Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Need to home school?

So, I tend to get on my soap box when it comes to more government, bigger government, or ... well, basically anything that is government related. It's not that I think that the ideas behind the programs are bad, it's just that there is not one example that demonstrates that the government can do something - anything - more efficiently or make something better than what was made available by the private sector.

I have made reference to the importance of understanding a sunk cost and a perfect example of how the current administration doesn't understand that concept is how Mr. Obama continues to pour money into the failing public school system. The government has been just dumping money into a black hole thinking that if you throw more money at it, it'll just be fixed. It hasn't worked so far and so why do we continue to do it? Because it's so easy for the government to spend money that isn't theirs. It's yours and it's mine. And according to a recently Obama budget analysis, it's largely money from other countries. It's scary that when you look at this years budget, nearly 50% of each dollar being spent by the US government is borrowed. Now THAT is teaching our children an important economics lesson.

Several of my friends are teachers and some of them agree - while others disagree - with my thoughts on the subject. I think that the reason some teachers disagree with me on this is that they interpret what I'm saying as bashing teachers or the hard work that they do. That's not the case at all. I realize that there are MANY great teachers out there that really WANT TO help children learn, are genuinely good people and are not primarily interested in being a teacher because you get a 3 month summer vacation. The point of this post is not to say that teachers are ineffective because that is not the case. It's the way the government is running the school system that is ineffective. The good teachers are largely underpaid and should be paid according to how their school performs. They should be fired or changes should occur if the school falls below an agreed-upon standard. Competition is a GREAT THING and the voucher system would work wonders for educating future generations. Let's keep the great teachers - - and get rid of the slackers and union workers who don't want to be challenged to be better and to provide more education and tools for their students.

What happened to get me all riled up about this? This is a snip from Boortz's website. I look forward to your thoughts on the topic.

Barack Obama announced yesterday that he wants to see 5,000 failing government schools closed and reopened with new principals and teachers. A few questions immediately come to mind.

Since Obama doesn't have the authority to do this, how exactly is he going to see that local school districts follow suit? Or will he expand his role as president to make sure this happens ... wouldn't shock me. Maybe he'll just withhold federal funding. That seems to work.

What the heck are these schools going to do with these teachers and principals in the meantime? Will they get paid not to work? Will they be fired? Will they be transferred? Fired? Did I say fired? No way. There will be some other government job for them somewhere. You don't expect them to survive in the private sector, do you?

That leads to the next, giant question ...
How long will it be before the teachers unions throw a fit? Unless their jobs are guaranteed ... I would give them minutes rather than hours to blow a union gasket.

My last question would have been how much money is the going to cost the taxpayers? But I managed to find the answer ... about a million dollars per school. Yep, Obama's budget sets aside up to $5 billion to facilitate this type of school turnarounds for failing government schools.

Here's an idea, Obama ... ever heard of a voucher or a private school? Rather than spending $5 billion to build more government schools, why not use that money to give students vouchers to attend the schools of their choice. That's what you and the First Lady did? Or here's another idea .. why not allow that money to be used by private companies or individuals or churches or what-have-you to build and run private schools. Just because you build a brand-new school doesn't mean that the education is going to be any better .. especially when you are dealing with government.

Unions rule in the education world, my friends. They're doing to the government schools what they did to our auto industry. We're just going to stand by and let them get away with it.


Martyn Oliver said...

Heya Krista,

First, congrats on coming to full term--great news for you all!

Second, of course, I find your post interesting. Leaving aside for the moment Mr. Boortz's little rant (ahem, "they would never survive in the private sector"?? really?), I wonder a few things:

First, I wonder if you might differentiate between the "government" and public education in the sense that the vast majority of funding for schools, and the administration of schools, is a local phenom and not the purview of the federal govt. That is, it's local taxes and locally elected officials who run schools, and not the Pres. or Congress.

Because of this, we see some of the vast disparity between school distracts--the socio-economic differences between communities can largely be cited as the reason for different levels of success or failure. Districts with higher tax bases, stable family units, active civic participation, etc., all tend to have very good public schools. Failing schools tend to come from areas with loads of poverty, broken families, etc etc.

Given this, its not just a matter of firing underperforming teachers or principals--its about recognizing the connection between home life (two parents? stable jobs? enough food?) and educational success. And these issues, of course, are the most politically vexing because they're not easily solved.

One could throw more money at schools or "starve" them through a voucher system (your version of competition), but if a kid doesn't have enough to eat, a parent or parents who don't care that he learns, or whatever, it won't make much difference.

I wonder what you'd think about all that.

It's easy, but I think lazy, to blame teachers--they're not the only factor in an education. Sure, unions can be tough to negotiate with and might have to give up some things like their antipathy to merit pay, but in this litigious society of ours, there also need to be some protections. Really, teachers have been sued for giving kids (deservedly) a C or B, arguing that the teacher (and not the student) has jeopordized that kids future. Unions are helpful there.

And FYI--I find myself to be fairly "conservative" when it comes to education in the sense that I support public education (for the good of the nation as a whole), want lots of parental control and involvement in education, think that two parents are usually better than one, support running a tight ship, support teaching the basics, on an on. I get into arguments with some folk to the left of me who think "public schooling" destroys creativity or whatever--which I think is BS.

Finally, would you agree or disagree that a democracy relies upon having an educated populace (ala Thomas Jefferson)? If you agree, what would be the best way of achieving this: public schools, private schools, or our current combo situation?

As an aside, I think funding schools based upon the tax base of individual districts (usually through property taxes) is partially to be blamed for some of the discrepencies we see (along with all the other issues I mentioned). Is it really fair for the children of rich parents to have more money available to them than the children of poor children for their education? Shouldn't they all receive an equal portion? (And if parents don't like that, they are free to fund a "private" education--that is, not vouchers, which spend MY money to support sectarian causes).

So, just some thoughts. Would be interested in your reactions.

Krista said...

Martyn - Good to hear from you. I hope all is well on your end.

I love the idea of a voucher system because schools that do well will succeed and those that don't do well - and don't teach the children well - will fail. It sucks - no one WANTS to fail - but if you are going to be teaching my child, I'd rather have a "succeeding" school educate him than one that would be deemed to be "failing".

I couldn't agree with you more that teachers are not the ones to blamed. It's the system that is to be blamed. How are teachers and schools rewarded for a job well done? Poorly done? They get to come back to the same exact job next year! That doesn't seem to me to be an example of encouraging school administrations to reward the right behaviors. Vouchers would do just that. They take the money that each tax payer has paid and let the tax payer choose where to apply it. Competition drives us all to be better.

Martyn Oliver said...

I understand the complaint about a lack of accountability for teachers and the relative merits of "merit pay" but comparing public to private schools is comparing apples to oranges (and I think you're being a tiny bit disingenuous about not blaming teachers).

Private schools admit who they want. They aren't bound by laws that require the teaching of ALL students. They don't have to admit students with special needs or students with criminal records or students that have poor test scores. They take the cream.

Public schools are required to try to educate everyone, no matter what. We spend ENORMOUS amounts of money on special education, one-to-one teacher aides for disruptive students, etc. Not so for private schools.

The problem isn't (just) competition, its the challenge of educating our whole society, good and bad. Vouchers exacerbate this issue by taking good students (and MY tax dollars, thank you very much) and funneling them to private (often parochial) schools and leave public schools on the wrong end of the stick (and whatever happened between separation of church and state? I don't want my tax dollars going to a church run organization not of my choosing).

If any enterprise is failing, how does a sane person respond to it? You either close it down and start again (as the president just suggested) or you reinvest, addressing the problems and attempting to shore up weak points. Vouchers (which in my view are unconstitutional to boot) do neither of these--instead, they slowly starve schools that *might* benefit from some more assistance.

And, again, its not just teacher pay--its the whole package of social ills that come to bear on education. Private schools are somewhat immune to this, and voucher programs only ratchet up the issue. If we take all of our kids out of public schools, we are doing a disservice to our nation as a whole, washing our hands of the challenge of educating future citizens.

We need to have a better plan.


Krista said...

Martyn, you make some good points.

I guess my issue with Obama's plans to basically "throw" money at the schools is due to the fact that there will probably be very little, if any, administrative changes in the schools that are deemed to be "failing". It's just throwing money at something that is broken. No "change" is taking place other than the amount of money the schools are getting from the fed gov't.

How do you say that vouchers are unconstitutional? Please clarify this. I think it is an exceptional idea that has been demonstrated (most recently in Washington DC - where parents and low-income students were outraged at Obama's plans to stop a voucher program) time and time again. It gives people a choice. An opportunity to vote with their feet. That's what we need.

The lower income folks are often the ones most helped by this type of system. Those at the top don't need voucher programs and they already exercise school choice. They can afford exclusive private schools, or they can afford to live in a neighborhood with decent public schools. The point of providing educational options is to extend this freedom to the "kids at the bottom."

- EdisonLearning, a private company that took over 20 of Philadelphia's 45 lowest performing district schools in 2002, created a new management model for public schools. The most recent state test-score data show that student performance at Philadelphia public schools managed by Edison and other outside providers has improved by nearly twice the amount as the schools run by the district. Just an example of how private companies can run things...

Pls check out this article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121720068489088381.html?mod=opinion_main_review_and_outlooks

Krista said...

And I want to make one point extremely clear... I have several friends/family members that are all amazing teachers. I would be so happy to have one of them teach Connor when he is old enough. Unfortunately, though, I think that this group of ppl is the minority when you look at the country as a whole. If all teachers were like them, they'd probably be able to out-manage the system and make it better for everyone.

Anonymous said...

After reading the AJC today about equal education for all and underperforming schools, once again its everybody else's fault. The parents should be held accountable and not enablers! The parents let their students stay at home for a headache, he was tired, we got in late from a trip, take another two days off after spring vaction because we were out-of-town, the list goes on and on. The teachers can't make a student come to school and a student cannot learn if he is not in class, this is part of the reason a school is not performing well, parents let their students stay out of school on a whime and the parents are not held accountable nor are the students.

Krista said...

How do we - or is there a way - to get parents to take more of an active role in their childs schooling? I guess you could make a student repeat a certain class or grade if he/she doesn't show up? I don't know...

Martyn Oliver said...


Thanks again for engaging the issue. I'll make a couple of more comments and then think about writing something more in-depth on my own blog.

First, regarding the constitutionality of vouchers, I would contend that vouchers (often) spend MY tax dollars on parochial (religious) schools, thus violating the separation of Church and State. Simple as that: one's taxes are sent without their consent to religious groups.

I have problems with the intermingling of public and religious groups for all sorts of reasons. True, sometimes there can be good effects, but I think religious groups find themselves in trouble when, upon taking federal dollars, they then need to adhere to public guidelines. I think its better for religious groups to steer clear of governmental interference, and this means refusing money. I would consider myself very conservative on this point--keep your money and your rules out of my religion.

As for "choice," I think charter schools do a great job of offering this: they are run free from some of the problems that plague other schools, can make their own rules (to an extent) and provide exactly the kind of choice you want. But the added benefit is that they do so on a level playing field--its competition within the system. This differs from vouchers which pits two groups of unequals: private schools versus public schools. Charter schools offer the kinds of administrative change that can then show the way to better education for all students.

As for the DC voucher system, that's a whole big bag of worms (briefly, the US congress has used their control of DC schools to experiment on our students without local input). I would submit, however, that those families who've taken advantage of the program are already those naturally inclined to give a damn about education. That is, if those voucher students were (heaven forbid, given the state of DC schools) put back in public classrooms, they would perform better than their peers because their parents cared about their eduction. But that's a thought experiment that would be unethical to try.

As for Edison Learning, the jury is still out. They've had some success and some (very big) failures. I'd mostly be concerned about operating as a for-profit venture. Public education isn't about monetary profit, it's about the profit of educating our nation's children.

That's all for now, but would love your thoughts.

maya said...

So rather than giving my too-long and uninteresting opinion, I just wanted to say that we found out today that my school passed and met AYP.
Krista knows that my school is made mostly (over 80%- or is it 95%? :) of Hispanic students. These kids come to school hungry and with dirty clothes, they have very little parental support at home, and a good number of them don't even speak English. Yet, because I work with some of the best, most hard-working teachers around, we have managed to meet AYP for 4 years straight.
I agree that there are a lot of crappy teachers out there, so even though my first instinct is to defend public schools, I know that there are a lot of flaws in the system.
Basically, I just wanted to use this opportunity to toot my own (and Montclair Elementary's) horn.