Monday, February 25, 2008

Half Truths Are Wholly Empty

I got into a pissing war over at BlogaBarbara last week that I haven't had the time to finish up with, plus trying to do so in comments is pretty much impossible, especially because the person I was responding to, so cleverly using the nom-de-net Look for the Union Libel, was standing up for Wendy McCaw, of course, to start, but somehow took that as a way to attack all unions, particularly teacher unions, and Barack Obama too.

Eventually Libel replied:

Prop 13 did not destroy California's educational system. Plenty of money pours into the system with gold-plated benefits every day for teachers.

Unions have made teachers lives very cushy and kept us from firing the worst of them for their decades of incompetence.

That is what brought down the schools - the strangulation by the unions and their primary goal bar none: job protection regardless of outcomes or any possible accountability besides producing failing students year after year.

Of course, it's easy to argue when you make assertions and fail to offer any facts to back these baseless claims up. So let's go to the facts...for instance, if teachers' unions have made things so comfy cozy for teachers, why is it true (look, you can read it in the Washington Post) that 50% of teachers quit before their fifth year in the profession? I can see Libel wanting to claim that's because they realize teacher unions are bad, but I'd have to counter it's hard to make things cushy for your rank and file and make them bad at the same time.

To act like teachers aren't accountable is also bunk. First, love it or hate it, NCLB is full of standards and testing. But year's before George Bush asked "is our children learning?" California set up standards. In 1997, California’s State Board of Education adopted content standards for K–12 schools in five academic areas. You can read about that here.

As for Prop 13, I have to admit it certainly helps us afford the house we own, so I'm openly conflicted about it. The people who tend to defend Prop 13 beyond anti-taxers are folks like the Cato Institute, where right-wing business money goes to bathe in libertarian "thought" that makes every excuse for the marketplace and none for government. That said, read any serious research in education and you'll quickly learn about how California went from first to worst in public education--there's more info about that decline here. Just as one example, Georgia and Oklahoma can have universal preschool, but CA can't afford it. (And I know, I know, I'm risking an attack by the virulent folks who think universal preschool is the fluoridation of the education system, but when the people on their side are the super-religious, home-schoolers, Ayn Randites, and VDare, I think it's safe to say the other side is the place to be.)

But Libel also doesn't realize the biggest problem with Prop 13 isn't the cuts in the education budget. It's that the proposition also shifted educational control from local communities to the state. So education got less responsive to on the ground activities--teachers and principals and superintendents and yes, parents, got less of a say about how things could be done--and the state took over, which made things even more politicized (heck, we have both a State Superintendent of Public Instruction, elected and a Secretary of Education, appointed).

Indeed, anonymous with a nickname, you have libeled unions.

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Blogger Smitty said...

I know this is just a shred on many of your points in your post, but we're looking at universal, full-time preschool and full-time Kindergarten in Michigan.

A couple of reasons: 90% of the human brain develops before the age of 5. Children who complete quality preschool earned $2,000 more per month than those who did not attend. Finally, according to the extensive High Scope Educational Research Foundation's "Perry" study, for every $1 we invest in preschool, taxpayers are saved up to $17 down the road, including $11 in corrections costs. Yet given all of those facts, ages 0 - 5 is where Michigan spends the least on a child's education.

The core issue aout failing schools thus is absolutely not "cushy teachers' jobs." It has every bit to do with the fact that when it matters most to invest in a child's education, we're not.. If they're not interested by 6th grade, according to the Perry study, you've lost them for good. NCLB focuses a lot on literacy, but too late (4th grade) and too late on testing as well (high school).

So teachers deal every day with middle school kids who are way behind and high school kids who are further behind and communities unwilling to pass a local millage to put more funds into their own schools...presumably so they can continue to bitch about lazy teachers and a broken educational system.

6:10 AM  
Blogger George said...

Smitty, thanks so much for your comment. One of the problems wading into the education problem is there are so many thing we should be doing and so many things we do we shouldn't it's hard to cover them all. So it's great to have you help me make my case.

9:35 AM  
Anonymous kusala said...

Maybe it's good that the pissing war got you to think further about the issue and clarify your own reasonable position, but I have to add that I unfortunately stopped reading Blogabarbara regularly a couple of months ago because I realized that the comment area was overrun with wingnuts and it served nothing but to raise my blood pressure. I say "unfortunately" because I did like there being a local forum, and many commenters are reasonable and use logic even if I don't agree with their positions. The anonymous trolls have, sadly, accomplished much of their mission over there.

I suppose it's cushy for public employees like me to expect to earn $45-$55K and decent health coverage after almost 15 years with my employer. We're the ones bankrupting this state, I tell ya! And don't even mention the policemen, firemen, and prison guards (although I do have minor problems with some of their contract terms and retirement packages).

11:58 AM  
Blogger George said...

Actually, the prison guards have the best union in the state.

I'm completely with you on BlogaBarabra though--the weenies won.

12:48 PM  
Blogger jqb said...

You could have afforded your home without destroying CA's financial system if Prop 8 had passed instead of Prop 13 (which had a clause invalidating Prop 8 just in case it did pass). Prop 8 would have amended the state constitution to allow a split tax roll that had already passed the legislature. As it is, the bulk of the savings from Prop 13 went to corporations, not home owners.

2:29 PM  
Blogger George said...

Thanks for the perspective jqb. I didn't live here when Prop 13 passed, so didn't know the history.

2:34 PM  
Anonymous kusala said...

George: You may have misinterpreted. I agree that prison guards have the "best" union in the state if looked at merely in terms of the rank-and-file getting some sweetheart deals and kind of holding the state hostage to their demands. Not that they don't do a seriously tough job, I just think that their (arguable) intransigence in negotiations sometimes results in some fiscally questionable deals (if speaking from the point of view of a taxpayer and as a public employee whose terms of employment aren't nearly as generous). Ditto my view of certain parts of the policemen's retirement deal and its effect on municipal budgets.

To some degree (a small degree), I agree with the Sarkozy theory of public employee reforms. One man's "evisceration" of hard-won benefits is another man's common-sense approach to fiscal responsibility. There's a happy medium for benefits & compensation somewhere between "not nearly enough" and "way too much," and it's hard to tell where to draw that line.

4:18 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

I can't speak to most of this CA-specific stuff since I haven't been here that long, but my mom has been a teacher for all her life. She'll be nearing retirement soon, but all through her career, teachers start and have gotten pregnant and quit teaching within a couple of years. There are a few of them that really stick around, but it seems, from her experiences, that when a person really wants to be a stay-at-home-mom, they pick teaching while waiting for that job to come along. Of course it could also be that when they get pregnant they find that the cost of daycare doesn't jive with what they make. Anyway, someone should look critically at those 50%-quit-in-5-years stats.

3:38 PM  
Blogger George said...

Kusala, we agree. I meant the prison guards have a union that gets what it wants--whether that's good for anyone else is a different issue.

Heather, you do point out one of the issues about teaching--as of 2004, 71% of teachers were women. Why is that? That's worth examining, a combo of age-old ideas about nurturing, about what a "man's" job is, and crummy pay, too.

4:02 PM  

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