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Transitional Kindergarten: A Boondoggle by any other name….

CA announces a budget surplus — and legislators can’t wait to blow it.

It’s hardly surprising, but California’s we-never-met-a-big-budget-bill-we-didn’t-like Democratic lawmakers and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson have joined hands to sponsor SB 837, new legislation that would provide free public preschool to every four-year-old child in California.

The Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2014, introduced by Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and co-sponsored by Torlakson and Early Edge California, will expand access to transitional kindergarten programs to all four year old children, no matter when their birthday. Currently, children with birthdays early in the year are excluded.

“It’s impossible to overstate how important these early years are to a child’s future success in school,” Torlakson said in a press release. “Transitional kindergarten—particularly a full-year, full-day program—can make all the difference, especially for families who may be struggling to give their young children these valuable learning opportunities.”

According to the proposal, 46,000 four-year-olds would be added each year for the first five years of the program, which will cost a total of $990 million by 2019-20.

This bill is an upgrade to SB 1381, which the legislature passed in 2010. 

California’s current transitional kindergarten program applies to 4-year-olds who turn 5 in October, November or December. That age group was affected by the 2010 bill, which requires children to turn 5 by Sept. 1, instead of Dec. 2, to attend kindergarten. The state began phasing in the program, one month a year, in 2012-13.

Needless to say, the California Teachers Association is on board with this (and any) bill that adds thousands of new dues-paying jobs to help replenish its sagging coffers. In fact, SB 837 would create 8,000 teaching positions for class sizes of 20 children or fewer.  (CTA president Dean Vogel was not very happy with the earlier bill because unlike SB 837, it let individual districts decide whether or not to offer TK.)

Interestingly, the people of CA already weighed in on the subject back in 2006 when over 60 percent of the voters resoundingly clobbered Prop. 82 – a tax-the-rich scheme proposed by actor/activist Rob (Meathead) Reiner – which would have enabled four year-olds across the state to attend taxpayer supported preschool. But the Sages of Sacto have turned a blind eye to the will of the people since then.

What do we really know about Transitional Kindergarten (TK)?

TK, Pre-K and Head Start are different names for programs that accomplish little more than adding unionized teaching and educational support jobs to the state’s payroll. Oh, sure, the sales pitch sounds great. As Steinberg says, “Expanding transitional kindergarten can be accomplished with just a fraction of increased Proposition 98 funds while saving billions of dollars in the long run by reducing the extra costs of special education, grade retention and juvenile crime.”

Steinberg’s cheerleading notwithstanding, early childhood education has never proven to have lasting results. Obviously, due to its newness, there are no longitudinal studies specifically for TK. But we sure know about Head Start, which would seem to be TK by another name. The results of the third and final phase of the federal government’s Head Start study were released in December 2012, and they matched those of the second phase of the study published in 2010. They revealed that basically the federal program has been a $180 billion (and counting) boondoggle. Lesli Maxwell in Education Week explains,

In the first phase of the evaluation, a group of children who entered Head Start at age 4 saw benefits from spending one year in the program, including learning vocabulary, letter-word recognition, spelling, color identification, and letter-naming, compared with children of the same age in a control group who didn’t attend Head Start. For children who entered Head Start at age 3, the gains were even greater, demonstrated by their language and literacy skills, as well their skills in learning math, prewriting, and perceptual motor skills.

The second phase of the study showed that those gains had faded considerably by the end of 1st grade, with Head Start children showing an edge only in learning vocabulary over their peers in the control group who had not participated in Head Start.

And now, in this final phase of the study, “there was little evidence of systematic differences in children’s elementary school experiences through 3rd grade, between children provided access to Head Start and their counterparts in the control group,” the researchers wrote in an executive summary. (Emphasis added.)

After the second phase results came out, Reason Foundation’s Lisa Snell blogged,

The just-released large-scale random assignment study of Head Start confirms once again that the $7 billion a year federal preschool program provides meager benefits to children at huge costs to taxpayers.

In other words, it’s a very expensive and wasteful federal babysitting program. The Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke elaborates:

… This federal evaluation, which effectively shows no lasting impact on children after first grade and no difference between those children who attended Head Start and those who did not, should call into question the merits of increasing funding for the program, which the Obama administration recently did as part of the so-called “stimulus” bill.

In a rare moment of candor, the mainstream media joined the naysayers, Time Magazine’s Joe Klein weighed in,

You take the million or so poorest 3- and 4-year-old children and give them a leg up on socialization and education by providing preschool for them; if it works, it saves money in the long run by producing fewer criminals and welfare recipients…it is now 45 years later. We spend more than $7 billion providing Head Start to nearly 1 million children each year. And finally there is indisputable evidence about the program’s effectiveness, provided by the Department of Health and Human Services: Head Start simply does not work.

So we may as well be flushing cash down the toilet. Perhaps that is what CA governor Jerry Brown was thinking when he announced his new budget last week. It seems that the quirky state leader has reservations about the financial outlay. Friday, he said that he has adjusted his initial budget proposals “to accommodate lawmakers on some of their priorities in recent years. But he made no mention in his presentation Thursday of a chief concern of legislative Democrats: transitional kindergarten.” When asked about the proposal, the governor said he would listen to proposals, but stressed that “wisdom and prudence is the order of the day.”

It’s outrageous that the taxpayers might have to fork over billions to satisfy the political agenda of the state legislature and their teacher union cronies. The Brookings Institution’s Grover J. Whitehurst sums it all up quite well, writing that childhood education,

… remains mired in philosophy, in broad theories of the nature of child development, and in practices that spring from appeals to authority and official pronouncements of professional guilds, rather than to research. Until the field of early education becomes evidence based, it will be doomed to cycles of fad and fancy. We need a science of early-childhood education, and we need it now.

Indeed, before spending another dime on any of this, we need fiscal discipline and solid research. Until then, we are at the mercy of what Stanford’s Caroline Hoxby refers to as the cardiac test. “We just know in our heart that this is right.”

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

The Strange Politics of Education Reform

… where conservatives demand change and many alleged progressives, including teacher union elites, are really reactionary.

