Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Thanks Of A Grateful Nation


No one who achieves success does so without acknowledging the help of others. The wise and confident acknowledge this help with gratitude. ~Author Unknown


That little scamp, Megan McArdle, is such a scatterhead! She's been pulled off her epic deconstruction of Elizabeth Warren (Day 29 and counting) to pour over reports of teacher incompetence in Los Angeles. She prefaces her new topic with a post on one of her pet peeves; schoolteachers, and how much they suck. As a former schoolteacher I recognize one of my pet peeves, a student who thought that his or her teacher was stupid and lazy. Attitudes are easily misinterpreted and anecdotes do not do reality justice, however, so let's look at the issue in McArdle's own words.


The unhappy corollary of [unionization] is that the metrics will not only tend towards simplicity and ease of measurement; they will also tend to reward mediocrity. Again, this is not an accident of history. A collective bargaining unit run by a "majority rules" system is always going to look for a system that rewards the median or modal worker, not the best.

A merit pay system can work in one of two ways. It can benchmark teachers against the average, and reward the people who achieve the most improvement. Or it can set some minimum standard and give a bonus to any teacher who bests that standard. (You could set three tiers, or what have you, but the concept is basically the same).

In my opinion, the first system is probably going to best maximize productivity (though this is an interesting discussion for another blog post). But it would never pass a union vote, because the majority of teachers wouldn't benefit from it, and those who did would have to work harder. The second system might pass. But the union would make heroic efforts to water down the benchmarks until the majority of their members were receiving at least some "bonus" pay.

But compare either system to what now exists in our nation's schools. Every single teacher can stay on for years unless they do something direly wrong. Every single teacher can get a useless education degree, which basically requires a pulse. They have a system that spreads benefits absolutely evenly among all their members.


Teachers are inevitably mediocre people, since their unions only want mediocrity because teachers are lazy and want to be paid for incompetence.

We should pay teachers much more than we do. Right now, they take a substantial portion of their "pay" in the form of near-total job security. People like this benefit. But in most cases, they shouldn't have it, because it has predictable effects on performance--particularly when it is coupled with a pay scale that relies on measurable but not very useful traits like advanced degrees (totally useless) and seniority (the benefits of experience eventually level off). The only thing teachers have a financial incentive to do under this system is keep their butts in the teacher's chair, and acquire useless degrees from programs that mostly teach students how to sit through long and pointless classes.

The obvious thing to do is to strip the protections and up the pay, while using merit metrics to determine how that pay is allocated. But the union has very good reasons to resist this. For one thing, depending how you implement it, you'll substantially reduce the role that the union has in setting salaries, and thus its value to the membership. For another, more than 50% of their membership are, definitionally, average or below-average. Merit pay is probably not a good deal for them. Especially if they've spent valuable years of their lives acquiring useless M. Ed. degrees.

On a life-cycle basis, merit pay is only good for the minority of teachers who can produce outstanding results early and often. The rest used to have the comfort of knowing that they would eventually get to the top if they just ground away long enough. Hopefully, we can overcome this if we throw in enough money to sweeten the deal--as we should, anyway, if we want to attract great teachers. But it's a grinding battle everywhere it's been fought.


Teachers don't want to improve because they are lazy. Teacher are stupid, with undergraduate degrees that anyone with a pulse could get, useless advanced degrees, and limited ability to improve themselves. Mind you, this isn't all teachers. McArdle approves of Ivy League teachers. She just dislikes inner city teachers.

Teacher's lobby for kids when it happens to coincide with their interest. Unfortunately, in urban areas, it often doesn't.

I should probably clarify that I'm talking about twenty, maybe thirty failing urban school districts/agglomerations in the United States. I could care less whether Scarsdale has a powerful teacher's union that negotiates triannual ten month paid leave in Hawaii. And the problem in rural areas is not the teacher's unions, it's the geographic fact of no possible competition, and often the net outmigration of educated people who might make good teachers.


They are really, really lazy.

But in those urban areas, the teacher's unions are a big honking problem. This is not some crazy right wing opinion about unions in general; it is a specific problem with public employee unions. The cops and firefighters have their own issues, about which I will happily wax lyrical some other day, but in the end most of them boil down to getting paid ridiculous amounts of money to do no work. If the laziest ten percent of New York's teachers spent all day drinking coffee and doing "literature review", this would be a fiscal problem, but not a desperate one. The problem is, we stick the teacher's union's problems in our classrooms.


