Montana Politics

Why Public Schools are ‘Failing’, Pt. 1

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In the debate over Wisconsin, conservatives often point out that teachers have apparently ‘failed’, given the low ranking of American schools, and thus don’t deserve the privileges they enjoy now.

I’ll ignore for the moment the obvious analogies to other government sectors (General Atomics shouldn’t get paid until our Predator Drones kill bin Laden) to focus on reasons (besides the malice or incompetence on the part of teachers’ unions) our schools are no longer second to none.

The first is that they work with one of the most financially vulnerable segments of society – families with children.. I have to thank Lizard at 4&20 for turning me on to the article by Elizabeth Warren that documents how families with children are increasingly the most likely to suffer financial collapse.

I think it’s telling that the segment of society that is responsible for its continuation is the segment most adversely affected by our growing wealth disparities, and especially to our two largest sacrifices on the altar of the Free Market: Health Care and Higher Education. Both products are used disproportionately by families, both have increased in price much faster than inflation, and both are much more expensive than in countries less petrified by the thought government actually paying for something.

The result – our Public Schools are working with a school-aged population that is subject to far more stress than in other countries, even ones that are poorer in absolute terms. They are engaged, at our behest, in a truly quixotic mission to try to derive equal results from students whose lives, outside of school, are anything but. When kids don’t believe they have money for higher education, when they don’t have preventative medical care and thus miss more time from school with serious illnesses, when they can’t effectively keep track of their homework because they don’t have a consistent home, they are going to perform less well. And it has nothing at all to do with unions.

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The Polish Wolf

80 Comments

  • Try looking at the issues from another perspective. What has the increased unionization done to raise educational quality and return value for the ever increasing cost? Look at the Figure 2 chart here: http://reason.com/archives/2011/02/22/losing-the-… What do the average folks, outside of the teachers union, get for their taxes?

    You state without support or real context: "The result – our Public Schools are working with a school-aged population that is subject to far more stress than in other countries…" I look around the world and I am dumbfounded by your statement.

  • I was just reading an article that just 32% of Wisconsin 8th Graders are proficient in reading –

    Am I wrong in blaming the school system ?

    • Eric, do you support having a US Dept of Education?

      I just read that Alabama, Mississippi, Arizona, and a whole bunch of those anti-union ‘right- to-work-for-peanuts’ states have far worse scores than Wisconsin.

      http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/main2009/2010458.pdf (page #33 figure #23

      You would be right to be crediting Wisconsin with being above the average in the US. They must be doing something better than all those below average anti-union states.

  • "What has the increased unionization done to raise educational quality and return value for the ever increasing cost?"

    I answer your question with two more – where are unions stronger, Europe or the United States? Which region has generally higher test scores?

    Now, I don't think the Unions actually make the difference. I think it's a the stronger middle class.

    My support is this, Craig – in nearly every country that is beating us in test scores, there is a more effective social safety net that at very least provides for highly subsidized higher education, meaning that parents do not have to save tens of thousands of dollars if they want to send their kids to college. They generally have subsidized health care, so the potential for bankruptcy due to medical costs (the most common cause) isn't there. Divorce rates are generally lower, poverty rates are lower, crime rates are lower. That adds up to a lot fewer stress factors on school aged kids.

    And Eric – I find it funny that our school system is to blame for low levels of literacy, but our health care system couldn't possibly bet to blame for lower life expectancies and higher spending on health care than other countries.

    • Pee Dubya, you missed the point. Unions have grown by leaps and bounds in the US educational system since 1970. Compare the US education unions to their own track record of change. Again refer to Figure 2.

      Divorce rates are misleading as the rate of out of wedlock childbirth is rising: http://www.familylifeculturewatch.com/2009/06/out… Single parent homes just don't make the middle class.

      John Stossel did an ABC program back in 2006: http://abcnews.go.com/2020/Stossel/story?id=15003

      ===quote===

      To give you an idea of how competitive American schools are and how U.S. students performed compared with their European counterparts, we gave parts of an international test to some high school students in Belgium and in New Jersey.