While this may be old news to some, it can’t be said enough: In our polarized times, education reform is the only truly bipartisan issue, whereas with other matters things invariably break down into Republican vs. Democrat, liberal vs. conservative, libertarian vs. conservative (social issues), libertarian vs. liberal (fiscal issues), etc. 

But in the world of edu-politics, folks from the conservative Heritage Foundation have made common cause with their counterparts at the libertarian Reason Foundation with plenty of room in the big tent for Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).  

Though not the main theme of an excellent blog post, “Grabbing the Bull By The Horns: Cuomo, Nutter and the Backlash Against Making Sh*t Up,” DFER executive director Joe Williams indirectly points to the odd political bedfellows who are pushing for much needed changes in education.

Williams begins his piece by writing, 

If you’ve ever been the subject of a blog-tirade by either of the Klonsky Brothers or Leo Casey, you understand that these old school reactionaries have made decades-long careers out of pushing bogus propaganda for their cause, i.e. they make sh*t up and hope that nobody calls them on it. 

The joke here is that both Casey and the Klonsky brothers come from Marxist backgrounds but really are, when it comes to education reform, not progressives but reactionaries – fervently protective of the status quo – blindly pro-union, claiming that more money will solve our education woes, all the while fighting against every meaningful way of improving the system. 

On the other hand, we have some big city liberal mayors who are trying to do the right thing in tough fiscal times. Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel, Philadelphia’s Michael Nutter and New York’s Andrew Cuomo have closed some poorly attended failing schools. So what’s the problem? The teachers unions in those cities, who profess to be all about the kids, social justice and progressivism, pound the table and insist that our outdated 19th Century Prussian-style zip-code mandated school system continue without any innovation, just more money. These unions desperately fight to maintain the status quo and snuff any real reform – charter schools, vouchers, online schools, etc. As such, it’s time we start tarring union leaders with the reactionary brush. 

And while we are talking reactionaries, perhaps their poster child should be Diane Ravitch. She was a liberal before she became conservative before she became a progressive, but she’s really a reactionary. (She is wrong about so much that she should get an award for “Yes I can make this sh*t up.”) In fact, researcher Jay Greene set aside an entire week on his blog to debunk her endless reactionary blather, which he titled “Ravitch is Wrong Week.” 

And as I wrote last week, Louisiana’s Republican governor Bobby Jindal is trying to do his best for kids by expanding his state’s popular voucher program, only to be slapped down by the allegedly progressive Eric Holder. In reality, our attorney general is doing his best to emulate George Wallace, the segregationist and reactionary former governor of Alabama. 

Then there are those whom the teachers unions love to hurl “right wing” epithets at, like the admittedly conservative Heritage Foundation. There, policy expert Lindsey Burke regularly promotes various decidedly un-reactionary reforms – vouchers, tax credits, education savings accounts, etc. Sounds like Ms. Burke is trying to get us out of a complacent, dare I say, reactionary rut. 

Meanwhile, over at the Reason Foundation the decidedly un-reactionary director of education Lisa Snell regularly writes about the importance and benefits of school choice. 

We live in a time where the biggest enemies of change are the teachers unions. They and their fellow travelers espouse progressivism but in reality are clinging to a moribund education system that’s desperately in need of fundamental change. So I guess when you want to get things done in edu-world, look to those who are truly trying to effect real change – conservatives, libertarians and DFER-type liberals, not reactionaries in progressive clothing.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

“I’m Randi Weingarten and Now, the Fake News.”

Teachers union makes news with meaningless words and a misleading poll.

Norm MacDonald is famous for opening the comedic news segment on Saturday Night Live by introducing himself and telling the audience that it’s time for the “fake news.” I thought of this when, at the recent American Federation of Teachers convention, President Randi Weingarten essentially said that bad teachers should find new jobs. Her words were dutifully reported by a compliant press, but it didn’t take much to see that the comment was devoid of any conviction whatsoever.

Responding to Weingarten’s comment that “…if someone can’t teach after they’ve been prepared and supported, they shouldn’t be in our profession,” EAG’s Ben Velderman pointed out,

Notice the huge caveat in Weingarten’s comment: “after they’ve been prepared and supported.”

Weingarten is actually saying that incompetent and ineffective teachers should have lots of time and assistance to improve their classroom performance.

In fact, “lots of time” would be an eternity or so, with the teacher in question going through a battery of master teachers, on-site administrators, coaches, peer assistance review teams, and then various administrative panels, lawyers, endless appeals, all with a tree-killer paper trail. Hence, there is nothing but empty rhetoric here.

Mike Antonucci gives Weingarten’s comment an historical perspective, enumerating high- sounding teacher union leader’s past proclamations which did nothing to change the moribund status quo. He links Weingarten’s merit pay speech in 2008 in which she says she is “willing to discuss new approaches to issues like teacher tenure and merit pay.” Yet when the rubber hit the road in 2010, Weingarten fought DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee tooth and nail on these very issues. It was as if the union boss had forgotten that she made any noise about tenure and merit pay.

Antonucci goes back to 1997 when National Education Association president Bob Chase made a feel-good speech in which he acknowledged the existence of the “vast majority of Americans who support public education, but are clearly dissatisfied. They want higher quality public schools, and they want them now.”

Since his speech a full generation of children has passed through the entire pre-K to 12 public school system. What changes we have seen during that time have come with the teachers’ unions trailing behind, yelling “stop!” I have seen the future, and it is more of the same.

Just as fraudulent as Weingarten’s tough talk on bad teachers is a new AFT “poll,” the results of which were reported on solemnly by union cheerleaders like The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss. This push poll’s intentionally skewed results were used by Weingarten and the true believers in the press to hammer home the idea that parents are against education reform.

But the Cato Institute’s Jason Bedrick wasn’t buying it, and wrote that the “Teachers Union Poll Is Not Credible.” One example of how the AFT phrased their questions:

With which approach for improving education do you agree more?

APPROACH A) We should focus on ensuring that every child has access to a good public school in their community. We need to make the investments needed to ensure all schools provide safe conditions, an enriching curriculum, support for students’ social and emotional development, and effective teachers.

APPROACH B) We should open more public charter schools and provide more vouchers that allow parents to send their children to private schools at public expense. Children will receive the best education if we give families the financial freedom to attend schools that meet their needs.

