Tag Archives: Bruno Behrend

The Money-Seekers

In the education reform debate, there are several dimensions of force, such as

  • Money, where the major players are Teachers and For-Profit Education Companies
  • Power, where the major players are States and Districts
  • Childcare, where the players are parents and employers

In the middle of all of these dimensions is the central actor of the education reform debate: teh federal-academic complex, that collection of bureaucrats, researchers, and scholars associated with the National Science Foundation, the Department of Education, and the National Institutes of Health.

Bruno Behrend has also been writing about education reform, and he has used the term the “government-education complex.” Initially I thought by this he was simply describing the federa-academic complex, but in a recent column he defined his term as thus:

The “Government Education Complex” is the interlocking set of interests that control the vast majority of American education dollars, education policy, and the steady increase in unnecessary education job creation. The explosion of spending, debt, and taxation we’ve witnessed in the last 25 years was used to fund the growth of this Complex.

The complex is made up not only of associations of administrators and teachers unions, but an interconnected network of bond dealers, builders, architects, law firms, textbook companies, and other service providers who profit off of the overproduction of service contracts, debt, public employment and bureaucracy. This interlocking network has played a role in funding the campaigns of 1000s of elected officials at all levels and in both parties.

In other words, Bruno uses the term “government-academic complex” to refer to all players who primary interest in extracting money from the education system.

Indeed, Bruno continues:

The vast sum of political money raised by the “Government Education Complex” is used to write legislation at the state level to grow the complex while protecting it from any competition. State school codes are written by and for the complex and its members, and passed by the political class whose campaigns they fund.

Bruno is providng an important service, popularizing the notion that a major function of the educational system is provide extra wealth (insurance, lifestyle, etc.) to politically powerful interest groups, such as teachers or textbook publishers.

The Continuing Fall of the Teachers Unions

Several months ago, Bruno Behrend reviewedSpecial Interest: Teachers Unions and American Public Schools,” by Terry Moe. I haven’t read Moe’s book, but I found four three main areas of agreement with Bruno’s review, and one where I would take exception. The areas of agreement are over the unions’ web of influence, the role of Democratic Party politics, and the role of technology. The area of disagreement I have is over timing.

According to the review, “Moe also shows school boards, far from checking unions, are easily captured and controlled by them.” Bruno also writes that the National Educational Association was not originally a union, but was coopted into serving the best interests of teachers. I agree completely. Indeed, the NEA and School Boards, along with the AFT and the NPTA, are part of a United Front run by teachers for their own benefits.

Bruno’s review mentions that Moe “highlights two powerful forces undermining union power. The first is an internal battle of shifting political alliances, primarily in the Democratic Party.” As I haven’t read the book I don’t want to impute an argument that Moe did not make, but let me make a guess: Teacher Power has collapsed in the Democratic Party with respect to the following stakeholders:

Additionally, Bruno emphasizes the “radical disruption by technological advances in delivering education.” Technology itself does not make for better teaching, of course, but I like the use of the word “disruption.” While technology as such simply substitutes capital for labor, the rapid introduction of technology can accelerate transitions already under way.

My only area of disagreement is a minor one, and concerns timing. Ironically, timing also appears to be the only substantive area of disagreement between Moe and Berhend! Bruno writes:

This brings me to my only complaint about this valuable and informative book. After detailing the havoc unions have visited upon American children and taxpayers, Moe says the coming changes “will happen gradually,” “much of it coming over two (or three) decades.” Decades! Why not two or three years?

The reason of why not two or three years is that laws and regulations are simply parts of the superstructure are easily done away with, and easy to get wrong. An educational system relies on the political support of numerous factions. Teachers used to have the support necessary to rig the educational system to their favor, because they understood how a 19th century educational system works and were responsive to the needs of political stakeholders.

As teachers lost their touch and their empathy, they lost the ability to set the debate. Instead the federal-academic complex has stepped up to serve the needs of employers, parents, and others.

A new structure is evolving, but with the buy-off of a great many people, over the continental federal Republic we live in.

The future’s coming. It’s coming soon. And it will be (be)coming for a while.

The Cloud and Student Achievement

Bruno Behrend of The Heartland Institute recently had an article titled, “Parents, Technology Can Trigger Education Transformation.” In the article, Mr. Behrend discusses his work with Republican Governor Jeb Bush and Democratic Governor Bob Wise to help students become successful through “the cloud” of information technology.

“The Cloud” is originally an information technology term that relates to a view of information technology as a troublesome cost center that is outside the core competencies of individuals, small businesses, and most large organizations. In this view, endorsed by Lou Gerstner and others, companies should give up on being better than their customers in information technology, and accept ‘industry-standard’ levels of performance.

While Bruno uses the term ‘the Cloud’ exclusively in its technological sense, this view of looking to industry-standards probably is the only way that the “Ten Elements of High Quality Digital Learning” he outlines can be met. Those ten elements are (emphasis mine):

• Student Eligibility: All students are digital learners
• Student Access: All students have access to high quality digital content and online courses
• Personalized Learning: All students can customize their education using digital content through an approved provider
• Providers: All students have access to multiple high quality providers.
• Content: Digital Content, instructional materials, and online and blended courses are high quality.
• Instruction: Digital Instruction and teachers are high quality.
• Assessment and Accountability: Student learning is the metric for evaluating the content as instruction.
• Advancement: Students progress based on demonstrated competency.
• Funding: Funding creates incentives for performance, options, and innovation.
• Delivery: Infrastructure supports digital learning.

High quality providers, courses, and teachers are possible if we recognize that teachers unions have failed our country, and that scientific management of education is possible.

Teacher unions and the front organizations they ran — school districts, Parent Teachers Associations, and the like — may belong to the past, especially for the most able learners. For students with behavioral disabilities and maturity deficits, however, some form of daycare will be necessary while more and more of the actual instruction shifts to “the Cloud.”

The Parent Trigger, Imaginative Educators, and Self-Interest

Recently I had had a blog exchange with prominent education activist Bruno Behrend both here and at Chicago Boyz. While I have Bruno’s attention, I thought it would be interesting to go through some of his recent work, and see how it fits into my perspective.

Because Bruno’s talked a lot about the “parent trigger” (allow charter schools to form in a district when a majority of parents in a district support it), I decided to add my own voice to an dialog that Bruno had with Jay Mathews.

Jay criticized the idea, writing:

The job must start not with us parents, but with imaginative educators like Meier who are willing to stick with their ideas and their school for the long haul. Even if by some miracle we trigger a change in our local school, when our kids grow too old for that place we are gone. The parent trigger people will then have to explain their admirable but unworkable idea to a whole new group of us, just as confused and even less certain we have time for this.

Bruno took exception to this:

Here Mathews not only reveals his distrust of one of the deepest of societal relationships—parent to child—but also that he has adapted selfishness as his criteria for personal involvement, just as have self-interested teachers unions and establishment buzzards.

Jay’s talk about “imaginative educators” sounds like it was written on another planet, or at least another time.

The teaching profession in the United States has been lobotomized. We pay for a a sub-standard teaching cadre, and that’s exactly what we get:

In fairness, while I agree with Bruno that “self-interested teachers unions” are a problem, everyone is self-interested. Teachers, publishers, parents, employers, States, and Districts all want something.

The problem with teachers unions is not that they are self-interested.

The problem is that teachers unions are incompetent.

Teachers unions do not understand education and are not empathetic to other stakeholders.

That is why they are not longer the platform on which the future of American education depends.