Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Having been a teacher, I'm sympathetic with the benefits of teachers being protected. They are a part of their compensation, and in part makes up for them being grossly underpaid for having a professional degree for such a vital purpose in our society. There are teachers that are pretty well paid, but rightly so, since they have years and years of experience and continued their education to a Masters and beyond. A masters' degree should yield a middle class living wage.

On the other hand, there is no question that public education is a mess in the United States. Too many schools are both under performing and under funded. Many schools in more affluent areas do better, in part, because their budgets are supplemented by huge donations, on the order of $100,000 or more. Other factors include the better than average level of education of residents, which has an influence on their general importance they place on their child's studies in the household, as well as being able to provide support, in practical ways, because they already know the habits that promote success in school.

Good schools increase property value, and thus only the affluent can move in. The best teachers are often lured by being in a good school. And, because of the value placed on education, in addition to large foundations, bond measures supporting the school will sometimes actually get passed, adding to the school's improvement budgets. Then, of course, this promotes a self perpetuating cycle of the same good and bad schools.

There are very few good solutions. Many have been tried, but most grand schemed solutions have failed to have measurable results.

This brings me back to my first point about teacher's benefits and salaries. Over its entire existence, the Teacher's Union, has certainly made some positive impacts on education. Better paid teachers bring in better teachers, in many instances.

I feel, however, that their existence has crossed over from helpful to destructive. They not only reward good teachers, but make it so that poor teachers remain in the system and with equal pay to the best teachers. Instead of improving education, they are crippling the varied districts and schools in this country from making the staff changes that would improve the school.

School choice has been a big option floating around out there. Charter schools, vouchers, and so forth have been experimented with. The political nature of the discussions make it hard to get a real read on their effectiveness. People use the statistics for their own agenda. Testimonials, then, are the best indicator.

This blog entry was inspired by an article linked by instapundit (of course) called, "The Education Debacle of the Decade."

It provides a great example of how the teacher's union killed something that was working. It has to do with a program called OSP (he never defines the abbreviation). It provided residents of Washington D.C. with a $7500 voucher to attend a private school. That is actually less than it costs per child at to educate them at the public school ($10,000). The results were measurable positive.
OSP dramatically increases prospects of high-school graduation.

Wolf pointed to research showing that high-school diplomas significantly improve the chance of getting a job. And dropouts that do find employment earn about $8,500 less per year than their counterpoints with diplomas. Further, each graduate reduces the cost of crime by a stunning $112,000. Cecelia Rouse, an economic advisor to President Obama, found that each additional high school graduate saves the country $260,000.

Simply put, OSP has a profoundly positive effect not just on students, but on the city and the country as a whole.
So when it came time for Congress to reauthorize OSP, it would seem to be a no-brainer: Expand the program.

Instead, they killed it.
Read the whole thing. It makes me think about the benefits of vouchers, an idea that I never really understood or cared for, but I'm now rethinking it. Just as in a free financial markets, choice improves the product. It has always been assumed that public education is a sacred cow. Perhaps, instead, we should heavily support private entities to do the job well, instead of states spending more, doing a mediocre job (at best in some places).

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