It’s no surprise that 77 percent agreed with the first approach and only 20 percent agreed with the second. Either “invest” in “good” public schools in your “community” and receive all sort of wonderful goodies (“enriching curriculum!” “effective teachers!”) or forgo all that so that some parents can send their kids to private school “at public expense.” Aside from the fact that this is a false choice (competition can actually improve public school performance and school choice programs can save money), the wording is blatantly designed to push respondents toward Approach A.

Bedrick then writes about a 2012 Harvard poll that was worded fairly. Its findings:

  • 54% of parents favor giving all families a “wider choice” to “enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition” compared with 21% opposed.
  • 46% of parents favor giving low-income families a “wider choice” to “enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition” compared with 21% opposed.
  • When not given a neutral option, 50% of parents favor giving low-income families a “wider choice” to “enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition” compared with 50% opposed.
  • When the question omits the words “a wider choice” and only asks about using “government funds to pay the tuition of low-income students who choose to attend private schools,” 44% of parents are in favor with 32% opposed.

Education Week’s Stephen Sawchuk also had problems with the AFT poll, reminding us to take it “with a grain of salt and examine the questions’ phraseology carefully.” (I would suggest adding an ample amount of Maalox to the salt.)

Take, for instance, a bunch of paired statements asking parents to select the one they most agree with. Unsurprisingly, they tend to favor the idea that it’s better to “treat teachers like professionals” than to “regularly remove poorly performing teachers.”

…  A few results appear contradictory. Nearly half surveyed had a negative impression of using test scores in teacher evaluation, but 68 percent approved of paying teachers more if their students show gains in academic achievement.

In another refutation of the biased AFT poll, The Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke writes that “Unions Can’t Ignore Support for Choice in Education.”

A PDK/Gallup poll released last summer found that, when asked nearly the same question—whether they supported allowing students to choose private schools at public expense—44 percent of Americans said yes. Gallup has asked respondents the same question for the past decade and found that support for school choice has jumped 10 percentage points in just the last year alone.

Something that may be of interest to Ms. Weingarten is the result of a Rasmussen poll in which we learn that “only 26% of Likely U.S. Voters rate the performance of public schools in America today as good or excellent.  Thirty-four percent (34%) rate public education as poor.” Unlike the AFT poll, Rasmussen used straightforward language:

Overall, how would you rate the performance of public schools in America today?

No deception here, unlike the AFT pedaled “fake news.” But then again, when you have nothing legitimate to sell, snake oil will do the trick.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Head Start or Dead End?

The only “lasting impact” of the Head Start program is on taxpayers’ wallets.

Those too-clever-for-words folks over at the Department of Health and Human Services have yet again tried to put one over on us. Using the oldest PR trick in the book, they released information to the media that they hoped no one would notice — on a Friday when people are too busy thinking about and planning their weekends. And because the report is very politically embarrassing, DHHS doubled down and went public on a Friday before a long holiday weekend.

So right before Christmas, on Friday, December 21st, we were hit with the results of the third and final phase of the federal government’s Head Start study. (Established by Lyndon Johnson in 1965, Head Start is the pet project of the early education crowd, which consists of spendaholic types aided, abetted and financed by the teachers unions, which love nothing more than expanding their roster of dues paying members. And President Obama is complicit member of this unholy alliance.)

The problem with the latest results is that they match those of the second phase of the study published in 2010, which revealed that basically Head Start has been a $180 billion (and counting) boondoggle. Lesli Maxwell in Education Week explains,

In the first phase of the evaluation, a group of children who entered Head Start at age 4 saw benefits from spending one year in the program, including learning vocabulary, letter-word recognition, spelling, color identification, and letter-naming, compared with children of the same age in a control group who didn’t attend Head Start. For children who entered Head Start at age 3, the gains were even greater, demonstrated by their language and literacy skills, as well their skills in learning math, prewriting, and perceptual motor skills.

The second phase of the study showed that those gains had faded considerably by the end of 1st grade, with Head Start children showing an edge only in learning vocabulary over their peers in the control group who had not participated in Head Start.

And now, in this final phase of the study, “there was little evidence of systematic differences in children’s elementary school experiences through 3rd grade, between children provided access to Head Start and their counterparts in the control group,” the researchers wrote in an executive summary. (Emphasis added.)

After the second phase results came out, Reason Foundation’s Lisa Snell blogged,

The just-released large-scale random assignment study of Head Start confirms once again that the $7 billion a year federal preschool program provides meager benefits to children at huge costs to taxpayers.

In other words, it’s a very expensive and wasteful federal babysitting program. The Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke elaborates:

… This federal evaluation, which effectively shows no lasting impact on children after first grade and no difference between those children who attended Head Start and those who did not, should call into question the merits of increasing funding for the program, which the Obama administration recently did as part of the so-called “stimulus” bill.

Snell continues,

In the past the Obama administration has been criticized for sitting on a study and releasing it on a Friday when it showed solid evidence that the DC Opportunity Scholarship program worked. The administration did not release a study that might have influenced policy decisions about reauthorizing and funding the DC school choice program. On the other hand, the Obama administration also sat on a study by the Department of Health and Human Services that showed meager impact for children in Head Start. The study was complete and the information was available, but the Obama Administration went ahead and significantly increased Head Start funding through the stimulus act to the tune of more than $2 billion. The hypocrisy cuts both ways. (Emphasis added.)

Snell also quotes Douglas Bresharov in the New York Times,

…to keep a child in Head Start full-time, year-round, costs about $22,600, as opposed to an average cost of $9,500 in a day care center.

In a rare moment of candor, the mainstream media joined the naysayers when in 2011, Time Magazine’s Joe Klein weighed in,

You take the million or so poorest 3- and 4-year-old children and give them a leg up on socialization and education by providing preschool for them; if it works, it saves money in the long run by producing fewer criminals and welfare recipients…it is now 45 years later. We spend more than $7 billion providing Head Start to nearly 1 million children each year. And finally there is indisputable evidence about the program’s effectiveness, provided by the Department of Health and Human Services: Head Start simply does not work.

Undaunted by a mountain of data, the National Education Association still proclaims its support for Head Start because

it maintains high quality classrooms and teachers, and effectively prepares our nation’s most at-risk children for school.

