the educational experience gets spoiled
When milk is
homogenized, it’s mechanically forced through tiny
channels that reduce the molecules of cream to sub-micron
size. This disperses them throughout the milk and prevents
cream from rising to the top.
In Nevada school districts,
also, mechanisms are in place to prevent the cream from rising
to the top.
Some teachers, research has
repeatedly shown, are much more effective educators of
students — regularly producing a lot more genuine student
progress than do their colleagues. Yet for decades Nevada
school districts have sold them out, refusing to pay them
more, other considerations equal, than the most mediocre.
The mechanism through which
this anti-excellence policy operates is the rigid,
one-size-fits-all pay grid that all Nevada school districts
allow the state teacher union to impose. Under those union
contracts, seniority and credits from largely sham college
courses determine teacher compensation — rather than objective
measurement of individual teachers’ actual effectiveness.
When milk is homogenized,
it more rapidly spoils, breaks down and becomes rancid.
Nevertheless, because homogenized milk is easier for big
dairies to ship long distances in paper cartons, almost all of
the milk in American stores is homogenized.
Similarly, when a school
district homogenizes teacher quality by submitting to the
union pay grid, it compromises its faithfulness to the
teaching function itself — the district’s very reason for
being. Currently, however, district leaders have strong
personal incentives to yield to the union. Not only do they
escape union-generated hassles — savage personal attacks and
school disruptions front-paged in the media — but the damage
done to the real victims, the kids, is largely invisible: It’s
the educational progress that did not happen.
The collectivized blurring of
teacher quality that occurs via the union pay grid is just one
instance of how homogenizing failure is intrinsic to our
government school systems. The 2003 Nevada legislative session
is illustrative. Fearful of losing its control over teacher
compensation, the union successfully campaigned to totally
block, legally, districts from using objective data on the
effectiveness of teachers in their performance evaluations.
BusinessNevada has written on this atrocity
before, focusing on
the role of the state political class in this betrayal of
Nevada parents, students and taxpayers. Yet the treason of
school administrators was no less shameful, for they chose to
lay low, rather than mobilize for the most important
education-accountability issue facing the state in decades.
Government school system
administrators, when meeting with concerned business leaders,
often imply that it’s the unions that tie their hands and
prevent needed educational reforms. But in fairness, the
public school systems were bastions of mediocrity long before
the National Education Association turned itself into a labor
union in the 1960s. Much of the reason why the NEA and AFT
(American Federation of Teachers) could sell themselves to
teachers all across America was that teachers saw themselves
as exploited by abusive and unfair administrations. Of course,
teachers today, with justice, still see themselves this way.
Only now, they recognize they’re exploited by both the
unions and administrations, who are in bed together.
fundamental problem today is that it remains based on coercion
and compulsion — principles antithetical to both the spirit
and practice of the life of the mind. After all, to really
flourish, human learning — like all forms of inspiration —
needs freedom. Yet administrations and unions share a
reflexive hostility to free choice in the realm of education.
They live in fear of losing the coerced taxes upon which they
subsist. They also deeply fear the loss of prestige and status
they expect would follow any system where their “clientele”
were not financially penalized for choosing more productive,
efficient and customer-friendly private sector educators.
Our public schools’
“mediocrity problem” also grows out of the fact that, as
tax-based and government-empowered institutions, they are
necessarily political institutions. Consider the
“stakeholders” a public school superintendent must juggle:
community pressure groups,
the administrators’ own staff people, on whom
“connected” teachers, and
Each of these groups can,
if upset, seriously threaten an administrator’s job.
Naturally, for public system administrators, balancing and
pacifying these multiple, conflicting constituencies becomes
the top priority.
At a private, market-based
school, however, the priorities of an administrator are quite
different. What’s paramount is the satisfaction of many
check-writing parents. That translates into a higher
genuine emphasis on educational achievement.
Parental choice ensures
that “homogenizing failure” can’t long succeed in the private
Thus we need parental
choice in all our schools.
Steven Miller is editor of Business Nevada and
policy director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute.