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12/11/2003

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lerxst

On NCLB:

This is really DEAN's issue for the taking because he understands it extremely well and has laid out a plan for its reform. Its yet another issue where the media and the pundits have ignored Dean's SUBSTANCE.

I posted on Dean's plan here:
http://econ4dean.typepad.com/econ4dean/2003/11/deans_plan_to_r.html

In my view the failings of NCLB are actually more serious in the incentives than in the lack of funding.

I am not convinced that even the accountability really works based on the evidence out of Chicago's program which seems to show the test score gains are concentrated in partiular types of test questions that reflect teaching to the test and the real evidence in Houston.

This is a link to the New York Times piece explaining that even the tests score gains in Houston were a mirage. By the way, this link shouldn't rot:

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/03/national/03HOUS.html?ex=1385787600&en=970c7bb221c4325a&ei=5007&partner=USERLAND

On Vouchers:

As an economist who has read the studies on this I don't understand why the sort of "serious" minded pundits keep thinking that even though its not PC,...vouchers work or hold great promise. Just because teachers unions are against it doesn't mean it works!

There is real empirical evidence from randomized trials that show it doesn't work. The right-wing think tank studies e.g. Manhattan Institute stuff never holds up to scrutiny and don't end up in quality academic journals. Here is a great article worth reading on how the right distorts the evidence on vouchers:

http://www.irs.princeton.edu/krueger/press1.html

On higher ed:

I think all the candidates seem to be talking about this and in the policy details, community college is implicitly the true target...but maybe they need to spell this out

I hope to post on this issue in the next week or so at Economists for Dean explaining at least the economics studies on the effects of tuition subsidies on enrollment becuase there has been great research done on this.

R  Wells

Decembrist's thoughts on higher ed, especially the community colleges, makes a lot of sense. However, I second Lerxst's misgivings on the voucher issue; at the very least, the word is still out results wise. Why not just say that, instead of slipping in the positive thoughts, however qualified?

I also didn't find the Washington Monthly article that convincing as a Democratic think-piece. However much it was trying to convince Democrats of the opportunity presented by even a qualified embrace, it struck me the same as if it came from other side of the aisle, or from Cato. The turning of terms--using vouchers to teach private schools the virtues of a public system rather than the other way around--seems not to confront the main issue, which is the lack of committment--philosophical, political, financial, to a public school system, especially in urban areas.

On more practical-political matters, why not go at the education question by recognizing the difficulties teachers face, especially in underfunded urban contexts. Their unions fight defensively in bad conditions and it seems important to recognize that, and push for policies that create conditions in the classroom that allow students to learn and teachers to teach. And to come at one of Decembrist's recent themes (which I think gives away too much ground to the center-right consensus), how could these not include something on the order of "more" resources? Perhaps some of Decembrist's ideas on tax reform might help with the restructuring?

With some justification, the Teachers' unions see vouchers as a union busting move; at the very least, if vouchers are to be workable, it needs to be shown that they are not, which, given their basic logic, might not be possible. Teachers and their union should be seen as an ally, not an "interest group" to be shed, as if they represented the same kind of power as Big Pharma or Lockheed Martin. Democrats need to help teachers' unions redefine their mission as defending a profession and a public calling rather than a sinecure. In the Wash Monthly piece--especially in the side bar--the union position was pure caricature. That kind of characterization, alone, suggests to me that vouchers--however democratic the language of choice sounds--remain a neo-con trap door.

Marc

The teacher's union is is far scarier than 'Big Pharma' or Lockheed Martin. I'm not a Republican, but a huge reason I will never be a Democrat is the teachers' union, more specifically the Los Angeles UTLA. Tragically, they put their interests before those of their students and I am perplexed why they should have so much control over policy--being a good teacher does not mean you are a good manager.

The worst schools get the worst teachers because of the unions, leaving poor and minority students bereft. Initiative on the classroom level and on the principal level is quashed. Teachers object to meeting to discuss students during lunch. Failing teachers (yes, they exist--how could it be otherwise?) are impossible to fire, as are failing principals, all because of the unions. Parents cannot volunteer to do yard work around the school because of unions. How does this help children? Credentialing is a joke, all because of the union.

The union acts as if it is entitled, and that very attitude bespeaks an ugly callousness. The schools in LA have already lost two generations. Scores are improving very, very slightly, but conditions are awful.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for collective bargaining, but setting such important public policy as education at the mercy of collective bargaining is terribly misguided and has actively oppressed our minority communities.

Regards,

Marc

Anthony

The biggest problem the Democrats have on education policy is that parents believe in testing, and teachers' unions don't. Marc points out a common response that many parents who investigate what actually goes on in urban schools have. The union is the primary impediment to education.

The union claims that "teaching to the test" forces teachers to abandon more holistic and educationally superior methods in favor of cramming students full of facts which they may face on the tests. The reality is that testing forces teachers to abandon incoherent syllabi, lackadaisical classroom management, and paper-shuffling in the teachers' lounge in favor of actually teaching kids something.

Most parents/voters/taxpayers are judged at work by the results they acheive. Teachers' unions prevent teachers from being subject to the same level of scrutiny - a teacher can be fired for hugging a student for half a second longer than the sexual harassment manual allows, but if a teacher spends thirty years babysitting her pupils rather than teaching them, she'll continue to get annual raises every year.

Unless the Democrats are willing to tell the teachers unions to go pound sand on the testing and accountability issues, they're not going to be able to make any traction against Bush on this issue among potential swing voters.

Contrary to R Wells, many urban schools are not underfunded. Here in the Bay Area, San Francisco has $10,000 per pupil per year, yet still produces poorly educated students. Oakland, one of the worst districts in the state, has more than the state average of funding.

R  Wells

Re Anthony and Marc: Sure, there are problems with Teachers' Unions. Rather than join in the chorus of standard criticism, I said that Democrats should work with unions to improve public schools, so that teachers could look at their jobs as something more than sinecures, to be protected by the union. Beyond that, one of things about attacks on teachers and their unions that always bothers me is that the issues are often taken out of context, leaving all the blame for public school problems, especially in urban areas, on unions. I write from NYC. Overcrowding; dilapidated schools; the local concentrations of extreme poverty: are these all the fault of the teachers' union?? And the unpleasant fact of the matter, contra Anthony is that teachers in tough schools in NYC (all those lazy "hers") are, functionally speaking, babysitters, given the intellectual preparedness and the overall emotional condition of many of the poor children they are charged with teaching. An interesting question might be: how shrill are the anti-union cries in affluent school districts??? Teachers don't work in a ideal world, where performance can be rated as if all classrooms were alike, and all filled with well fed, well-housed and willing to learn children. The union is not designed to fight problems outside the work lives of its members; all it can do is protect them. If anything, perhaps that is the real problem with urban Teachers' unions, albeit one that is historical, not so much the result of individual kinds of failures (greed, laziness, what have you). One of the things a Democrat could do with the Teachers' Union (if both were energized to do so) would mount a fight that ties the success of public education to living wage and housing struggles, and a fight against poverty and socio-economic inequality generally.

All things being equal--who needs unions?? But let's not fall into the trap of thinking, like the businessmen who intellectually and financially drive the voucher movement, that they are. So much for swing voters, I guess.

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