries and pensions better in the US or in Canada, Finland, and Japan? (How you adjust for cost of living and taxes might make this confusing, and makes this a tough debate.)

    There is no doubt in my mind that the U.S. system wastes too much per pupil, but its not on teachers. Its administrators and other expenses, just as it is in the college system.

    The links below make my point. Adjusted for percentage of GDP, American teachers make less than Fins and the Japanese, despite working more hours.

    I would argue that some countries give job security as a kind of compensation which improves teacher quality. This job security is what we will lose with “accountability” that requires teachers to be evaluated on the student performance, which isn’t done in the succesful countries like Finland.


    • Will Truman in reply to Kris says:

      That’s if you adjust for GDP. If you go by PPP (purchasing power parity), the numbers change dramatically.

      There are arguments for why we should go with the adjusted GDP, but I find them short of entirely convincing. I’d be more interested in changing how we pay teachers, and if we’re going to devote more money towards it, paying for more of them rather than paying more per teacher.

      I’m actually cool with paying teachers more, and actually agree that the spending is not going towards teachers, but I don’t find the “as a percentage of the GDP” metric to be all that convincing. Beyond which, if we’re going to direct more money towards teachers, I’d rather focus on “more” rather than “more per teacher” to pick between the two.Report

      • Kris in reply to Will Truman says:

        If you want to measure whether teacher pay impacts how many top graduates go into the field and how likely people are to leave the field over pay issues, you should choose a measure that compares how much teachers earn, relative to other people in the U.S. That’s why you adjust for GDP, to compare teacher salaries to truck drivers and shoe store managers.

        You protect teacher pay and benefits so that they don’t leave for a better job that pays the same or a little less. So teacher pay, relative to what others make (and GDP is a proxy for this) is the proper measure.

        That said, teacher pay isn’t the be all and end all of this debate.Report

        • Will Truman in reply to Kris says:

          Maybe. My priority is primarily to take money off the table as an issue. As in, to not dissuade people because it pays too little. That’s where PPP comes in. When I was looking into being a teacher, money wasn’t the issue half as much as the barriers to entry (and, to a lesser extent, exit).Report

          • Kris in reply to Will Truman says:

            I agree that teacher certification requirements are a bit insane.

            They could at least allow anybody with a post-grad degree to start teaching w/no certification while doing an internship with on the job pedagogical training. You could allow sterling undergrads with impressive resumes or high test scores into the same imternship program.

            A program like that, pulling in people with post grad degrees and strong resumes into the labor pool, would be unlikely to lower wages overall.Report