      Belgian kids cleaned the American kids' clocks, and called them "stupid."

      We didn't pick smart kids to test in Europe and dumb kids in the United States. The American students attend an above-average school in New Jersey, and New Jersey's kids have test scores that are above average for America.

      Lov Patel, the boy who got the highest score among the American students, told me, "I'm shocked, because it just shows how advanced they are compared to us."

      The Belgian students didn't perform better because they're smarter than American students. They performed better because their schools are better. At age 10, American students take an international test and score well above the international average. But by age 15, when students from 40 countries are tested, the Americans place 25th.

      American schools don't teach as well as schools in other countries because they are government monopolies, and monopolies don't have much incentive to compete. In Belgium, by contrast, the money is attached to the kids — it's a kind of voucher system. Government funds education — at many different kinds of schools — but if a school can't attract students, it goes out of business.

      Belgian school principal Kaat Vandensavel told us she works hard to impress parents.

      She told us, "If we don't offer them what they want for their child, they won't come to our school." She constantly improves the teaching, saying, "You can't afford 10 teachers out of 160 that don't do their work, because the clients will know, and won't come to you again."

      "That's normal in Western Europe," Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby told me. "If schools don't perform well, a parent would never be trapped in that school in the same way you could be trapped in the U.S."

      ===end quote===

    • Rah for socialism!  Europe works better!  Let’s import it here!  Even better, lets all move there!  They probably don’t want us with our poor test scores.

  • 1) middle schools should be eliminated.

    2) high schools should insist on business casual except on Fridays.

    3) women and men in high school should be instructed in separate classrooms.

    4) school boards should have an elected representative from the high school student population

    5) teachers must be union members

    6) districts should have the flexibility to experiment with curricula

    7) American Indian languages should be part of the foreign language requirement

  • My last comment didn't appear. Here it is again.

    ========================

    Pee Dubya, you missed the point. Unions have grown by leaps and bounds in the US educational system since 1970. Compare the US education unions to their own track record of change. Again refer to Figure 2.

    Divorce rates are misleading as the rate of out of wedlock childbirth is rising: http://www.familylifeculturewatch.com/2009/06/outoutwedl... Single parent homes just don't make the middle class.

    John Stossel did an ABC program back in 2006: abcnews.go.com/2020/Stossel/story?id=1500338

    ===quote===

    To give you an idea of how competitive American schools are and how U.S. students performed compared with their European counterparts, we gave parts of an international test to some high school students in Belgium and in New Jersey.

    Belgian kids cleaned the American kids' clocks, and called them "stupid."

    We didn't pick smart kids to test in Europe and dumb kids in the United States. The American students attend an above-average school in New Jersey, and New Jersey's kids have test scores that are above average for America.

    Lov Patel, the boy who got the highest score among the American students, told me, "I'm shocked, because it just shows how advanced they are compared to us."

    The Belgian students didn't perform better because they're smarter than American students. They performed better because their schools are better. At age 10, American students take an international test and score well above the international average. But by age 15, when students from 40 countries are tested, the Americans place 25th.

    American schools don't teach as well as schools in other countries because they are government monopolies, and monopolies don't have much incentive to compete. In Belgium, by contrast, the money is attached to the kids — it's a kind of voucher system. Government funds education — at many different kinds of schools — but if a school can't attract students, it goes out of business.

    Belgian school principal Kaat Vandensavel told us she works hard to impress parents.

    She told us, "If we don't offer them what they want for their child, they won't come to our school." She constantly improves the teaching, saying, "You can't afford 10 teachers out of 160 that don't do their work, because the clients will know, and won't come to you again."

    "That's normal in Western Europe," Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby told me. "If schools don't perform well, a parent would never be trapped in that school in the same way you could be trapped in the U.S."

    ===end quote===

  • I guess I don't understand the argument you're making. Maybe that's because I am a union thug and high school teachers.