No better is the American Federation of Teachers. On their website, it crows that it

is gratified to see the Obama administration’s continued focus on the quality of early childhood education. As the president said during a recent visit to a Pennsylvania Head Start center, early education is “one of our best investments in America’s future.”

In any event, it is time to say no to the unions and any other special interests that only care about their selfish agendas. And for the rest the Head Start true believers, apparently all they have is evidence based on what Stanford’s Caroline Hoxby refers to as the “cardiac test.”

We just know in our heart that this is right.

Whatever their feelings may be, this shameful, wasteful spending must stop immediately.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

More Money for Business as Usual

Throwing ever more funds at education without making substantive changes to the system is a horrible waste of money, not to mention children’s lives.

California Democrat Congressman Mike Honda and National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel recently collaborated on an op-ed that played up just about every bit of feel good, cliché-riddled drivel ever written about education. If this piece was a drug, the FDA would have banned it years ago. A few examples:

Lamenting the fact that many teachers leave the classroom within the first few years, they say,

According to research estimates, one in four beginning teachers will leave the profession within their first three years in the classroom, and in urban areas, close to 50 percent will leave within five years.

This is totally misleading. The implication here is that teachers are leaving the profession in droves because they are overworked, underappreciated, overwhelmed and underpaid. But the reality is that they leave for a wide variety of reasons, including taking an administrative position, personal or family reasons, pregnancy, health, change of residence, etc. A survey from North Carolina, for instance, reveals that only 2.24 percent said they were leaving the profession due to dissatisfaction with teaching.

Another fiction the authors use to sway the unknowing public is the “competitive teacher salary myth.”

…the lack of competitive salaries for classroom teachers compared to other professions diminishes the consideration of teaching as a viable long-term career option. All of these issues rob children of the diverse, committed, capable teachers they need and deserve.

Before reaching for the Kleenex, please consider the following: Andrew Biggs, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute and Jason Richwine, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, conducted a study on teacher pay, the results of which were released just a year ago. They found that when perks like healthcare and pension packages are taken into consideration, teachers are in fact overpaid. Armed with facts, charts and a bevy of footnotes, the authors make a very good case for their thesis. For example, they claim,

Workers who switch from non-teaching jobs to teaching jobs receive a wage increase of roughly 9 percent, while teachers who change to non-teaching jobs see their wages decrease by approximately 3 percent.

When retiree health coverage for teachers is included, it is worth roughly an additional 10 percent of wages, whereas private sector employees often do not receive this benefit at all.

Teachers benefit strongly from job security benefits, which are worth about an extra 1 percent of wages, rising to 8.6 percent when considering that extra job security protects a premium paid in terms of salaries and benefits.

Taking all of this into account, teachers actually receive salary and benefits that are 52 percent greater than fair market levels. (Emphasis added.)

Honda/Van Roekel then delve into professional support:

The educational career ladder should entice quality teachers to remain in the classroom by developing positions of teacher leadership.

The book on this subject has already been written by Teach For America, a very successful outfit that recruits high performing college students who exhibit leadership qualities. TFA then gives them a five week intensive teacher training and ongoing professional support. So maybe NEA should hitch a ride with TFA? No. After years of trashing the organization, NEA recently offered TFA a twig-sized olive branch, but even that is rejected by many local unions because an army of bright, young, idealistic teachers poses a threat to the old guard.

On Election Day, Californians sadly bought into the union propaganda and voted to further “invest” in education by passing a controversial ballot initiative. With the passage of Prop. 30, California now has the highest sales tax and top marginal income tax rate in the country.

A nearly $6 billion infusion from Proposition 30 and a Democratic supermajority in the Legislature are a welcome pre-holiday gift to public education from voters, but it also could set the stage for battles between those laboring for education reform and suddenly fortified unions protecting teacher interests.

“Proposition 30 is a bandage on the current system,” said former state Sen. Gloria Romero, an outspoken education reform advocate. “We got no reform for the investment.”

She and others cite the urgent need to raise student achievement, modify the rule of teacher seniority, dismantle the Byzantine school finance system and ensure the teacher pension fund stays solvent.

Romero hits the nail on the head. Continuing to throw money at a failing system will result in nothing more than a more expensive failing system. If you are hungry, spending more money on rancid food won’t solve your nutrition problem.

Stanford Professor Erick Hanushek, who has studied student achievement and education economics, adds,

I’m concerned now that we’ve gotten past the fiscal cliff, we’re going back to business as usual. To improve student performance, he said, schools need an effective teacher evaluation system and need to be able to get rid of the worst teachers and to reward the best ones. But he said there’s no movement toward either of those.

…Everybody in the state would like major changes without really changing…. the cost is that California is at the rock bottom in student performance, and it’s dragging down the nation.

Responding to the reformers, California Teachers Association President Dean Vogel snapped,

We’re not opposed to education reform…. We’re opposed to stupid reform.

…teachers believe before adjusting funding formulas, the state needs to ensure adequate — meaning more — funding for schools….

But as Heritage Foundation policy expert Lindsey Burke reported recently,

Students headed back to school this fall will have historically high levels of dollars spent on them in the public school system. (Bold added.) Nationally, average per-pupil spending exceeds $11,400 this year….

To put this into perspective, just 10 years ago we spent $9,482 per pupil (in constant dollars). Thirty years ago we paid $5,718 and 50 years ago just $2,808 per student! In California, spending has doubled over the last 40 years and what do we have to show for it? Our National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) scores speak volumes. For example, on the most recent 4th grade math test, California students came in 45th nationally; in science, the same 4th graders scored higher than only Mississippi.

Internationally, of the world’s 28 major industrial powers, the U.S. is second in spending, slightly behind Switzerland. Yet when it comes to achievement, our performance is middling at best. Education Next recently reported,

A new study of international and U.S. state trends in student achievement growth shows that the United States is squarely in the middle of a group of 49 nations in 4th and 8th grade test score gains in math, reading, and science over the period 1995-2009.

Students in three countries – Latvia, Chile, and Brazil – are improving at a rate of 4 percent of a standard deviation annually, roughly two years’ worth of learning or nearly three times that of the United States. Students in another eight countries – Portugal, Hong Kong, Germany, Poland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Colombia, and Lithuania – are making gains at twice the rate of U.S. students.

