Posts tagged ‘NEA’

Fake News vs. Mischaracterized News

I wrote last week that I thought the whole "fake news" thing was just another excuse for censorship from the Left.  I think the problem in online political discourse is not so much with "fake news" but mis-characterized news -- ie the problem is not the news itself but the headline and spin that are layered on top of it.

From time to time I get absolutely inundated with comments on some post from folks who are not regular readers.  When I read these comments, my first question is, "did they even read the article?"  And you know what I have learned?  They did not.  Someone on some other web site has written some odd summary of what I have written, spun to fit whatever narrative they are pushing, and then sent folks to my site, who comment on the article as if that 3rd party summary was an accurate precis of the article, eliminating the need for anyone to actually read it.  The article I wrote years ago called the Teacher Salary Myth still to this day generates hostile comments and emails because the NEA and various other organizations love to link it with some scare summary like "this author is happy you can't afford to feed your family" and send 'em on over to troll.

Here is my experience from reading most partisan websites on both sides of the aisle:  the facts of an article linked, if you really read it, seldom match the headline that sent me over to it.  Here is an example I pick only because it is the most recent one in my news feed.  Apparently, according to blog headlines all over, a professor at Rutgers threatened on twitter to kill all white people and was thus dragged off to well-deserved psych evaluation.   The Breitbart headline, for example, was:  "Rutgers University Professor Taken in for Psych Evaluation for Tweets Threatening to Kill White People."

But if you read even their own article, you can find the tweet in question:  "will the 2nd amendment be as cool when i buy a gun and start shooting at random white people or no…?”  Yes, I know it is horrible that a professor at a major university has so little facility with English, but beyond that I am not sure how any reasonable observer can take this as a threat.  He is clearly making a point that folks might change their opinion on gun control if lots of white folks, rather than black folks I assume, got shot.  I actually think he is wrong -- people would have the opposite reaction -- but it is true that a far higher percentage of blacks fall victim to gun violence than whites and I don't think this formulation of his is an unacceptable way to raise this topic.  It is really no different than when I asked, any number of times, how New Yorkers' opinion of stop and frisk would change if it was done at the corner of 5th and 50th (in Midtown)  rather than in black neighborhoods.  The scary part of this, if you ask me, is a professor was dragged into psych evaluation like he was Winston Smith or something.

So here is my advice for the day -- before you retweet or repost or like on Facebook -- click through to the link and see that it says what you think it says.  I have not always followed my own advice but many times when I have not, I have regretted it.

Selection Bias

I thought it was kind of interesting that upon reading this McKinsey & Co study (currently the top one in the list) on education, Kevin Drum and a number of other left 'o center blogs pulled out this one chart to highlight.  It shows starting teacher pay  (i.e. out of college) as a percent of the economy's average)


The author's of the study argue that the countries higher on this list also have better student results.  Now, I will confess that this is a pretty interesting finding in the study -- that starting teacher pay is more important than teacher pay in later years, because the key is to attract talented people right out of college away from other professions.  Interesting. 

But here is the quite fascinating selection bias by the lefty blogs:  I have read the whole report, and this is absolutely the only chart in the whole study that in any way, shape, or form might be interpreted as a call for higher government education spending.  Even more interesting is what these bloggers left out.  This is the other half of the starting teacher pay analysis Drum et. al. chose note to include, and makes clear that even this chart is not a call for more total spending:

South Korea and Singapore employ fewer teachers than other systems; in effect, this ensures that they can spend more money on each teacher at an equivalent funding level.  Both countries recognize that while class size has relatively little impact on the quality of student outcomes (see above), teacher quality does.  South Korea's student-to-teacher ration is 30:1, compared to an OECD average of 17.1, enabling it in effect to double teacher salaries while maintaining the same overall funding level as other OECD countries....

