Ya’ Think?

So, I’ve often wondered what is the biggest problem with public education today.

Is it something philosophical –like they are teaching kids to love the welfare state?

Or perhaps it is financial–maybe insufficient resources, or poor allocation of resources?

Or maybe institutional–a number of problems related to bloated educational bureaucracies, to excess regulation, to heavy-handed school boards?

Perhaps it is informational–insufficient knowledge about what makes for sound pedagogy.

But after seeing this quote while reading Marginal Revolution today, I’m thinking the main problem is purely political:

The city will end the practice of paying teachers to play Scrabble, read or surf the Internet in reassignment centers nicknamed “rubber rooms” as they await disciplinary hearings, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the teachers union announced Thursday.

The deal will close the centers, where hundreds of educators spend months or years in bureauratic limbo, costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars a year.

How many terms in office has it taken Bloomberg to figure this out? I think, just maybe, this would make sense.  Brother.

Newsweek ran a (fairly bold for a MSM outlet) cover story a few weeks ago saying that we really need most is the ability to fire bad teachers.  More and more research is showing the importance of teaching quality, and yet the teachers’ unions continue to hold reform hostage since they pretty much own the ruling Democratic parties in the cities and states where educational reform is most badly needed.

11 thoughts on “Ya’ Think?

  1. I’m amazed that it takes research to determine that teaching quality is important! Determining just what is quality teaching and who is doing it is more difficult. “Fun” or “popular” doesn’t necessarily mean effective.

    1. In many cases, it is hard to determine whether “inputs” have any impact. Class size, for instance, doesn’t seem to matter in most studies. And there is a whole strain of literature arguing that family, neighborhood, and cultural inputs matter, but that school-based inputs do not (or very little), though this is an active area of research.

      But there are some recent studies showing powerful differences in educational performance across teachers, though it is yet to be determined whether good teaching can be learned. Something about teaching matters a lot, but what is it?

  2. I’ll tell you why public education is crappy — because the kids are dumb and parents (and the general culture) don’t encourage kids to be good students. This isn’t true of all parents, but whatever happened to the idea of parental responsibility?

    Than again, when, in the aggregate, was public education ever any good?

  3. “the ruling Democratic parties in the cities and states where educational reform is most badly needed.”
    Have we considered the theory that Republicans just don’t spend much on education… so those aren’t places that need REFORM! If you spend zero, you lose zero to corrupt unions, that’s a silver lining right there.


    Arguments like this can only call for one thing: the ironic curse! Here it is: may YOUR children and their children’s children, unto thirteen generations, receive the average education from some place clearly and completely ruled by the mainstream Republican approach to education. Enjoy.


    I know that conservatives and liberals rarely agree, but I would hope that we can at least admit that Berkeley, despite its liberal mismanagement and coddling of unions, students, protestors, et al… is academically better than ‘Bama?

  4. There already exists a way to measure education in the US, the NAEP. The most recent shows (fom The Daily Howler) In fact, American kids have shown significant progress on the NAEP reading tests since 1998. And they’ve shown massive gains in math during that same period. (The NAEP tests fourth- and eighth-graders, in reading and math.)

    So perhaps the instinctive response to articles about how crappy our schools are could be leavened by looking at some actual data?
    Ya think?

  5. It seems to me that public education has always been disparaged in the US. I mean for the last century.

    Partly by those who think is a big government program and by definition, bad.

    Those who are worried that their children will become in contact with That Kind of People(fill in the blank).

    Religious people who either want religion taught(or rather Their Religion taught), or want tax dollars to teach Their Relgion to Their People, avoiding That Kind of People.

  6. Read the story. The only union involvement was to work to end this stupid practice while maintaining the right to a fair hearing to demonstrate cause before being fired. It was the NY DoE that was stringing out the process for months or even years. And it sure wasn’t a teacher who came up with the idea of putting teachers into what amounts to detention hall. Or are you claiming that the DoE was illegally using false accusations of disciplinary violations against teachers as a back door way to get teachers who administrators felt were less effective out of the classroom?

    1. OK. This is ridiculous. The reason the rubber rooms exist in the first place is because union regulations make it almost impossible to fire a teacher. The fact that unions are cooperating a bit these days probably has to do with the very bad press they have received in recent years as the atrocities like the rubber rooms have come to light.

      The original story on the rubber rooms was done in the New Yorker (that conservative bastion):


      The LA times also did a similarly shocking series of articles.

      But, actually, I’m not one who thinks that teachers are the central problem. The problem lies with their unions that obstruct any reasonable reform proposal.

      To his credit, Pres. Obama has shown a little but of gumption standing up to the unions, but when push comes to shove (in terms of enacting serious reforms), I bet he caves.

  7. Another know-nothing commenting on education. Great.

    There are in-school factors and out-of-school factors. They both matter. It’s those darn out-of-school factors that are the biggest impediment to learning.

  8. “and yet the teachers’ unions continue to hold reform hostage”. What a crock.

    Teachers unions are not universal. Many states are right to work states, meaning teachers can join a union if they want to do so. What you need to do is take non-union teachers with the reputatation of being effective teachers and drop them into underperforming schools, then check the outcomes.

    Without any real performance comparisons, it’s just another anti-union screed.

    And it’s the same thing with the constant prattle about teacher quality. Of course you need quality teachers. The problem is determining what constitutes “quality”. And once again, I say take your “quality” teachers and drop them into underperforming schools. Chart the outcomes.

    Aside from my personal opinion that the problem is the students and their parents as opposed to having an overwhelming number of bad teachers, I believe that tests of this type will be very revealing about the nature of teaching.

    Let’s remember, we know an awful lot about effective learning and effective teaching. The Montosorri schools and any number of others have great outcomes. Yet we don’t see many districts implementing the Montossori methods or other methods that have proven to be effective over the centuries that we’ve had schools.

    It’s all about how terrible it is to have teachers unions that stop us from getting rid of deadwood. If there was that much deadwood, public education would have collapsed decades ago. Last I checked, well-funded suburban school districts are doing quite well in educating their students. It’s the underfunded urban and rural district that are struggling with the “teacher quality” issue.

    By the way, the “rubber rooms” in the NYT article are apparently used by teachers whose disciplinary cases are pending. The call to end them is a call for punishment prior to establishing guilt. Do you really want to go down that road?

    1. I agree that the main problem is NOT “an overwhelming number of bad teachers.” I believe that the overwhelming majority of teachers are doing at least a reasonably good job, and many are excellent.

      The problem is that the unions make it almost impossible to fire the bad ones. And, more important, the unions have a long history of opposing any type of reform to increase accountability or competition. If a reform has even the slightest chance of negatively affecting the careers of any teacher, no matter how incompetent, they will oppose it. First and foremost, they are about preserving the jobs and benefits of teachers.

      Have you ever looked at the per-pupil spending of so called “underfunded” urban districts. In general, the worst performing districts (say, DC) are getting astronomical amounts of money, and the teachers have (relative to other places) pretty nice salaries.

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