Tag Archives: Teachers Front Organizations

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 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

How to Be a Central Actor in the Education Debate

Education policy in the United States has enjoyed two central actors in the past century — first the Teachers’ Front Organizations, and more recently the Federal-Academic Complex. The Teachers Front Organizations include the American Federation of Teachers (“AFT”) labor union, the National Education Association (“NEA”) labor union, the National Parent-Teacher Association (“your school’s PTA”), school boards who membership is influenced by teacher turn-out, and so on. The Federal-Academic Complex is composed of major research universities, the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, large charitable trusts, and so on.

The Central Actor — whether as in the past Teachers Front Organizations, or as now the Federal-Academic Complex — is a bank. Actors that are more narrowly focused will trade the resources they have to the Central Actor in order to gain more of the resource they most prize.

In the past, when Teachers Front Organizations were the Central Actor, and all dimensions of force focused on them. Publishers used their political power to flatter teacher-controlled school boards to sell their books, parents paid taxes to teacher-run schools to take care of their children, and State politicians gave control of childcare o teacher organizations to secure their own elections. Teacher Front Organizations easily converted money, power, and childcare, and used canny trades to increase their money, power, and control over children.

Now, that the Federal-Academic Complex is the Central Actor, all these processes still occur — but the Federal-Academic Complex, not the Teacher Front Organizations, benefit. It is impossible to search online or read twitter without encountering howls of pain and anguish from teachers, who correctly see that their power is being eviscerated and that bureaucrats, scientists, do-gooders, and academics are enjoying the rewards that used to be theirs. Worse, from the stand-point of teachers, teacher welfare has gone from being one of the objectives of the Central Actor to a thing that can be bargained away. It is hard to imagine publishers gaining enough leverage over the Teacher Front Organizations to divert a significant amount of money away from teachers and to themselves. It trivially easy to imagine Publishers trading that much power to the Federal-Academic Complex to divert money away from teachers and to themselves.

One reason for the current weakness of teachers is the lobotomy of low wages, but of course low wages don’t just happen — they were caused. Specifically, the rise of the Federal-Academic Complex and the fall of Teachers Front Organizations is the result of a broader trend: the dismantling of democracy in the United States that began in the 1930s under President Roosevelt.

In same ways, this was a good thing. I’ve previously written that the military-industrial complex keeps the world safe from American democracy, and in the education reform debate I am more sympathetic to the Federal-Academic Complex than to what is left of the Teachers Front Organizations. But it is undeniable that the ability of “bottom-up” teachers organizations to control education policy in the United States was eventually killed by the “top-down” tendencies of the Federal Bureaucracy. Step-by-step the Teachers Front Organizations allowed the Federal-Academic Complex to aggrandize itself, not realizing its threat as a top-down competitor and instead just treating it as another weak partner, ripe for parasitism.

In order to be a Central Actor, you need to things: the ability to act as bank for more narrow-minded actors, and the possession of a politically-feasible foundation. The Teachers Front Organizations, formerly diverse and uniquely suited to local American democracy, used to possess these attributes. The Federal-Academic Complex, diverse and unique suited to the commanding heights of the American economy, now possesses them, instead.