Friday, July 31, 2020

As The Teachers Unions Fight Reopening Schools

As the teacher's unions fight reopening schools, Daniel J. Mitchel (his own home on the webz) writes a piece for FEE (the Foundation for Economic Education) on just how bad the public school situation is.  A few things jumped off the page to bite me.

Let me start, as Mitchell does, by re-posting a graphic I must have posted a dozen times since 2013 when Cato published this.  This is about the costs of education vs the improvements in test scores.

You can see that total cost almost tripled, the total number of employees almost doubled while test scores were not affected at all.  Unless you're immune to measured data, you have to agree that no matter what we spend on education, it doesn't affect test scores.  There's no discernible positive trend such that someone could say "we only tripled what we spent, the data says we need to spend six times more" or any other number.  It's just as valid to say that since whatever we spend doesn't make a difference let's just not spend anything at all or let's cut spending to 1/10 of its current level and send the administrative staff home.  As Daniel Mitchell says, Andrew Coulson produced a graphic here that is probably more vivid and more telling than the vast majority of graphics you'll come across.

I mentioned some things jumped off the page at me, here's a paragraph from a paper Mitchell references:
Since World War II, inflation-adjusted spending per student in American public schools has increased by 663 percent. Where did all of that money go? One place it went was to hire more personnel. Between 1950 and 2009, American public schools experienced a 96 percent increase in student population. During that time, public schools increased their staff by 386 percent – four times the increase in students. The number of teachers increased by 252 percent, over 2.5 times the increase in students. The number of administrators and other staff increased by over seven times the increase in students. …This staffing surge still exists today. From 1992 to 2014 – the most recent year of available data – American public schools saw a 19 percent increase in their student population and a staffing increase of 36 percent. This decades-long staffing surge in American public schools has been tremendously expensive for taxpayers, yet it has not led to significant changes in student achievement. For example, public school national math scores have been flat (and national reading scores declined slightly) for 17-year-olds since 1992.
I've long known of the number of employees virtually doubling (as shown in the above graphic), but had not seen the details of the number of teachers going up 2.5 times the increase in the number of students while administrators, helpers and other staff increased seven times the increase in students.

Doubtless, you've heard statistics like 0% of graduating high school students in Baltimore are proficient at math.  That may be an extreme example but the trend is sadly not unusual.  Nationwide, only about a third of eighth graders do math or read at their grade level. 

When I read things like the LA teacher's union saying they won't allow the schools to open until officials adopt absurd changes like closing charter schools, defunding the police, and creating medicare for all it helps explain why the expenditures keep going up for no return. After all, if they want those things, are they intelligent enough to teach children?

When I was in my 20s, it wasn't unusual to hear retirees my current age saying "why am I paying taxes for schools that I don't use?"  The stereotype answer was that schools provide an educated public which benefits us all, so you're getting benefits from that tax money.   It's more and more apparent that we're getting essentially nothing for our money. 

As the modern saying goes, if taxes are the price we pay for living in a civilized society, I want my money back.


  1. In most places, the employment bump is due to further hiring of admin wonks. Same number or less of teachers.

    It's to the point that there are as many admin pukes as teachers.

    Just like in private industry, there's almost 1 manager per worker.

    Cut the fat, stop the stupid, get a lean 'corporate' structure and you could increase scores and actual learned content by double.

    1. Not only is there the vast increase in numbers of administrata, the pay has increased at par. But not for the teachers. The pay rate for teachers has remained level, or in many cases, fallen below, say 1996, adjusted for inflation.

      Quite common is an elementary school with multiple principals and multiple assistant principals. That is for elementary level. High schools are worse.

  2. Some years back at a school function I noticed that there were a lot of Special Education teachers. Special Education is labor intensive.

    1. My daughter-in-law is a special education teacher. The public schools have been mandated to take in ALL students by both state and federal requirements. Her specialty is autistic students of all levels. Asperger Syndrome and high functioning individuals don't require much. But, there are students who are non-functioning such as one that was non-verbal and functioning at a very low level though they were years older. Some of those non-functioning are also prone to violent out bursts. That is what we pay school taxes for. :-(

  3. So you are a Governor. The tax rate in your state is already sky high. How do you effectively meet budget without further raising taxes?

