Discussing
How to talk intelligently about education reform

Bill Boerman-Cornell

Arshield
May 10, 2011

RE: the unions.<br><br>My wife working in Chicago for 10 years as a teacher. Unions, or the threat of union involvement saved several very good teachers from being harassed or worse by some very bad principals. At the same time they saved some very bad teachers from principals that were trying to really work for the best interest of the children. But my bigger point is that unions do not exist for most of the south east. In GA, where we have lived for the past 5 years, it is illegal to have a union for pubic employees. But it still is hard to get rid of bad teachers and there are still issues with good teachers suffering under bad principals. So unions are not really the issue. It is employment policies that are the bigger issue and those policies are true whether it is a union or non-union district. And frankly, the biggest issue from my experience is that the principals can identify the bad teachers, but they do not want to go through the work of documenting, so they try to pressure or intimidate teachers out instead of doing the actual work of managing staff.

Jason Summers
May 10, 2011

Bill makes a very important observation in his third point: vouchers are something we all should support in principle, but their practical benefit elude the most needy children because of other contingencies that prevent those children from taking advantage of such options. To illustrate how this type of entry barrier affects many similar programs, I offer two similar scenarios. First, charter schools: many teachers in urban public and charter schools have told me that, despite serving what are nominally the same population, charter schools always have fewer problem children. Why? Because the barrier to entry for charter schools (e.g., parents being willing to sign a form) is too high for the most troubled families. A parent who is unable to read or unable to function due to drug use is not able to enroll their child. Second, college aid: I went to school through three degrees essentially for free for the first and paid for the last two, but I know of many needier and equally talented individuals who did not. Why? The barrier to entry was their parent or guardian signing a form. The solution in that case was for some to have themselves declared independent minors. However, for charter schools, vouchers, and other programs aimed at young children, there is no legal workaround such as that. Accidents of birth are essentially irrevocable and throw quite a wrench into the fantastical bootstrapism so core to our cultural mythology. For social programs to have real impact, they must be met on the ground by a broad swath of civil-society institutions ensuring that justice is done to the least even when family situations make barriers to entry formidable.<br><br>js

Todd Hertz
May 10, 2011

Wanted to show some appreciation here for a respectful and intelligent discussion starter in a tricky arena. I especially like point #1. I have heard it this way: When military endeavors fail, we don't blame the soldiers. We blame the system. The decision-makers. The policy. Then why do those on the front lines get attacked in education? We have a broken system and kids are paying for it. But so are educators.<br>

Ryan Morgan
May 10, 2011

Some good points here, but #4 is kind of silly. Many teachers have this halo effect that they are worth much more than they are, even when they are tons of out-of-work teachers who would love to take their job at their current pay. To make unions unnecessary, you'd have to pay these teachers what they THINK they are worth. And no local government in the country has that much money.

Aimeelynn77
May 10, 2011

I am a special education aide at a public middle school in the mid west. I offer a big "Amen" and an even bigger "Thank You" to Bill for a very intelligent and thoughtful posting. He hit the nail on the head on all points.

Maureenherring
May 11, 2011

As an educator, thanks for #1.<br><br>While it's true that solutions do take time, I think we need a more nimble process for implementing reform. It takes so long to gather and aggregate data, decide what to do, decide how to implement the reform, determine how to measure it and how to allocate funds based on the measurement that by the time the reform is implemented newer and more pressing problems have arisen or better solutions have been developed. And trying to back out of a reform that's not working can be even more involved. <br><br>Lots can be learned when teachers lecture and students work alone, but classroom learning needs to reflect the collaborative and adaptive skills students need to function in 21st century work environments and social settings. On top of that students need better technology, schools need better technology support and teachers need better technology training.<br><br>While a recent Harvard study showed that students from states with teacher's unions out-performed students from non-union states, it's not all about the money. Private schools educate students with fewer dollars per student while paying teachers significatntly less than their public schools counterparts yet, according to a Time study, private school students consistently outperform public school students on tests like the SAT that measure critical thinking. Perhaps class size, teacher autonomy, professional respect, or teacher motivation are driving factors rather than money. <br><br>Private school students are generally from homes where education is highly valued and parents are more involved. The community and environment the student experiences outside school is influential. For many lower income students the information and experiences encountered at school fits nowhere in their social context. Studies show that equipping communities to support its students outside school walls is key. If solutions for all God's children need to be found then God's children need to donate, volunteer, mentor and pray.<br>

Brooklyn Cravens
May 11, 2011

If you slip up and say something lame or unintelligent in a discussion on education, you can always default to, "teachers should get paid more!" Although I do think they should get more pay.<br><br>My favorite point was #4. When you come to the fact that unions, in all honesty, are unnecessary for the economy to work, it becomes easier to live/work without them.

