Thursday, April 30, 2009

The problem with public schooling: Entrenched Interests

There may not be an institution in America that is better at self-preservation than the public school system. The drumbeat from the educational establishment is deafening and constant: More teachers, more schools, more administrators, more supplies, more, more, more. All accompanied by dire warnings of educational apocalypse (as if that is not already happening) and plaintive pleas to “think of the children” (as if the NEA is really thinking of the children as anything but job security). Think of the tone of campaigns for school levies. They are masterpieces of heartstring tugging on the one hand and making you feel like a heartless villain if you vote against them. There is rarely talk of accountability or how else the budget could be structured. It is always mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ money.

The biggest partner in the self-preservation and perpetual expansion of the public school system are the education unions, i.e. the National Education Association. The teachers unions, with enormous budgets and their hands in the wallets of virtually every public school teacher in America, can bring to bear enormous pressure to perpetuate full-employment for teachers, at the national level as well as in the local school district.

At the national level, it is the rare politician who will take on the enormous war chest and emotional appeals of the teachers unions. Better to let the kids in your district or state languish in cruddy schools than face a challenge in your re-election bid funded by the NEA. There is a reason that no real debates on education policy are allowed, why charter schools fit an uphill battle, why vouchers are killed again and again no matter how much sense they make. Public schools are one of those direct expenses to taxpayers that they are forced to pay for whether they use the service or not. If you don’t drive and therefore you don’t use the roads, you also don’t buy gas, so you don’t pay for the roads. But childless adults or parents who pay for private schools or parents who homeschool pay for the public schools but don’t use them.

At the local level, the union has the power of the strike and a teachers strike is a powerful thing. The last thing most modern American parents want to deal with is their kid home unexpectedly. The unions know that and use it. When teachers go on strike, and little Johnny is home and mom is not because she works outside of the home to “make ends meet”, parents get irate because they are inconvenienced. They might be mad at the teachers but it is the school board and administration that they call. If the UAW goes on strike, big deal. It doesn’t impact the average person. When a school goes on strike, there is an immediate and unpleasant impact on families.

When education reform is proposed that threatens the public school monopoly, or threatens the funding of public schools or might decrease the number of unionized teachers, it is attacked without regard to merit as "hurting kids". Pretty much the only "reforms" that the system will get behind are ones where improved education is irrelevant and where the only pertinent factor is how much more the public school can receive in funding.

Public schools are big business for a lot of people and like any big business the public school system defends its market share fiercely. The problem is that children are not boxes of Trix or dishwashers or laptops. They are people who have been turned into a commodity by the very institution that so many parents trust to educate their children.


Steve Martin said...

Excellent commentary on the state of public education.

Thank you!

Arthur Sido said...

Steve, I am just getting started!