Category Archives: Education

Accountability, responsibility, risk, metrics, unions, markets… What about education?

As has been discussed here recently, Chicago teachers are striking, even though they already make an average salary nearly double that of the average Chicago family, and are being offered a 16% raise over four years.

I dunno about you, but as a free market partcipant in our economy today, that sounds like a pretty good deal.

Well, first thing is they’re asking for a 30% raise over four years… but that’s really just a negotiating point, and one they don’t expect to get. If it were just about the raise, I’d guess they’d take the 16%.

It’s not.

It’s not really about the money; it’s that the teachers new contract attempts, in even the tiniest way, to add some accountability and performance measures to the teachers contracts.

… and the teachers unions can’t give even a millimeter on this issue. Not one millimeter, not ever. Because if they do, their rigid seniority system collapses, and they lose power.

Here’s a fun fact: a lot of younger teachers don’t mind the idea of performance standards, and they actually LIKE the idea of merit pay, performance bonueses etc… It’s not a foreign idea for them, because all their friends who live in the real world market economy have that sort of thing.

Recently, in Idaho, the commissioner of education managed to get teacher tenure eliminated, and performance based bonuses (note, not performance based salaries or hiring or firing, just bonuses) passed as commission regulations, and then when they were challenged in lawsuits, via statute approved by public referendum.

In response, the teachers unions sponsored an unsuccessful attempt to have the commissioner (who is now serving as one of the two lead advisors on education to the Romney campaign) recalled. So unsuccessful in fact the numbers indicate basically no-one voted for the recall but teachers and their immediate families.

This year, they managed to get enough signatures together to get a repeal effort on the merit pay rules on the ballot as a referendum; polling on which indicates it will fail miserably. Meanwhile, the teachers unions are both suing to prevent the policies from being implemented AND SIMULTANEOUSLY suing to force the department of education to distribute the bonus money, but on a seniority basis.

Trying to have their cake and eat it too.

I don’t understand how much more clear it could be that this has nothing to do with the wellbeing of our children, or about good teachers; it’s about protecting union rules, and union rule…

BUT, there are certainly good, well meaning people, who really do believe that we shouldn’t put performance standards on teachers… That it’s somehow “unfair” or impossible, or just not a good idea etc…

“You can’t hold teachers accountable for the performance of their students, there’s too much they can’t control. Their home lives, their parents, poverty… Good teachers could be penalized simply for having bad students). It’s not fair”

Common refrain from teachers, and from those who support their position in this… After all you wouldn’t want to be evaluated on someone elses efforts and abilities right?

Well… I am. Most likely you are too.

In the free market, we are held accountable for other people performance and decisions etc… all the time.

As an individual contributor, my performance is measured not only by my own efforts, abilities, and success; but that of my group, my manager, and my company as a whole.

As a manager, I am held entirely accountable for someone elses performance. I have tools to motivate them, help them perform better etc… But still, I have to deal with the performance that other people give me. I have to have the skill to use that performance in the best possible way.

“But you can fire your low performing employees”.

Really?

Ever worked in corporate America? Or had a real job of any kind?

So long as my employees meet bare minimum standards, and don’t actually commit a crime (or violate major HR policies), I’m not getting rid of my low performers. It’s up to me, to make them meet the standards I need for my group to be successful.

In sales, you are held accountable for other people actions, decisions, and performance as well. You don’t get to control your customers decisions, and how much they buy from you is dependent more on their performance than yours.

Yes, a skilled salesperson with a good support team will sell more than an unskilled one; and that’s as it should be… but its still entirely dependent on someone elses performance and decisions. A good sales guy can’t get a customer who doesn’t have the money for the product, to buy the product… or at least not more than once.

Good sales managers understand this. They set account and territory sales expectations based on a reasonable evaluation of the possible performance of those accounts. If they don’t then they won’t get any decent sales people to work for them, and they’ll constantly churn sales people making these accounts and territories perform even worse.