Dan
May 12, 2011

Does anybody else believe that "education reform" needs to start with bringing the Bible back into the classrooms? Webster's 1828 dictionary defines:<br><br> <br>EDUCA'TION, n. [L. educatio.] The bringing up, as of a <br>child, instruction; formation of manners. Education comprehends all that<br> series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the<br> understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of <br>youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations. To give <br>children a good education in manners, arts and science, is important; to<br> give them a religious education is indispensable; and an immense <br>responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect these duties.When it says that "a religious education is indispensable", it's not talking about secular humanism, which is what you get in our schools today. People make such a huge issue of the separation of church and state and yet our tax dollars are being used to teach millions of children the religion of humanism. You can see the results of this indoctrination all around you in the crime rates, the loss of respect for life as evidenced by the fact that over 3000 babies are aborted in America every day, the growing antagonism towards Christianity and anything even remotely resembling an acknowledgment of our Christian heritage, etc. Our tax dollars are being used to teach our children about false gods, that there are many gods, that we are god, anything can be a god except the Triune God, especially the Lord Jesus Christ. We as parents will be held accountable by God for what we teach our children, whether we teach it to them or it's taught to them by whomever we choose to give our children over to, they are our responsibility, our blessing. I strongly encourage people to think about what you want your children to be learning. We, as Christians, are called to be holy, separate, set apart. Do not pursue the things of this world, don't do things the way unbelievers do them. Are we supposed to conform to the patterns of this lost world? Or are we to be transformed by the renewing of our minds? <br><br>Proverbs 22:6 ESV<br><br>Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.How much time does it take to counter the false teachings of these schools that are becoming more and more antagonistic towards Christians and parents? Children are in these school settings for at least 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, for at least 13 years. They aren't just dipping their toes in the waters of humanism, moral relativism, and tolerance, they are existing in it like a fish in water. It's in the school, it's on the T.V., it's in the movies, it's in the music, it permeates their minds. Can you counter it with a few minutes a day, a few hours a week, a couple of Sundays a month? Think about it, Christian. What is God calling us to be and do?

Jamesggilmore
May 12, 2011

<i><br><br>Does anybody else believe that "education reform" needs to start with bringing the Bible back into the classrooms?</i><br><br>No. Not in a public school system in a nation whose founding document, the highest law in the land, proclaims that government can't establish a religion. Not in a nation where opinions about the Bible—to say nothing about opinions about religion itself—are widely variable and often mutually incompatible. Whose Bible do you teach? Whose interpretation? What of the many, many children who aren't Christian, whether they follow another religion or no religion at all?<br>

Jamesggilmore
May 12, 2011

<i><br><br>My favorite point was #4. When you come to the fact that unions, in all honesty, are unnecessary for the economy to work, it becomes easier to live/work without them.</i><br><br>See, I don't think that point is ever going to come, because of humanity's fallen state. Business owners will always have an interest in making more profit by paying their workers less, by cutting corners on safety, by creating situations where workers fear for their jobs because they can be fired for arbitrary reasons, by cutting benefits and pensions. And because business owners are fallen people, when they're given the choice between doing the moral thing and treating their workers fairly, or doing the immoral thing and exploiting their workers for a quick buck, they'll tend to choose the latter. Thus, I think strong, vibrant unions will always be needed—and, in fact, I'd suggest that <i>more</i> unions are needed, in every field of business, for every working person—in order to provide a counterbalance to the profit motive for business owners.<br><br>Is it possible for unions to overreach? Of course it is. But I'd suggest that 95% of the time someone's pointing to "union overreach" in this country, it's because management made boneheaded decisions (see: GM) or because businesses that treat their workers fairly can't compete with bad-acting competitors who didn't sufficiently respect their workers—the solution to which is <i>more</i> regulation and <i>more</i> intervention to ensure the existence of a level playing field in which <i>all</i> businesses are expected, by custom if possible but by law if custom fails, to pay their workers a fair and living wage, to give them benefits and a pension, to give them due process for the redress of grievances from either party, and to ensure that they have a safe working environment.

Bethanykj
May 12, 2011

the existence of unemployed people who are desperate is not an excuse to underpay highly educated specialists. I'd love to take the job of any CEO at his (or less often her) current pay, and yet they continue to demand raises.

Jason Summers
May 12, 2011

Well, no, supply and demand really does need to be the driving factor for salaries---with appropriate controls for labor-market inefficiencies (e.g., training or retraining workers takes time and people have a limited ability to move) and exploitation of information asymmetries (e.g., employers knowing risks they don't convey to workers). Teachers are paid quite well in some markets (often those in which few wish to work) and poorly in others. Often this is due to supply issues. <br><br>Moreover, you can't really set education level alone as the bar for pay. Some fields that require more education than teaching are less well paid, others are better paid, but each brings with it a cocktail of benefits and costs.Of course, as you note regarding CEOs, it also matters to whom an individual's work is valuable. Social workers might be invaluable to their clients, but those clients are little able to compensate them and they typically receive compensation from the state based on the value society via government allows. At the same time, partners in corporate law firms are also invaluable to their clients, and those clients are well able to compensate them. Clearly one can chafe at the idea that the partner's additional year of schooling and different career path has an additional market value in the area where I live that is well into the seven figures per year.What is interesting to me is that markets are such that those who serve business interests directly always win out over those that serve people or knowledge directly. (Now I realize that's partly a false dichotomy, as Adam Smith would note, since to succeed in business one must serve one's customer.) But, this is a condition that has existed for most of history. Barring monarchs and cleptocratic rulers, it has always been those serving the needs of commerce who are more materially compensated and control the most wealth.

Dan
May 12, 2011

1. The government is establishing a religion, secular humanism.  I say, get the government out of our education, and if we can't get the government out of our education, take our children out of the government indoctrination centers and make new schools that teach according to the standards of God, not man.<br>2. There is only one Bible, I'm not overly concerned with the translation as long as it is a valid translation, not a distorted translation that denies the Godhood of Jesus Christ.<br>3.  Therein lies the problem.  If we, as a nation, turn away from God in order to appease unbelievers, God will judge us as a nation and will find us wanting.  Look around and tell me that you don't already see the evidence of God turning this country over to a hardening of our hearts, judgement will come.  There are no negatives that I can see in teaching all American children that there is a sovereign God to whom we are all accountable.  It's a start.

Jamesggilmore
May 12, 2011

The idea that not imposing Christianity on everyone's children is somehow "appeasing unbelievers" is a scary one—because it suggests that unbelievers are somehow not truly citizens of this country, that not imposing right-wing Christianity is somehow something we'd do out of the kindness of our hearts rather than because our nation's laws and our own values demand it. Furthermore, the term "appeasement" also suggests <i>war</i>—that somehow your version of Christianity is at war with all other forms of belief. Neither of these attitudes is at all appropriate for a citizen in a democratic society. Those who follow a different religion from you have just as much a right to an education, and just as much a right not to have religion imposed on them, as you do; furthermore, they are your fellow citizens, not your adversaries. When you're prohibited by law from imposing your religious values on them, it isn't "appeasement"; it's a recognition of <i>their rights</i> as human beings not to have any religion imposed on them.<br><br>Oh, and if you're going to seriously suggest that secular humanism is a religion, please support your claim. First, of course, you'll have to present a definition of "religion"—please define using scholarly, peer-reviewed sources from publications in the field of religion, anthropology, sociology, or culture studies, in order to put some authority behind your definition—and then you'll have to demonstrate that what is being taught in public schools does, in fact, meet that definition.

Dan
May 13, 2011

I'm definitely not implying that unbelievers are not citizens of this country.  I will say, however, that this country was founded on Christian principles, regardless of popular belief (that is currently being taught in schools).  The Bible was taught and used as a textbook in our schools.  Again, I say, get the government out of our schools.    <br><br>Yes, it is a war.  A Christian can not deny that there is a war, not a war requiring violence and bloodshed obviously, true Christians know that they have no legitimate reason for pursuing violence in order to fulfill the commands of Jesus Christ.  There are two kinds of people in the world, children of God and children of wrath, either you love God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit or you are an enemy.  We are told to love our enemies, help them, tell them the good news of the gospel, pray for them.  If we have to choose between what is right in man's eyes and what God commands, we must obey God, regardless of the consequences from men.<br><br>Is humanism a religion? See what you think:here, <a href="http://www.humanistsofutah.org/what.html;" rel="nofollow">http://www.humanistsofutah.org...</a> and here Paul Kurtz, in the preface to Humanist Manifestos I &amp; II (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1973), p. 3<br><br>If it walks like a religion, talks like a religion, well...It's their own definitions that tells the story.<br><br>I would say more, but I'm pressed for time.  Got to get to work.  I'll be back, hopefully this weekend.<br>

Jamesggilmore
May 13, 2011

<i>I will say, however, that this country was founded on Christian principles, regardless of popular belief (that is currently being taught in schools).</i><br><br>Again, please demonstrate, with references to works by actual, real historians (i.e., no David Barton) publishing in peer-reviewed journals or academic-press books.<br><i>Again, I say, get the government out of our schools.</i><br><br>And you propose to provide for the education of children whose parents can't afford private school tuition exactly how?<br><br><i>Yes, it is a war.  A Christian can not deny that there is a war</i><br><br>I deny that there is a war. Are you suggesting that I'm not Christian?<br><br><i>There are two kinds of people in the world, children of God and children of wrath, either you love God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit or you are an enemy.  We are told to love our enemies, help them, tell them the good news of the gospel, pray for them.</i><br><br>I know many people of other faiths, or no faith at all, and I do not consider them enemies in any sense of the word. In fact, most of them I consider friends, and some of them close friends. Do you know anyone of a non-Christian faith, or of no faith at all? Would you be willing to tell them to their face that they are your enemies, and you're only nice to them because God told you to be?<br><br><i>Is humanism a religion?</i><br><br>That wasn't what I was asking. What I was asking was for you to demonstrate that what's taught in public schools is a religion. You can't simply assume that we'll all accept your assertion that secular humanism is taught in public schools; you have to demonstrate it by showing evidence to that effect.<br>

Bethanykj
May 14, 2011

This case can't be subject to simple supply and demand, because demand is controlled by government by expanding class sizes and cutting special programs, not by the consumers. Similarly, if you could pay the best teachers a higher wage, that would be great, but that is not how government jobs work. This is why I think unions are necessary, because all the controls come from the demand side, and the supply (teachers, who are valuable human beings) have less control.Also, if it was a system of strict supply and demand, then people who were willing/able to pay more would get all the best teachers, which would hardly be a good situation for the "least of these."

Josh Benton
May 14, 2011

Does anybody else believe that "education reform" needs to start with bringing the Bible back into the classrooms?<br><br>Bibles aren't as easy to hide behind when getting shot at. Other text books might work better. <br><br>If you desire bibles in the classroom, check out <a href="http://www.csionline.org" rel="nofollow">www.csionline.org</a> and send a child to one of these places. Not trying to be mean, but that is where you'll find a bible in the classroom. <br><br>We need to get more parents involved in the lives of the students. We need to de-emphasize sports and re-emphasize education. Students now go because of sports programs, for extra-curricular programs. We are training students who are good at sports but bad at math and spelling. <br><br>Bibles won't help. You're involvement in the life of the classroom will. If you desire a Christian presence in the classroom, please volunteer to help the teachers who are overburdened with oversize classrooms and unable to meet the needs of the students.

Jason Summers
May 14, 2011

Bethany,<br><br>I think you've misunderstood me.  I also think you and I have different understandings of government.<br><br>You seem to be suggesting that it is wrong for demand for particular skills to set the price such work commands and that this condition, which you view as problematic, should be corrected by unions.  I'm confused by this.  Unions use collective bargaining to balance the negotiating dynamic between employers and workers and act to safeguard employee interests from exploitation.  This is why unions are essential.  However, they cannot set wages irrespective of supply and demand except when other inefficiencies intervene.  (An example of this is Detroit automakers, who paid more than justified for labor in terms of total compensation, which ultimately led them to financial crisis and to move labor to areas not controlled by unions.)  For this reason, teachers' unions negotiate rather different wages and benefits in Manhattan than in rural TN than in Washington, DC.<br><br>Now, with respect to demand, yes government policies control the number of teachers per pupil and thus modulate demand.  However, this is subject to votes of taxpayers at state and local levels who ultimately must fund the positions via their taxes, so demand is also driven by citizens (consumers).<br><br>In any case, I just don't understand how such a situation devalues teachers.  Scientists such as me are paid rather different wages in different fields and different parts of the country.  Our choices about where to work (university, industry, government, nonprofit) influence our pay and bring distinct balances of benefits, salary, and intangibles.  Our willingness to accept certain conditions (supply) together with the need for individuals to do such work (demand) establishes the rough scale of pay.  This is how all jobs are.  That includes government jobs.  Here in Washington, DC, the pay for government lawyers starts higher than other government jobs because they must compete against high-paying jobs offered by private law firms.<br><br>Moreover, in the areas of greatest need, teachers are often better paid.  In fact, in some troubled school districts the amount of money spent per pupil exceeds all other areas of those states.  This is partly due to low supply (people don't want to work in difficult districts). The reason funds are available for this is that tax policies in many states allow for districts with lower tax revenue to borrow from districts with higher tax revenue.  This is the cases in states such as NJ and MI.  Thus, it is not the case that poorer districts are less able to pay teachers.<br><br>Finally, you argue, "if you could pay the best teachers a higher wage, that would be great, but that is not how government jobs work."  However, that is exactly what is now being considered in many districts (including Washington, D.C. - <a href="http://www.newser.com/story/85502/dc-teachers-union-agrees-to-merit-pay.html" rel="nofollow">http://www.newser.com/story/85...</a> ).  Often this move is resisted by unions because they are charged with serving all of their members, not just those deemed "best performing."  Note also, that in my difficult district teachers are quite well paid, with top salaries before merit pay being twice the national median salary and in the top fifth of earners and top salaries after merit pay placing them in the top 5% of earners (about the pay of a full professor at an Ivy league university).<br><br>js

