Minor Thoughts from me to you

Archives for Education Policy (page 2 / 2)

Are Teachers Overpaid?

Are teachers underpaid or overpaid? I have absolutely no idea. And, let's face it, you don't really know either. No one can. Without a market to create information, no one can possibly know how much money a teacher is worth.

Markets create information through the process of hundreds or thousands of individuals bidding for jobs. As each individual looks for a job, she or he generates information about what salary they'd love, what they'd like, what they're willing to accept, what they'll grudgingly accept, and what they won't accept under any conditions.

Markets also create information through the process of hundreds or thousands of businesses bidding for employees. As each employer looks for employees, it generates information about what salary they'd love to pay, what they'd like to pay, what they're willing to pay to get the teacher they really want, what they'll reluctantly pay if they have to, and what they won't pay under any circumstances.

This two-way flow of information allows people to quickly see how much a particular job is worth and how much a particular employee is worth. This information can't be created any other way. Only through a market.

Education, for the most part, lacks this market. Somewhere around 85% of all students attend public schools. (10% attend private schools and 5% are homeschooled.) Public schools are a government run, monopoly provider. If you are a teacher, there aren't really a lot of options about which employer you'll work for. You can, to some extent, pick which district you'll work for, but most of the districts tend to have similar benefits and pay packages. So, there's not much (any?) competition among employers, for employees.

School districts face a similar problem. The huge, vast, overwhelming number of teachers in the U.S. are unionized. Every teacher gets the exact same employment package, working under the exact same rules. There is little competition, among teachers, for the best job.

Without competition and choce, there is no information. Without information there is no knowledge. How much is a teacher worth, in salary? No one knows. Teachers have never truly competed for the top jobs and school districts have never really competed for the top teachers.

Teachers today could be vastly overpaid and in need of severe pay cuts. Or teachers today could be vastly underpaid and in need of massive raises. Until there's true competition in the labor market, we'll never know which is true.

School Budget Smackdown in New Jersey

A revolt grows in Jersey - NYPOST.com

New Jersey voters just sent another loud reminder of their disgust with out-of-control taxes.

Of 537 school budgets up for a vote in the Garden State, 315 -- a whopping 59 percent -- went down in flames Tuesday.

That's more than the state's seen in decades.

Why so many rejections?

Because some 80 percent of those budgets sought property-tax hikes.

As if Jersey isn't already a national leader in property taxes.

As if ObamaCare, the stimulus and Washington's trillion-dollar deficits hadn't sent actual taxpayers into a lather.

Homeowners, in particular, have had enough.

Median tax bills in six Garden State counties are among the 10 highest in all of America. As a share of income, levies in Passaic and Essex lead the nation -- with Bergen, Union, Hunterdon and Hudson not far behind.

School boards -- and teachers unions that refused concessions -- must have been dreaming if they thought voters would rubber-stamp tax hikes yet again.

No, this time taxpayers were paying . . . attention.

Fact is, last November's election of Republican Gov. Chris Christie in Democratic New Jersey was no fluke.


How Governor Doyle is Like Professor Harold Hill

In "The Music Man", con-man "Professor" Harold Hill was nearly run out of town on a rail for trying to sell the town members on a non-existent boys band. He was saved by a good singing voice, the love of a librarian, and the unexpected appearance of a real boys band -- put together by someone other than Hill.

Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle is trying to accomplish the same feat. Instead of a boys band, Governor Doyle is attempting to sell a non-existent college scholarship program. I'm not kidding about the non-existent part. The Wisconsin Covenant program exists only in Governor Doyle's fevered imagination -- it hasn't even been introduced as a bill in the state legislature. Sadly, the governor has conned nearly 10,000 high school students into signing up for this pretend program.

With just days left before the Friday sign-up deadline, nearly 10,000 ninth-graders have committed to the proposed Wisconsin Covenant, which promises a route to college if they fulfill a pledge.

A spokesman for Gov. Jim Doyle's office said the Democratic governor's new program is succeeding in getting thousands of students to start thinking early about college. But Republican lawmakers point out that thousands of students have now signed up for a supposed guarantee that hasn't been approved by, or even introduced in, the Legislature.

"Thousands of students across the state now have a clear road map for what they need to do to go to college, and in addition, the state has committed to ensure there's a place for these students in higher education," Doyle spokesman Matt Canter said of the program, which Doyle hopes will boost the number of low-income students in college.

