Merit pay is catching on

Teachers — and their unions — are warming to the idea of merit pay, reports the New York Times.

A consensus is building across the political spectrum that rewarding teachers with bonuses or raises for improving student achievement, working in lower income schools or teaching subjects that are hard to staff can energize veteran teachers and attract bright rookies to the profession.

Typically, teachers prefer merit pay plans that are based on several factors, not just student performance.

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Comments

  1. I blogged about this yesterday on my education blog: http://cktutorsblog.blogspot.com

  2. I think most teachers want merit pay, but they want it tied to the variables in the equation that they can control. Tennessee Value Added Assessment really appeals to me although I think I’d build in a bonus automatically for teaching in difficult schools.

  3. Since the principal’s the axle the school revolves around, what’s in it for the person who runs the place?

    And how much autonomy comes with this merit pay plan? Kind of undercuts the whole scheme if an educrat can parachute in every now and then to make sure their pet mandate is being adhered to.

  4. Forgive me if I’m hopelessly naive, but I don’t understand why teachers can’t work under the same system the rest of us do: you have a boss who assigns you work, monitors your progress and rewards or punishes you appropriately. If the boss is too much of a jerk, you get another job or band together with others to complain higher up.

    I’ve heard many arguments and most of them don’t hold water. I’ve heard it said, “teachers don’t control the quality of their input (the kids), so they can’t control the quality of their output.” Well, excuse me, but most of us are in that boat. A guy on an assembly line can’t help it if someone earlier in the process makes a mistake. A software developer often doesn’t control the deadline for their work. A receptionist can’t control the rate at which calls come in. You have to cope and hope that your boss understands your difficulties (and that you keep them properly informed of such).

    Some say, “teachers work in classrooms and they serve as monitors in lunchrooms and they work at home, no one can keep an eye on all of that.” And how is that different from the rest of us? Teachers seem to think they’re the only profession that takes work home, as if grading papers was somehow different from working on your proposal for next week’s meeting. It’s always your job to keep your boss informed of all the things you do.

    What makes teacher’s jobs fundamentally different from the rest of us?

    Obviously, one person can’t have 30 people reporting to them. You have to have a managable structure, but that’s true everywhere. It’s also a pretty well-understood problem.

    Why is this so hard?

  5. Rob, I understand some of your points, but here are a few things that I think sets K-12 teaching apart from most jobs:

    You have to work with kids or teenagers who may or may not have any interest in success as it’s defined for the teacher and their satisfaction with the day to day experience is considered important.

    (I understand that companies must produce and market products to consumers who may not seek them out, but a company can changed products if one is particularly undesirable to consumers. Math teachers have to stick with algebra even if the kids don’t really want to learn it. Sure, a teacher doesn’t have to worry about the school going out of business because no one’s buying algebra, but it’s difficult to actually succeed at selling it if you can’t change product, sales area, target customers, and you’re severely restricted by company policy in your marketing plan, materials, and delivery method.)

    Additionally, teachers seems to be given directly contradictory messages about what success or good teaching is. “Have high academic standards for proficiency but don’t let anyone fail,” for example. Heaven help the teacher who try to adhere to what a discipline specific professional associate recommends as good teaching in the age of standardized testing or who values standardized testing and data about student mastery working under a principal who really wants to implement what he or she learned in a college of education. Some parents want more homework and higher standards; some parents want no homework and for “kids to be kids.” Or to use a theoretical example from another post we’re both read that isn’t really related to learning, “let our sons put their arms around their girlfriends, but keep boys from touching our daughters.”

    I know that other people will have bosses who talk out of both sides of their mouths and customers and clients who are difficult to satisfy and that managing competing demands is a part of every field. It seems, however, that most people that I know who aren’t teachers have the luxury of knowing exactly what the job is and what their priorities should be more than my colleagues and I do. You might be really surprised to know poorly teachers are managed in this regard.

    As far as bad bosses, teachers do band together with others in unions, but it doesn’t seem to have popular results for education if the comments at Joanne Jacobs are any indication. And maybe oddly, the very certification and contract system that seems to give teachers so much protection in the eyes of many, actually prevents leaving for greener pastures as jobs open up with better bosses. In my district, employees sign contracts for the next year in early April typically, but openings at other schools or in other districts often don’t open up until summer. If you’ve already signed a contract with a district, and your employer doesn’t want to release you from, it’s possible to lose your teaching certificate for breaking the contract, which would of course make you unemployable in the other district.

    In some extreme cases, a comparable situation might be expecting parole officers to teach parolees calculus even if they have no stake in learning it and then asking them how fun it was to go to the meetings.

  6. Uh, I’m really sorry. I thought I had deleted the last paragraph of my previous post. It was a partial illustration of the first unusual aspect of teaching regarding attitudes toward school in particularly bad areas.

  7. NDC: thanks for a reasoned and level response, but I still don’t understand.

    It seems to me that MOST jobs are pretty fuzzy, at least at the professional level. I happen to write software for a living. Often we are sent out to create products that are only loosely specified (or, sometimes, specified as “give the customer whatever will make them happy”), but still have exactly specified deadlines. This seems a lot like teaching, you have to use your judgement make the best of what you’ve got and hope your boss understand when you miss the mark.

    But my point wasn’t about the fuzzyness of the process. It was about reasons that teachers can’t work in organizations structured like the rest of us. Why shouldn’t a school have a principal, perhaps with a couple of vice principals, that are the “boss” of the teachers that work there? They evaluate their performance and reward or punish them as needed. If more layers of management are needed, you can have some teachers become “lead teachers” who supervise others part-time.

    A long time ago, when I was put in a nominal charge of a project, one of my supposed minions asked me if I could fire him. I said, no, I was just in charge of the project. He said something I’ve remembered ever since, “well, if you can’t fire me, you’re not really in charge are you?” I rather sickly realized that I had responsibility for the project, but not the corresponding authority to actually make it work. I was a patsy and that’s how it played out.

    The idea that you have to contract your services for a period of time is also found in other industries and doesn’t seem to pose any unique problems elsewhere. My first engineering job out of college specified a one year contract, renewable on the agreement of both parties.

    It’s true that schools do have some unique features, but those are the product of the present system and aren’t innate requirements. For example, school is a yearly thing, with a “school year” that starts in the fall. There’s no reason this has to be true, it could be anything that works.

    The reason I don’t like the way we have it now is simple: it’s nearly impossible to get rid of bad teachers and it has been for a long time (although I will concede that different states handle things differently). My father taught for a long time, then became an administrator. At one point, he had a shop teacher who was actually not following safety procedures in his classes. The man was a danger to students. My father tilted at the windmill of getting that teacher fired for many years, until the guy finally retired at his expected date – and he was backed by his union all the way.

    Here on Joanne’s blog I’ve read many times of incompetent teachers who simply couldn’t be fired. Many commenters here have talked of worthless colleagues who lasted on, year after year. Most teachers, it seems, have at least one fellow teacher they’d love to see booted out.