Dan
May 16, 2011

My last post regarding this subject.  We are obviously coming at this from two different directions with two opposing view points.  If you don't see humanism as a "religion", you can call it whatever you want; it cannot coexist with Christianity.  If you don't think this country was founded on Christian principles, nothing I'm going to say is going to change your mind.  Read the Declaration of Independence, read the Federalist Papers, read Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America", etc., I'm not looking for sound bites.<br><br>Whatever we do should bring glory to God, we should be seeking to do what pleases Him.  Does our education system please God? Are our kids learing THE TRUTH in school? I'm not concerned about pleasing men.  If we do what is pleasing to God and it's in His will, then it can only be good for men, though many will despise it.  <br><br>Galatians 1:10 ESV<br><br>For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.<br><br>Romans 8:28 ESV<br><br>And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.God bless you.

Bhilliardga
May 16, 2011

Dan,<br><br>The constitution protects us from having to endure a particular religion taught in our classrooms. If this nation becomes 90% muslim, would you want the majority to decide that the Quran and the teachings of Muhammad should be taught to your children? <br><br>Brandon

Paul
May 16, 2011

Dan, May I ask a question? If the bible became one of the, if not THE principal textual teaching aids, would that mean a literal and innerant view of its contents be taught. Would creation have taken seven days? Would the progenitors of all mankind be Adam and Eve and would all the animals that walk the earth today owe their 'survival' to an old man who built a rather large wooden boat?

Bethanykj
May 17, 2011

I think you're right that we are starting with different assumptions and that is making clear communication a challenge. I also appeal to the end-of-semester grading as an excuse for my own fuzziness.<br><br>I am mainly reacting to assumptions that because of market forces teachers don't deserve to be paid more than they (on average) are. It's a hard job that we should value more as a society, I think. Ryan's implication that this opinion is a result of a "halo effect" upset me. Nobody goes into teaching for the money, and that alone should give us pause before we accuse teachers and teacher's unions of being driven solely by greed.<br><br>Of course, the economic pressures are much more complex than either of our initial posts accounted for.

Wmrharris
May 23, 2011

I would suggest that this viewpoint is a little-too restricted, both in time and scope. In time, it's not as if the problems are new -- previous generations armed with the Bible in schools were not any more immune from false and mistaken belief. Indeed, as recent books on the Civil War suggest, a Protestant (biblical) worldview actually seemed to fuel the conviction that the respective sides were right and so fueled the slaughter. There are other incidents of failure to apply the Bible when it was part of the curriculum, as well. <br><br>And then there's scope. I am unaware that children who come out of the alternative CSI schools are any more resilient to this culture than those form the public schools. At a practical level, I don't see that there is this safe harbor.<br><br>But if there is no safe harbor, then that suggests that the initial hypothesis of "no Bible in school = secular degradation" may be incorrect. And indeed, if one were to become acquainted with any number of public schools (general or charter), one would find a host of committed teachers working to shape young lives, committed teachers who also play an active life in their congregations. Plainly put, you do not need a Bible on your desk to teach a biblical world and life view, any more than you need a Bible to function as a Christian accountant or a Christian doctor. The philosophy of Christians in education is far broader and deeper than that.

Dan
May 25, 2011

Um...yes.

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