Singapore has pursued a similar strategy but has also front-loaded compensation.  THis combination allows it to spend less on primary education than almost any other OECD and yet still be able to attract strong candidates into the teaching profession.  In addition, because Singapore and South Korea need fewer teachers,  they are also in a position to be more selective about who becomes a teacher.  This, in turn, increases the status of teaching, making the profession even more attractive.

Whoops!  Don't want our friends at the NEA to see that!  Most of the study turns on McKinsey's finding that teacher quality drives student results, way ahead of any other factor, from class size to socioeconomic background:


Well, now the NEA might be getting really nervous.  Something like this might cause parents to do something rash, like demand that low-performing teachers get fired.  Gasp.

Anyway, to get back to the cherry-picking and selection bias issue, the study is pretty clear that it thinks that "more spending" is a failed strategy for improving public education

If school choice is off the table, then I would be very supportive of a program to increase starting teacher pay, funded by larger class sizes and substantial reductions in useless administrators and assistant principals.  Anyway, it is kind of an interesting study, though you may find the pdf file format really irritating to try to read.  Lots of funny formatting. 

Show a Little Backbone!

This is pretty funny:

A labor dispute which has darkened US light entertainment and chat
shows claimed another victim on Wednesday, forcing the cancellation of
a CBS News debate among Democratic White House hopefuls.

The debate, scheduled for Los Angeles on December 10, was nixed
after candidates including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama said they
would refuse to cross a picket line that the Writers Guild of America
Union had threatened to set up.

"CBS News regrets not being able to offer the Democratic
presidential debate scheduled for Dec. 10 in Los Angeles," CBS said in
a statement.

"The possibility of picket lines set up by the Writers Guild of
America and the unwillingness of many candidates to cross them made it
necessary to allow the candidates to make other plans."

Since the writers have nothing to do with the debate (presumably, unless Hillary's question-writing shills are part of the guild) then their picketing the debate makes no more sense than if, say, the meat packers were picketing.  Is the winning candidate going to refuse to enter the White House if any union is picketing out front?  As Ed Morrissey points out, this does not bode well for any of the candidates being able to stand up to special interests as president.

Update:  Next up, Democratic candidates to commit to not hire anyone for their administration who did not attend a government-run, NEA-unionized high school.

Public Schools Not Underfunded, Teachers Not Underpaid

The single post from way back that I still get the most Google hits from (and the most nasty email, I might add) was my post on the myth that public schools teachers are underpaid.  This was a follow-on post to my lengthy post fisking the NEA's school improvement plans and here too.  The premise in all these posts was that 1) Public schools actually spent more per pupil than private schools that do a better job and 2) Teachers, when you adjust their total hours to match other workers who don't get summers off, make a salary very competitive to other professionals, even before their hefty government benefits package.

The Goldwater Institute has just completed a study of Arizona private schools, and has come to many of the same conclusions.  The study's author, Andrew Coulson, summarizes the findings:

In a study released yesterday
by the Goldwater Institute, I analyze the results of their most recent
private school survey. Among the other fascinating findings is that
public schools spend one-and-a-half times as much per pupil as do
private schools. Or, looked at the other way, private schools spend a
third less than public schools.

Some other fascinating tidbits:

Teachers make up 72 percent of on-site staff in Arizona's independent education sector, but less than half
of on-site staff in the public sector. In order to match the
independent sector's emphasis on teachers over non-teaching staff,
Arizona public schools would have to hire roughly 25,000 more teachers
and dismiss 21,210 non-teaching employees.

When teachers' 9-month salaries are annualized to make them
comparable to the 12-month salaries of most other fields, Arizona
independent school teachers earned the equivalent of $36,456 in 2004 "”
about $2,000 less than reporters and correspondents. The
12-month-equivalent salary of the state's public school teachers was
around $60,000, which is more than nuclear technicians,
epidemiologists, detectives, and broadcast news analysts. It's also
about 50 percent more than reporters or private school teachers earn.

My kids go to an absolutely fabulous private school here in Phoenix.  It is secular and (gasp) actually runs for-profit, so it has no endowments or sources of grants or charitable funds.  In exchange for a great education that far outstrips the quality of even the best local schools, it charges a tuition substantially less than the Phoenix-area per-pupil public school spending (and it offers a 20% discount for each child over one).  If you are considering a move to the area, email me and I will give you more detail.

More here on the virtues of school choice.  This is a sort of related post on the barriers to starting a private school.

Defeat for School Choice in Florida

I was gearing up to write a response to the Florida Supreme Court decision that strikes down a school choice plan as unconstitutional, but Baseball Crank did such a nice job, I will refer you to him.  The plan as crafted allowed students in low-performance schools to opt out with  a voucher for another public or private school.  The justices struck down the law because they felt that the Florida Constitution which requires a "uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system" of education thereby necessitates schools run by the government only.  Their "logic" was that using a public voucher at a private school thwarted the "uniform" part.

But here is the scary part of their interpretation of "uniform".  Most reasonable people would read the Constitution as meaning "uniform in quality".  But the voucher law as written almost by definition increases the uniformity of quality.  The vouchers were offered only to students at low performing schools.  The recipients of the vouchers could then stay at the same school or use the voucher to go to another school.  Since a voucher holder will only go to a different school if they perceive that school to be better than the school they are leaving, the law increases the net quality of education received (at least in the eyes of parents, though perhaps not in the eyes of the NEA or the education intelligentsia).  By any reasonable definition, improving the education of the kids receiving the worst education as determined by consistent standards should actually improve uniformity of quality, not reduce it.  From a quality standpoint, I would argue it is unconstitutional in Florida NOT to have this school choice plan.

So if it is not uniformity of quality that is being discussed, it must be uniformity of something else.  As Baseball Crank points out, what is left is a strongly Maoist overtone of uniformity of thought -- that everyone is receiving the same state programming.  This ability to opt out of state programming has always been at least as powerful of a driver for private and home schooling as bad quality.  While public education has been controlled mostly by the left, the right has been the main group "opting-out".  However, as the right takes over the left's cherished institutions, I made a plea a while back to the left to reconsider school choice:

At the end of the day, one-size-fits-all public schools are never
going to be able to satisfy everyone on this type thing, as it is
impossible to educate kids in a values-neutral way.  Statist parents
object to too much positive material on the founding fathers and the
Constitution.  Secular parents object to mentions of God and
overly-positive descriptions of religion in history.  Religious parents
object to secularized science and sex education.  Free market parents
object to enforced environmental activism and statist economics.   Some
parents want no grades and an emphasis on feeling good and self-esteem,
while others want tough grading and tough feedback when kids aren't
learning what they are supposed to.

I have always thought that these "softer" issues, rather than just
test scores and class sizes, were the real "killer-app" that might one
day drive acceptance of school choice in this country.  Certainly
increases in home-schooling rates have been driven as much by these
softer values-related issues (mainly to date from the Right) than by
just the three R's.

So here is my invitation to the Left: come over to the dark side.
Reconsider your historic opposition to school choice.  I'm not talking
about rolling back government spending or government commitment to
funding education for all.  I am talking about allowing parents to use
that money that government spends on their behalf at the school of
their choice.  Parents want their kids to learn creationism - fine,
they can find a school for that.  Parents want a strict, secular focus
on basic skills - fine, another school for that.  Parents want their
kids to spend time learning the three R's while also learning to love
nature and protect the environment - fine, do it...

Is There a Minimum Income Necesary to be Responsible?

There is an interesting discussion about liability going on at Overlawyered and Prawfsblawg.  The original subject was Eddy Curry, the basketball player who may or may not have a genetic heart condition.  The Chicago Bulls refused to play him until he had submitted to a series of tests that would let them determine for themselves if it was safe for him to play (Curry had already said that he wanted to play).