What matters in evaluating your ability as a salesperson isn’t your absolute sales, it’s your performance in comparison to other sales people with a similar situation. IF you perform well, then good managers will put you on difficult accounts that have the potential to perform better, and reward you if you make them perform up to potential.

At least if you have a decent management team.

At that point you’re at the mercy of having a good boss, who understands that relative performance is a better judge of your capability than absolute performance…

Just like teachers need to be.

Holding teachers accountable, doesn’t mean that all teachers should be held to arbitrary and universal standards. Teachers that teach all “remedial” students can’t be held to the same standard of performance as those who teach all honors students…

And NO-ONE IS SUGGESTING ANYTHING LIKE THAT.

Or at least no-one serious, with credibility, who should be listened to.

Calling for “standardized testing and accountability” isn’t calling for teachers to make poor students perform at the level of honors students. It’s calling for teachers of all levels of students to perform no worse than average against other teachers of similar levels of students; and to measure improvement in those students over time, compared to other teachers of the same level of students.

How is that unreasonable?

Only those with the irrational… even stupid… belief that teaching is some kind of special “calling” performed only by special people who must be protected from the market forces that the rest of us must cope with; could possibly justify that sort of thinking, with any kind of intellectual honesty.

They generally apply the same sort of thinking to artists, who must be protected from the horrible taste of the masses etc…

Yeah… If we did that, then teachers would be at the mercy of having competent managers, who knew how to evaluate performance.

Just like the rest of us.

In fact… The only time I ever see a serious proposal that teachers should be evaluated by absolute and arbitrary standards… It’s coming from lefties or teachers; because they are trying to “avoid bias” or “avoid subjectivity” etc… etc… etc…

Holding teachers accountable also means holding administrators and school systems accountable. It means making them participate in the market that the rest of us are forced to.

If you have a poorly managed school, good teachers won’t go there.

IF good teachers won’t go there, then good students won’t go there… IF they’re given the option that is…

Oh… wait a second… Hey… that might just be…

And of course, if we allowed that, then the unions would lose…

Oh… hey, that might just be…

Ya think maybe…

Teaching is a job, just like any other. It’s a job that has more benefits than most. These days, it’s even a job that pays more than most. It’s a job that has a lot more security than most. It’s a job that has more garbage and BS and heartbreak than most. It’s a job that’s harder than most. It’s a job that’s a lot more important than most…

Great teachers can do more to help children be successful than anything other than great parents…

But it’s still a job.

Teachers aren’t superheroes, they aren’t artists, they are workers… just like the rest of us.

Teachers don’t need to be protected from the real world, they need to be a part of it, and accountable to it… just like the rest of us.

Maybe if they were, there would be a lot more good teachers, and a lot less bad ones.

Maybe if they our were, our children would be a lot better off.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Are the Striking Teachers’ Demands in Chicago Reasonable? You Tell Me

The teacher strike in Chicago has entered its third day. This is one of the few facts the MSM is reporting along with the fact that the city and the union are far from reaching an agreement. What is missing from much of the coverage is what are their demands? Sure, the MSM reports that the teachers want to be “respected,” paid more, and have smaller class sizes, among other demands but compared to what?

According to NRO’s John Fund, the average annual salary of Chicago teachers is $76,000 before benefits. The highest teacher salary in the nation. Oh, but maybe the cost of living is higher than the rest of the nation! Maybe, maybe not but it also might be worth noting that the average Chicago family earns about $47,000 annually. The teachers were offered a 16% raise over the next four years – a salary of $88,000 by my math*, and the teachers rejected it as it’s still not enough. This doesn’t even take into account that the teachers only pay 3% of their healthcare costs, work 9 or so months out of the year, and are eligible to retire in their fifties with a pension. Yet we are told these poor, poor public servants are underpaid.