They don't want to use the best teaching methods. But they're not just lazy. They don't want to spoil all the fun of teaching disadvantaged children in poor school districts.

They resist changes to their work practices that the best evidence (see Ayers, Supercrunchers) seems to show works with disadvantaged kids: rote memorization, and phonics. These replace the tools that upper middle class give their kids earlier--even if you went to a whole language school, if you're reading this blog it's a safe bet you had phonics, too, when your parents taught you to "sound it out".


McArdle is saying that poor children are not taught to sound out words. Because their teachers don't think it's creative.

Unions also give teachers power to resist changes that make their jobs less fun. I think the teachers genuinely believe that these changes are bad; but I also think that they strenuously resist learning anything to the contrary. There is really good evidence for the benefits of direct instruction in teaching disadvantaged children. But direct instruction moves the teacher into being more of a technician and less of a creative professional.


Direct Instruction is the purchase of instructional materials from a corporation, which will be delivered to the student via anyone off the street. Teachers obviously must control the State Board of Education curriculum process, especially in Texas, which is very influential in textbook adaption. And has no teachers unions with any power.

In conclusion, teachers suck. So what does McArdle think will solve the problem of sucky teachers and incompetent school districts?

I want a voucher system not because I have it in for teachers, but because I want a school system that is more responsive, child focused, creative, outcome-oriented, and effective. I think that schools that have to meet basic standards and treat parents like customers are more likely to be this way than government monopolies[...].


The solution is to treat schoolchildren like customers and privatize their schools, handing over control to corporations to run at a profit. Because of the free hand of the market and market equilibrium and Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan and Ayn Rand. I must say, it's a tremendous coincidence that the fact that public teachers suck fits so perfectly with Megan McArdle's economic ideology. It's like a miracle!

By the way, what kind of a student was McArdle?

Don't get me wrong, I know that undergrads love [easy] classes. I too took Human Sexuality, along with a number of other fluffy courses designed primarily to allow me to get an A for staring dreamily out the window and occasionally dashing off a paper that mirrored the most trivial philosophical discoveries of whatever Beat poet or PoMo deconstructionist had formed the professor's intellectual framework. However, the fact that most undergraduates would like to spend their four years getting as little for their parents' money as possible, does not mean that the university is obligated to abet them in this pursuit.


Yeah, we thought so.

ADDED: In the comments we discover that the bad teacher described in McArdle's post was a in "typical rural, conservative district" and "This particularly teacher's family has been in the community for generations, she's married into another old family, family on the good 'ol boy power structure." The problem was not unions or Democrats or "inner city" teachers; it was the conservatives taking care of their own, getting them jobs and protecting them when their incompetence is revealed. McArdle should have related to the teacher, not sneered at her.

17 comments:

Clever Pseudonym said...

Megan should speak for herself. I didn't love easy classes and I never stared out the window. I paid attention to what I was being taught because I was in school to learn. Some of us actually enjoy learning. We went to college because we wanted to be educated people. Some of us even continue to learn new things after we graduate because we possess curiosity and a love of knowledge.


That Megan doesn't value these things says a lot about her. She just wanted the piece of paper that could land her a cushy job. Or maybe she was just there to meet a husband. What an idiot.

KWillow said...

I give to a website where one can give to individual classes in Inner Schools:

http://www.donorschoose.org/

THOSE teachers aren't laze or stupid. They are really struggling to help their students.

I've reached the point where I HATE ArgleBargle. Don't just despise and detest the paid shill (who gave her the command to diss inner city schools and Cheer corporate schools, I wonder?)

She's a stupid, mean person who has the ability to sound intelligent. As my admiring wingnut brother said "She knows the terminology".

Anonymous said...

Let McArglebargle put her ass where her mouth is and get out there and teach an inner-city class for a year.

Fuck, the stupid burns!

Anonymous said...

Its all so staggeringly depressing. Nothing seems to make a dent in that woman's delusional self confidence, even the obvious fact that she herself acknowledges she is the beneficiary of unearned privilige, daydreamed her way through her classess, paid for a useless degree and wrongfully impressed her gullible relatives with her lack of knowledge. She knows she's the mediocre product of a weak value system, skating by with meaningless credentials, and yet she has the nerve to criticize teachers in some of the hardest school systems in the country? Fuck her. No seriously. Fuck her.

aimai

Susan of Texas said...

I should have dug up that quote on how the best suburban school district is worse than all private schools. It reminds me of the woman who told me the stupidest Northerner is smarter than the smartest Southerner.

It didn't strike me until I assembled all the quotes that McArdle saves all her scorn for inner city teachers, most of whom are Black. Calling them lazy and fun loving sounds very, very bad. I'm not going to bother to call her racist--her class hatreds are worse than any racism she has, which seems to be mostly unconscious.

Anonymous said...

She's embarrassed by her racism (a bit) but its cleansed by class and regional hatreds. She's a perfect example of why Lee Atwater switched from outright racism to coded terms like "elites" and "welfare queens" and things like that.

My cousin is a public highschool principal in one of New York City's many small, alternative highschools. She works unbelievably hard and the kids, 150 of them, do elaborate presentations and papers on high level topics in order to graduate and their work is examined by outside examiners. Recently at a party she got together with another family friend who has been working as aprincipal in one of these alternative highschools. They work with kids all up and down the economic scale trying to get these kids into two and four year colleges. Both agreed that one of the major problems they have is that the kids often have no safe place to sleep at night. Our family friend has organized tiny, five person dormitories for some of the girls and boys from his school in order to give them someplace safe to stay.

When we are talking about urban schools we are talking about huge numbers of kids and of teachers wrestling with an uncommonly difficult task--just look at how hard, and how expensive, it is to educate an upper class kid inprivate school. Why on earth would anyone think it was possible to get the same outcome for an impoverished community for the same or less money, fewer teachers, less individualized teaching, less teacher parenting? It can't be done. Education costs and should cost a lot.

The wiki says this:

The New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) is the branch of municipal government in New York City that manages the city's public school system. These schools form the largest school system in the United States, with over 1.1 million students taught in more than 1,600 separate schools.[2] The department covers all five boroughs of New York City.
The department is run by the New York City School Chancellor. The current chancellor is Joel I. Klein, appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2002.
Because of its immense size—there are more students in the system than people in eight U.S. states—the New York City public school system is the most influential in the United States. New experiments in education, text book revisions, and new teaching methods often originate in New York and then spread to the rest of the country. To keep track of the large amount of student and school data, the Department uses the powerful Automate The Schools (ATS) system.

Anonymous said...

She's embarrassed by her racism (a bit) but its cleansed by class and regional hatreds. She's a perfect example of why Lee Atwater switched from outright racism to coded terms like "elites" and "welfare queens" and things like that.

My cousin is a public highschool principal in one of New York City's many small, alternative highschools. She works unbelievably hard and the kids, 150 of them, do elaborate presentations and papers on high level topics in order to graduate and their work is examined by outside examiners. Recently at a party she got together with another family friend who has been working as aprincipal in one of these alternative highschools. They work with kids all up and down the economic scale trying to get these kids into two and four year colleges. Both agreed that one of the major problems they have is that the kids often have no safe place to sleep at night. Our family friend has organized tiny, five person dormitories for some of the girls and boys from his school in order to give them someplace safe to stay.

When we are talking about urban schools we are talking about huge numbers of kids and of teachers wrestling with an uncommonly difficult task--just look at how hard, and how expensive, it is to educate an upper class kid inprivate school. Why on earth would anyone think it was possible to get the same outcome for an impoverished community for the same or less money, fewer teachers, less individualized teaching, less teacher parenting? It can't be done. Education costs and should cost a lot.

The wiki says this:

The New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) is the branch of municipal government in New York City that manages the city's public school system. These schools form the largest school system in the United States, with over 1.1 million students taught in more than 1,600 separate schools.[2] The department covers all five boroughs of New York City.
The department is run by the New York City School Chancellor. The current chancellor is Joel I. Klein, appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2002.
Because of its immense size—there are more students in the system than people in eight U.S. states—the New York City public school system is the most influential in the United States.

Anonymous said...

She's embarrassed by her racism (a bit) but its cleansed by class and regional hatreds. She's a perfect example of why Lee Atwater switched from outright racism to coded terms like "elites" and "welfare queens" and things like that.

