Oklahoman Op-Ed

January 13, 2019

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

The Oklahoman carries my op-ed on why collective bargaining is a bad deal for teachers:

Teachers are like doctors and lawyers. Standardizing the work they do into a one-size-fits-all mold creates major headaches. But collective bargaining demands standardization, so processes and outputs can be negotiated.

The standardization demanded by collective bargaining is a major factor in all the complaints we’re accustomed to hearing from public school teachers — useless paperwork, unreasonable rules, rigid systems, dysfunctional bureaucracy. In a 2009 study of national data from the U.S. Department of Education, I compared public and private school teachers. The difference in teacher working conditions was dramatic.

Remember, you read it here first!

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Celebrity-Worship And Dysfunction in Social Science

January 8, 2019

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Rick Hess is releasing his EduScholar ranking tomorrow and we should expect a flurry of tweets and even university press releases bragging about people’s position on that measure. Even though Rick’s ranking (for which I serve as a nominating committee member) is a completely made up thing that has never been validated, people within our field act like it is incredibly important and care intensely how they are ranked.  I suspect that Rick knows this and that the ranking is epic-level trolling on his part.

But the field’s over-reaction to this unimportant ranking is a sign of its obsession with celebrity-worship. Even though almost no one outside of a few hundred people within our field cares about who we are or what we do, the folks within the field are crazed with a desire to have status and power in this universe that no one else even notices.  It’s as if we are in high school and everyone is obsessed with being accepted by the small circle of cool kids.  No one outside of your high school knows or cares who the cool kids are, but to those in the high school it feels like the most important thing in the world.  This is pretty much what education policy and other social sciences look like.

This excessive concern with status within our field is both the result of and contributor to a series of problems.  In economics, which seems the most afflicted with celebrity-worship, we see power and status concentrated in a small number of people within a small number of departments.  That small clique effectively controls the top journals in the field, dominates the main professional association, and has disproportionate influence over who is hired and tenured at those few departments.

Not surprisingly, this concentration of unchecked power leads to a variety of abusive behaviors.  People at the top of this status system can more easily maintain their power and help their friends, which is not only grossly unfair but also hinders a truly meritocratic pursuit of the best people, ideas, and research.  In addition, because those at the top are predominantly white and male, this strict status system excludes women, minorities, and all other newcomers who may differ from those with greater power.  And this concentration of unchecked power has also likely contributed to sexual harassment, intellectual theft, exploitation, and generally rude behavior.

Many people are beginning to speak out about these abusive behaviors.  There were several panels at the most recent ASSA meeting to document these issues and discuss what to do about them.  While this is all very encouraging, I fear that people may be missing what I suspect is the heart of the problem.  We can’t fix abusive and anti-intellectual behavior in social science by replacing a male-dominated status hierarchy with a more gender balanced system that still concentrates status and power so severely.  We suffer under a good old boy system, but we would continue to suffer even if they thought they were good, were women, and much younger.  The problem is the unchecked concentration of power and status.

I think we would be much better off if control over the main journals and professional associations was dispersed outside of a small number of people at a small number of institutions.  Boards for journals and professional associations tend to be self-replicating bodies that draw from the same incestuous pool.  They should consider adopting by-laws or at least norms that push them to consider finding new members outside of their familiar, friend and colleague circles.  It would also be helpful for professional associations and journals to adopt real grievance procedures so that intellectually dishonest or personally abusive behavior could be considered with due process and treated with appropriate sanctions.  My personal experience is that this is not happening.

But even more important than changing association and journal rules and procedures, we need to abandon the culture of celebrity worship.  No one in education policy or other social sciences is actually that important.  At most they are King of the Lilliputians.  At worst they are folks who were excluded from the in-groups in high school now taking their revenge by terrorizing those beneath them.  For the most part, no one in the outside world cares about who we are, what journals we publish in, what rankings we get, etc…  None of us are celebrities.

People at the top of our status system only have power because we have given it to them by acting like they are celebrities and that their position really matters.  The solution is the same as when we were in high school.  The only way to avoid being terrorized by the in-group is to stop caring about the in-group.  They just don’t matter.  Form your own chess club, play D&D, and ignore the football team and cheerleaders.

So when Rick’s ranking comes out, have a good laugh and think about how much those who are striving to be at the top of some silly list are wasting their lives. When high school is finished no one will remember or care that they were once really cool.


Collective Bargaining Hurts Teachers

January 8, 2019

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

OCPA carries my article on why collective bargaining hasn’t been a good bargain for K-12 teachers:

I’m not against unions. My wife worked for a union for years, volunteering long hours as an employee advocate in company dispute resolution. She signed up to work for the union when she saw managers mistreating workers, and the company violating its contractual obligations to them. The union was the only effective protection those workers had.