    One way is to keep at home a large number of state employees*. The facilities they would otherwise use are operating at a reduced expenditure. The tax monies to pay for the above still flows into the treasury at the same rate.

    *K-12 teachers are de facto state employees. The state controls every aspect of public education. What other industry operates without competition? Even charter schools must receive permission from the public education school boards.

    While those teachers do continue to receive an income, the supporting expenditures are reduced.

    As for stupidly high increases in admin personnel, in California the district school boards are answerable to no one. Sure, they go through the motions what with board meetings open to the public. But the boards are truly self-governing.

  4. Were getting LESS than nothing for our money! They're indoctrinating the children to be anti USA, pro Marxist, and many other bad things.

  5. Dear Teachers, and your unions: ¡No trabajo! ¡No dinero!

  6. This would be a joke were it funny

  7. Maybe the answer is for the states to each (as they will) come up with a new plan that reverses the trend, and to start by "right to work" in education and busting the unions.

    1. The most telling thing I ever learned about government worker unions was that even FDR thought they were a bad idea.

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. There are many "mandates" levied on schools that have nothing to do with education.

    They now feed kids. When I was a kid we were sent to school with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches wrapped in wax paper.

    They now test, test, test but administration is not allowed to use the data to weed out the bottom 10% of teachers.

    They provide "wrap-around care" for working parents.

    They have automatic pay promotions if the teacher gets an advanced degree...which is a racket. I submit that a Masters in Education might make the holder of the degree feel smarter but it has virtually no net effect on education imparted to his/her students.

    The education industry is seen as a staircase for repressed, peoples-of-color to step out of poverty (regardless of whether they are competent to teach).

    Many issues and many of them related to mission-creep.

    1. I think the constant emphasis on testing is one of the problems with the schools, and we should test less. OTOH, if we tell teachers we'll fire them if their students' test scores are bad, what are they going to do but teach to the test.

    2. Testing should be like random test drillings to determine the extent and purity of an ore-body.

      To-Too-Two. This, that, then, than. How much carpet in square yards to carpet a 30-by-45' house.

      A man and a dog set off for a walk in the woods. The man walks at three miles per hour while the dog runs at ten. The pub is 1.5 miles away. How thirsty is the dog in dog-beers.

      You borrowed $240,000 at 6% interest. What is the interest charged for the first month?

      I don't have a problem with teachers focusing on the kinds of problems that will appear on the test. 90% of what we run into in life are simple problems, the only thing that varies are the coefficients or variables.

  10. After two years of being retired, I got bored and decided that I could help by becoming a teacher. I have been teaching for 7 years. This is what I discovered:

    There is blame enough to go around. The parents, for the most part, don't care whether their kids are being educated. They just want babysitting services. I had a parent last year who was PISSED because her kid did not turn in a single assignment or take a single quiz for over 2 months and was failing my class. Two days before the end of school, the parent called to ask me to allow her kid more time. I told her I couldn't giver her any, because I had a deadline to have grades entered. She screamed at me and complained that I wasn't giving her kid a chance. I pointed out that the kid hadn't done anything in months. She hung up on me and called the principal. She screamed enough that the county admin went and changed her daughter's grade from an F to a C.

    The kids are more and more out of control. Guns, drugs, fighting, and simply telling teachers to f*ck off. The average kid is absent 23 times a year. I have some that are absent as many as 80 times a year. That is about half the school year. There are truancy laws, but no one enforces them.

    Administrators who are simply chasing funding. They adopt whatever the policy du jure is, so they can comply with state DOE directives to get that funding.

    Teachers? They aren't as liberal as you think. The teaching staff, IMO, is a cross section of the population that they are drawn from. If the local area is liberal, the teachers are too. That should not be a surprise that the California teachers are liberal- the rest of the state is, too.