Okay, maybe these teachers are actually worth $88,000 a year. Maybe the Chicago teachers are just that good? Fund also points out that 15% of fourth graders can read proficiently and 56% of Chicago area freshman graduate. The U.S. Department of Education reports that 79% government educated Chicago eighth graders cannot read at grade level and 80% not grade-level proficient at math.

Are these government school teachers really getting such a raw deal? You tell me.

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Quote Of The Day

The AP, lamenting the fact that so many new college grads are having trouble finding work:

College graduates who majored in zoology, anthropology, philosophy, art history and humanities were among the least likely to find jobs appropriate to their education level

Actually, like the guy interviewed with a “creative writing” degree who now works as a barista, I think these folks are finding exactly the sort of jobs appropriate to their education level.

Milton Friedman on Libertarianism and Humility

On August 14, 1990, Milton Friedman gave a speech at the International Society for Individual Liberty’s 5th World Libertarian Conference on the subject of libertarianism and humility. There are many adjectives which can be ascribed to libertarians but “humble” usually isn’t one of them. Among the quotable parts of the speech, Friedman said the following:

On the one hand, I regard the basic human value that underlies my own beliefs as tolerance based on humility. I have no right to coerce someone else because I cannot be sure that I am right and he is wrong. On the other hand, some of our heros…people who have, in fact, done the most to promote libertarian ideas, who have been enormously influential, have been highly intolerant as human beings and have justified their views, with which I largely agree, in ways that I regard as promoting intolerance.

In searching for the above transcription of what I thought was very profound and wise, I found a couple of bloggers who thought this particular quotation as “an inadequate defense of liberty” or one of the “failures” of Milton Friedman.

I happen to disagree with these notions.

Maybe because I have been humbled in realizing that I had been wrong on some issues of great importance. By far the most difficult (yet ultimately liberating) post I have ever written was the post in which I declared that I was wrong about my support for the war in Iraq. I was so certain that regime change in Iraq would bring about peace in the Middle East and freedom would take hold. I thought the Ron Paul and big “L” Libertarian position on preemptive war was naïve and dangerous but now I believe the opposite to be true (for reasons I stated in the aforementioned post).

Having experiencing this, I can’t help but think that Friedman was right to say that each of us should be open to the possibility we may be wrong. If we aren’t open to this possibility, what is the point of debating an issue? Obviously, if I argue that X is correct and my opponent says Y is correct, I’m going to do my best to convince my opponent that I am right and s/he is wrong (meanwhile, my opponent is doing the same).

But what if I realize in the course of the debate that my opponent is at least partially right about Y being correct and/or that my reasoning is flawed or the facts do not support X? As a normal human being, I might not concede right away but if I am being intellectually honest, I’ll revise my thinking based on new information or new reasoning I hadn’t considered.

If Milton Friedman was willing to be open to the possibility of being wrong, how could I, someone whose mind will never in the same league as his, be so stubborn?

One thing I notice in watching Friedman debate people who are diametrically opposed to his positions was how patient he was with them. Something that many of us libertarians seem to forget is that much of what we believe to be true is counterintuitive to at least half of the people we encounter on a daily basis because many of these people have not been exposed to our philosophy. Friedman understood this. He knew that much of what he was saying was new territory for many who would hear his lectures or read his books.

Before he could make the case about any of his ideas to others, he had to be satisfied that the facts backed up his theory. These two sentences from the NPR obituary for Friedman summed up his approach beautifully:

Friedman was an empiricist, whose theories emerged from his study of the evidence, not the other way around. He also was a champion of the free market and small government.

We are supposed to believe this to be a weakness? I find this to be so refreshing!

Tweet of the Day: #heblowsalot Edition

“Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.”

I designated the above tweet by 18 year-old high school senior Emma Sullivan tweet of the day, not due to the content itself (it’s actually quite juvenile), but for her refusal to write an insincere apology letter to Gov. Brownback under pressure from her principal.

Go here for the rest of the story.

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