    Unions are bad for education because counties with highly-unionized workforces and education sectors beat American kids on tests?

    Ben Levin,a professor of Education Leadership in Canada refutes the myth that unions are to blame:

    But here’s an interesting observation. Virtually all the top performing countries on international education measures have strong teacher unions, including Finland, Korea, Japan, Canada, Australia and others. Of course such a relationship does not imply causation, but it does suggest that there is no necessary conflict between strong teacher unions and good outcomes. Moreover, some countries or sub-national units that took steps to weaken the influence of their unions did not demonstrate any subsequent improvements and in some cases, such as England, later had to take many measures to improve the situation of teachers to get an adequate supply and thus to improve student results.

  • I wonder why I am a union thug too, to be honest. The current GOP hostility towards unions is nothing new, of course, but its spread is troubling.

    I think you're evading my argument, though. The fact that American students are being outperformed by students from highly unionized countries suggest that unions are the not the reason American students are lagging behind.

    I would argue that it's far more likely that the biggest problem is poverty. Students without adequate nutrition and unstable home environments simply don't perform as well.

    Maybe the system isn't working, but it's certainly not because of unions.

  • Pogie, again, I don't care whether you are union are not. It's results that matter.

    As to evading your argument, huh???

    I pointed to John Stossel's 20/20 program. Competition for funding makes the difference even in unionized countries.

  • John Stossel might be the least credible source you could bring to the table. but I'll take a look once I have some better Internet access.

    But what about poverty? Do you discount the impact of poverty on educational outcomes? If anything, this wave of cuts in social services is going to do more damage to educational results than the efforts to crush unions ever could.

    Perhaps we agree that unionization isn't this issue. I didn't get that impression from your first two posts. I'd contend, as does the Wolf, that poverty matters more than the lack of competition.

  • Craig, did you ever listen to Dane Cook (back when people listened to Dane Cook) about 'nothing fights'? That's what this is. You made a point – European kids learn better than our kids do. But the fix that is being proposed in Wisconsin, weakening the power of teachers unions, doesn't make any sense because Unionization of teachers is one of the few things we have in common with European countries. To find the source of the disparity, should we not look for differences between the systems?

    Now that we can all agree that there is no evidence that teacher unions cause this problem, lets move on to what could be. Craig & Pogie both offer compelling possibilities. Perhaps the system in Belgium, that supports competition between schools, is worth a try, but I wonder how it would work in districts that can barely sustain one high school as it is.

    In my personal experience, poverty of students is at very least a contributing factor in student's failure to learn. And given that poverty levels are one of the biggest differences between Europe and America, I would say that's a pretty good starting point for looking at the differences.

    I would also throw out there – in my experience, few European students idolize thugs or gangsters or pimps or hustlers. Many American students do.

    • For your last point, I think I'd be inclined to argue that the tendency to idolize gangsters and pimps is likely to be rooted in poverty, too. If students (and their families) don't see advancement potential, this seems like a likely outcome.

      I do want to make clear, though, that I don't think students who grow up in poverty are more likely to fail because of some deficiency or cultural difference. It's resources and access-pure and simple.

    • Pee Dubya, I just figured out how to post a comment without having to join one the preferred portholes.

      Dana Cook has nothing on Ma and Pa Kettle.

      As to your experience with European youth, I have traveled in Great Britain, France, Denmark, Germany, and Italy. My experience differs dramatically from your.

  • Pogie, why are you a union thug? Can’t you just be a normal union guy and pay your dues without the “other stuff?” Who cares so long as those that pay your wages and benefits receive demonstrable value for the investment? See again Figure 2?

    As to my point, read the Reason article and John Stossel’s 20/20 link.

    I don’t think anyone cares whether teachers are union or not so long as the student achievement record tracks the cost record in Figure 2.

  • As a former Montana high school teacher (and president of my local teacher's union) recalling that I had precious few "free minutes" in my school day, I have been wanting to ask you:
    In light of your prolific political writing and blogging, how much, if any, of your political activities are occuring while you are "on the the public payroll clock"?