A fitting coda to this dreary ongoing saga, came from a recent Wall Street Journal editorial,

No reform effort is too small for the teachers union to squash. In this month’s election, the National Education Association descended from Washington to distant Idaho, spending millions to defeat a measure that limited collective bargaining for teachers and pegged a portion of teachers’ salaries to classroom performance. In Alabama, Republican Governor Robert Bentley says he’s giving up on his campaign to bring charter schools to the state after massive resistance from the Alabama Education Association.

Unions fight as hard as they do because they have one priority—preserving their jobs and increasing their pay and benefits. Students are merely their means to that end. Reforming public education is the civil rights issue of our era, and each year that passes without reform sacrifices thousands more children to union politics.

Thousands? More like millions. It is a national disgrace. We the people need to wrest control from the teachers’ unions and demand serious reform immediately.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

The Public Education Jobs Program

As you go to the polls next week, please consider the facts before voting to pour more money into the K–12 black hole.

Last week, The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice released a comprehensive study which details an employment explosion in America’s public schools.

America’s K-12 public education system has experienced tremendous historical growth in employment, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. Between fiscal year (FY) 1950 and FY 2009, the number of K-12 public school students in the United States increased by 96 percent while the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) school employees grew 386 percent. Public schools grew staffing at a rate four times faster than the increase in students over that time period. Of those personnel, teachers’ numbers increased 252 percent while administrators and other staff experienced growth of 702 percent, more than seven times the increase in students.

In a recent Heritage Foundation Backgrounder, Lindsey Burke (2012) reports that since 1970, the number of students in American public schools increased by 8 percent while the number of teachers increased 60 percent and the number of non-teaching personnel increased 138 percent.

And how much bang for our buck has the country received for this out-of-control hiring?

There is no evidence in the aggregate that the increase in public school staffing caused student achievement to improve. In a shocking finding, economist and Nobel laureate James Heckman and his co-author, Paul LaFontaine, found that public high school graduation rates peaked around 1970. Thus, as staffing was rising dramatically in public schools, graduation rates were not.

In addition, scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Long-Term Trend exam for 17-year-old students in public schools have not increased during the time period studied. Between 1992 and 2008, public schools’ NAEP reading scores fell slightly while scores in mathematics were stagnant.  After the sizeable increase in the teaching force and the dramatic upsurge in the hiring of non-teaching personnel, student achievement in American public schools has been roughly flat or modestly in decline.

Instead of this wasteful spending, had non-teaching personnel growth been in line with student growth and the teaching force had grown “only” 1.5 times as fast as student growth, our schools would have an additional $37.2 billion to spend. Benjamin Scafidi, the study’s author, makes some suggestions. He says we could:

  • …raise every public school teacher’s salary by  more than $11,700 per year;
  • …more than double taxpayer funding for early childhood education;
  • …provide property tax relief;
  • …lessen fiscal stress on state and local  governments;
  • …give families of each child in poverty more than  $2,600 in cash per child;
  • …give each child in poverty a voucher worth  more than $2,600 to attend the private school of his  or her parents’ choice;
  • …support a combination of the above or for some other worthy purpose.

In addition to national figures, the study includes an interactive state-by-state map. For those of us in cash-strapped California, the map shows that from1992-2009, student population increased 24 percent, but teachers, administrators and supplementary staff increased 36 percent. As a middle school teacher during this time period, I saw this first hand – my school experienced an ongoing increase in the number of deans, counselors, assistant principals, coordinators, coaches, teaching assistants, etc., but we fared no better academically with all the extra personnel.

As Cato Institute’s Andrew Coulson pointed out recently:

Over the past four decades, real per pupil spending in California has roughly doubled. In dollar terms, Californians are spending $27 billion more today on K-12 education than they did in 1974, when Gov. Jerry Brown was first elected to office—and that is after controlling for both enrollment growth and inflation.

The last dashed spike on the spending line is the increase if Prop 30 passes, as Governor Jerry Brown has been assuming. If it doesn’t pass, per pupil spending will still be up more than 80 percent over this period, after controlling for inflation. What’s more, there is no evidence that the fantastic spending increases of the past have done anything to improve student achievement.

The only state-level achievement data we have that go back this far are the SATs, and, taking into account the renorming that occurred in the mid 1990s, they have actually declined by five percent.

And a look at our latest National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) scores is anything but encouraging. For example, on the most recent 4th grade math test, California students came in 45th nationally; in science, the same 4th graders scored higher than only Mississippi.

On Election Day, Californians will be faced with two initiatives – Prop. 30 and Prop 38. If either passes, Golden Staters will be paying millions of dollars more in taxes every year, the bulk of which will be poured into public education. Prop 38 would raise income taxes for most Californians, but Prop. 30 is worse. Our nation-leading state sales tax of 7.25 percent would go up to 7.75 percent. And the top marginal income tax rate which is now 10.55 percent – third highest in the country – would become number one at 13.3 percent – a 26 percent increase.

As it is, roughly half our state budget already goes to public education. And it is apparent that featherbedding is rampant in our K-12 schools. With the economy of California starting to look like Greece, it’s time to get serious. All the warm and positively gooey pro-30 and 38 TV and radio ads are meant to tug at your heartstrings, and distract you from the more realistic image of more of your tax dollars are going up in smoke. If either prop becomes law, education won’t improve, but we will all be taxed at an even more exorbitant rate than we are now. And high-earners, job creators and corporations will continue to flee the state.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

More Money for Education?

Hell no. It’s time to stop pouring money into a bottomless pit.

Not a week goes by without a gloom and doom story on the National Education Association website exhorting us to “invest” more in education lest the children of America be shortchanged. For the educrats and unionistas who are still trying to sell this claptrap, their periodic slap in the face comes courtesy of Andrew Coulson, director of Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom. As you can see from his chart linked here, from 1970-2010 our education spending has tripled (adjusting to constant 2012 dollars.)

What kind of return have we gotten for our investment?

Nada. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and math scores for 17 year olds have been flat for the forty year period. And in science, the scores have gone down.

