What is a Sensible Education Policy?

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

Reading the paper this morning was somewhat frustrating and dismaying. This year, Connecticut will see perhaps some of the deepest cuts to public education in a long while. Some people see this as either sensible or just the way things must be.

I disagree. Schools will shrink; higher education institutions will be required to cut services and programs; many graduates in education will be unable to fill those spaces left by retirees.

The opposite should be the case. If the current system of education remains (this is a qualifier) then more recourses should be provided to schools; programs and services of higher education should be expanded, and, not only should retiree positions be filled, current gaps in teaching resources should grow to meet demand. This all sounds counterintuitive, of course. There’s a budget crisis, after all; the economy has tanked; thousands of people can’t find work.

However, will diminishing the system solve the above problems? Will, as Brian Clemow argues in this article, cutting union bargaining power solve the problems that tax payers face (assuming that government employees are not tax payers), which is the language of divide and conquer? Unfortunately, we won’t know this from reading the article, which amounts to little more than a complaint that union members just happen to be energetic voters.

Private sector unions are active in politics, too. However, their influence is much less, in part because only about one in 10 workers belong to a union, while all but a handful of state and local government employees in Connecticut are unionized.

More important, private sector employees don’t have a say in who becomes the CEO or board chairman of their company. Public sector employees do, in effect, and this has resulted in their obtaining benefits that the average taxpayer can only dream about.

Interesting enough, Clemow never steps back and asks whether private sector workers should have a voice in “who becomes the CEO.” That 50,000 workers control who “becomes CEO” is strained logic for obvious, arithmetic reasons. In addition, the author provides zero evidence to prove a cause and effect relationship between control of elected officials and benefits. He may want to believe this, but wanting doesn’t make it so. It’s also unclear from the article from whence the unions will get “billions in wages and benefits to avoid layoffs . . .” Which brings me back to my original point.

It is indeed possible to find the saving Clemow wants. A more progressive tax code might be a start, as I’ve argued before, or some acknowledgment of the housing bubble and healthcare costs. Another scenario might be to simple divorce control of educational services from government’s role. Yes, the government might simply legislate the responsibility of educating the citizenry from its responsibility, just as it might legislate away the requirement of a balanced budget or taxes on yoga.

Come Fall 2011, no schools. Thus no burden on the taxpayer.

Of course, people will say: “Come on. That’s extreme. That’s not what we mean.”

My question will be, “Well, what do you mean then?”

It may be that the entrepreneurs will show up ready to purchase all the buildings and the neglected equipment and open up shop, hiring out-of-work ex-government employees and many faculty and staff from private schools and colleges (most people don’t have the time to do this and teaching human beings the art of learning is not easy, as most parents and fiction writers know). What they will quickly find is that their business plans don’t add up and that the per-pupil cost of education at the moment is actually an understatement not just of dreams and fantasies but of “reality.” We could always try this and assess whether the forecasts were honest accountings.

Rather, I would suggest that if solid education is the goal then we should strive to do the best job possible not the job we currently do, which is working for high ideals on a fraying shoe string. This would require, however, some rethinking:

1. Sufficient staffing and resources
2. Raising the expectations of teaching degrees
3. Rethinking the “grade system”
4. Integrating schools into the hum and beat of their communities so that they are less schoolish and more bent toward creative problem solving and learning
5. Rethink managerial elitism, expertise, and hierarchies

I may be wrong, but my theory is that the more robust the learning (rather than technical schooling), the more beneficial the system is to society. But maybe I’m wrong.


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