    Same question for your online business.

    What measures do you take, if any, to insulate students from your intransigent political faith?

    Are you tenured and, if so, were you as vocal about your political faith before you achieved tenure?

    • How unfortunate for your students that you were such a lousy manager, Bill. Management skills are the marks of effective teachers. Only myopic boards and their superintendents, whose salaries are often above par among public employees, hire educators without the ability to balance ethics with creative instruction techniques. Intransigence is usually reserved for those not willing to expose ideas to public view; like the Republican legislators stonewalling their own constituents, for example.

    • Bill-

      Thanks for asking, despite the insinuation. I conduct my online business and political blogging outside of school. People who've been reading here for a long time will notice that most of my posts happen between midnight and 2 a.m. during the school year. The exception has been this year, when I have written posts overnight and scheduled them to be posted during the day for more exposure.

      And I work damn hard at teaching. I suspect anyone who's ever been in my class would agree. I have little idea what a "free minute" is, actually. My results as a teacher speak for themselves.

      Intransigent political faith? Actually, my political leanings aren't faith-based. They're based on reason.

      As for protecting my students, I do this remarkable thing–I let them discuss and debate and decide what they believe. You'll be happy to know that my students who wrote propaganda papers criticizing Michael Moore and Nancy Pelosi did as well as the ones who criticized President Bush. The question wasn't their ideas; it was their writing.

      I am tenured. I wasn't blogging before tenure, but I did exercise my First Amendment rights. I believe that even teachers are entitled to express political beliefs and even advocate for those beliefs in the public sphere.

      Although your questions certainly weren't asked in good faith, thanks for asking.

      • Thank you for the candid responses. I am just a seeker of knowledge and have many questions, a requisite, I hope you agree, to sound reasoning.

        You must admit that the proliferation of your writing begs the questions. And who better to serve as a teacher of english than one who loves to write. Now, of course, I am wondering when/where do you find time to sleep.

        As to whether you harbor an "intransigent political faith" or merely "political leanings" I shall leave to the purview of your readers.

        However much I agree with your statement regarding a teacher's (or any public employee's for that matter) right to express their political or other beliefs in the public sphere, I am always suspicious of anyone, regardless the direction of their "political leanings", that is so compelled to propound a seemingly inexhaustable litany of discourse, upon a wide spectrum of political issues, each embued with similar levels of unwavering certainty and high emotional zeal, that it appears fanatical. Juxtapose such an individual on a daily basis with a captive audience of impressionable youth and, my veracity notwithstanding, I am going to ask questions.

        Finally, may I note that I used the word "insulate", referring to your students, you substituted the word "protect" in your response. The implications of the substitution are indeed curious. The latter meaning to shield from exposure to injury, damage, or destruction, the former simply meaning to prevent or reduce passage, transfer, or leakage. I am not insinuating anything, just making an observation.

        Again, your response is most appreciated.

        • Bill, FWIW, I don't much cotton to slimy inuendo. Don and I don't get along but that's another matter. If you have a case to make, please make it without the BS. Cards on table. Thank you.

        • I think there are a number of unfounded premises for your argument.

          You describe my writing as "a seemingly inexhaustable litany of discourse," which is interesting, given that last month, my most prolific month in nearly six years of blogging, saw an average of two posts per day. It's hardly some "fanatical" crusade to write 10 paragraphs a day, right?

          I also reject your premise that my–or any students–are a "captive audience of impressionable youth." They are far from that. They are active thinkers with their own opinions and values. I have no desire to change either of those. My goals as a teacher are simple: to help them develop their analytical abilities and knowledge.

          Finally, to assume that anyone approaches material with absolute objectivity is silly. We all have biases and interests that color how we present material and even the material we present. I would argue that educators who tell themselves they are being entirely neutral are either lying to themselves or not terribly bright.