But collective bargaining and representation simply isn’t a good fit for K-12 teachers. Not all types of workers are well-served by unionizing. Doctors and lawyers don’t unionize. The nature of the work they do just doesn’t permit the standardization, controlled processes, and highly specified work outputs that are necessary for collective bargaining to be effective.

Let me know what you think!

Update: Also worth noticing: “our regression results indicate that unionization has a powerful negative influence on educational outcomes.”


Educational Opportunity and the Widow’s Mite

January 2, 2019

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Over at Chamber Business News today I discuss the above map from the indespensible Garrett Archer showing that areas with large Native American populations alone voted yes on Proposition 305 (marked green). They did so despite the fact that they were already included in the ESA population and despite the fact that a credible case could be made that it was not in their own selfish interest to vote yes. There is a lesson for the rest of us in all of this.

Native Americans were not voting their self-interest in supporting ESA expansion. They were already included in ESA eligibility. Because “No” prevailed, the ESA program reverted to the pre-expansion program, an annual cap on the number of new participants cycles off in 2019. If “Yes” had prevailed an overall cap would have come into effect, and this could have limited Native American participation absent further action. Every tribal community residing student is eligible to participate in the ESA. Nevertheless, it was they that voted “Yes” to expand eligibility- why?

We can’t be sure, but perhaps these communities are better acquainted with the desperation that parents feel when their child is failing to flourish in a school. Perhaps it is more obvious from the tribal community areas that while open enrollment and charter schools are good things, they aren’t a solution for everyone. We parents in Maricopa County have a vast array of district, charter, magnet and private school options. We may have made the mistake of taking choice for granted. It may be the case that other communities have a better grounding in just how vital and precious a thing it is for families to have a chance to find a school that fits their child’s needs and aspirations.

Many of us are very fortunate with regards to the education of our children. We carefully purchase our homes with an eye to attendance boundaries. We use open enrollment, we consider magnet schools, and/or enroll our children in charter schools. Those of us fortunate enough to live in this world would do well to remember that the communities with the fewest of these opportunities voted to expand opportunity further at some risk to themselves.

A Navajo proverb holds “Always assume your guest is tired, cold and hungry, and act accordingly.” Like the widow and her mite, Arizona’s Native American communities offered what little that they had and revealed once again the great nobility of their spirit. This is an example to which all Arizonans should aspire. We should not hoard opportunity, even if it superficially seems to our own advantage to do so. Rather we should provide opportunity to everyone.


Today we are CANCELLING the APOCALYPSE!!!!!!!!!!

December 18, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Over at RedefinED I pay homage to the dumbest awesome movie of all time, or is it the most awesome dumb movie of all time? Silly me- IT’S BOTH! Oh and also there might be some discussion of why it is absurd to talk about Florida education in apocalyptic terms.


That’s no moon, that’s a Death Star Bill!

December 11, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So my son Ben had an social studies assignment to explain the legislative process. He had to build a powerpoint and then this happened. Yes it went down the y-chromosome. I got a kick out of it, figured some of you might as well.

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The Prodigal Nerd Returns to Florida

December 3, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

A bit of personal news- I’ve taken a new gig at the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and as editor at RedefinED. Over at RedefinED online I offer an introductory post re-introducing myself to my friends in Florida:

Florida is a grandly innovative state with a record in policy implementation that is far greater than average. It’s very hard to appreciate this when you are close to your own inevitable policy and political messiness, but trust me, it is very clear from over here. I’m proud, for instance, that Arizona originated both scholarship tax credits and education savings accounts. Both innovations have been successfully taken to greater scale, however, in Florida – in no small part due to the relentless attention paid to the details of implementation.

You’ve taken crucial first steps towards equalizing opportunity in schooling. The sky not only did not open with a rain of frogs or locusts, you’ve seen real tangible progress. Florida public education, despite much protestation from traditionalists, is not only still there, it is substantially improved.

Funding for public education is guaranteed in the Florida Constitution and is as close to a permanent institution as you get in American society. It’s here to stay. Florida, however, has the chance not just to practice the form of public education, but to fulfill its actual promise. Much divides our society, but Americans still unite on crucial issues, including education. We desperately want an education system that gives students the knowledge, skills and habits needed for success and to responsibly exercise democratic citizenship. We – left, right and center – commonly and fiercely desire a system of schooling which serves as an engine of class mobility. Florida has moved the needle in this direction by setting families free to pursue opportunities that would otherwise be denied to them. More of this is needed and the next step will be to develop a consensus around setting educators free as well.