    I’m really surprised that most teachers don’t want to change the system. I would expect pay to rise considerably for the really good teachers and moderately for the moderately good teachers. The only losers would be the losers. I know that I certainly wouldn’t want to work in an organization that couldn’t get rid of underperformers – all of those lousy workers would just bring down the morale of the good ones. There’s a comfortable security in the current system, but I’ve always found that I do my best work when I’m challenged, not when I’m comfortable and secure.

    I’m sure you all believe in evolution, right? Well, evolution is competition. Any system that doesn’t allow for competition probably isn’t optimal, as nature has shown us with the biggest system of all: life itself.

  8. “Forgive me if I’m hopelessly naive, but I don’t understand why teachers can’t work under the same system the rest of us do: you have a boss who assigns you work, monitors your progress and rewards or punishes you appropriately. If the boss is too much of a jerk, you get another job or band together with others to complain higher up.”

    The difference is that in a business, your boss has a boss who will fire him if he doesn’t get satisfactory performance from his team. And so on up to the top, where the ultimate boss is the customers; if they aren’t satisfied and take their business elsewhere, lots of people lose their jobs, some of whom deserved it. (This could leave a good lower level employee in a bind, but if you pay attention to what’s going on around you, you should know if you’re working for a fatally mismanaged company while there are still months or years to look for other work before the crash.) It’s an imperfect system, but in the long run managers get shuffled until the surviving companies have mostly good ones, and companies that somehow consistently can’t hire good people or otherwise can’t satisfy their customers are out of business, with their resources moving to someplace that can better use them.

    By contrast, public school systems aren’t responsible to customers, only to voters, more than half of whom don’t have kids in school. “Administrators” often seem to be drawn from the pool of education majors that were too doltish to teach, and they hardly ever get fired because the kids didn’t learn. Failure may be rewarded with more money to straighten out the mess – leaving the same people who wasted the original funds in charge.

    Yes, merit pay is a good idea – but you need to start by weeding the incompetents out of those who would be administering the scheme.

  9. MarkM,

    This is kind of one of my little hang-ups, but aren’t all tax payers customers of public education? Why would you dismiss the concerns of the half of voters without kids in schools, as you seem to there in the second to last paragraph, seeing as they have to pony up money for the endeavor?

  10. Public schools aren’t beholden to market forces, because they are a monopoly… even worse, they are a monopoly with guaranteed annual revenues extorted from society at-large by force of law and handed over without any credible threat of repercussions for incompetence or other inadequate performance.

    This leads to a cultural mindset severely out-of-step with the real world: in education, no one worries that “the company” will ever go out of business. Hell, no one who’s been teaching more than five years worries that he will ever be dismissed. (Short of a child molestation conviction, there isn’t much that leads to the firing of a tenured teacher.)

    “Competition” isn’t even in our vocabulary, because public schools aren’t competing with anyone else for customers. Teachers aren’t competing with other teachers for jobs, or even kudos. (In fact, I know teachers who ask their successes never be highlighted to the faculty, because the response from the under-performers is more bitter than bile. No one benefits from examples of great teaching because the losers will complain of favoritism — “I mean, how can she be doing such a great job? She’s only been teaching seven years and I’ve been here for 25!”)

    As a result, many teachers — especially the “coasting” vets who oppose school reform initiatives that would require they do something radical like improve their own performance — have a deep sense of entitlement and aim their associated ire at anyone who dares suggest they aren’t doing a wonderful job. These are the people who bring most attempted improvements to a grinding halt. After all, how much influence do you think a principal who’s worked in the building for two years has compared to someone who’s been there for thirty? They band together, brainwash a few younger teachers to their way of thinking, talk unceasingly with parents and community members, and before you know it, the (rare) administrator who wanted to improve student learning is out on her ear.

    Honestly, Rob’s ideas of increased oversight are intriguing. I just don’t know how it would be done. Like the August-to-June school year, these are long-standing traditions that are deeply ingrained. You can’t say the school year aligns with the calendar year, because “we don’t do it that way — in fact, no one does it that way!” You think teachers who have grown fat on our low-accountability system are going to roll over quietly and accept increased oversight, new demands on their curriculum/teaching, and the possibility of reduced pay (or outright dismissal)? Have you ever heard of any organized labor force willingly accepting new restrictions? Teachers are no different.

    In another posting’s comments, we were discussing gonads. This is just another in a long string of examples. How do you change course when it seems just about everyone else either (a) doesn’t want to rock the ocean liner or (b) seems to actually prefer a head-on collision with the iceberg?

  11. Rob,

    I’m sorry I missed your post earlier.

    My point about the yearly contracts was mainly that I don’t think in most other fields breaking your contract with one employer causes you to lose your accreditation as a professional, but perhaps I’m wrong. I don’t think it happens frequently in teaching anyway, but in my state the threat is there.

    I think my perspective again is different because of the state that I’m in and the schools that I’ve worked for. My experience is that I have a principal for whom I work and an assistant principal who evaluates my teaching yearly, and that although after your first couple of years, you are entitled to a due processing hearing if you will not be offered a new contract, there is certainly a possibility that if you aren’t performing that you’ll be asked to leave. To be fired midyear probably would require something exceptional, but it is certainly possible. A teacher violating the safety rules at my school could have been fired immediately. The big difference here is that unions don’t have much power in my state, I suspect.

    But you still hear the same garbage about how teachers can’t be fired, and it’s really not true. Just like at companies with cautious HR departments, it’s probably wise to build a “case” of some kind with documentation of the employee’s weakness, but ultimately, incompetence or insubordination are grounds for termination, and in non-union states, if a principal is doing his or her job, getting rid of bad teachers can be done. I’ve seen it happen more than once, and good principals are careful about which teachers advance to the “entitled to a due process hearing” level.

    J.’s post is an interesting one to me because I have generally found that teachers as a class of employees are better than administrators seem to be. (My present school has a pretty strong match in talent of both.) The idea that there’s a group of great reforming administrators thwarted at every turn by lazy, negative teachers hasn’t been my experience, but my experience may not be representative. I have seen teachers resist bad ideas from principals, but I think you’d see that in a private company too. As much as people who think teachers have too much security want to present the private sector as a ruthless dictatorship where superiors have absolute power over subordinates, that’s not what I observe when my friends and relatives talk about the jobs they have a private companies.

  12. Merit pay is great in theory. But I have yet seen it attached to a formula that doesn’t add tension to the faculty.

    Mark

  13. I have seen teachers resist bad ideas from principals, but I think you’d see that in a private company too.

    Obviously, my own experiences are anecdotal as well.

