Tag Archives: Central Actors

The Pillars of the Central Actors in the Education Reform Debate

A recent interaction with Michael Josefowicz on twitter made me think of how old some of the components of the two platforms on which American education rested and rests — the Teachers Front Organizations and the Federal-Academic Complex — are. Wikipedia gives some dates:

Federal-Academic Complex

Teachers Front Organizations

It is interesting that the oldest pillar of the Federal-Academic Complex is (the NIH, established in 1930) is younger than the youngest pillar of the Teachers Front Organizations (the AFT, established in 1916). Doubtless the many years of monopoly control over education enjoyed by Teachers Front Organizations have contributed to their lack of empathy.

How Platform Monopolies Fail

Technology platform tend towards monopoly. Whether physical or virtual, platforms provide a level playing field for other actors to use to their advantage. The predictability of monopolies allows other actors to plan for the future, and the technological stabilization they present make the road ahead a lot less frightening for most involved. Monopolies cannot and do not “charge whatever they want” — they price their goods so that they capture a portion of the value they provide that is still low enough to deter other potential competitors from entering the market.

Markets fail through either lack of empathy or lack of understanding. Lack of empathy occurs when the monopoly is blind to the political concerns of other stakeholders, and they therefore use their power to break the monopoly. For instance, in the United States, the left-of-center turned strongly against the physical sciences after the Vietnam War, at the same time at the right-of-center was agitating against government control. The Bell System, by continuing to fund physics research while relying on government control of rates, thus back unempathetic to other actors, and was broken up.

General Motors was a much more empathetic monopoly. They encouraged the growth of the United Auto Workers, allowing both the capital and labor sides of the organization to strongly influence the Republican and Democratic parties, respectively. GM cleverly overcharged for their products, allowing niche competitors such as Ford and Chrysler to survive (and providing a veneer of competiton), while keeping those marginal companies captive through the threat of lower prices. Indeed, GM as an organization was so empathetic that management and labor was bailed out by the Bush and Obama administrations! Unfortunately for GM,the shock of high oil prices lead to a decline nonetheless.

In the US education system, the Teachers Front Organizations opeated as a monpoly for nearly a century, until being replaced by the federal-academic complex.The reason was both lack of empathy and an external shock. The lack of empathy was exhibited primarily from the Teachers Front Organizations’ lack of concern with State power or Employer’s seeking workers that can be hired. The external shock was first the sexual integration of the American workplace, followed by globalization.

I imagine that if either of these things had not been there — if the Teachers Front Organizations had not been lacking in empathy, if the workplace had not been integrated, or if globalization had not occured, the Teachers Front Organizations would stil be the platform monpoly in the US educational system. If the workforce had not been integrated, teaching would not have suffered from the lobotomy of low wages, as the sexism discount would have still brought many high-performing women into teaching. Likewise, if globalization had not occured, large employers would not have faced the stress of tring to hire a proportionate fraction of their labor force in the United States while facing a disproportionate incompetent labor force in the form of public school graduates.

The consequences of this failed monopoly are as hard for teachers as the failure of the Bell System or GM where for their stakeholders. The teacher leadership in the United States has left everyone — including teachers — down.

Monopolies do not last forever. And monopolies are not all bad. But the Teachers Front Organizations died as a monpoly because it was bad at its most basic job: survival

Organizing my Thoughts over the Last Year on Education Reform

Recently I’ve become fascinated by education reform, and in the past year (And especially the last month) I’ve written on different aspects of the subject. I did this in two general periods, a pre-systematic period (actually beginning with the very first post I made, “US Public Schools — Still Terrible” from early December 2004) and continuing thru “How Science Works” (from mid-december 2011). In the comments to that post, Mark Safranski of ZenPundit made this comment on Christmas Eve:

The corporations involved in marketing to public education entities, including testing companies, are not run by scientists and are not doing “science’. That’s not their objective.

There are companies that make (and/or administer) very high quality tests in psychometric terms in which you can have confidence that the results are valid and reliable. And then there are companies that offer testing products that…well….do not meet this standard but have the attraction of being markedly cheaper to purchase and can be administered by anyone off of the street or have students self-administer via computer.

If these much lower quality tests are used as a rough “snapshot” of academic performance as a guide to adjust instruction or direct remediation resources, that’s somewhat useful if re-testing is part of the process. To make any life-altering decisions about students or teachers on the basis of the results of one of these substandard tests is unethical and invalid.

And then at the bottom there are testing products at the level of which the State of Illinois was recently forced to term “catastrophic vendor failure” on forms submitted to the Federal Department of Education. Psychometric quality was not part of test selection criteria under tGov. Blagojevich’s ISBE.

*Who* gets to decides what test is used is a key decision; as is *how* the test results will be used, but low quality tests used for purposes for which they are not designed will discredit the process

which forced me to take the structure of education reform more seriously. ON Christmas Day I wrote “Major Political Actors,” which began my process of seriously thinking about why education reform is so hard. Generally, my thoughts have clusered in several major categories: xGW Theory, Dimensions of Force, Central Actors, Labor Relations, and of course the pre-systematic stuff I wrote in the preceeding seven years.

In the Context of xGW Theory

In the Context of Dimensions of Force

In the Context of Central Actors

In the Context of Labor Relations

In the Context of Education

Pre-Systematic Articles