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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Why are vouchers bad for private schools?

Vouchers have long been heralded as a panacea for the ills of the nation's education system. This is an understandable, if illogical, position to take. Knee jerk conservatives like the idea of privatizing anything; if one suggested privatizing the military, there would be a few proponents on the Republican side. Therefore, when it is observed that there is room for improvement in the nation's educational attainment, many conservatives suggest that exposing education to the pressures of market forces would be a viable solution. This sounds great in theory. Then again, so did communism.
The public school system is suffering because it is run and regulated by the government. Remember, this is the same government that is suggesting privatization. That is akin to saying, "Wow, we really screwed this up! Let's have someone else deal with the problems we created." The problem with this mentality is that government is incapable of leaving education to the educators. If government could keep its hands off a privatized system, that would be one thing. But it can't.
Vouchers will force those schools that accept them into taking students who do not fit the private school mold. What is worse, private schools will become dependent upon public funds. Once this happens, the government will have the leverage to force private schools into the same policies which have hampered the effectiveness of public schools. There will be no safe harbor for the students formerly protected by the private school system.
On a positive note, vouchers will once and for all demonstrate whether the demographics of private schools are a primary cause for superior results, an assertion made by many educators in the public school system, myself included. However, I doubt that such an outcome would have much of an effect on the opinions of voucher proponents. Reality and politics do not often intermingle.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Teacher Venting

Imagine a workplace in which you are a manager, perhaps a fast-food restaurant. Your staff doesn't earn enough from the job to really want to be present, and are often late to work. Many of them do the bare minimum to stay employed, and a few do virtually nothing. Some are so verbally abusive and antagonistic that their mere presence at work keeps the rest of the employees from doing what needs to be done. Oh, and one final detail--you aren't allowed to fire any one of them.

Now let us complicate the situation. Your next-level manager walks in randomly each day with an iPad. He stays for one minute and takes a snapshot of what he sees. If you are discussing morale with your employees rather than frying burgers, you are marked as "ineffective" at that moment, and an email is sent to you informing you of the assessment. (A copy is also saved for your annual evaluation.) While you like your next-level manager and understand that this requirement comes from the corporate HQ, you are nevertheless worried from day to day about what these snapshots will make people think about your managerial skills.

A few times a year, this manager also stays for an hour or so to observe you managing the restaurant, randomly and without warning. Each and every thing you do is marked on the iPad. Every moment is catalogued and every word scrutinized. If you complete your scheduled tasks early and begin another task to use the extra time productively, you risk being marked down as "not following the stated objectives" and therefore as "ineffective." In the meantime, your employees are allowed to behave as usual, only being authorized for firing by your supervisor after several months of making life miserable for you and the rest of your store, or perhaps as the result of bringing drugs or weapons to work (although this has been pardoned in the past because of HQ's wishes). If sales do not reach a certain goal, it is determined that you are an ineffective manager and therefore should be fired. After all, you should be able to motivate your employees to do their job--that's what you are paid for, right? (Let's ignore for the moment that there are no consequences for them regardless of sales goals.)

Each day you come to work dreading not only the prospect of dealing with those few truly problematic employees, but also dreading how, when, and where your supervisor will drop in, what precisely will be happening at that moment, and whether or not it meets his criteria for an "effective" manager. You spend hours and hours past your shift trying your best to reach sales goals and plan each second of time in such a way that your supervisor will see and appreciate your efforts. You believe he truly does, but is constrained by the format of HQ's assessment procedures. While you once enjoyed your job, even taking a great deal of pride in it, you are beginning to wonder if you chose the right career path. It seems corporate is doing its best to make its managers look bad to justify firing them and hiring someone cheaper.

The scenario I have just described is a summary of the average teacher's life in Indiana. Many are beginning the search for a new profession. The state ("corporate") is sabotaging the teachers so it can hire charter schools (which, in Indiana at least, are generally less effective--see ISTA data for more details). Politicians, immune from the real consequences of their actions, play with education like a puppet on a string to manipulate perceptions and therefore voters.

Now, in the "world of business," this would never happen. Managers get to hire and fire. Supervisors expect results, but do not hover obsessively. Common sense prevails because otherwise business would never get done and profits would not be made. Effective managers would leave, turnover would be high, and the cost of training new managers would become excessive, cutting into the profit margin. Yet we are told that teachers should be as accountable as private employees. They are. They are, in fact, more accountable than almost any other profession I can imagine.

Sorry if I sound "whiny." I suppose the manager in this scenario would simply be "whining" or "making excuses" for complaining about his lot in life as well. I suppose, in this economy, I should just be happy to be employed. Hopefully, depending upon the whims of state and federal government, I will at least have that to console me for the time being.

Monday, October 3, 2011

United States in a Voluntary Recession

That's right. I said it. We're in an unnecessary, voluntary recession. Why? We elected a socialist to fix a capitalist economy. Allow me to explain a few basic facts about how market capitalism works.

1. Recessions happen periodically and are good for a free market. Recessions allow the business world to trim the fat and force business to become more efficient. Inefficient companies are trimmed much like dead limbs on a tree, making room for newer, more innovative firms. By propping up the dying limbs, we extended the death cycle and delayed the growth cycle. Bailing out private companies (or having the government buy them out) was a terrible idea. You can't bounce back if you never hit bottom.

2. Businesses hire when making profits and fire when profits are low. When we propose punitive taxes on "big business," what we are really doing is taking away the capital that businesses would otherwise spend on expansion. If a business is making lots of money, it makes sense to expand its activities to make even more money. Production requires more workers, so jobs are created. When we decide to take away profits, we prevent expansion and kill jobs.

3. The housing bubble was the direct result of legislation requiring lending institutions to make low-income loans. Low-income loans are inherently risky. Thus, banks had to find ways to profit from them. It turns out that bundling such loans and selling them as investments was highly profitable. Such a pyramid scheme was bound to burst, and it did. However, it would never have started without government interference in the mortgage business.

I could go on for several pages, but I believe you get the hint. The recession will go on until the government stops creating economic disincentives.