    The problem is, teachers resisting “bad ideas” is excessively subjective. In my case, I have seen teachers resist plenty of ideas they termed “bad” – typically, they used this term to describe anything that was inconvenient to them personally. For example, lock the classroom doors to keep students safe = bad idea. Implement an assessment plan requiring quarterly testing to gauge student progress = bad idea. Review curricula annually to assure compliance with state guidelines and increase student learning = bad idea. Complete annual performance evaluations on tenured teachers = bad idea (currently, a principal observes me once every three years). Ask them to assist in lunch room duty to maintain an atmosphere of dignity throughout the school day = bad idea. And so on, ad nauseam.

    Yes, I have known my share of bad principals. And anyone who’s read my comments here knows I have never seen an example of simply excellent administration. That said, the principals are hired as the instructional leaders of the building. As things sit now, their continued employment is based on how the school is doing; in a district focused on student achievement, the principal is the only one truly held accountable for learning. As this is the case, coupled with the fact that they are indeed “the boss,” don’t you think they should be given wide latitude by the faculty to do their jobs in good faith, without “resistance” from their subordinates?

  14. NDC
    “This is kind of one of my little hang-ups, but aren’t all tax payers customers of public education?”

    1. If you’re a Walmart customer (for example), you automatically know how well Walmart does it’s job (getting the goods you are shopping for in stock, on the shelves, where you can find them, at a good price, and keeping the checkout lines short). If you are a taxpayer without kids in school, and not trying to hire high school graduates for a job requiring any education, you probably have no idea if the schools are doing their job.

    2. You aren’t forced to spend money at Walmart. If you don’t like it but your neighbors do, you can shop elsewhere.

    The only way the situations would be equivalent is if they took a poll of people in your community, half of whom hadn’t shopped anywhere recently, closed down all the stores except the one winner, and required you to send a certain amount to the winning store whether or not you needed anything from it.

  15. MarkM,

    I disagree. I think the only reason that we have the buy in that we do have in terms of support for public school is because the taxpayers without children in the schools assume that there is a benefit culturally for them, even if they aren’t employing kids straight out of high school.

    And really, if you think about it, even the parents with kids aren’t obligated to send their kids to public school if they are dissatisfied with the service provided enough to pay for their kids to go elsewhere. You have choice, just not taxpayer subsidized choice. A better analogy might be that you can use your food stamps at an approved store, but you’re welcome to shop with your own money elsewhere.

    While I am sincerely open to the possibility of school choice (although concrete plans are hard to come by), I’m never going to be in favor of simply taxing everyone and handing over cash to parents to spend as they choose. It’s honestly not that I want to ensure government meddling, but I think there has to be some way to accredit the schools who could receive the money. My dark view of humanity is such that I believe that some parents would choose schools worse than the schools we’ve got now, and I’m only interested in changes that make things better.

    J.

    At my school, the principal would have been able to implement those ideas, or they are already built in to our system.

    (Honestly, I don’t think lunch duty should be teachers’ responsibility. When you figure out the hourly rate of pay for teachers, it really doesn’t represent good stewardship of the taxpayers dollars to pull teachers away from an instructionally related tasks to make them cafeteria monitors. Sure, from an administrative perspective, it seems like they are already there and so they are free, but if it’s time they would have to grade, plan, or even eat lunch and talk with colleagues about instructional problems, it would make much better sense for the district to hire some minimum wage monitors or even use parent volunteers. One set of activities requires teachers; cafeteria duty does not.

    Even so, I think in my district middle and high school teachers could be required to serve as cafeteria monitors. Our state guarantees “duty free lunch” to elementary school teachers, but not to anyone else. So if the principal made a lunch duty roster and gave you an assignment, and you failed to show up, you could be terminated.)

    I could be wrong about this, but it seems to me that when I think of policies that “dumbed down” education, they were usually initiated by administrators rather than teachers, so that’s the sort of thing I had in mind, but again our experience may just be that different. At the schools I’ve worked the principal was the boss who could require changes, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that every change was a good one. I think that it’s healthier leadership to value the ideas of the people who work for you, so I don’t see teachers resisting a change as a bad thing, as long as when push comes to shove, the principal had authority to implement.

    (I didn’t mean that we refused to follow a policy once implemented, but that when policies were discussed, teachers ideas were listened to and suggestions to accomplish the same instructional end were allowed. Somebody wanted universal “word walls,” but instead maybe we implemented a different vocabulary strategy after discussion.)

  16. Oh well, what the hell.

    Public education is, effectively, a monopoly. That means the monopolists don’t have to concern themselves with the desires of the customers. Being a monopolist means never having to say “have it your way”.

    But there’s more to it then the monopoly. Being government-supported income is unrelated to results. Good school district, bad school district, it doesn’t have much effect on the take. Another reason to never have to say “have it your way”.

    Finally, the structure of American public education is based on the school district which, while not the sole source of funding is the source through which virtually all funding flows. And you know the Golden Rule. He who has the gold, makes the rules.

    The inevitable result is a district administrative hierarchy which has, for all practical purposes, no reason for existence. Private schools have plugged along forever without a district administration and charters prove that, even with government funding the district administration is valueless.

    Since the district administration doesn’t have any function that’s necessary for education they don’t just sit around doing nothing. They find functions which, necessarily, are unnecessary for education. They drive up the cost and reduce the effectiveness of the entire education system. You get phenomena like Chief Pedagogical Officer and Assistant Superintendent of Safe, Clean and Healthy Schools which would be titles in a parody were they not actual titles of real people.

    You may or may not have noticed that nothing in the preceding description relates to educational efficacy. How well the kids do. Why should there be any concern about educational efficacy. That’s one of those things customers worry about and when you’re a monopoly…..

    Since you don’t have to worry about the quality of the education the schools in the district provide you don’t have to concern yourself with attracting good teachers and weeding out bad teachers. If the results don’t matter, why should the process?

    But there’s a more subtle effect from the unimportance of teacher skill. Teachers become – and I just love an opportunity to throw in a word like this – fungible. The gym teacher gets plugged into the Spanish class and the substitute who doesn’t know a cosign from Shinola teaches the math class. Hey, you have to get somebody into the class and it doesn’t really matter who.

    Does that start to give you an idea of how bizarre public education system has become? There’s more, like the inevitability of unions and the subornation of schools of Education but I’m getting tired.

  17. NDC said;

    “My dark view of humanity is such that I believe that some parents would choose schools worse than the schools we’ve got now, and I’m only interested in changes that make things better.”

    Yes some parents will make poor choices, however I would wager that there would be less students in poor schools with vouchers than the number of students in poor schools under the current system. That would make things better.

  18. Ragnarok says:

    NDC said:

    “…even the parents with kids aren’t obligated to send their kids to public school if they are dissatisfied with the service provided enough to pay for their kids to go elsewhere. You have choice, just not taxpayer subsidized choice.”

    And what happens if I care, but don’t have enough money left over after paying for the public school system? And why should I, who send both my kids to private schools, also be forced to pay into the public school system?