My cousin is a public highschool principal in one of New York City's many small, alternative highschools. She works unbelievably hard and the kids, 150 of them, do elaborate presentations and papers on high level topics in order to graduate and their work is examined by outside examiners. Recently at a party she got together with another family friend who has been working as aprincipal in one of these alternative highschools. They work with kids all up and down the economic scale trying to get these kids into two and four year colleges. Both agreed that one of the major problems they have is that the kids often have no safe place to sleep at night. Our family friend has organized tiny, five person dormitories for some of the girls and boys from his school in order to give them someplace safe to stay.

When we are talking about urban schools we are talking about huge numbers of kids and of teachers wrestling with an uncommonly difficult task--just look at how hard, and how expensive, it is to educate an upper class kid inprivate school. Why on earth would anyone think it was possible to get the same outcome for an impoverished community for the same or less money, fewer teachers, less individualized teaching, less teacher parenting? It can't be done. Education costs and should cost a lot.

Anonymous said...

Damn, my comment was too long. Rather than taking the hint I'll add this:

The wiki says this:

The New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) is the branch of municipal government in New York City that manages the city's public school system. These schools form the largest school system in the United States, with over 1.1 million students taught in more than 1,600 separate schools.[2] The department covers all five boroughs of New York City.
The department is run by the New York City School Chancellor. The current chancellor is Joel I. Klein, appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2002.
Because of its immense size—there are more students in the system than people in eight U.S. states—the New York City public school system is the most influential in the United States.

Get that: larger than *eight other frigging states*.


Also, something that is really bothering me is why Megan "free market/contractrsacrid" Mcardle doesn't consider contracts that the education department and the teachers union enter into are...uh...sacred? Or even, as far as I can tell, really "legal."? She says outright that we've traded some job security for good pay--that's a choice states and the ed department made wittingly, and presumably the teachers and the teachers unions made wittingly. Who then is to complain? I mean, the taxpayers could decide to try an all new system in whic they throw massive amounts of money at teachers and set up an alternate system--like the "contractor" system for the military. But they don't want to do that. So who is to complain about the original bargain? Not a libertarian, surely.

aimai

Susan of Texas said...

Maybe for the same reason that she thinks financial contracts are unbreakable but GM's contracts are optional---pure class warfare.

And people say that the lower classes shouldn't engage in class warfare. They just hate it when we fight back. You see it on the internet all the time--how dare you check my facts/question my authority/poke holes in my argument? Don't you know I'm One Of The Elite?

Anonymous said...

I think what is so funny about Megan's particular version of this "don't question me, I'm in the elite" is that another sort of elitist shtick keeps getting in her way, rhetorically speaking. She both wants to insist on the primacy of a certain kind of elitism: have the right parents, have the right connections, go to the right schools, get the right piece of paper, get the right jobs and also she wants to appear cool enough, and rad enough, not to say that she *had* to do all those things or that if she had, she had to do them in such a way as to have needed them.

I guess what I mean is that with Megan you always *both* get "anyone who has been to a top ivy league school..." as a form of authoritative speech, and also the "I daydreamed my way through classes that were so pomo as to be meaningless..." So which is it? Was the elitism of her upbringing such that she deserves power and to speak for others, or was she so incredible that she basically fucked off and fucked upwards and still came out on top?

I think both are true. Megan's such an incurable suck up that she is really writing for her "peers" and her "friends" online and she knows for sure that they don't think she worked hard, or learned anything. So she always likes to drop those little too cool for school disclaimers. Also, like everyone else who went to an elite school Megan met plenty of scholarship kids and clawing meritocrats who beat the pants off her intellectually and on some level she knows it.

aimai

Susan of Texas said...

From the little I've seen of the McArdlesque elite, they believe any success is a sign of innate superiority and any failure is a sign of innate superiority. For instance, McArdle's poor work ethic in school was due to the low standards and ideological stupidity of her teachers, which she was too cool and hip to fall for or indulge by doing good work. Her credit card debt coming out of college was a result of her teachers imbuing her and elite classmates with unrealistic expectations. Her blog post mistakes are due to people passing on bad information. Et cetera ad infinitum.

