Thursday, September 13, 2012

Education: Chicago edition

The teacher work action in Chicago is bringing up some strong feelings across many different bloggers.  I think there is a lot to say about this issue (in general) but I want to focus on one angle for the moment.  Here is a comment from Matt Yglesias:

If CTU members get what they want, that's not coming out of the pocket of "the bosses" it's coming out of the pocket of the people who work at charter schools or the people who pay taxes in Chicago.
Now, to be fair, Matt has some follow up posts that reflect a more nuanced view of this dispute.  But this point was seized on by Eric Loomis:

It’s these experiences that make me absolutely furious when Dylan Matthews and Matt Yglesias and Jacob Weisberg and other so-called liberals attack Chicago teachers by openly rooting from Rahm Emanuel to crush them or undermine them by warning readers about the effect of paying teachers on taxpayers. I don’t really know any of them personally. But I doubt any of them went to a public school, nor has much of the liberal punditry. And if they have, it’s almost certainly not one serving working-class communities like areas of Chicago or even Springfield. They can sit in their nice New York or Washington offices and attend retreats in baronial mansions like Slate held earlier this week and fret about the taxpayers and shame the teachers into thinking about the children all they want. They would never send their own children to the schools about which they pontificate. They have no idea what they are talking about.
No I don't want to discuss whether teacher pay in Chicago is sensible or not (Matt Yglesias defends the current levels here).  What I find a lot more interesting is the whole question of mixed system (with public and private options co-existing).  As a younger person, I often asked the question of why Canada generally made private medical services illegal (they have definitely relaxed the rules since then).  After all, why should be ban a person who wants to spend money on non-evidence based procedure or get faster service from spending cash to do so?  We do not ban pet rocks or other products of limited use. 

The answer was always that if there was a parallel "pay system" then the elite would attack the public option (as they would use the higher end options almost exclusively).  The net result would not just be a two tier system, but a two tier system that was actually worse than a designed one (as the lower tier would be formed by a series of constant cuts and the result would be worse than a planned low service level).  At the time, I did not see this as a likely outcome. 

But linking Chicago teacher pay increases to less resources for charter schools (even implicitly) makes this a much more credible concern. 


  1. We are already living in this world, right? The elite send their children to private schools, the borderline elite to religious schools which are partially subsidized by various religious organizations. Hence the "voucher" movement, so that the elite didn't need to pay as much into the public system.

    Also, because schools are mostly financed locally, we have elite neighborhoods which feed into the better public schools, and poorer neighborhoods which are stuck with the struggling schools. Even if there is some state subsidy, the people in the wealthier neighborhoods only want to support their local system, not the whole state. But that resource difference is big. When the NJ supreme court in its Abbott decision decided that the state constitution mandated leveling the resource playing field, transferring money from the state to the "Abbott districts", NJ actually started to close the achievement gaps. However, at the state level, this was always played as stealing money from local districts to help schools that weren't any good.

  2. @ralmond: I definitely agree. But the shift into it being an explicit reason to be concerned about increasing teacher pay suggests that this scheme is being accepted as a good outcome. That's worriesome.

    I agree that if you buy the public good argument for education the focus should be on state or federal level funding to improve outcomes across the board.