    ““My dark view of humanity is such that I believe that some parents would choose schools worse than the schools we’ve got now, and I’m only interested in changes that make things better.”

    Yes, this sounds like “The perfect is the enemy of the good”, doesn’t it?

  19. Mike,

    It’s possible that you’re right, but it seems to me that we could have a school choice system that eliminated the possibility of giving funds to bad schools too, and if we’re overhauling the system anyway, that’s what’d I’d like to see.

    Allen,

    I’m in an area with several private schools to choose from in addition to fairly well-functioning public schools, so it’s hard to see how public schools represent a monopoly in the traditional sense of the word.

    I certainly agree that not having to make a profit or break even should give public school a huge competitive advantage in the marketplace, but it really doesn’t seem to in practice because they are hampered by the bureaucracy and policies that you describe. Instead of being able to offer a higher quality product at below market prices, which would be the ideal but unlikely outcome of not having to be profitable, you get a lot of waste. But “monopoly” still doesn’t seem to describe the situation to me.

    When you think of the system of reform you like to see used, what comparable government service are delivered that way?

    (The only “danger” in implementing a totally new system of government service delivery, as I see it, is that people might expect to see it with all government services, which could actually be great.)

    I really do think we’re going to lose some benefits in term of cultural cohesion if we quit having common public schools, but I’m not sure that’s a good enough reason to continue on the path we’re on.

    But it seems to me that you have to be prepared to sell the specifics of what will replace the present system.

    If I were a parent, especially of a special education student because I would have pretty expansive rights under the present system, I would need to be reassured that my child would find a school that was willing and able to meet his learning needs at a price my voucher would cover. When you start to take about guaranteed placement of students and obligating each school to operate at a pre-set per student cost, then you jump right back into the bureaucracy that hampers the public schools today, or so it seems to me.

  20. Ragnarok,

    Why do I pay school taxes at all if I have no children in school?

  21. Rob, I am a teacher and I agree with you wholeheartedly. I have seen other models in different countries that do what you describe by creating a position between teacher and principal. This position requires a half day of teaching and a half day of supervising other teachers, and it’s something that a good teacher can get promoted into. I really don’t understand why we can’t do something similar. We have vice-principals, sure, but I think we need people who are still in the classroom on a daily basis, demonstrating effective teaching, to supervise other teachers.

    It is insane to have an entire school full of teachers report to one person, and to have that person also be responsible for running an entire school. Even if that person were committed to helping his employees excel, there simply isn’t enough time in the day to do so.

    I think that all teachers would benefit from having a supervisor who is a)an accomplished classroom teacher himself (not the case with many principals), b) willing and able to spend time working with teachers and most importantly showing them what to do in real classrooms, and c) aware of what is going on in every classroom, every day.

  22. To follow up to my comment above: I would be happy to have a supervisor like that evaluate me for merit pay.

  23. NDC wrote:

    I’m in an area with several private schools to choose from in addition to fairly well-functioning public schools, so it’s hard to see how public schools represent a monopoly in the traditional sense of the word.

    That’s because, and here I have to guess a trifle, you’re assuming that if the public education system isn’t the only supplier of educational services it can’t be a monopoly. Wrong. A monopoly exists if the seller controls any segment of a market.

    If there’s exactly one producer of $10 shoes and the rest of the market is $20 shoes then the people who can’t afford $20 shoes are at the mercy of a monopolist. If you can’t afford send your kid to the private school what does it matter how many of them there are and like our $10 shoe buyer, your at the mercy of the monopolist.

    But it’s worse then that.

    Market monopolies always collapse since they’re dependent on artificial conditions. A patent confers an artificial monopoly which is time-limited. Being exceptionally clever confers another time-limited advantage. When the patent expires competitors can come flooding in to your previously tranquil market. When others in the market come to understand your exceptional cleverness the advantage disappears and with it the monopoly.

    But a government supported monopoly can’t be undone by market forces. Only political forces can bring down a government supported monopolist and political forces have nothing at all to do with the value of the product the monopolist offers. That’s why market monopolists always, always, end up running to the government for help maintaining their monopoly. Once they’ve lost their market advantage they look to the coercive power of government to make up for what the market has taken away.

    In the education market a lousy enough private school simply evaporates. But a lousy public school, effectively insulated from competition, can go on for decades being lousy.

    The public education bureaucracy is partly an outgrowth of the monopoly position of the public education system and partly a result of public education’s structure.

    Since the American public education system is built around the concept of a school district, funding either comes from the district or through the district. In any case, the district is the sole source of funding. The school board, being the policy setting, elected body delegates day-to-day operations to a district superintendent. Since more management is always better then less management, the central office staff always grows. Since there’s no market control of prices there’s no pressure to contain that growth. If personnel growth exceeds revenues you raise taxes and raising taxes is not a function of how good the district is at educating kids.

    is that people might expect to see it with all government services, which could actually be great.

    Your myopia is understandable since it’s never tough to sell the idea of entitlement. But how many of those government programs produce the promised results at the promised price? Government supplied housing turns out to be a lousy bargain for the people who live in it and the people who pay for it. Government supplied charity also turns out to be a similarly lousy bargain. Ditto government supplied medical service although that’s distinctly worse for society then either of the preceding two.

    But it seems to me that you have to be prepared to sell the specifics of what will replace the present system.

    Oh hell, that’s easy. Who actually gives a damn about any particular child? The parent(s). The more authority over the child’s education parents have the more responsive education suppliers have to be.

    Sure there are lousy parents but I think it’s fairly safe to say that, on balance, parents want what’s best for their child. Since what’s best for just about any child is a good education the lousy education suppliers will fall away as choice expands.

    And here you prove my point:

    If I were a parent, especially of a special education student

    You’d want what’s best for your child. OK, nothing remotely notable about that. But the subject under discussion is the public education system. Would your child do better at a school of your choosing or a school chosen by a school district expert? It’s kind a trick question since absent some reasonably objective metric the best school for your child is a matter of opinion. The expert’s opinion is bolstered by, presumably, expertise. You opinion is bolstered because worry gnaws at you all the time. The expert may care, you do.

  24. Nancy Flanagan says:

    The discussion has wandered away from “merit pay” (a term that often has built-in assumptions), but before I attempt to refocus it, by suggesting a great resource on pay for performance, I just want to say that I find the following statement more than a little frightening:

    “I really do think we’re going to lose some benefits in term of cultural cohesion if we quit having common public schools, but I’m not sure that’s a good enough reason to continue on the path we’re on.”

    Let’s not continue on many educational paths (including the omnipresent single salary schedule)–but let’s NEVER lose sight of the benefits of a free, quality public education as an opportunity, a possibility, at least, for creating a society where all citizens are considered worthy.

    About pay for performance: A major report, written by 18 teachers, full of ideas on how to pay teachers fairly for exemplary work was released by the Center for Teaching Quality (full disclosure: I’m one of the 18). The report makes a careful and nuanced case for differential pay for teachers, gutting the old model of seniority and credential-gathering. Well worth a look at:
    http://www.teacherleaders.org/

  25. Allen,

    You’re defining any entity that dominates a particular market share at a certain price a monopoly? That’s not how I usually think of it.

    Give me the specifics of how you imagine the funding and use of vouchers will actually work.

    From the perspective of a parent, I’ll accept that getting a check is preferable to getting services that you don’t want (how could it not be?), but I need some convincing that the system will actually work, and I need to be convinced that the rest of us who pay taxes are getting something out of the deal.

    With most public services, we take for granted that what the government provides is by its very nature of lower quality than what can be privately purchased. Why do you think that the net effect of school vouchers will be to bring the overall quality of affordable education up (for the parent who can only afford the amount of the voucher, say), and be more likely to deliver the benefits to the rest of the non-parent tax payers that we hope to get by bankrolling public schools?

    Nancy,

    Many of the comments on this site seem to reflect the idea that the system we presently have is overpriced instead of free and of terrible quality so that it does little to ensure that we’re creating a “society in which all citizens are considered worthy.”

    (Personally, I don’t happen to agree that the end of a free, quality education is the opportunity to consider all citizens as worthy, because I’m not even sure what that would mean: worthy of what? I’d go for almost all citizens gainfully employed and capable of good citizenship, contributing to maintaining the economic and martial security of the nation. Does that make me seem a little fascist? Should I add something about respect for the individual over the collective or state? I’ll work on a better mission statement.)

    Anyway, I agree that common public schools do deliver or have the possibility to deliver many benefits that other methods of delivery wouldn’t. If in a discussion of public schools, I imagine a system of school choice that does deliver better instruction, the part that I feel might never be recaptured is the cultural unity that common schools could create, which is why I made the comment.

    I’ll check out the report about merit pay.

  26. A better analogy might be that you can use your food stamps at an approved store, but you’re welcome to shop with your own money elsewhere.

    A better analogy might be that you decide to quit shopping at Walmart and start shopping at Target, but that you still have to pay cash to each of them. The simple fact is, parents who send their students to an alternate school pay twice; common decency requires they at least be given tax credits.

    I’m in an area with several private schools to choose from in addition to fairly well-functioning public schools, so it’s hard to see how public schools represent a monopoly in the traditional sense of the word.

    Out here in the real world, we have: (a) rural public schools that function within a “I did jest fine without much of that there book learnin” community, (b) one nearby — 15 miles away — private school that is managing to stay afloat somehow, (c) one nearby — 45 miles away — Catholic school, (d) a smattering of religious “schools” — also at least 15 miles away — that are essentially daycare, and (e) one military school — 25 miles away — that files for bankruptcy about every three years or so. Yeah, parents have plenty of choices. Even if they could afford to go private, the logistics are impossible.

    …or even eat lunch and talk with colleagues about instructional problems…

    I’ve rarely seen this. I have, on the other hand, heard plenty of gossip and “venting” about colleagues, parents, and even specific students — students who are forever poisoned, labeled as problems. As the lead/mentor teacher in my building, I haven’t eaten in the teachers’ lounge for eight years and advise all new teachers they seriously consider missing out on that environment, as well. Eating with their students allows them the opportunity for low pressure, personal conversation. And the presence of teachers scattered throughout the room encourages a “dinner time manners” environment (sorely needed in high-poverty areas, where the concept of a polite meal around the table disappeared decades ago). Three community members/parents with no training in managing children can’t supervise a lunchroom of 210 students and maintain this kind of environment.

    I think that it’s healthier leadership to value the ideas of the people who work for you, so I don’t see teachers resisting a change as a bad thing, as long as when push comes to shove, the principal had authority to implement.

    Yes, we are not on the same page with respect to environment, or even language, for that matter.

    Of course administration should not hand down edicts without faculty input; even the very poor administrators I have served under rarely attempted this. I don’t consider teachers offering their advice on proposed changes “resistance.” Discussion and debate are a part of any decision-making process. In my opinion, resistance is when the decision has already been made and teachers either flagrantly disregard it or bad-mouth the decision to other teachers, parents, community members, or even students in an attempt to repeal the change. It demonstrates a lack of professional ethics.

    I am not implying that all teachers attempt to thwart administrative efforts. Or even most of them. The reality is that it doesn’t take “most” to derail improvement initiatives. My elementary building has about 50 certified faculty members. Nearly all of them are good people. A handful of them are even good teachers. Of this lot, there are only perhaps five who are very negative about proposed changes (to be fair, they are negative about pretty much everything, including their students, their colleagues, their personal lives, etc.). But when you have 10% of the faculty constantly telling community members at the supermarket how the administration is “running the place into the ground,” you can be sure most changes — good or not — are aborted rather quickly.

    Part of the problem is simple jealousy, in my experience. These teachers complain because their opinion is never asked for or seriously considered. I don’t blame administration for this one bit; when it comes to any of my projects, I wouldn’t care what they thought of the idea, either. After all, it’s safe to assume they won’t like it.

    My dark view of humanity is such that I believe that some parents would choose schools worse than the schools we’ve got now, and I’m only interested in changes that make things better.

    And that’s precisely the problem: those with a “dark view” don’t trust people and see government as an impartial means to all “good” ends. It demonstrates a fundamental lack of trust in the entirety of humanity.

    When you think of the system of reform you like to see used, what comparable government service are delivered that way?

    None, and that’s kind of the point.

  27. But if we’ve never seen something done before, we need a really clear idea of what we’re implementing before we do it, I think. And if we expect people to keep paying for a service, we need to let them know what they are paying for.

    (Should people without kids also get a tax credit? If not and we expect them to pay for a general service for other people’s kids, why would we label parents who paid for private schools for their own kids as paying twice? Neither groups is deriving a direct benefit from public school taxes. Why would one group be obligated to pay and another group be allowed to just take care of their own? It seems to me that we have to set public school funding up as either primarily the self-interested domain of parents, in which case they should primarily pay, or a commonly held obligation of society in which case we all pay, but then we all get a say in how the money is spent too.)

    I absolutely don’t see the government as an impartial means to all good ends. It’s kind of funny to see my ideas labeled this way.

    I don’t want to see the present system continue as it is. I think school choice offers a lot of possibility as a method of reform.

    But one big problem with it is that I don’t want bad schools to be able to stay in business with tax payer funds. Let’s figure out a way to prevent that from happening with school choice. Let’s set a bar for achievement and a time frame, if a school isn’t making it happen, it can’t take the vouchers, or something like that.

    As far as my dark view of humanity, the standard I generally want used is that people get to make their own choices, but they assume the cost of those choices as much as possible. When we’re spreading the cost around to everyone, then we can’t expect the individual to be giving completely free choice.