How they long to be creative and cool and hip. It's the only thing they can't buy or be given by a relative. It must be very galling to them to see lesser creatures rise on merit, and, as you say, know that they are only there due to influence. No doubt that's why they constantly praise each other (as well as practical reasons).

Clever Pseudonym said...

aimai - you're spot on in noting Megan's dichotomy. She wants to be one of the cool kids who partied through school, but also wants to be taken seriously as an intellectual thinker. She doesn't want to do any of the actual work that being an intellectual requires, but uses the "intellectually intimidating"* family credentials as supposed proof that she's won the argument (lordy, that meltdown was *spectactular*).

That's what being a so-called libertarian really boils down to. They're actually just conservatives and Republicans who know those words conjure images of men with crew cuts and bow ties who always play by the rules and disapprove of any type of fun they deem to be amoral. So the idiots who, way too far into adulthood, still possess the need to feel "cool" went and started their own club. They are still conservatives, but they can feel special because they're a part of this limited membership that's only unpopular for all the right reasons.

*what does "intellectually intimidating" even mean? Do they have ocassions where they gather together to throw down over the classics or something? I suppose I can understand why a moron like Megan would find people intellectually intimidating, but for me, intelligence is not a race. It's not something you compete for, unless you're insecure about your own.

KWillow said...

Being very shallow, Megan seems to believe that all she needs to know (inorder to instruct & impress others) is "the terminology". She can sling economic terms about faster than a short-order cook at halftime at a football game, and the more economic-sounding terminology she crams into her columns, the more intelligent and perceptive they must be!

"corollary!" "metrics!" "collective barganing unit! vs. merit pay!" "MAXIMIZE PRODUCTIVITY"

How can one maximize productivity at a school? Do they not understand what schools are supposed to do? Students aren't a "product" and Teachers are not factory workers. Or at least they should not be.

Gah!

visibly agitated said...

"that's a choice states and the ed department made wittingly"

A thousand times yes. I have this "teachers unions are too powerful they're wasting our money" argument with a friend of mine quite frequently. He has the same three things to say, and I think I need some very basic point to hammer home over and over again. This is probably it--unions don't negotiate teachers' salaries with guns; the dept. of ed. gets a good deal; and no one should apologize because professionals get paid like professionals and get to live like modest human beings. Of all the things we're wasting money on, "the worst 5% of teachers" or whatever isn't it, and overhauling the whole ed. system to be able to fire a tiny fraction of people is insane.

Anonymous said...

Visibly agitated reminds me (what a great handle, by the way) of a thought experiment that (several) econ professors have done with their students. They've asked them, if they were white, for what amount of money, in a lump sum, would they willingly change their race for. This clarifies, apparently, for the kind of white student who doesn't believe in racism, or doesn't believe its so bad, just how bad it might be. Because it turns out that most people when given the choice actually need a huge sum of money to consider walking a mile in someone (of another race's) shoes.

Similarly, I think Americans of a certain persuasion are like John McCain--remember when he told us that we weren't willing to accept 50 dollars an hour to pick lettuce so we had to give those jobs to mexicans? Describe an average teachers day to your friend, and ask him what kind of compensation he'd have to get to take that job--and work that job for twenty or thirty years. It might clarify things for him a bit.

But right wing americans have this huge blind spot about Unions and about collective bargaining--as Susan and I were discussing they seem to think that "real" or "honorable" contracts ought to happen only between corporations, or between corporations and vulnerable individuals. Collective bargaining is really seen as unfair and almost immoral. As though a contract isn't a contract isn't a contract.

aimai

KWillow said...

There is also the conservative-right wing terror that a percentage of lazy/dishonest people will game the system, or a few sly con-men/women will get something for nothing. Therefore the whole program is a waste.
• Mediocre or bad teachers with seniority can't easily be fired due to Union Contracts means ALL Unions are bad and most teachers just "in it for the easy work and easy money".
• Because of "welfare queens": welfare is bad.
• Well-off people using Medicaid: goodbye Medicaid.
•If Non Gulf persons manage to get money from the Gulf Oil Spill Fund: there should be NO reimbursement for anyone!
• A group of Islamic fundies crash a jet into 2 skyscrapers (for political/economic reasons): All Muslims are evil.

As Pretend President Bush said: Conservatives don't do nuance.

Meghan sure doesn't. Tho she knows the word.