The Bulls have been derided in a number of venues for requiring privacy-invading tests which Curry reasonably refused to submit to.  However, in today's legal world, the Bulls are being entirely rational and in fact entirely consistent with the law, at least as it is practiced in courts today.  Many courts, including those in particular in legal hellhole Illinois, have pretty much thrown out most liability wavers.  Effectively, courts have said that Curry has no right to make risk-reward trade-offs for his own body and self, and if he gets hurt playing for the Bulls, it is the Bulls fault and they can be sued.  So, reasonably, the Bulls want the necessary information to make that safety decision, since the fact that Curry has already decided for himself holds no weight in courts today.

I have long lamented this statist tendency to treat us all like incompetent children, effectively revoking our ability to make decisions for ourselves and our own lives.  Where the discussion gets interesting, though, is when a lawyer suggests that Curry's liability waiver should hold more water than the average person's, since he is wealthy and has access to a full range of professionals to advise him.  Which suggests that there is some point, either in terms of wealth or education, where Americans may actually regain the right to make decisions for themselves and be held responsible for them.  I remember when I was working on an acquisition of a company, and was concerned whether a non-compete agreement I had the other party sign was enforceable.  After all, I had in the past had non-competes signed by my employees routinely thrown out by judges.  My attorney told me that it is assumed that the average ordinary employee does not know what they are doing when they sign an agreement, but that wealthy business people in a transaction are treated like big boys and it is assumed they actually understand and really mean what they sign their name to.

Overlawyered concludes:

A fascinating epitomization of the litigation culture: "ordinary"
people can't make intelligent and free decisions, but elites"”presumably
including lawyers and judges"”can properly advise them how to do so.

Paul's proposed rule of emancipation upon reaching a certain wealth
level has interesting ramifications. It would be fascinating to see
what democratic political consensus would develop for where to set the
Gowder Line above which people are permitted to make free decisions.
Many doctors and attorneys would be sufficiently wealthy to qualify,
but would public interest and government attorneys protest that,
through no fault of their own, they don't have the same rights as
BigLaw partners and their children? Would college professors lobby for
the same emancipation rights as wealthy millionaires because they're
already sufficiently sophisticated? And once that happens, would the
NEA dare to suggest that teachers aren't entitled to the same status?
Before you know it, every Sneech will have a star on his belly.

I made myself clear about this long ago:  We have got to move to a point where adults can be trusted to make decisions for themselves and take responsibility for those consequences.  However, the temptation is just too great, it seems, to act like you know more about someone's best interest than they do.

Update: By the way, we discuss this all in terms of capability and competence and knowledge.  One important factor not discussed above is that every person has a different set of values.  Mr. Curry may rank the value of playing basketball, or making lots of money, higher than the risk of losing his full four-score and ten year lifespan.  Or he might feel just the opposite.  I have heard athletes who have said they would have played pro sports even if they knew for sure they would only as a result live until 50, and I have heard athletes call those others insane.  We all have different values, and even beyond relative confidence and information in making decisions, it is IMPOSSIBLE for other people to make quality decisions about your life, because they are not going to share the details of what you value and how much.  But of course they do all the time.  And if we assign others liability when we make the wrong choice in our life, then we are just asking for other people to take over our decision-making. 

In a free society, I suppose you can delegate the decision-making for your life to others, if you lack confidence in your abilities, but don't give away mine!

Update #2:  Here is another decision adversely affected by lawsuits:

We've reported before (Mar. 18, 2004)
on how, after court decisions in Arizona eroded the state's
longstanding immunity from being sued over the actions of wild animals,
lawyers began obtaining large verdicts from public managers over
humans' harmful encounters with wildlife -- with the result that
managers began moving to a "when in doubt, take it [out]" policy of
slaughtering wild creatures that might pose even a remote threat to
people. The continuing results of the policy came in for some public
discussion last month after a bear wandered into a residential area
near Rumsey Park in Payson, Ariz. and was euthanized by Arizona Game
and Fish personnel:

[Ranger Cathe] Descheemaker said
that the two Game and Fish officials were no doubt following procedure,
and that bears are routinely destroyed ever since the agency was sued
when a bear mauled a 16-year-old girl in 1996 on Mt. Lemmon near

"Since Game and Fish lost that lawsuit, they do not relocate any
bears," she said. "The fact that bear was in town was its death

The Teacher Salary Myth

"You took a teaching position, 'cause you thought it'd be fun, right?
Thought you could have summer vacations off...and then you found out it
was actually work...and that really bummed you out"

-- Carl to Vernon, in

Update May, 2015:  Since Jon Stewart raised the issue of Baltimore school under-funding, we look at the salaries of Baltimore school teachers.  Short answer:  On a full-year basis, Baltimore teachers start at over $61,000 a year, not including generous benefits.

If you go to the NEA web site, you will see that they argue that most of the problems in education boil down to either low teacher pay or overly high teacher productivity expectations (i.e. classroom size).  I fisked many of these claims here and here, but most media outlets still quote these assertions credulously when they write about education.

I have found (from some past emails I have received) that one of the ways to really irritate a teachers union rep is, when they lament their low salaries, to point out that they only work 9 months a year, and they should multiply their salaries by 1.33 to make them comparable to the rest of ours.  For example, per the NEA web site, teachers made a bit over $56,000 on average in California in 2004. Lisa Snell, in this month's Reason, estimates that benefits add nearly $16,000 to this compensation package, for a total of about $72,000 per year for California teachers.  Normalize this for the fact they work 9 months (or less) a year, and you get them making an equivalent of $100,000 a year.  Woe is me.

Of course, California is high vs. other states on salary, and the "9 months" estimate is only approximate, and doesn't count the fact that teachers typically work a shorter work week than many other professionals.  Fortunately, Snell pointed me to this article in Education Next, which has a fantastic rebuttal to the "teachers are underpaid" myth.

A substantial body of evidence implies that teachers are not underpaid
relative to other professionals. Using data on household median
earnings from the U.S. Department of Labor, I compared teachers with
seven other professional occupations: accountants, biological and life
scientists, registered nurses, social workers, lawyers and judges,
artists, and editors and reporters. Weekly pay for teachers in 2001 was
about the same (within 10 percent) as for accountants, biological and
life scientists, registered nurses, and editors and reporters, while
teachers earned significantly more than social workers and artists.
Only lawyers and judges earned significantly more than teachers"”as one
would expect, given that the educational training to become a lawyer is
longer and more demanding.

Teachers, moreover, enjoy longer vacations and work far fewer days per
year than most professional workers. Consider data from the National
Compensation Survey of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which computes hourly earnings
per worker. The average hourly wage for all workers in the category
"professional specialty" was $27.49 in 2000. Meanwhile,
elementary-school teachers earned $28.79 per hour; secondary-school
teachers earned $29.14 per hour; and special-education teachers earned
$29.97 per hour. The average earnings for all three categories of
teachers exceeded the average for all professional workers. Indeed, the
average hourly wage for teachers even topped that of the highest-paid
major category of workers, those whose jobs are described as
"executive, administrative, and managerial." Teachers earned more per
hour than architects, civil engineers, mechanical engineers,
statisticians, biological and life scientists, atmospheric and space
scientists, registered nurses, physical therapists, university-level
foreign-language teachers, librarians, technical writers, musicians,
artists, and editors and reporters. Note that a majority of these
occupations requires as much or even more educational training as does
K"“12 teaching.