Doyle and first lady Jessica Doyle have been crisscrossing the state in recent days touting the covenant program and urging students to participate.

Doyle first proposed a year ago that the state guarantee a place in a college and adequate financial aid to any eighth-grader who pledges to do well in school and keep out of trouble. The first class of students started making the pledge last spring. Those eighth-graders are now ninth-graders and the program would apply to their first year in college in 2011, Canter said.

It's like something out of a farce. Only, sadly, true.

Should Nursing Mothers Get Longer Breaks on Tests?

Should nursing mothers get longer breaks on tests?

One test stands between Sophie Currier and her Harvard medical degree and a prestigious residency.

But Ms. Currier says she runs a high risk of failing the test unless the National Board of Medical Examiners gives her additional break time to pump breast milk for her 4-month-old daughter.

The board has refused the request, and on Thursday, Ms. Currier asked a Massachusetts Superior Court judge to order it to give her extra time on each of two days of testing, plus a private room with a power outlet so she can express her milk in private with an electric pump. (The nine-hour exam, on clinical knowledge, allows 45 minutes for breaks.)

I don't know what's fair in this situation. Students have a strict time limit to take the test and consider their answers. Giving this mother extra time might give her an edge through extra time to consider answers or relax. Then again, is it fair to give up all chance of a career because of a welcome but ill-timed pregnancy. So, I don't know what the answer is.

I do know this. The National Board of Medical Examiners is the only organization that can license students to practice as doctors. The NBME has a state monopoly on licensing and accreditation. As long as they have this monopoly, no other licensing organization can offer tests with different rules or opportunities. Students are limited to the options offered by one, inflexible organization. Is this any way to run a healthcare system?

I'd like to see multiple, competing accreditation organizations. Students would be able to choose who to take test from. Employers would be able to choose who to accept licenses from. If one organization proved to be unfair or inflexible, both students and employers would have a choice to use someone else's services.

Wouldn't that be the more American way to run healthcare?

Link Roundup -- June 24, 2007

This post is a random grab bag of what I found interesting this weekend.

A Long Line for a Shorter Wait at the Supermarket. A search for higher customer satisfaction (and higher profits) led Whole Foods to revamp their checkout lines.

Lines can also hurt retailers. Starbucks spooked investors last summer when it said long lines for its cold beverages scared off customers. Wal-Mart, too, has said that slow checkouts have turned off many.

And they are easily turned off. Research has shown that consumers routinely perceive the wait to be far longer than it actually is.

Whole Foods executives spent months drawing up designs for a new line system in New York that would be unlike anything in their suburban stores, where shoppers form one line in front of each register.

The result is one of the fastest grocery store lines in the city. An admittedly unscientific survey by this reporter found that at peak shopping times "” Sunday, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. "” a line at Whole Foods checked out a person every 4.5 seconds, compared with 19.6 seconds for a line at Trader Joe's.

Put Kieran on a poster. A student in Saskatchewan, Canada learned that independent learning is a quick route to the principal's office.

King, who is in Grade 10 at a high school in tiny Wawota, Sask., started researching marijuana after he and his fellow students were given an audiovisual presentation about drugs earlier in the year. The presentation, from his entirely believable description, was typical of its kind: short on background facts and long on horror stories.

On May 30, Kieran, who is described as "research-obsessed" by his mother, was chatting with friends around the school lunch table and telling them about what he'd discovered, largely from scholarly and government sources. He argued that marijuana carries a near-zero risk of overdose, that it has been approved by Health Canada for medical use and that it kills an infinitesimal fraction of the people that alcohol and tobacco do every week -- claims so uncontroversial you'd have to be high on something much stronger than pot to dispute them.

But one of the students who'd witnessed the conversation apparently finked to the warden. (From this day forward I'm going to avoid the use of the term "principal." If schools are going to be run like prisons, let's adopt the appropriate lingo.) Boss bull Susan Wilson ordered Kieran to stop talking about marijuana on school premises -- even though he had been outside the classroom, where school officials have to meet a justifiably high standard before interfering with a student's freedom of speech -- and later she called his mother to warn her that "promoting drug use" would not be tolerated. According to the education director of the school division, she was also told "if there were any drugs brought into the school, the police could be involved."

Next up, robots may make arguments over illegal immigrants moot. Farms Fund Robots to Replace Migrant Fruit Pickers

Vision Robotics, a San Diego company, is working on a pair of robots that would trundle through orchards plucking oranges, apples or other fruit from the trees. In a few years, troops of these machines could perform the tedious and labor-intensive task of fruit picking that currently employs thousands of migrant workers each season.