          The key is to let students know that they can question and challenge anyone's ideas in class, whether it's Henry David Thoreau, the textbook, a classmate, or me.

          I'm thrilled that many of my students have become actively involved in politics after high school–and that some are Democrats and some are Republicans. Why? Because I did my little part to help sharpen their minds and their convictions.

          Finally, I might ask you this question. Given your criticism of my approach here (I believe you referred to my writing as being characterized by "unwavering certainty and high emotional zeal"), why not have an argument about an issue, rather than questioning my professionalism and ethics without any knowledge about either?

          I'd be happy to engage on any of the subjects that I am so clearly wrong about.

          • I question so that I may build a basis upon which to reason and build my opinions.

            My opinion is that for a teacher actively promoting his "political leanings" (I love how benign that sounds) in the "public sphere" you are pretty defensive.

            My opinion is that unless you teach only electives your students are indeed "captive".

            The law is, and I concur, that minors are not eligible to enter into contracts for good reason.

            I agree with your opinion that high school students are active thinkers with their own opinions and values and should be taught and encouraged to question, evaluate, analyze, and synthesize. But, there is an imbalance of power between the student and teacher (again, recognized in law) that teachers must be ever cognizant of (it would appear that you are not when you challenge my adjective "impressionable") and respect. You are correct, I do not know what kind of a teacher you are, but you do voluntarily publish how you think and write. Which is exactly what makes me suspicious and motivates my inquiries.

            You want specifics, your "poll" question is a perfect example. It echoes much of your writing. It reflects a closed loop thought process far removed from "absolute objectivity" and demonstrates a level of unwavering blind certainty and emotional zeal, so as to suggest fanatasism. Yes, it is silly to to assume that anyone approaches teaching with absolute objectivity but that is no excuse of not aiming for the target. Perhaps you do stop at the phone booth and change in the benevolent Clark Kent before class. I hope so.

            Hey, I am just asking questions and holding up the mirror to a political blogger in the public sphere that happens to be a high school teacher. I sincerely do not envy the balancing act of your strong (sorry) faith like political convictions and your professional duty. Perhaps its the teacher in me trying to get you to "open your mind".

            • Yeah, I am little defensive, Bill. You came here under the guise of "just asking questions," but it's fairly clear that you are impugning my integrity and professionalism. That's entirely inappropriate, given your lack of knowledge about me or my classroom. Let's not pretend you're "just asking questions," Socrates.

              I do "voluntarily" publish what I think. It's unfortunate that a public official finds that "suspicious." I would think you should champion freedom of expression. Because I have strong opinions about the future of this state and its political leadership, you choose to label me a fanatic. I choose to label myself as someone who is engaged. Again, if writing 10 paragraphs a day about Montana politics is fanatical, you've got a peculiar definition of the term.

              The poll is satire. Heavy-handed certainly, but it satirizes the inane polls that Representative Rehberg sends out where the only answer serves his agenda. It's a joke, Bill. Don't condemn my thought process because of your inability to see that.

              If you want to engage on a real policy or political question some time, I look forward to it. If not, I'd say this discussion won't go any further.

              A few questions for you, though. I assume you have strong, deep religious faith of some kind or another. You've probably even publicly professed them. I also assume that you had strong political views when you taught. Are we to assume that you possessed a power that I and other teachers do not?

              Do you similarly assume that other educators involved in political or religious life are incapable of separating politics from their jobs?

            • Bill – when your personal attacks lead Craig to come to Pogreba's defense, you ought to learn you've gone too far.

              Considering that unlike you, there are people here who have observed Don as a teacher, you are singularly unqualified to make your insinuations.

              As far as your discussion on objectivity, I must disagree. 'Aiming for' objectivity makes one largely incapable of admitting one's own biases. On the other hand, accepting ones biases and openly admitting them allows students to take that knowledge into account when evaluating your statements. The majority of teachers on the other hand act as though they are unbiased, and so what biases they do have, generally the biases most white, middle class people hold, reinforcing the belief that these views are 'normal'.