Curious about the data she uses, I went straight to her source, which is here, and now has data through 2003 online that can be queried.  Sure enough, her conclusions are right there in the Labor Department data:

Professional or Technical Occupation 2003 $/hr
Technician $20.85
Avg. White Collar, ex. Sales $23.33
Avg. All Professional and Technical $28.37
Elementary School Teacher $31.74
Executive, administrator, manager $32.20
Engineer, architect, surveyor $34.34
Dentist $38.93
Lawyer $46.11
Doctor $52.91

Note that when corrected for hours worked onto a $ per hour basis, teacher salaries are higher than the average white collar or professional worker, and quite competitive with other professionals such as engineers and managers.  In fact, if you were to take out private school teachers (which mix the number lower, see below) the average for public school teachers is even higher.  Occupations making more than teachers such as doctors and lawyers require much more education and long-term commitment than the average elementary school teaching role.

By the way, the Education Next article linked above gives us another clue that is useful in understanding teachers salaries:  For the vast majority of professions, a government job in that profession pays less than an equivalent private job.  People accept the lower government salary for a variety of reasons --  sometimes for unique work (e.g. interning with the DA as a young lawyer), sometimes for the higher benefits and more job security, and sometimes just because the jobs require fewer hours and frankly have lower performance expectations than their private equivalent.  The one glaring exception to this public-private salary relationship is with teachers salaries, where the salaries of public school teachers are often as much as 50% higher than their private school equivalents.

Wow!  Its no wonder that the NEA hates the idea of school choice and competition from private schools.  They have built a public employment gravy train, with premium salaries, no real penalty for under-performance, and double digit raises for a 180 day a year job -- all while selling the media on their woe-is-me-we-are-underpaid myth.

Correction:  Messed up the Breakfast Club quote - it was spoken from Carl the Janitor to Vernon, not by "Carl Vernon".

Update: A lot of people ask "What do you have against teachers?" and I answer, "nothing."  I can't remember complaining about what any employee of a private firm makes.   In fact, for employees of private firms, I am happy to root for you to get all you can.  Go for it.  But teachers are not private employees -- they are government workers, just like every other government bureaucrat who gets paid by my taxes that are taken from me against my will.  If I pay your salary, and in particular if I pay your salary against my will, you can be sure I am going to demand accountability.

By the way, I send my son to a private junior high.  The school is widely acknowledged to do a much better job than any public school in the city.  And you know what - my tuition at this school is $2000 per year LESS than the average per pupil spending in Scottsdale public junior high schools.  And this school is 100% tuition supported (it is a for profit secular institution so it can't take contributions) and it turns a profit for the family that owns it.  You know how many principals, assistant principals, administrators, and clerks it has for a 300 person junior high school?   Two.  The number at a similarly sized public school would be ten times as high. At least.

Arizona School Vouchers

The Arizona legislature has passed a school voucher bill, though the Democratic governor is likely to veto it.  The MSM generally hates vouchers - just check out this Google news search on the bill.  I have not even linked to a cached version - I just have complete confidence that any time you click on the link the preponderance of headlines will be negative.

I think that the legislature did make a tactical mistake in crafting this bill.  While over time, everyone should be eligible, it is much more intelligent politically to phase the law in with a means test.  Otherwise what happens is the initial beneficiaries in the first year of the plan, before new private schools begin to develop, are the rich who are already sending their kids to private school who will get back some of their tax money that went to public schools they did not use.  The optics of this are terrible, as seen in arguments like this that play on this effect, even if I find the class warfare elements of this extremely tedious.

If the bill were crafted to squelch this argument, the rest are easy to fight.  For example, the same article complains about:

the very different mandates and requirements public schools must comply with and private schools do not

Duh.  If private schools had to follow all the same stupid rules as public schools they would be bloated celebrants of mediocrity as well.

Another argument is that kids leaving public schools will drain the schools of money.  This is a huge scare headline by opponents of choice.  It also makes no sense.  In 2004, the average pending per pupil in Arizona (according to the teachers union, opponent #1 of choice) was $5,347.  Per the proposed law, the average voucher size per pupil is $4000.  So, for every student that leaves, the state will spend $4000 but save $5347, meaning that every student that leaves actually increases the money per pupil that can be spent on those left behind.  (by the way, more on the absurdity of NEA positions here and here).

The other argument that gets made is that private schools are all very expensive.  Again, duh.  Today, the only market
for public schools is to people who can afford to pay for their kids to
go to public school and then pay again for private school.  However,
private schools at the $3500 to $4500 level will appear if people have
a voucher in their hand and are looking for alternatives.  My kids
private school is awesome, and does not charge in the five figures - in
fact it is just a bit over $5000 a year.  Here is more on why more private schools don't exist today.

I would love to find a way to get the left, who in other circumstances seem to be all for choice, onto the school choice bandwagon.  This post had an invitation to the left to reconsider school choice:

After the last election, the Left is increasingly worried that red
state religious beliefs may creep back into public school, as evidenced
in part by this Kevin Drum post on creationism.
My sense is that you can find strange things going on in schools of
every political stripe, from Bible-based creationism to inappropriate environmental advocacy.
I personally would not send my kids to a school that taught creationism
nor would I send them to a school that had 7-year-olds protesting
outside of a Manhattan bank.

At the end of the day, one-size-fits-all public schools are never
going to be able to satisfy everyone on this type thing, as it is
impossible to educate kids in a values-neutral way.  Statist parents
object to too much positive material on the founding fathers and the
Constitution.  Secular parents object to mentions of God and
overly-positive descriptions of religion in history.  Religious parents
object to secularized science and sex education.  Free market parents
object to enforced environmental activism and statist economics.   Some
parents want no grades and an emphasis on feeling good and self-esteem,
while others want tough grading and tough feedback when kids aren't
learning what they are supposed to.

I have always thought that these "softer" issues, rather than just
test scores and class sizes, were the real "killer-app" that might one
day drive acceptance of school choice in this country.  Certainly
increases in home-schooling rates have been driven as much by these
softer values-related issues (mainly to date from the Right) than by
just the three R's.

So here is my invitation to the Left: come over to the dark side.
Reconsider your historic opposition to school choice.  I'm not talking
about rolling back government spending or government commitment to
funding education for all.  I am talking about allowing parents to use
that money that government spends on their behalf at the school of
their choice.  Parents want their kids to learn creationism - fine,
they can find a school for that.  Parents want a strict, secular focus
on basic skills - fine, another school for that.  Parents want their
kids to spend time learning the three R's while also learning to love
nature and protect the environment - fine, do it.

Welcome Business Blog Awards

If you are coming from the "Best Business Blog" poll, welcome  (if you are a regular reader, you can vote for Coyote Blog here).  Here are some examples of our business blogging:

Real-life small business experiences:  Buying a company; Outsourcing to Your CustomersWorking with the Department of LaborA Primer on Workers CompDealing with Sales TaxesServices and Brands

Economics:  Taxes and Class Warfare; The Harvard MBA indicatorMessed-up Pensions

Capitalist Philosophy: 60 Second Refutation of Socialism, While Sitting at the Beach;   Respecting Individual Decision-Making

Libertarian political commentary:  Post election wrap-up; Thoughts on KyotoFisking the NEA

Frustration with runaway torts:  Jackpot Litigation; Coyote vs. ACMEPlenty More Here

Camping (my business):  New American nomads; This RV is just wrong

Attempts at humor:  Replacements for Dan Rather; My Manhood vs. the Pocket Door

Extending Occam's Razor: Meyer's Law

ACME Products:  Instant Girl; Ultimatum Gun; Earthquake Pills

Teacher's-eye View of the NEA

I have posted criticisms of the NEA, or teachers union, here and here.  I discussed the lack of accountability of the NEA to students and their parents, but the Education Wonks has a nice post here about the teacher's unions lack of accountability to... the teachers.

The Cost of Licensing and Certification

In my post "Fisking the NEA's Improvement Ideas", I said that all of the NEA's calls for teacher certification were less about teacher quality and more about increasing the union's power and increasing salaries.  This strategy is as old as guilds from the 15th century.

Here is a study about the American Bar Association and the bar exam and its effects on quality and salaries.

A newly constructed data set on lawyers' licensing exam difficulty, candidate quality and exam results allows to distinguish the alternative theories. Public interest theory is rejected in favor of capture theory. The results imply that professional licensing has a significant effect on entry salaries. On average, licensing increases annual entry salaries by more than $20,000. This implies a total transfer from consumers to lawyers of 36% of lawyers' wages and a total welfare loss of over $6 billion.

Thanks to Volokh for the link.  This same post from Volokh also talks about how lawyers are trying to prevent non-lawyers from performing certain duties, including workers comp hearings and real estate closings.  And don't even get me started on hair braiding.

Fisking the NEA's Improvement Ideas

In my previous post, I took a look at the absurdity of the metrics in the NEA's recent schools report.  In that post, I ran out of room to Fisk the NEA's suggested areas of improvement for better school performance (keep scrolling).

Here are their improvement areas with my comments.  I always try to differentiate the NEA as a group from teachers individually.  The rants in this post are aimed at the NEA as a group.  Many teachers as individuals have my fondest regards.  Note I have helpfully put a big green dollar sign by every recommendation that boils down to "spend more money":

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Latest NEA School Report is Absurd

Today, on NPR, I heard my state of Arizona getting bashed by some young reporter at the local affiliate based on Arizona's rankings in the latest NEA state rankings.  So, I thought I would check the report out myself.  The cover of the report tells us what we should expect to find:

This report is an update of data from NEA Research's report, Rankings & Estimates: Rankings of the States 2003 and Estimates of School Statistics 2004, based on the latest information provided from state departments of education. NEA Research collects, analyzes, and maintains data on issues and trends affecting the nation's public education systems and their employees.

OK, so lets open the report and see what statistics the NEA thinks are the best measures of public education.  Here are all the stats in the report, in the order they are reported (presumably their importance):

  1. How much, on average, did teachers in each state earn per year?
  2. How many students were enrolled in each state?
  3. How many teachers were working in each state?
  4. What was the student"“teacher ratio in each state?
  5. How much money, on average, did each state spend per student?
  6. How much money did each state spend for operating schools, including salaries, books, heating buildings, and so on?
  7. How much money did each state spend in total for schools, including operating expenses, capital outlay, and interest on school debt?
  8. How much revenue did school districts receive from state governments?
  9. How much revenue did school districts receive from local governments?
  10. What were school districts' total revenues?

Thats it.  That is the entire sum total of performance metrics they have for states and their schools.  So, what's missing?  How about any dang measure of student learning or performance!  I know that the NEA wants to criticize every test out there, and in fact resists standardized testing at every turn, but is it too much to think that we might measure the quality of education by the, um, quality of education, and not by how much the employees make? 

To be fair, the NEA does talk about NAEP test data on their web site, to the extent that they point out that some test scores are improving (they don't mention that this is improving off a disastrously low base).  This NEA web site section on student performance reminds me a lot of the environmental protection section on the Dow Chemical web site -- it's there because it's important to public relations but its not really a topic that dominates their priorities. I have a related post here that fisks the ideas for improvement on this NEA page, but if you don't want to read that post suffice it to say that they boil down to 1) spending more money; 2) hiring more teachers; 3) paying teachers more money ; 4) testing less or putting less emphasis on tests and measurable performance; and 5) more certification and protecting the guild.

Look, I don't begrudge the NEA's role as the union and collective-bargaining agent of the teachers, and as such, they should be very concerned with salary levels (more on that in a minute).  However, the NEA and their supporters constantly try to piously position the NEA as not a union - oh no - but as a group primarily interested in the quality of education.  I hope this report and its contents effectively dispels that myth once and for all.  The NEA today as an institution cares no more about the quality of education than the UAW cared about the quality of GM cars in the 70's (by the way, I am careful to say the NEA as an institution-- many individual teachers care a lot).

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