    Florida has no tenure, and unions have no power. It is a right to work state, and teachers have to reapply for their jobs every year. The pay is low- teachers make as little as $36K a year in my county. I make less as a teacher than the manager for Buc-ees (It's a convenience store chain).

    Charter schools aren't the answer in the way that you think. Every school with high test scores has some sort of restricted enrollment. In other words, they get those scores by kicking out the students who underperform. Public schools can't do that. Those kids who constantly fight, are absent and are selling drugs? Their test scores are abysmal, but the public schools have to keep them.

    The system itself- including the parents- is broken. How do you fix it? Stop wasting money on the kids who are losers. Most jobs in this nation are low skilled service jobs. Stop wasting money trying to teach pigs to sing. Have an entrance exam for high school. Kids who can't make the cut are given one more year of education- simple adult life skills, and they are then sent out into the workforce.

    @Eaton: Why should testing be used to get rid of teachers? That is like firing a bank teller because someone bounced a check. A teacher can't make a kid learn. They can't force a kid to take a test seriously.
    They break students into "tracks." The best 25% of students wind up in the "dual enrollment" track, and get college AND high school credit for courses. Some of these kids graduate from High School and college (2 year degree) on the same day.
    The next 25% of students are enrolled in "honors" courses.
    The lowest 50% are in the "regular" track. That is where I teach. My kids are absent A LOT. I have 11th grade students who are reading at a 3rd grade level. So when they test, they do poorly. Why should I be fired when it is out of my control how they do on tests? How can I teach physics, chemistry, or biology to a kid who is reading on a third grade level, and is absent for 1/4 of the school year?

    1. Very good summary, Divemedic. Thanks!

      The system is broken from top to bottom. The Cato Institute data clearly shows no matter what we spend we get nothing for it (it's hard to imagine that trend could have changed much in the intervening seven years). For as long as I can recall, Teachers have been saying that parents aren't involved enough. Your story of the mother who called two days before the end of the year to demand more time probably happens a lot - or something like it. At some point, some administrator set the precedent that the one in your story did when they changed the kid from F to C - implying that being a rotten student was average. In effect, they're saying that the high school diploma doesn't mean anything anyway so why not pass them on?

      There has to be some culling of the system though. When whole school districts have the kind of failure rates we see, something is very wrong. Like Baltimore's famous 0% can do math stat. If there's zero learning on, why spend the money at all?

      Does nobody learning math mean the community just rejects education? That kids just won't pay attention and they won't learn no matter who's teaching? Could well be, but it would be worth answering the question if those are seriously sub-par teachers as well as bad students.

      I was reading a big headline story yesterday that keeping the schools shut down would kill more than the virus. Do you know what they said the mechanism was? No school lunch programs. Just shutter the schools and put up free cafeterias. That's only partly tongue in cheek because we give them food anyway, we just don't cook it for them.

    2. "A teacher can't make a kid learn."

      Conversely, a really bad teacher guarantees that no kids will learn or worse learns "facts" and methods that are just plain wrong.

      We had a math teacher in a local district who was so horrible the administration mandated that all incoming freshmen HAD to cycle through that teacher. Otherwise, parents jerked their kids out of class and the other teachers were overloaded.

      Unfortunately, every kid in that district showed up in 10th grade with a total cross-threading of algebra and the next grade had to spend half a year unteaching what the horrible teacher had drilled into them.

    3. The parents don't have a stake in the outcome.

      The students don't have a stake in the outcome.

      Why should the parents or students care?

      The teachers have actively pursued having no stake in the outcome.

      And we're surprised that nobody cares?

      Nuke the lavish funding and keep it local and suddenly the care will come back as surely as it departed.

      The parents will be paying local taxes and fees to the teachers and schools and will have a stake in the outcome because they're paying directly instead of indirectly and remotely.

      That means the teachers will be held to a standard where their give-a-fuck-o-meter will rise off the zero-stop. If the locals have control of the system and they control the funding, they get to call the tune.

      This will devastate umpteen layers of useless and unnecessary administration whose main job is to make sure they're compliant with federal mandates and to retain federal funding that primarily pays for umpteen layers of administration whose main job is... Loop.

