Tuesday, May 13, 2008

How to be an idiot

Step 1; take anything Megan says seriously. Step 2; rinse and repeat.

Do Unions matter?:

Liberals often complain that those of us who support school choice are just interested in smashing the teacher's unions. And to some extent, they have a point. To be clear, I do not object to the teacher's unions because they have a union. I object to the teacher's unions because teachers are among the competing interests that run low-income school districts for the benefit of the various interest groups, rather than the children. The union merely gives them more power to move value from children to teachers.

I do not say that they are malicious, though certainly in many cases the union clearly recognizes that they are benefitting their members at the expense of the children. But more of it is that the entrenched institutional arrangements, many of them enshrined in union contracts, are extraordinarily impervious to change. When an entire system has grown up around union arrangements, tweaking any substantial part of it threatens to throw the whole system into disarray.
So, therefore, we have to completely dismantle the system to fix it.
Unions also give teachers power to resist changes that make their jobs less fun. I think the teachers genuinely believe that these changes are bad; but I also think that they strenuously resist learning anything to the contrary. There is really good evidence for the benefits of direct instruction in teaching disadvantaged children. But direct instruction moves the teacher into being more of a technician and less of a creative professional. Ian Ayers talks about this in Supercrunchers, giving the example of bank loan officers, which used to be a skilled, prestigious jobs, and are now almost a clerical role. Doctors and teachers are resisting an attempt to do similar things to their jobs through, respectively, evidence based medicine and direct instruction.
And just look at how well that turned out for the banking industry! Awesome example, Megan. And who knew she now knows how to practice medicine better than doctors? What, are doctors refusing to coordinate their prescriptions with the sales projections of pharmaceutical companies? The bastards, always thinking of themselves and how it'd benefit them to have healthy, living patients.
But it's more than that. In New York, the principal's union resisted an attempt to attract the system's top principals to failing schools by giving them a substantial bonus payment in the tens of thousands of dollars. The union vetoed this because the extra pay wouldn't accrue pension. Huh? It was entirely voluntary, the system couldn't afford pension payments, and the principals would have gotten an extra $25 grand or so. But no dice. Any change threatens the union, because it puts the delicate balance of power between all the competing interest groups in play.
Y'know what'd be nice with a story like this? Documentation. It sure is easy for Megan to make a story sound however she wants if she's the only source for info on it. I'm sure the basics of what she's describing happened, but I'm also sure she's misrepresenting the union's position, or at least giving short shrift to their reasoning. A quick googling provides no info, though I didn't try very hard.
Liberals rejoinder that it isn't the unions--it's the funding/poor kids/infrastructure/class size/textbooks. This sort of thing is hard to disprove conclusively, of course. But here's a data point: New Orleans smashes it's [sic] teachers union; test scores rise dramatically, even though it's still ministering to poor kids testing substantially below grade level.
If there were, say, actual data in the links Megan provides, I might be impressed. The first is superfluous, the second is a NYT article that sort of supports Megan's claims. Certain test scores did rise dramatically, however, since Megan hasn't made it to season 4 of The Wire she might still be ignorant of the phenomenon known as "cooking the books", whereby you redefine the categories to appear to make progress. A massive program put in by the Bush Admin to prove charter schools work wouldn't have any pressure to falsify results, at all. Further, the diaspora of the poorest, and, sadly, the most likely to do poorly, children of NO across the country couldn't have had any impact here. Finally, if you actually read the NYT article, you'll find it closes with the following;
Mr. Vallas attributed many of the improvements in testing to the new teachers.

“The biggest contributing factor was the quality of the instructors,” he said.
Which is why the efforts of Teachers' Unions across the country to raise the level of pay so as to attract better qualified people is, like, bullshit. (No, I couldn't find a quick source of comparison for teacher salaries in NO pre and post-Katrina.) All you need is a massive 'natural' disaster unprecedented in modern American memory to inspire people to give some service to the victims of it. Maybe inner city Chicago could have another fire? It'd be so cleansing.
I hate to say it, but people smarter than me need to start in on demolishing this meme before it gets off the ground. Privatizing public schools is a massively bad idea, which people like Megan are not going to let go of.

11 comments:

Wahrheit said...

Wow, I stumbled upon your blog--OMG you guys are in love with Megan! I only read the top ten posts or so, maybe this has been touched on before, but the level of obsessiveness shown with one individual makes me thinks you've all got the hots.

brad said...

You mean a blog named "Fire Megan McArdle" tends to focus on her? Fail. We could use a troll, but that's not a very good effort.

spencer said...

Seriously, dipshit - the proprietors here freely acknowledge their status as "obsessional critics." Come back when you got something worth reading.

Susan of Texas said...

Hey, guess what? "Wahrheit" is German for Truth. Are you that Sadly, No troll? If so, you're not getting any brighter.

M. Bouffant said...

His favorite books are those by Ayn Rand & Bob Heinlein. And Anthony Robbins. Hee hee.

Wahrheit said...

Wow, that was easy.

brad said...

Acting as if responses equal victory is even more mediocre.
As I said, I'd love a troll, but you have to develop your own material.

spencer said...

Quoting tag lines for Staples != quality trolling.

Clever Pseudonym said...

I don't know, what's more pathetic? Having a blog that disses Megan, or hanging around said blog just to diss everyone who is dissing her as pathetic?

Trollheit, if it's not abundantly clear to you how small an effort is generally put into this place by its proprietors (and that's a compliment, guys, not a put-down), you're an idiot. No wonder you like Megan.

Wahrheit said...

I am Ayn Rand and Bob Heinlein's love child, and proud of it. Oh yes, and don't forget Robert J. Ringer is my adopted brother.

Anyway, this has been a blast, best to you all in your future endeavors.

spencer said...

I also love how wahrheit gives us a pitch-perfect demonstration of the very title of this post . . .