Educational Equality: The Civil Rights Struggle of Our Day

When I taught a unit on child development, I would tell a story a professor once told me: : His young son talked up proudly to him one day and announced “Cars are alive but trees aren’t.” “Why not?,” asked the professor. “Because trees only move when the wind pushes them, but cars can move all by themselves!”

The child in the story was not stupid. Indeed, as far as brute facts go, the son was not even ignorance. The child made a natural mistake along the way to develop an understanding of what “living” and “not living” meant.

I say this because I am fascinated by a recent blog post, “The Strange Genesis of ‘Education Reform’- How a Crackpot Theory Became National Policy,” which appeared on Mark Naison’s blog, With a Brooklyn Accent. The first two paragraphs are indicative of the rest of the post:

In future generations, historians are likely to tell the following story. Some time during the early 21St Century, a cross section of the top leadership of American society began to panic. They looked at the growing chasm between the rich and poor, the huge size of the nation’s prison population, the growing gulf in educational achievement between blacks and whites and poor and middle class children and decided something dramatic had to be done to remedy these problems.

But instead of critically examining how these trends reflected twenty years of regressive taxation, a futile “war on drugs,” the deregulation of the financial industry, the breaking of unions and the movement of American companies abroad, America’s leaders decided the primary source of economic inequality could be found in failing schools, bad teachers, and powerful teachers unions.

So much of this beginning is right-on: the understanding of the cross-elite nature of the education reform movement, the deep distress of the political class at the nature of America’s public school, the willingness to take radical measures, and so on.

But the author also thinks the reason for this was a focus on “equality.” While the word equality does come up in the education reform debate, it is a coded word, which means nothing at all like what the author thinks it means.

Within the context of education reform, stakeholders are arranged along three dimensions of force. Employers and parents care about child development; Districts and States care about power; Teachers and publishers care about money. Behind this debate states the federal-academic complex of bureaucrats, researchers, and politicians.

But why in the world would anyone care about “equality”?

The only people who care about “Equality” as an end in itself are those that are weak, and thus are least able to influence the debate.

I suspect people who think “equality” matters in the education reform debate also think “equality” mattered in the civil rights debate. Of course it didn’t, policies weren’t changed out of moral desire. The major civil rights policies (whether rules, laws, or rulings), were made by a cross-section of the elite that supported an interventionist foreign policy and recognized the captive nation of African-Americans provided the only intractible source of nationalist opposition against the Federal government possible in the United States at the time. (For context, the British, French, and Portuguese were being torn apart in the post-war world by the forces of natioanlism, as the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires had already been, and the Soviet empire soon would be.)

America wasn’t the first multinational economic and political union — but the Federal Government also didn’t want to be the follow the British Empire into becoming a broken union.

The day of “states rights” as a force capable of starting a revolution were over by the 1940s. The day of nationalism as a force capable of starting a revolution had begun. Men such as Earl Warren helped lead America’s first attempt at breaking a potential sub-nationalism by interning the Japanese.

Men such as Earl Warren helped lead America’s second, smarter, attempt at breaking a potential sub-nationalism by enforcing desegregation. At the same times, patriots (from the Federal perspective) or quislings (from the perspective of would-be black nationalists) such as Martin Luther King were fetted with honors by the elite for their part in this “awakening” moment.


There were other forces at work too, of course, but those forces were provincial, self-interested, and soon to fall back into the noise of everyday political tumult. On a grand scale, the story of the Civil Rights era is a story of the abortion of a internal threat to the Federal government.

In our own day, the national security of the United States is at risk by our terrible public education system. This is because our broken education system means that our critical infrastructure is run by Chinese (and Indians, and Russians, and other foreign nationals).

When “equality” is used in this debate, it is not used to refer to closing the achievement gap between different groups, or any other nicety that would feel good but not flatter major forces. Rather, it is used in the sense that Steve Jobs used it when he said, “Equal opportunity to me more than anything means a great education” — in other words, nothing at all like addressing economic inequality.

There are other players at work too, provincial and self-interested ones such as teachers or parents, but on a grand scale, the story of Education Reform is the story of an attempt to abort an internal threat to the Federal government.

Let’s hope they — we — succeed.

Test Validity & Teacher Performance

On twitter, High high stakes corrupt performacne on tests, other indicators,” which is based on a blog post, Why do good policy makers use bad indicators?

Dr. Cuban’s points are fair, obvious, well known, and perhaps best said at thus:

  • No measure has perfect validity
  • The smaller the overlap between what you are measuring, what you are rewarding, and what you want to improve, the worse your reward system will be

In other words, nothing everyone doesn’t already know anyway. I talked at some length about the importance of validity in test design earlier, and I won’t repeat myself here. I will say though that we have to create good tests because teachers as a political class have abandoned the effort to educate young people.

In America, we have established a public monopoly over basic education at the same time we lobotomized the work force, hired below-average teachers, and made it harder to fire teachers by introducing “due process” rules. We all pay the price for this through more expensive mortgages, less jobs, and more outsourcing.

