Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mystery (Education Question)

On thing that amazes me in the education debate is that people of all political stripes seem to agree that education is in a crisis. Consider Jonathan Chait (whom I think it is clear is a liberal) who seems to agree that teacher firings make sense. Yet, as Mark notes, America leads in elementary education.

So why are the two so often conflated?

It could be the "big lie" where a falsehood is said so often that the other side starts to believe it. But people are usually more sophisticated than that.

Another possibility is that we have lost perspective on the alternatives. We worry about reluctance to fire teachers but forget that private alternatives are not inexpensive. From Marginal Revolution:

A New York City charter school set to open in 2009 in Washington Heights will test one of the most fundamental questions in education: Whether significantly higher pay for teachers is the key to improving schools.

The school, which will run from fifth to eighth grades, is promising to pay teachers $125,000, plus a potential bonus based on schoolwide performance. That is nearly twice as much as the average New York City public school teacher earns, roughly two and a half times the national average teacher salary and higher than the base salary of all but the most senior teachers in the most generous districts nationwide.

However, this still doesn't explain the odd consensus of left and right as it seems improbable that many people are fighting for a serious increase in education costs.

Most likely, I suspect, the the current American focus on short term results. When we do annual ratings of employees, we do not consider issues of long term dedication -- we know people are simply going to move on anyway. Consider this report:

Among jobs started by workers when they were ages 38 to 42, 31 percent ended in less than a year, and 65 percent ended in fewer than 5 years.

Is it possible that, with 65% of middle aged workers holding a job for less than 5 years, that we have simply lost the sense of how to build long term loyalty and dedication?


  1. I think it's largely an iterative framing problem. Though the basic argument comes straight from the pages of Frank's Wrecking Crew, the question is presented as "Are you for improving education or keeping the status quo?" People in general and liberals in particular try to be more for improving education than the next guy so with every iteration norms are reset and the idea of in any way defending the public education becomes less and less acceptable.

  2. Fair enough. But why does education come out as a key priority given the alternative issues that we face today? For example, can we really claim that education is currently facing the structural challenges of financial services?

  3. From any rational standpoint, financial services reform trumps education reform but this has not been a rational process.

  4. To be fair to The Equity Project, they are not advocating an increase in education expenditures. They are able to pay the teachers so much because they are doing away with almost all the administrators and support staff(one administrator, the project´s founder, will be paid less than the teachers). The idea is to have the teachers work year-round and with other alterations to their schedule which allow them to cover what administrators do in other schools.

    I don´t know whether it will work, but the fair criticism isn´t that it will cost too much.