The robotic work has been funded entirely by agricultural associations, and pushed forward by the uncertainty surrounding the migrant labor force. Farmers are "very, very nervous about the availability and cost of labor in the near future," says Vision Robotics CEO Derek Morikawa.

Once again, we see an example of political uncertainty leading companies to make investments and decisions that they wouldn't ordinarily make. Something to keep in mind anytime Congress starts debating something -- the debate itself can affect the real world.

Finally, many men are so afraid of child molestation accusations that they're no longer volunteering for any position that would put them near children. See Daily Pundit » Where Are The Big Brothers?.

The article sets out a number of possible reasons men don't volunteer at Big Brothers-Big Sisters in greater numbers "“ but the fact that the rate at BB-BS is less than the overall average for volunteer-based organizations moves me to throw out an undiscussed possibility: men are afraid of having their lives destroyed by a false accusation, and fear the BB-BS will protect itself by throwing its resources behind the accuser.

In Arizona, almost 60 percent of grade school principals and nearly 90 percent of teachers are women. Six years ago, the majority of principals were men. Some schools have no men, meaning kids may not have a male teacher or principal until middle or high school. It's the same picture nationally.

... Scottsdale's Serna said the fear of being accused of inappropriate touching or abuse has made lots of educators uncomfortable. Many administrators and teachers leave the profession out of fear of lawsuits or false accusations.

Special-Ed Kids Everywhere You Look

From What special-ed cut means:

Several speech and language clinicians predicted some of the projected savings won't materialize.

Testing of children diagnosed with only speech and language disabilities will intensify, they said, in search of additional diagnoses -- such as learning disabilities, or emotional behavioral disabilities -- that would cement the need for a special education teacher's involvement.

"I have no doubt that additional labels will appear if you look hard enough," said Johnson [a speech and language clinician], who acknowledged that the current system made it more expedient to simply call upon the special education teacher without going through the process of amending a student's individual education plan.

If you subject children to enough tests and examinations, I'm sure you can manage to find something wrong with every one of them. That allows you to easily justify spending millions of dollars on special education teachers, thus preserving valuable teacher jobs and leaving no teacher behind.

It's no surprise that the head of the local teachers' union said the move appears to shortchange vulnerable students and subject the pared-down special education staff to burnout. It will also result in immense hardship for the 45 teachers and assistants that may have to find other work. But never, ever mention that. Keep all of the focus on the children and you may yet preserve your jobs.

Thoughts on Home Schooling

With a child on the way, I'm starting to think about schooling more and more. (Hey, you can never start too early, right?) Having been home schooled myself, I have a gut-level preference for home schooling my own kids. My only regret is that I can't be a stay-at-home dad and do all of the teaching myself!

Earlier today, I stopped by Dr. Helen's place and found a link to the latest Carnival of Homeschooling. I checked it out and found several things that interested me. Here's a quick rundown:

  • Thinking Like a History Teacher. This won't be relevant for a couple of years, but it's good to keep in mind.
  • The "unschooling" movement is the fringe of the homeschooling fringe. It has to do with letting children learn by indulging their natural curiosity, rather than through rigid, structured curricula. I'm not entirely comfortable with the idea, but I think it has its merits. An early magazine of the movement, Growing Without Schooling, is being put online. It might be interesting to check it out. (Growing Without Schooling)
  • The Thinking Mother posted her thoughts about all of the work she does for homeschooling. Reading through this list made me wish I could quit my day job and devote myself to studying everything she does. Does your child's "professional", "paid" teacher put half of the effort into teaching your children as this mother puts into teaching hers?
  • Jen talks about the many ways that children can learn science, even if they're not actively studying science.

Last, but not least, one of the blogposts mentioned the Sonlight Curriculum. I'm always a sucker for checking out curricula, so I took a look. After browsing around their site, I'm really starting to like what I see. It's based around reading (a lot!), it's based around exposing students to both good and bad ideas, it's based around getting children to think for themselves rather than developing an ability to regurgitate facts. It's also based around a Christian worldview a global perspective (instead of an America-first perspective). They're 13 reasons to buy Sonlight are good, but I found myself more convinced by their 27 reasons not to buy Sonlight. (That is, I find myself disagreeing with most of the 27 reasons.)

Fortunately, I have five years to continue researching all of this before I have to make a decision.