    With completely unrestricted school choice, you take tax money from everyone and hand it to a group of people who apparently you want to be completely unaccountable for what they do with it? Why would that be so much better than what we’ve got?

    (I’m sorry about the circumstances with teachers at your school. I do think that a certain about of venting about the job is a natural part of any group of employees, but your school apparently wildly exceeds what can be considered normal or helpful. I’m at the high school level, and eating lunch with students is a little different at this level. It wouldn’t be bad to eat lunch in my room with that class period, but it’s hard to see how sitting at a lunch table in our cafeteria with eight students would make a big difference, but I think there are a lot of differences in our student populations. It’s pretty common at my school to have relatively frequent meetings/ grade level work sessions at lunch, so I wasn’t really just including lunch lounge gossip, but that is always a factor in any group of people.)

  28. Looking at the private schools around you, J., why do those private schools represent better options than the public schools so much so that you’d like to be able to see them accept public school vouchers?

    I’m all about new schools starting free from the crap of the local public systems, but it seems like they should have to meet some standard to receive public funds, doesn’t it?

  29. Wow, NDC. You have a knack for making my points.

    Let’s set a bar for achievement and a time frame, if a school isn’t making it happen, it can’t take the vouchers, or something like that.

    We don’t hold public schools to this standard, and people seem more than happy to keep pouring money into these.

    …but it seems like they should have to meet some standard to receive public funds, doesn’t it?

    Why is it that your world view doesn’t allow for alternatives to tax-funded education? The entire crux of your argument seems to be that funding schools through taxes is a foregone conclusion.

    But there are a whole lot people who aren’t big fans of taxation. These people might ask: why should tax money be used to fund schools at all? Or, to go even farther, why should the government tax someone’s income without her explicit consent? (As an aside, there are no such thing as “public funds.” That’s a euphemism for money extorted by force of law.) Can you conceive of a world without *any* public schools? Apparently not, because you seem to think it’s “something we’ve never done before.” That’s simply incorrect.

    …why do those private schools represent better options than the public schools so much so that you’d like to be able to see them accept public school vouchers?

    When have I stated explicit support for vouchers? And again, thanks for making the point: private schools in my area don’t represent better alternatives precisely *because* the public schools have a monopoly on students and funds.

  30. Oh, I’m as open to not having tax payer funded education as anybody, I suppose. (I’m confident I could personally find employment elsewhere, and it might be interesting to see what happened.)

    I just don’t ever see scrapping the whole system and not replacing it with anything come up as an politically viable option, do you? (And I also suspect I’m more familiar with the history of education in the US than you think I am, but removing something that has become a universal public entitlement is a little different than never having had developed such an expectation in the first place.)

    I actually don’t see most people as happy to keep pouring money into the public education system. I see most people wanting to have reform; the argument seems to be about the type of reform.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but NCLB was trying to set up a kind of performance based evaluation to eventually end non-performing schools. (Now, sure, it gave them way too much time and way too much money not to be showing any results, and it seems to take for granted that the bad schools will the “reorganized” rather than completely put out of business, but it appears to me to be about not continuing to fund schools that can be demonstrated not to function.

    There are range of reform options out there, it seems to me, running the gamut from giving more money for more of the same to abandoning the idea of taxpayer funded education completely. I keep running into people here who assume that anything other than vouchers to parents is perpetuating the existing system; I apologize if I assumed that you were one of them.

    It seems like we’re going in a circle here: the private schools in your area are bad or impractical to attend, but this is because despite the existence of direct competition, a monopoly exists? I don’t dispute that government schools have an big advantage retaining students in that they are “free” to the students, but “monopoly” doesn’t seem to be the right word.

  31. Ragnarok says:

    Unfortunately J has made his points so well that there’s very little left to say.

    What’s most interesting is that, as he points out, you’ve actually made most of our points for us.

    So I think you’re actually one of us – you just don’t realise it yet. Welcome, NDC!

    “…we could have a school choice system that eliminated the possibility of giving funds to bad schools too, and if we’re overhauling the system anyway, that’s what’d I’d like to see.”

    Have to disagree with this. The current system has been giving large amounts of money to the failing public school system for lo! these many decades. Why mess with a system that works?

  32. Ragnarok says:

    Ms. Flanagan,

    I took a look at your report. Can you tell me what makes this report different, and what the “nuances” are?

  33. My positions have long been the same; I’ve just been cast into the roles of “if you resist in any way the idea of simply handing checks to parents, you are perpetuating the status quo” villain; “if you could possible recognize that teachers are might be motivated by the something other than self-interest and greed, you must be a minion of the unions” villain, and “if you might accept that some of the faults of public education are actually a reflection of what’s wrong with society at large rather than exclusively the fault of the educational bureaucracy, you clearly believe the government can fix all problems” villain. None of which were ever accurate designations.

    We have no experience knowing that a system of universal vouchers to parents would be a system that works, so I don’t understand your last post, Ragnarok.

    If you mean the idea of (mostly) free markets generally, I agree that it’s a system that works, but I don’t think we have a big enough sample of a combined government voucher program and open market to know how it would work for public education.

    Continuing on the course we’re on and unrestricted vouchers aren’t the only options.

  34. Ragnarok says:

    “…we could have a school choice system that eliminated the possibility of giving funds to bad schools too, and if we’re overhauling the system anyway, that’s what’d I’d like to see.”

    Bit too Shavian for me, would you parse this a bit?

    “I don’t understand your last post, Ragnarok.”

    What is it that you don’t understand?

  35. Ragnarok says:

    Sorry, this is the Shavian part:

    “My positions have long been the same; I’ve just been cast into the roles of “if you resist in any way the idea of simply handing checks to parents, you are perpetuating the status quo” villain; “if you could possible recognize that teachers are might be motivated by the something other than self-interest and greed, you must be a minion of the unions” villain, and “if you might accept that some of the faults of public education are actually a reflection of what’s wrong with society at large rather than exclusively the fault of the educational bureaucracy, you clearly believe the government can fix all problems” villain.”

    Care to parse it?

  36. I’m not sure what Shaw has to do with anything, but. . .

    It seems to me that people commenting have inaccurately defined my positions for me.

  37. Rather than explaining how they actually think a particular educational reform would work or addressing actual concerns that people might might have about a particular reform, as in this thread about merit pay, a few of you seem very quick to dismiss, insult, and assume attitudes and positions that you imagine other posters must hold.

    I understand the fun of a quick snark in the comments, but it’s hard to see how we’re ever going to effect educational change if this is level of thought and discussion, particularly on the side of the people who have to convince voters to make the change, for those of you in California especially in the face of some mighty powerful forces actually fighting for the status quo.

  38. Ragnarok says:

    Well, if you look at Shaw’s prose you’ll understand what I mean. What I meant was that (quite apart from the grammar) I don’t understand the sentence.

    I’m having trouble with this fragment in particular:

    “…if you might accept that some of the faults of public education are actually a reflection of what’s wrong with society at large rather than exclusively the fault of the educational bureaucracy, you clearly believe the government can fix all problems” villain.”

  39. From “if” to “problems” all modify “villain.”

    When a person points out that a particular ill is beyond the scope of what could reasonably be controlled by a school under present conditions and is therefore not likely to be an outcome of anything the school did or failed to do, several posters here assume that the person is arguing for more government intervention in another area of life or an expansion of the school’s role to solve the problem. In my case, I’m not. I’m just saying that the school can’t handle that issue and probably shouldn’t be expected to.

  40. I’m thinking obesity report cards, criminal behavior, (some elements of) disability law, or (some of) the fruits of terrible parenting as examples of issues that trigger that particular label.

  41. Oh, I agree with that completely, NDC. In fact, I think we should probably half the programs we have now and focus on something schools might actually have a shot at completing successfully: teaching academic content.

  42. Yep, J.

    I apologize for seeming defensive and snippy (and for the long rambling sentences, Ragnarok), but sometimes it really gets old.

    If you collectively can mislabel, alienate, and antagonize someone with the somewhat libertarian, anti-government-and-educrat involvement impulses that I have, the potential for school choice reform to fail is awesome.

    You have to remember that those of us who aren’t parents need to be convinced that we should continue to be taxed but that the money should just be handed over to you. Despite how much you believed that all parents constantly communicate their ability to act in the best interest of their children, we are likely to have lots of experience to the contrary, and even though you’re disinclined to believe it, those of use who work in the public schools probably the most experience with this.

    It’s not simply a self-interested desire to stay employed at my current job that makes me say it.

  43. Ragnarok says:

    “You have to remember that those of us who aren’t parents need to be convinced that we should continue to be taxed but that the money should just be handed over to you.”

    Huh? Right now those of you who aren’t parents continue to be taxed, and the money is handed over to the (appallingly bad) public school system. Why the higher standard for parents, who certainly have a greater interest in their children’s welfare than a faceless, heartless, shockingly incompetent bureaucracy?

    To think that you (plural) care more about children than their parents is unbelievable arrogance. For the most part you (plural again) are overpaid, underworked, cosseted, cut off from the real world, and incredibly self-righteous. Not only that, you cloak the great harm that you do in the whitest shades of virtue.

    In my case, I send my two children to a private school, thereby relieving the public school system of the burden of educating them; I save it over $20,000 per year. And yet you want me to continue to pay taxes to support – what? whom?

  44. Well, except that your children not going to the public school doesn’t really save twice the per pupil cost as the figure is published.

    If we all accept that the “cost per student” with the present system is generated by taking total spending (and waste) and dividing by the number of the students enrolled, we all realize that “cost per student” and actual spending on any particular student aren’t really the same thing. The local district didn’t really take in or spend any less money because your kids weren’t there. Do you doubt this?

    I don’t think that I’ve asserted that you particularly need to pay school taxes. I’ve just asserted that if I have to pay with no kids in the system, it’s hard to see why I have an interest in paying them that you don’t. If I’m supposed to buy in to paying them for the common good of parents who can’t afford private schools, (or because I believe in the value of “free” education for all citizens) then you have the same obligation. I don’t accept that your paying your own children’s tuition releases you from the obligation that I’m supposed to have to “the common good.” Buying your family what you want to buy isn’t the same as saving other people money because they didn’t have to provide it.

    (By your logic, does everyone who pays for all of their housing and food “save” the state the cost of having to provide public housing or food stamps?)

    Any parent who pays for his own child’s education gets my benefit of the doubt that he knows better than I do about that kid’s education. When he depends on others to help pay for it, then he has to be prepared to listen the opinion of other payers about the education that the kid gets. Why does that seem unreasonable?

  45. I don’t think non-parent taxpayers are particularly happy with the present system, and if you offer them a way out by presenting an entirely different system of funding public education, you might not like the results. I think the fact that they may be paying for something with no clearly delivered benefits will become clearer, and because choice advocates have so little practice describing the benefits of publicly funded education, you might get some unexpected outcomes.

    And as sick as it seems, I think there’s an element of “at least it keeps them off the streets” mentality about public school that non-parents are willing to pay for. (Or in good districts “my house is worth more because the schools are good” self-interest.) If vouchers don’t guarantee universal student placement in new schools or there’s not a direct connection between property taxes and enrollment in the local schools, there will be even less interest in non-parents paying.

  46. Ragnarok says:

    “Well, except that your children not going to the public school doesn’t really save twice the per pupil cost as the figure is published.”

    Schools are paid according to the average daily attendance (ADA). That’s why they’re so keen on keeping the attendance up. So if my kids were to attend a public school, that school would get ~$20,000 per year; since they don’t, the school doesn’t get the money.

    Why do you think schools close when attendance drops? Because the money supply decreases! Using your logic, a school could get rid of all its students, continue raking in the money, and do nothing for it.

    N’est ce pas?

  47. The local district didn’t really take in or spend any less money because your kids weren’t there.

    While funding approaches vary by state, state funding is usually tied to your average daily attendance rate, as Ragnarok pointed out. (This is why everyone sweats bullets when there is a flu outbreak or it starts snowing. Refuse to cancel school and lots of kids don’t show, you lose money. Cancel school too often, and you have to start making up days at district expense. Personally, I believe these decisions need to be made based on public health and safety; my administrators are sick of hearing from me on this issue.)

    While the amount the district loses *typically* is not the full PPE (the state government and local property taxes provide the bulk of the annual district revenues, with the split being so variable that averages don’t mean much of anything), it can still be a pretty big chunk of cash per student. This raises another complaint from choice advocates: when a student leaves an underperforming school, s/he doesn’t take the full PPE to the new school. If that were the case, schools might suddenly become a lot more interested in meeting the needs of individual students and their parents.

    When he depends on others to help pay for it, then he has to be prepared to listen the opinion of other payers about the education that the kid gets.

    NDC, you are so close to taking that next libertarian step. All that’s left to do now is conclude that listening to the opinions of others with respect to your own child’s education is idiotic, which leads to a single possible outcome: no one depends on others to help pay for their child’s education. Is that a workable possibility?

  48. What keeps me for making what seems to be J’s next logical step is that I think common public schools, if they could be made functional, would actually provide benefits to the rest of society that would be worth paying for (which actually aren’t that based on meeting individual parent and student needs; it’s based on providing a common curriculum and experience to everyone enrolled although I do believe in ability grouping.) I’m not actually ready to give up on the whole endeavor.

    Here’s the thing about attendance based funding though, unless your neighbors got refunds, the actual cost to other taxpayers didn’t change, so it’s hard to see it as a “savings” to the other people paying taxes. (And I’m guessing that you understood that even when you made your comment about schools staying open with no kids. No they wouldn’t stay open, but oddly, it’s not like anyone would give money back to the people who paid for the schools.)