              If Don did change into 'benign Clark Kent', he would be trying to hide his biases, thus doing his students a profound disservice. His writing on this blog, however, does not reflect the opinions he shows in class. He teaches AP classes, primarily, and his students often lean liberal. He is often among the most moderate and even conservative voices in the class and generally defends the more conservative opinions from unconsidered liberalism.

              And if you read the blog more carefully, Bill, you'd note that the opinions expressed are not shockingly liberal. He doesn't criticize Rehberg for his political conservatism but for his ineffectiveness and grandstanding. Indeed, his posts rarely criticize mainstream conservatism and focus instead on dirty political tactics and outright radicalism.

            • "I question so that I may build a basis upon which to reason and build my opinions."

              What a load of BS. Leading questions that suggestion a particular answer are anything but building blocks of reasoned opinion.

              If this is how you are minding the store at the PSC, no wonder there is such internal polarization and strife.

  • For the record, I really hated it when adults thought of me as an innocent, impressionable youth who needed to be told what to believe(whatever that might be) or be protected from the big, complicated world. I really liked it when they asked me to form and share my own opinions, shared their opinions and recognized how close I really was to adulthood.

    I think teachers deserve the "privileges" of unions and certainly aren't to blame for the failings of the system. In my opinion, there are many things contributing to failure. There's the breakdown of family and community in the U.S., the hierarchy of the system that puts the learner at the bottom with the least control and the teacher just above that with only slightly more control, there's the overzealous focus on structure and, of course, there's poverty… to name a few things.

    That's my opinion… much of which I formed while still in high school.

  • I still remember the first teacher I had who treated me as someone with genuinely interesting things to say. Sure, he knew more than I did about almost everything, but he opened my mind to the possibility that I could contribute and think for myself.

    We do students a tremendous disservice when we act like they are incapable of engaging with ideas and thinking for themselves.

  • You guys are all overlooking the 800lb Gorilla in the corner –

    32 % of 8th Graders in Wisconsin are proficient at reading.

    Their system is not working.

    • Oddly, there is absolutely no connection to the suggestion we should get rid of collective bargaining or lay off mass numbers of teachers to that argument…

    • Hey Eric, maybe contribute something some day. We are going over the reasons why students may not be successful in school. You are repeating the same statistic, which as 'reader' pointed out has no connection at all to unions. You might as well propose getting rid of desks, because they have desks in Wisconsin, and Wisconsin schools are failing.

      • Polish Wolf, if they are not getting the job done, and 68% of 8th graders are not proficient at reading, they need to fire mass quantities of teachers in Wisconsin.

        However – with their current system, it's nearly impossible to fire a poor teacher.

        I think what my HS counselor told me is turning out to be true I quote;

        "You should get a degree, because then if you can't find anything you are good at you can at least get a teaching certificate"

        • Eric, the troops in Afghanistan are also not getting the job done. Do we need to a) fire massive numbers of them or b) look at the situation on the ground and see how we can make it possible for them to get the job done?

          Now apply your same logic to teachers.

        • Eric: Let me give you a little insight into schools. It isn't collective bargaining, or the union, or any of the other fantasies that the right have dreamed up that give local associations a lot of mythical control that they simply don't have. The missing link here is school administration. There is a process (I believe it is call "due process" for those of you claiming to be the great defenders of rights) to go through to fire ineffective teachers but for whatever reason (laziness, overworked, understaffed… take your pick… there are plenty of opinions about this, ask your local teacher) the process is rarely followed to do it. There is absolutely no evidence that schools with weak associations and poor teacher's contracts have better test scores than those that have strong unions and strong associations. In fact, what little evidence exists is in the other direction.

          Listen, hate unions if you want, I won't stop you, but stop pretending this is about accountability or performance or test scores or if kids can read. If it was about those things, you would be coming to us with actual solutions, not ridiculous arguments about collective bargaining hurting kids.

