Public Schools Must be Challenged, Not 'Reformed'

Throughout history, employment generally has worked like this: You do your job and you get paid an agreed-upon wage. For our public education bureaucracy, however, that is unacceptable. Today unionized public school teachers are showered with every advantage – high pay, early retirement, lifetime employment and full pensions.


According to the Center for Education Reform, K-12 public education in America in 2008 was a $529 billion dollar endeavor, with 3.18 million teachers in 13,862 districts, and 49.3 million students. Average expenditure per student was $10,900 and average base salary per teacher was $44,400, excluding generous benefits and pensions and the added financial ‘bonus’ of lifetime job security.


And remember that that salary is for about 1,300 hours of work per year (roughly 9 months per year, 35 hours per week) versus 2,000 hours for the average worker. That works out to about $34 per hour. Then many teachers retire in their early 50s after 30 years of service, at full pension.


And it is crucial to remember that the average public school teacher today is no Isaac Newton, particularly in our cities where salaries are highest and achievement is lowest. It used to be a great system until the greedy Woodstock generation took it over and ruined it. The public education system has become so corrupt and bureaucratic that the lowest common denominator is often attracted to the public schools. Motivated, intelligent and creative people who might question the authorities are discouraged, kept out, or they are a tiny minority that keeps its mouth shut. The stories about this phenomenon are legend.


In Washington, DC, a new schools chancellor named Michelle Rhee has been touted as a reformer, demanding big changes in a corrupt and dysfunctional system. But recently, after several years of negotiation, Rhee came up with a dramatic new contract with the city’s teachers that offered bold new solutions to improve the schools: Nothing at all.


According to the Washington Post, the new agreement:


‘…provides teacher salary increases of more than 20 percent over five years, with much of it paid for through an unusual arrangement with a group of private foundations that have pledged to donate $64.5 million… offered experienced educators a chance to make as much as $130,000 annually in salary and performance bonuses. The plan required teachers who aspired to the top pay range to give up tenure protections for a year, essentially exposing them to dismissal without appeal…  helped (Rhee) attract an estimated $200 million in funding commitments from private foundations…’ (end of excerpt)


So what is this revolutionary new direction?


Nothing. It is the same old stuff. More money, more money, more money. Because when you are dealing with a labor union, you are only talking about one thing – more money. And notice the new tactic of school bureaucrats; to attract private money as well as tax money.


Performance bonuses? This is a typical union featherbedding tactic in which a teacher says, “I will do the job I was supposed to do if you give me a bonus.” Because they always get the bonus, in one way or another. And $130,000 for 9 months work is about $100 per hour.


And one whole year without tenure protection!? Those teachers are so courageous!


Yet despite the fact that these bureaucrats are making higher and higher salaries year after year, the schools get worse and worse. Because the more money that is fed into such a monopoly bureaucracy, the more corrupt and powerful that bureaucracy becomes.


Sure, there are some good teachers and good public schools in America. But generally, the system performs poorly and is hugely more expensive than it should be. And everyone knows why: Because corrupt and powerful unions call all the shots and are bankrupting cities and entire states with demands for more money.


There are many successful alternative schools outside the public system. Good charter schools have been established after endless sabotage attempts from the teacher unions. Religious schools succeed where public schools fail, at one-third the cost. Private schools pay teachers less money than public schools do, and have vastly higher success rates. So the problem is not more money. The problem is the unions and the corruption.


In DC, Republicans in the US Congress in 2003 even established a rare federal scholarship program so that 1,700 minority students could go to private, charter or religious schools. The kids and their parents loved the program and the students were flourishing. But the Democrats in Congress terminated the program in 2009. Why? Because the teacher unions pressured the liberals to get the kids back into the horrible public schools so that no child could ever get the impression that there is an alternative.


With our failing public schools manned by unions that bully the taxpayer and often put students dead last on their list of priorities, the liberals at Time magazine finally have proposed a real solution for education. In a cover story called Should Schools Bribe Kids? the geniuses at Time have decided that the solution is not in strong families, good behavior, discipline, personal virtue, or a recognition of the value of education, but in… more money.


Hmmm… sounds like the teacher unions, does it not? That we (students, teachers) will do the job we are supposed to do (learning, teaching) if we just get more and more and more money…


Yes, schools should now bribe kids to get good grades, say the lefties at Time, even noting a study by a Harvard economist supporting that proposition. Gee, what a surprise. A Harvard progressive socialist supporting the idea of paying students to do what they are supposed to do already.


Why does socialism always come down to money? Always!


Answer: Because socialism is a materialistic, wealth-based political ideology premised on one thing only – getting more and more and more money from other people.


And if such bribe programs were institutionalized, we know where that bribe money ultimately would come from – from the taxpayers who already are footing the bill for a failed system. And the bribe program would become rife with corruption on top of the fact that the concept is corrupt from the start.


For decades now, conservatives have been arguing for public school reform – elimination of automatic tenure, merit pay for good teachers, firing of bad teachers, and removal of corrupt principals and administrators. None of this works. Because the unions will undermine every  reform effort and turn every aspect to their advantage. For instance, they will end up getting the ‘merit pay’ even if there is no merit. Or they will get salary increases every year even when they are failing on the job.


The unions want no changes. And conservatives should not push for reform of the current system because it is too far gone. Conservatives should work for only one thing – vouchers – so that students can go to private, religious and charter schools that are not under the thumb of the bureaucracy. Because there are educators all over America who are chomping at the bit to start new, innovative schools, some of them even inside the public system today.


Through competition, the parents of America will see the truth and make a choice. This is what the public educators fear most and why they fight alternatives. And without competition, we are going to stay on the merry-go-round that Michelle Rhee is on, acting like she’s grabbed the brass ring when she has fallen off her horse and nothing has changed at all. And nothing ever will.


Please visit my website at www.nikitas3.com for more. You can print out for free my book, Right Is Right, which explains why only conservatism can maintain our freedom and prosperity.