    What I suspect happened in that the state held onto the money and spent it as it chose (maybe to send it to a different part of the state where enrollment went up by two kids after money was allocated to education by the legislature). But you while you cost the local district funding, you didn’t save anyone paying in 20,000 dollars.

    (It seems to me that in my district (and state) we don’t track the funding daily throughout the year. We’ve got a couple of count days to make sure the kids actually enrolled at the schools, and we have to offer a certain number of instructional days overall to get the funding, but we don’t lose money on a daily basis if particular kids don’t show up. Concerns about canceling school (usually for weather) are limited usually to wondering how many days we can miss without making them up; there’s no discussion of lost funds that I’ve ever heard.

    Daily attendance at my school is pretty high, so it may that I don’t hear about it because it’s not seen as a problem. We also don’t have a lot of schools that qualify for additional federal funding, and that might affect our seemingly more casual attitude.

    In my district, the amount of money we could collect from the state would be down by two for Ragnarok’s kids, which would be significant in terms mainly of allocated teacher pay if they happened to be the particular kid who pushed the average over to earning enough to pay another teacher: the 25th if the state cap was 24 say, or if it was a year we were allocated state funds for new textbooks. In most cases, two kids being gone really wouldn’t make an appreciable difference in what was actually spent at that school that year. The teachers would be employed; the air conditioning would still be on; and extra textbooks would probably sit in the book room.

    We also choose as local voters to have a higher assessed local property tax to produce additional funding for the schools. The amount collected isn’t based on enrollment in any but a purely theoretical way.

    Atlanta Public Schools might serve as a good example of how declining enrollment can fail to actually save taxpayers money. All it did for APS is drive the figure that they published as the “spending per pupil” way up. What the system could compel out of local homeowners and business didn’t seem to drop at all, even if the funding from the state went down. While the parents who send their kids to private schools who see the “spending per pupil” amount may be kicking themselves, the figure actually has very little to do with what would be spent on their children if they choose to go to the public schools.

  49. We count on two days for the funding numbers, so while funding from the state would be added or reduced to the local district based on attendance on those days, the amount of money collected and allocated to education wouldn’t change a bit.

    I may have goofed by mentioning the local district in my comment to Ragnarok, but actual spending on public education didn’t change by 20,000 because of his children weren’t enrolled, did it? That may be one of the perverse things about it, but don’t kid yourself about “savings.”

    To put it another way, while you seemed to have “cost” your district 20,000 dollars in funds they didn’t get because they didn’t need them to educate your kids, who “saved” anything?

    Is there a way to return unspent money to the other taxpayers in your state?

  50. NDC, you are making the point for vouchers. Should schools continue to receive funding for students who have fled the system, or should the money follow the students? Look again at your Atlanta example. Is this a responsible use of tax dollars? I’m sure APS are grinning big with the same amount of cash on hand and fewer students to “educate.” But is it right?

  51. No,it’s not right, but I need some convincing that continuing to take the money from the other taxpayers, if we implement reform, is right, period.

    The money following the kid to something equally as bad instructionally doesn’t represent improvement and might not represent a “savings.”

  52. As I’ve tried to say, vouchers with some kind of oversight in terms of what kind of schools they can be spent at sounds great. It’s only the “parent choice alone will be enough to create a net improvement” part that I doubt.

    Individual parents care about what they see as the best interest of their kids, but they don’t have much interest in the common good it seems to me these days. There’s going to have to be something built into the voucher system that guarantees benefits to the folks who pay without kids in the system.

    I think voucher proponents are assuming that I say that as a way to prevent vouchers from being implemented. I don’t. I say it because it’s what’s missing from the advantages of vouchers as they are presently discussed.

    In Georgia, with unrestricted parent choice, we’d probably end up with the School for Perpetuating Athletic Eligibility and the School for Maximizing your Social Security Disability Benefits, as well as racist and religious segregation academies of various stripes, none of which would be focused on academic instruction.

    Why not build into the system a way to prevent that from happening?

  53. Ragnarok says:

    NDC said:

    “n my district, the amount of money we could collect from the state would be down by two for Ragnarok’s kids, which would be significant in terms mainly of allocated teacher pay if they happened to be the particular kid who pushed the average over to earning enough to pay another teacher: the 25th if the state cap was 24 say, or if it was a year we were allocated state funds for new textbooks. In most cases, two kids being gone really wouldn’t make an appreciable difference in what was actually spent at that school that year. The teachers would be employed; the air conditioning would still be on; and extra textbooks would probably sit in the book room.”

    There are fixed costs and variable costs. The fixed costs are step functions (you need one classroom whether you have 1 or 24 students, two classrooms), the variable costs change with every student. So this argument could be used to say to public schools that after the first student, they’d only get variable costs for each new student. Right? So you’re further weakening the public school case for mo’ money, mo’ money, all the time, rain or shine.

    Yes, I understand that the state didn’t give me back my money. Yes, my honest politicos spent it elsewhere – shock! horror! But it’s nonetheless money that was saved.

    “In Georgia, with unrestricted parent choice, we’d probably end up with the School for Perpetuating Athletic Eligibility and the School for Maximizing your Social Security Disability Benefits…”

    Yes, as opposed to the Public Schools to Maximize Teacher Pay, the Public Schools to Maximize Fraud, and the Public Schools to Maximize Ignorance.

    BTW, I read Nancy Flanagan’s screed. Hard to see what the fuss is about. There are the usual “accepted truths” (teachers are grievously underpaid), the usual comparisons to university professors and engineers, the ever-present plea for more money. Nowhere did I see anything about getting rid of bad teachers or running schools more efficiently.

  54. Have I made the claim for mo’ money, mo’ money all the time? It seems to me that my claims have always been pretty limited.

    For example, I might have claimed that teacher salaries shouldn’t be the area that funding for public school restroom supplies should come from when other money was being wasted by the system. Or that it wasn’t reasonable to expect teachers to be held more responsible for maintenance than it was to hold the people who were being paid to do maintenance responsible, but I don’t think I’ve ever made the case that taking more money from the taxpayers was the answer. I’ve NEVER believed that the total amount collected was the problem.

    (I own up to asserting that I didn’t think you could just renege on teacher retirement as a way to address shortfalls, but you could fix that with allocating funds differently rather than straight up increasing the tax burden if honoring state contracts had any value.)

    Was the 20,000 saved or was it wasted? You have a self-interest in claiming “saved” to make a case for shifting your private school burden onto other payers with a voucher, but it’s hard to make the case to the other people who had to pay for it that it reflected any savings or that any expectation that they will pay less, rather than more, if vouchers are implemented would be reasonable. It creates a direct entitlement for you to the voucher, but guarantees nothing about what could be collected from taxpayers in the name of school funding.

    Why do you want to stay in this “only unlimited parent choice vouchers” or the present system loop? It’s an either/or fallacy in a way.