Highschool Majors -- A Bad Idea?

I'm not an educational expert, but a recent bill passed by the Florida House seems like a bad idea:

The Florida House passed a bill on Thursday that would make the state the first to require high school students to declare a major, just as college students do.

Mr. Bush and others say that requiring high school students to declare a major and concentrate on a particular field could prepare them better for college and the working world and reduce the dropout rate.

Opponents say the requirement would put too much pressure on students about their future. But supporters hope the state's dropout rate will fall and classroom achievement will rise if students can concentrate on subjects they enjoy. Majors could include basics like English and math or vocational fields like carpentry and auto repair.

I think this bill could be a bad idea, for several reasons. First of all, many college students switch majors multiple times and most high schoolers are completely clueless about what career they want to pursue. Indeed, most adults switch careers multiple times during their life. How much benefit can there possibly be in forcing someone to specialize so early in life?

Secondly, I think high school needs to continue to teach students about a wide variety of subjects. From what I remember, middle school classes focused on reading, writing, 'rithmetic, a little history, and a little science. I'm firmly of the opinion that high school students should be exposed to philosophy, economics, ethics, logic, and rhetoric. Not every student will end up attending college. With that in mind, I believe that high school should provide at least a rudimentary understanding of how the world works and how to think about the world.

I think restricting high school to a narrow, student-chosen list of classes would inhibit true learning and development. It may lower the drop-out rate, but at what price?

This entry was tagged. Education Policy

Responsibility and School Vouchers

Local radio personality John Peterson wrote a blog post yesterday called The Voucher Wedge. In it, he talked about his displeasure with the voucher program that allows students to leave the Milwaukee Public Schools and enroll in various types of private schools. He has two specific complaints about giving families vouchers to use at non-public schools:

First, the choice program is sending taxpayer dollars into private schools that are not accountable to people of this state. I had heard Republicans were the party of accountability. Not only is there is no standardized test to compare private and public schools ability educate children, but choice supporters have blocked an honest evaluation to support their contention that private schools are better.

Second, public schools could not budget accurately for the next year without knowing enrollment numbers. Suggesting that there be no cap demonstrates a lack of business savvy.

As a supporter of vouchers, I'd like to respond to John's complaints. Now, I'm definitely not an "educational expert". I'm a guy with a blog that likes to ask questions and raise concerns. I'm probably overlooking some subtleties of the educational system. I'm not an expert on the Milwaukee Choice Program or on the private schools that are currently accepting vouchers. These are simply my reactions to John's assertions.

I must admit that I'm a bit surprised by his first complaint. He claims that private schools are not accountable to "people of this state". Well, as I see it, the private schools are accountable to one very important group of people: the parents who are sending their children to these schools. The vouchers, that the parents receive, are usable at many different schools. If the parents see that their children are doing worse in a voucher school than they were in a public school, it's a simple matter to move the children to a new voucher school or back into the MPS (Milwaukee Public Schools).

That's why I think this complaint is a bit of a red herring. WEAC (Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state teachers union) would love to keep Milwaukee's children in their schools. To that end, WEAC moans about a lack of oversight and a lack of standardized testing. What they really mean, is that WEAC is not able to oversee the schools or determine if Milwaukee's children are measuring up to WEAC's standards. (Now it's true that John only mentioned state oversight of the private schools. But really, which group has the most influence over Wisconsin's educational policy? WEAC does. Therefore, it seems to me, that any state oversight of eduction really boils down to WEAC oversight of education.)

I don't think a teacher's union should be the final arbiters of whether teachers are doing a good job. I don't think teachers should be determining which school system does the best job of teaching children. I think doing so creates an inherent conflict of interest for the teachers. I believe parents are the best judge of school effectiveness. I think parents are the best judge of which school does the best job of teaching their children. I think parents will do a better job of providing school oversight than other "people of this state" ever would. I may be wrong. I'd love to hear from anyone who can point me to widespread examples of parents making poor educational choices for their children.

John's other complaint revolves around the budgeting process for MPS. Specifically that with vouchers public schools could not budget accurately for the next year without knowing enrollment numbers. Again, I'm not an expert at this, and I may be wrong. It seems to me that, with an expanded voucher program in place, public school enrollment will only be going down, not up. If that's case, what's so hard about budgeting? Stick to the same budget that was used in the previous year. It should be more than adequate to cover expenses for the current year. It will probably even have money left over. Am I wrong? Am I missing something obvious that would make the budget process something truly worrisome?