        • I tried to say this earlier but I think it failed – our soldiers are not ‘getting the job done’ in Afghanistan, either. Does that mean we need to fire mass quantities of soldiers, or that the task we are giving them cannot be accomplished with the resources they are provided?

          • It's policies that have failed in Afghanistan, not the soldiers. They conduct the missions assigned. Your comparison is without merit.

          • By the way PW, I have emailed Aaron Flint with a link to your comment who is over in Afghanistan interviewing and writing about Montana soldiers stationed there. Perhaps he can collect some perspective from them.

            • Indeed, Craig, I agree with you wholeheartedly – our soldiers are certainly not to blame for our failures in Afghanistan. They were given a very difficult and nebulous mission and have not gotten the support they need to fulfill it. Now, Eric is attempting to say that merely failing to accomplish a given task means that the people entrusted with the task are to blame. I point out that that is a standard we would never hold for our army, and for good reason – individuals often cannot be blamed for failing to turn around near impossible odds. And I think that applies every bit as much to teachers as to soldiers – putting a reliable end to an insurgency and convincing a girl whose father is addicted to meth that Romeo and Juliet is worth her time are both rather daunting tasks.

              • Pee Dubya, thanks for being a stand up guy. Those Jesuits taught you well. Keep the posts coming and I'll do my best to give you a semblance of counterpoint.

                As to your equalization of teachers and soldiers, I don't think teachers have anyone shooting at them. But to carry your analogy further, do you see the teacher union bosses equal to the military command structure? If so, how do the front line teachers respond to their commanders?

  • “I don’t think teachers have anyone shooting at them” That’s why I didn’t say their jobs were equally difficult – merely that their chances of success were equally small.

    But I can’t answer specific questions about unions, because I’m not part of one. I have only been part of one union in my life, and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union really commanding. I did skip my mandatory union breaks occasionally, but that’s the extent of my relationship with unions.

    I think my bosses (various levels of administration) are more like my ‘commanders’. Though I don’t believe I obey their ‘orders’ as well as your average soldier does.

  • Congratulations to the caretakers of this blog. The exchanges above make perhaps the best blog comment interaction I have ever seen, intelligent, witty and brutal.

  • A company planned to move to Chandler  AZ and hire 2000 employees. They sent a team  in to accept applications from the work force. Then publicly stated they were going to build in Oregon because a majority of work applicants in AZ could not “compose a sentence”.

  • Hope you do not mind an Englishman intruding in this US discussion. I hope I can bring a UK perspective on your debate. First. Unions. I do not know how strong they are in the States. In UK they were once in education very strong but today, as recent disputes over pensions show, they are a bit of a damp squid. They remain strong in primary schools but are increasingly weaker in the older aged secondary sector for kids aged 11 and upwards. At the margin unionisation does have an effect on the quality of teaching. When unions were strong, before Mrs Thatcher clipped their wings in the early 1980s, working to contract did mean that kids suffered in such areas as sport music drama because teachers refused to do these things out of hours. As I implied the Thatcher government changed all that by imposing new terms of conditions on teachers as well as changing the law on unions. British educational standards for most students in the middle band have undeniably improved since those changes. I would not though dream of saying this is a matter of cause and effect. The improvement in more complex though the decline of union power helped Yet there is here two groups where improvement has not been great. One is the highest achievers. British education was generally elitist. When I went up to university 2 per cent of my age group went. Today it is 42. My education was at a depth that students today cannot imagine. More worrying though for our society is the 10 to 20 per cent at the bottom end. They are often bright kids who achieve precisely nothing except a life in gangs and in rioting and prison. These our education fails. The UK has the highest length of compulsory education on earth and yet these people have no qualifications. This I would suggest has nothing to do with union power or not and more to do with the perception of education. I throw this out as a thought. When I went to school and I am a white male from an inner city area of London all my teachers were men. Today in all schools most are women. This is not to be sexist but boys, especially those from broken homes, need male role models. For this 20 per cent education is perceived as a female thing while their role models are their gang leaders.

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