At the Heritage Foundation, Coulson’s counterpart Lindsey Burke reports,

Students headed back to school this fall will have historically high levels of dollars spent on them in the public school system. (Bold added.) Nationally, average per-pupil spending exceeds $11,400 this year….

To put this into perspective, just 10 years ago we spent $9,482 per pupil (in constant dollars). Thirty years ago we paid $5,718 and 50 years ago just $2,808 per student! The reasons for the current spending orgy are several – an increase in the number of useless educrats, the rise of teachers unions, a public that has been way too trusting of those in power, etc.

Internationally, of the world’s 28 major industrial powers, we are second in spending, slightly behind Switzerland. Yet when it comes to achievement, our performance is middling at best. Education Next recently reported,

A new study of international and U.S. state trends in student achievement growth shows that the United States is squarely in the middle of a group of 49 nations in 4th and 8th grade test score gains in math, reading, and science over the period 1995-2009.

Students in three countries – Latvia, Chile, and Brazil – are improving at a rate of 4 percent of a standard deviation annually, roughly two years’ worth of learning or nearly three times that of the United States. Students in another eight countries – Portugal, Hong Kong, Germany, Poland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Colombia, and Lithuania – are making gains at twice the rate of U.S. students.

The very obvious conclusion to be drawn is that the time has come to stop blindly pouring money down the public education hole. One way to improve our sorry state of affairs is to have schools compete with each other by giving parents a full range of school choice options. Education would improve and at the same time cost less. Heartland Institute education research fellow Joy Pullman makes the case for choice very clearly in The Best, Most Recent Voucher Research:

Research has consistently demonstrated vouchers and school choice increase high school graduation rates, college attendance rates, achievement test scores, parental satisfaction, school safety and discipline, tolerance of other cultures, racial integration, and civic engagement. Every voucher program also has saved vast amounts of taxpayer dollars. School vouchers first came into existence 22 years ago, and private schools have not been overrun with government regulations or fraud. Where fraud has occurred, it has been isolated and comparable to fraud perpetrated within government schools.

School choice offers families equal access to high-quality schools that meet their widely diverse needs and desires. Instead of unjustly condemning millions of children to failing and dangerous schools because their parents cannot afford private tuition, vouchers give all families the same opportunity to meet each child’s unique education needs. Vouchers also end the injustice of forcing parents to pay both in taxes and in tuition for school choice.

Greg Forster of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice collected the results of all available empirical studies using the best available scientific methods to measure how school vouchers affect academic outcomes for participants, and all available studies on how vouchers affect outcomes in public schools. Contrary to the widespread claim that vouchers do not benefit participants and hurt public schools, the empirical evidence consistently shows vouchers improve outcomes for participants and public schools.

And ideally, choice should be available from the very beginning of a child’s education. In the August 28th issue of U.S. News & World Report, Harrigan and Davies claim that “Public High Schools Are Not Doing Their Jobs.” It’s a good piece, but the authors start their expose about nine grades too late. High schools can’t do their jobs if they are enrolling students who are barely literate. However, the authors do reach an important conclusion,

The way to stop the trend is to allow parents to hold our public schools accountable. They can do this the same way that they hold their cellular providers or grocery stores or car dealerships accountable. If public schools can’t educate their children, parents should be free to take their children—and their tax dollars—to schools that can.

Our children and our economy are in desperate need of school choice. As such, we all need to become more knowledgeable consumers and then ratchet up our political will to make choice a reality. So when the bureaucrats, the teachers unions and their bought-and-paid-for legislators start to whine about how we need to pour more money into education, just say, “No” to them. And at the same time, support candidates for office who represent you, your children, your pocketbook and a better future for America.

About the author: Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Responding to Romney’s Critics

Regarding education reform, Romney needs to pound on the facts, leaving his detractors to pound on the table.

Recently Mitt Romney laid out his education vision in a speech at the Latino Coalition’s annual economic summit in Washington D.C. The Republican candidate for president didn’t mince words. He said that we are in the midst of a “national educational emergency,” and that the only reason we don’t hear more about it is that our national focus is squarely centered on the economy. Then he got down to specifics and said,

Parental choice will hold schools responsible for results, but parents can only exercise that choice effectively if they have good information. No Child Left Behind helped our nation take a giant step forward in bridging this information gap. But the law is not without its weaknesses. As president, I will break the political logjam that has prevented successful reform of the law. I will reduce federal micromanagement while redoubling efforts to ensure that schools are held responsible for results.

Dramatically expanding parental choice, making schools responsible for results by giving parents access to clear and instructive information, and attracting and rewarding our best teachers–these changes can help ensure that every parent has a choice and every child has a chance.

He then talked about the teachers unions’ role in the problem.

…accomplishing real change won’t be easy. Efforts to truly reform our schools always meet strong resistance from entrenched interests.

The teachers unions are the clearest example of a group that has lost its way. Whenever anyone dares to offer a new idea, the unions protest the loudest.

The teachers unions don’t fight for our children. That’s our job. And our job keeps getting harder because the unions wield outsized influence in elections and campaigns.

Annually, many teachers are forced to pay almost $1,000 in union dues. The two major teachers unions take in $600 million each year. That’s more revenue than both of the political parties combined.

Mr. Romney’s talk was a good one, basically hitting on many of the points that education reformers have been making for years. So, naturally, the naysayers and outright opponents of reform took him to task.

Jay Mathews, writing in the Washington Post, oddly claims that Romney and Obama are “educational twins.” While both men certainly are reform-minded, their reforms run in different directions, most notably Romney’s embrace of vouchers. (Obama favors some school choice but not vouchers – were he to do so, it would destroy his lovey-dovey relationship with the teachers unions.) Usually sensible, Mathews has a blind spot when the “v” word is mentioned. He says that, “…vouchers have no chance of ever expanding very far.” However, Greg Forster, senior fellow with the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, has debunked Mathews’ claim in the past and does so again in a point by point rebuttal, the centerpiece of which is,

there are now 34 school choice programs serving 212,000 students, and this story Mathews is telling hasn’t happened anywhere.

Not surprisingly, the most hostile commentary comes from the union apologists. Matt Miller, who says he has “slammed teachers unions plenty,” goes into somber mode and in sotto voce tells us in that there is a “deeper reality” that we all need to grapple with.

The top performing school systems in the world have strong teachers unions at the heart of their education establishment.

Lighten up, Mr. Miller. In reality, this does not qualify as “grappleable.” The same claim has been made countless times by union defenders. The short answer to your “deeper reality” is that in Finland and other countries, the teachers unions are more like guilds – they exist mainly to advance the professional status of their members. American teachers unions are built on the industrial model – treating teachers not like professionals but like factory workers, and protecting them no matter what crimes they may have committed and no matter how poorly they do their jobs.

Then there is Mike Hall writing on the AFL-CIO website. He picks on Romney’s assertion that, despite the popular myth, smaller class size does not translate into student achievement. The unions will never give up their “smaller is better” mantra because small classes mean more teachers and therefore more dues for the union. As if to show that he is knowledgeable on the subject, Hall trots out a dinosaur – Project Star – a study from Tennessee conducted in the 1980s – which Hall claims,

…showed students who were placed in a smaller-sized classroom made measurable gains and performed better even when they were put back in larger classes.

I totally debunk the “smaller is better” myth here. The most extensive study on the subject was done by Hoover Institution senior fellow and economist Eric Hanushek in 1998. He examined 277 different studies on the effect of teacher-pupil ratios and class-size averages on student achievement, he found that 15 percent of the studies found an improvement in achievement, while 72 percent found no effect at all—and 13 percent found that reducing class size had a negative effect on achievement. While Hanushek admits that in some cases, children might benefit from a small-class environment, there is no way “to describe a priori situations where reduced class size will be beneficial.”

And what would a presidential talk about education reform be without a rebuttal from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten? In a press release posted on the AFT website, she claims,

Today, Mitt Romney squandered an opportunity to participate in a meaningful discussion of real education reform by attempting to disguise attacks on teachers and public education as meaningful policy proposals.

Attack teachers? Hardly, though he did have harsh words about their unions. But the next part made my head explode,

Instead of looking to improve education for all children, he parroted failed voucher and privatization schemes that have not improved student learning. Romney’s proposal to take even more money out of public education and funnel it to private schools is absurd at a time when school budgets already are being slashed to the bone across the country.

“Failed voucher and privatization schemes?” She really sounds as if she believes this nonsense. A little over a year ago, the Friedman Foundation released the results of study, the most extensive ever done, which stated,

Ten empirical studies have used random assignment, the gold standard of social science, to examine how vouchers affect participants. Nine studies find that vouchers improve student outcomes, six that all students benefit and three that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. None of these studies finds a negative impact.

Nineteen empirical studies have examined how vouchers affect outcomes in public schools. Of these studies, 18 find that vouchers improved public schools and one finds no visible impact. No empirical studies find that vouchers harm public schools.

Weingarten’s point that vouchers take money out of public education is also erroneous. As the Friedman Foundation explains,

State budgets typically save money when students use vouchers to attend private schools. Vouchers usually redirect state education spending from school districts to parents. If the vouchers are not worth the entire amount of state education spending, as is generally the case, then the state saves money on the difference. For example, if a state spends $6,000 per student annually in public schools, and offers a $5,000 voucher, the state saves $1,000 each year for each participating student.

The only problem I found with Romney’s talk is that while he wants to disentangle Washington from education matters to a certain degree, he doesn’t go far enough. He straddles the fence on No Child Left Behind – the reforms proposed by George W. Bush. NCLB is the 8th reauthorization of the 1965 Elementary and Second Education Act (ESEA) which signaled the feds’ intrusion into what had always been a state issue. Federal involvement has produced no benefits for U.S. school kids. What it has done is divert a ridiculous amount of money from the classroom to feed an insatiable bureaucracy.

Writing in National Review Online, Heritage Foundation education fellow Lindsey Burke says it best,

Moving forward, Romney’s agenda should include the conservative alternative to NCLB: the Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success (APLUS) Act. APLUS would allow states to opt out and spend their share of federal education dollars on any lawful education purpose they believe would best benefit students. It’s one of the best ways Congress could restore constitutional governance in education: send dollars and decision-making back to state and local leaders who are closest to the student.

Romney’s vision is a good one. With a few tweaks it could be a great one. Importantly, he has facts on his side, and he needs to pound on them every chance he gets. If he does that, all the union leaders and other entrenched special interests can do is pound on the table.

About the author: Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. (Title for identification purposes only.)

NEA Agenda: More Money, Minimal Reform

The teachers union not only plays the poverty card, but by battling reforms, ensures that the impoverished will remain that way.

No Education Reform Without Tackling Poverty, Experts Say,” is the title of an article on the National Education Association website. Experts? A trip into the weeds leads to something called the Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy at Georgetown University. Its main benefactor is none other than the Open Society Foundations run by megalomaniac George Soros, a man who once said he saw himself as “some kind of god, the creator of everything.” Expecting anything without an agenda from this bunch would be foolish.

The NEA’s “experts” claim that pouring money into education will eradicate poverty is wrong on all counts. For example, they state that children would be better educated by attending a “high quality pre-school.” Yet Head Start, according to Reason’s Lisa Snell, U. of Arkansas Professor Jay Greene and others, has been a bust. In 2010, Lindsey Burke at the Heritage Foundation wrote,

Taxpayers have been on the hook for more than $100 billion for the Head Start program since 1965. This federal evaluation, which effectively shows no lasting impact on children after first grade and no difference between those children who attended Head Start and those who did not, should call into question the merits of increasing funding for the program, which the Obama administration recently did as part of the so-called “stimulus” bill.

So, $100 billion later, children are no better off attending a preschool, but what’s important to the unions is that more adults are employed. And that means more dues for them to spend on their progressive political agenda which favors causes that have little to do with education – e.g. abortion on demand, same-sex marriage, income redistribution, and nationalized health care. In 2010-2011, NEA spent $133 million in lobbying and gifts to further its progressive agenda.

Also, with all the union kvetching, one might assume that we stint on education spending. In fact, in the U.S. since 1970, education spending has increased 150 percent. Compared to other countries around the world, we are number four in spending after Luxembourg, Switzerland and Norway. Yet,

The three-yearly OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, which compares the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in 70 countries around the world, ranked the United States 14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and 25th for mathematics.

Thus the problem is not the amount of money we spend, but how it’s spent. Charter schools typically lead to better educated kids and save us money at the same time. Inner city charter school operators like Eva Moskowitz and Geoffrey Canada and the KIPP schools do a far better job – with fewer tax dollars – than traditional public schools. Even taking the superstars of the movement out of the mix, charter schools outperform traditional public schools. As Jay Greene writes, “Charter Benefits Are Proven by the Best Evidence.”

But no, the NEA doesn’t back charters. And the reason it doesn’t has nothing to do with education; it’s because charters are individually run and therefore very hard to unionize. In fact, only 12 percent of the nation’s 5,500 or so charters are unionized.

If the teachers unions were really serious about improving education and eradicating poverty, they would support the ultimate in school choice – voucher systems. A voucher would give a kid a chance to opt out of a failing public school and use his education dollars to pay for a private school of his choice. This would level the playing field for poorer families. However, the unions can’t abide vouchers because public schools would lose students to private schools, which are not unionized.

Eliminating the twin evils of tenure and seniority would go a long way to improving the current teaching force, by ceding more power to individual school districts. Bad teachers should be fired and the good ones should get raises. Better teachers can also handle slightly larger classes, thereby reducing the overall number of teachers we need.

But saving the taxpayers money, leveling the playing field for the poor, ceding power to local education agencies and thus having fewer dues-paying members are solutions nowhere to be found in the union playbook.

The nation’s education woes began about forty years ago – right at the time the NEA became a major force in education. Certainly other social trends have contributed to the educational morass we find ourselves in, but the National Education Association is the main reason for it – all the time using young children as pawns while vigorously pursuing its political agenda. Despite all the warm and fuzzy platitudes they spew, it is obvious that the teachers unions are not terribly interested in the education of our children or helping them get out of poverty.

About the author: Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Teachers are Overpaid and Underpaid

A new study claims that public school teachers are overpaid. Are they? Depends.

An ongoing whine from teachers unions and their fellow travelers is that public school teachers don’t earn enough money. But according to Andrew Biggs, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute scholar and Jason Richwine, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, it is just not true. In fact, in a recently released study, they find that teachers are overpaid. Typically teachers have many perks like excellent healthcare and pension packages which aren’t counted as “income.” Armed with facts, charts and a bevy of footnotes, the authors make a very good case for their thesis. For example, they claim,

“Workers who switch from non-teaching jobs to teaching jobs receive a wage increase of roughly 9 percent, while teachers who change to non-teaching jobs see their wages decrease by approximately 3 percent.

“When retiree health coverage for teachers is included, it is worth roughly an additional 10 percent of wages, whereas private sector employees often do not receive this benefit at all.

“Teachers benefit strongly from job security benefits, which are worth about an extra 1 percent of wages, rising to 8.6 percent when considering that extra job security protects a premium paid in terms of salaries and benefits.

“Taking all of this into account, teachers actually receive salary and benefits that are 52 percent greater than fair market levels.”

Needless to say, the usual suspects are none too pleased with the report. A teacher-blogger going by New York City Educator calls his piece, “‘That’s Just Mean’: Bullies at the Heritage Foundation.” Okay, whatever.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan claims that

“…public school teachers are ‘desperately underpaid’ and has called for doubling teacher salaries.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten bashed the report, huffing that it’s full of “ridiculous assertions” says,

“The AEI report concludes that America’s public school teachers are overpaid — something that defies common sense — and uses misleading statistics and questionable research to make its case.

“If teachers are so overpaid, then why aren’t more “1 percenters” banging down the doors to enter the teaching profession? Why do 50 percent of teachers leave the profession within three to five years, an attrition rate that costs our school districts $7 billion annually?”

Kim Anderson, advocacy director at the National Education Association, who questions the reliability of the report, chimes in,

“Talented individuals turn away from this rewarding profession because they are forced to choose between making a difference in the lives of students and providing for their families.”

After a quick look at the negative responses, an obvious fix emerges: We should pay teachers by how effective they are in the classroom. By doing this, we would attract a more professional class of teachers. In every other profession in America, people are paid by how competent and productive they are. Good doctors earn more money than their less talented colleagues; good lawyers command higher fees than those who regularly lose their court cases, etc. Why do we make a special case for education – where competency is paramount?

It’s because teachers are positioned in our society like industrial workers, not professionals. Government run schools and the powerful teachers unions have coalesced to make teaching the equivalent of working in a glorified auto plant. Due to the one-size-fits-all nature of collective bargaining, we have an appalling system whereby teachers can make more money simply by logging years on the job and by taking useless professional development classes. Teacher quality throughout almost every school district in the country is a non-factor in teacher compensation.

Hence the real answer to the question, “Are teachers overpaid?” is no and yes. The good ones are most definitely underpaid and the mediocre and worse are most definitely overpaid. Andrew Biggs points this out,

“…across-the-board pay increases are hardly warranted. What is needed is pay flexibility, to reward the best teachers and dismiss the worst.”

In his review of the teacher pay study, AEI’s Rick Hess analyzes the rigidity of the current system,

“In a routine day, a 4th grade teacher who is a terrific English language arts instructor might teach reading for just 90 minutes. This is an extravagant waste of talent, especially when one can stroll down the hallway and see a less adept colleague offering 90 minutes of pedestrian reading instruction.”

On Jay Greene’s blog, Heritage’s Lindsey Burke sums it all up quite well,

“Effective teachers should be handsomely rewarded for the impact they are having on a child’s education. By reforming compensation policies in a way that accounts for the abilities of great teachers to improve student outcomes, we will ensure excellent teachers are richly compensated, and mediocre teachers have a strong incentive to improve.”

Teachers need to demand freedom from the government-teacher union monopoly. Until they escape from this highly unprofessional set-up, join other professionals and are paid according to their ability, they will continue to be treated as interchangeable parts. Yes, if they follow this advice, they may lose some of their union guaranteed perks. But in exchange, they will be treated as professionals with all the respect, esteem and compensation accorded to those in that class.

But in the meantime, we will continue to overpay bad and mediocre teachers and underpay the good ones. And the teachers unions and their allies will keep on bellyaching about yet another lousy state of affairs that they are responsible for.

About the author: Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.