      If little Johnny doesn't learn, little Johnny doesn't advance; he's got a stake in his education. Motive.

      We should also make another reversion and accept that not everyone is college material and put the trades back in high school. Future welders and mechanics know they're wasting their time in college prep classes, and so do the teachers trying to school them on topics they will never see again.

  11. Monopolies are like patents. Monopolies are when a legislature says only a certain very small group of organizations is allowed to supply a product or service. Monopolies differ from patents in that often the public is taxed to pay for the monopolist to operate. Government public schools are a monopoly. Monopolies always produce high prices and bad service. There is no exception in that theory for armies, police, courts, roads, plumbing, healthcare, insurance, retirement, electronic data transmission networks, or schools.

    Take the license plates off your cars, the batteries out of your phones, your savings out of the banks, and stop paying taxes.

    1. Patents are bribe to encourage two things.

      First that people be inventive.

      Second that the inventions are not lost when the inventor dies.

      It's an acknowledgement that inventing something new is more costly than recreating it once it's been invented and giving the inventor time to recoup their investment in time and money inventing something.

      Copyright and Trademark are related concepts.

      All have been abused.

  12. Yes, that is the sales pitch for patents, which has proven to be fiction. It's also part of the sales pitch that patents help the little guy garage inventor. In reality it costs millions to defend a patent, and patents are used mostly by big companies to squish small companies. Patents and monopolies prevent humans from using some contents of their brains which they acquired without force or fraud. Think of it like a ban on free speech on some topics, but rather a ban on free enterprise on some topics.

    Germany has a history of prospering relative to its competitors, while not having any copyrights.

    Trademark is unrelated, it's about not confusing purchasers about
    whose gadget they're buying.

    The performance history of monopoly, patent, and copyright is that they don't behave the way they are claimed to. But that doesn't matter to voters, because government is a religion, supported by political instincts inherited from the great apes.

  13. Lots of great thoughts in this article and its comments.

    But there is a fundamental issue we are skirting around.

    While we have mutually agreed to make K-12 education available, should we have embraced the "must attend" principle?

    In the day my local schools divided their students into those student who it would be an achievement to graduate the K-12 process, those likely to head afterwards for trade/technology training, those likely to head to University/Service Academy, and those with special needs.

    There were no hired staff babysitting the disabled, nor were in-classroom translators provided.

    If you really didn't want to be there, you eventually wouldn't be in school. Some graduated early, some were expelled, and a another group everyone agreed just didn't need to attend.

    Recent immigrants did get ESL classes, rather than the crutch of either being taught in another language or having a translator present.

    The truly troublesome went away, either through agree absence, to jail, or if they were redeemable to the military.

    There were no participation awards they way it is done now, and everyone was clear the real person you were competing against was the one you saw in the mirror every morning - yourself. It was good to whoop on another school in competition but it approached being "Holy" to beat your previous personal best.

    And if you really excelled, guess who became a junior-trainer learning and honing the important skills of passing information to others?

    We had less teachers and much less staff, but they were important to our lives, and we did things for them, and if invited with them. And to an extent we policed our own ranks, with the truly disruptive suffering on the playground until they figured out how to "color inside the lines," so to speak.

    There was no confusion that growing up included some really sound and valuable opportunities to become good mothers and fathers, and the expectation was you would be part of the family you started, period.

    As a society we do not owe anything more than the opportunity to access K-12 education, and we need to return to using discernment (the other 'd-word' we're forced to use as discrimination had become emotionally charged) to divvy up the students and our plans for them.

    Until then we are engaging in a systematic bit of tomfoolery.

  14. Rastapopoulos, who is this list of citizens you label "we", who has agreed to mandatory attendance? If the attendance has to be enforced at gunpoint by law enforcement officers, then it's hardly mutual.

    When mandatory attendance government schools were introduced in North America, in part to oppress Catholics, there were riots. Read _The Underground History of American Education: A School Teacher's Intimate Investigation Into the Problem of Modern Schooling_ by John Taylor Gatto: