Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Improving Public Education By Crushing Teacher Unions

I did not post this article in order to take sides on the battle between the teacher union and the Mayor of Chicago who was President Obama's Chief of Staff.  I posted it to make some more general points.  Everyone wants to improve the public schools.  Some, like Tom Friedman and even President Obama argue that it is critical to the future of the country.  On the other hand, the battle that is taking place in Chicago is similar to what is happening elsewhere in country. State and local governments are being forced to make cuts in spending because of declining tax revenues.  In many states, and in most localities, spending on education is a major item in their budgets. The positive relationship that used to exist between government and the public schools has deteriorated as government has looked for ways to cut spending.  Teachers in Chicago had a contract that gave them a 4% raise.  The Mayor wants to void the contract, and he wants to have teacher evaluations, and future pay, based upon student performance on standardized tests. This is similar to what a manufacturer might do with production workers.  The factory worker produces a commodity and management would like more and better widgets to be produced per hour. The workers have no control over the definition of quality, and they have no control over the quality of the materials and tools that they use to increase their productivity.  Teachers are being put in a similar position.  They have little control over the tools that they have been given, and the standardized tests that are used to evaluate them are imposed on them as the measure of quality. They are also being asked to produce a commodity with a production process that ignores the differences between the students that they are teaching. Teaching used to be regarded as a profession.  Whats happening in Chicago, and elsewhere, turns teaching into a production process.  Moreover, the teachers are being asked to make financial sacrifices as their working conditions, and respect from the community deteriorate.  The public education is in a doom loop.  The efforts being made to improve the system will make it worse.  Furthermore, the worsening of the system will open the way for entrepreneurs, to skim the cream by only accepting the better students, and leave the most difficult students to be taught by what remains of the public schools.

This is the kind of thing that one might expect from Republicans.  The Democratic Party has only been a little better than the Republicans on education reform.

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