If we had a professional, capable, and effective teacher work-force, where bad teachers could be fired, we might not need to measure their output. But we don’t. We have a teacher work force with a lot of dead weight (and worse, actual cancers) that is failing our country.

If we were serious about creating a professional teacher labor force, we could treat teachers like professionals and evaluate them accordingly. We don’t, though. Thus the need for reliable, standard, valid, and practical tests to measure the achievement of students and the performance of teachers, schools, districts, and states.

For the time being, teachers oppose the introduction of tests, because this would mean that some teachers will lose their jobs. Teachers are in it for the money,  for the working conditions, and for the unaccountability. Unfortunately, as a political class, teachers are also lack empathy and understanding for other stakeholders. It is possible that the hard work to turn around teachers attitudes will succeed. Unless teachers begin caring about the success of their students, reform will come from above, which means establishing measures that are reliable, standard, valid, and practical, and using those to hire, promote, and dismiss teachers.

Some Thoughts On Kinect

I’m biased here: I worked in the same building in which the Kinect was developed. But I wanted to share some thoughts about the use case that’s surprised me the most, because it’s not what I thought about when I first saw it, and I think not why most people buy it.

The Kinect is an advanced 3D motion detection camera. It is sold bot with new Xboxes, as well as an accessory. If you go into Microsoft stores you will see kids playing with Kinect as an advanced Wii — as the ads say, “you are the controller.”

It’s been months since we played a game that way.

What we’ve been doing a lot more, though, is use the voice recognition engine. Because the Kinect for Xbox contains a microphone, and uses Microsoft TellMe (our not-quite-as-cool but released earlier version of Siri) for voice recognition / natural user interface, you can control the Xbox with only voice, using hand-waving as a back-up interface.

Right now I’m listening to music which I got to by saying “Xbox, bing Sufjan Stevens,” saying “Seven Swans” at the list of albums, and then saying “Play Album.” But frankly, the Zune pass (which does the on-demand music streaming) has not been a market success, and (which is free and more popular) does not allow you to specifically choose albums to stream. Plus Zune goes on the fritz more than I would like (like now — sigh).

A bigger difference in our life has been increased use of Netflix. My wife and I watched two movies today (Four Rooms and Jackie Brown), and have watched a long list of them recently, including:

My suspicion is that when it comes to chillaxing time, freeing yourself from the formality of the remote makes it easier to start movies. It’s interesting for a technology that I suspect will have the biggest impact in disability & medical fields, & children’s toys, but for us it makes netflix an less stressful option than the cable guide.

Credentialism, Corporate Education, and National Security

My friend Selil has a good but somewhat overwrought piece up, titled “The industrial devolution and disenfranchised knowledge worker.” After a hyperbolic opening, Selil proceeds to make several good points, including:

  • “Credentialism,” and over-focus of degrees, burdens student with extra educational costs.
  • “Corporations have abandoned the education and apprenticeship models outsourcing their educational needs”
  • The harm this does injures are national security.

Selil’s points are fair, but I feel his post is more an expression of anger at injustice from someone in the system, rather thana disappointe analysis of it.

“Credentialism” is obviously inefficient. Credentialism is also necessary, considering Supreme Court rulings. It would be more efficient to give employees intelligence tests, if you wanted to weed out, say, the bottom third of candidates. But a company can’t do that, because it is racist. If you want a more efficent system that’s kinder to students, allow companies to measure intelligence using tests, and just accept that such tests will prevent a disprortionate number of certain racial minorities from employment in this jobs.

Selil is correct that companies have “outsourced” educational needs to educational institutions (this is part of the breakdown of the American micro-welfare state system, with “jobs for life” and the rest of that post-war consensus stuff). But Selil is wrong that apprecenticeships have been outsourced. Indeed, I would imagine that companies spend more on “apprenticeshpis” (lowered productivity due to ramping-up new workers) than ever in the past.

Selil also worries that our educational system injures our national security. I agree. As I’ve said before, “our broken education system means that our critical infrastructure is run by Chinese (and Indians, and Russians, and other foreign nationals). I hope we can fix it.

Review of “Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China” by Ezra F. Vogel

I have tried to understand China by reading about her political economy and her history. Among others, I have read histories (in order of birth) of

The biography of Deng I read, however, essentially stopped at him taking power. As such it provided a good early biography, but was silent on later events. Therefore I asked what the best up-to-date biography of Deng Xiaoping. I got an answer, and I read it.

Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China is an insightful, thought-provoking, and disappointing book. I am glad I read it. I give it four stars.

Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China is the first detailed, western-written book on high level personal politics during the post-Mao era. There’s much that’s new in this book, and it changes the way that I understand the factions of the post-Mao era.

The book makes clear that the high-level leadership team of the People’s Republic saw the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution as symptomatic of where one-man rule would take personality. That is, the the problem of Mao Zedong was not that Mao was alive, or even in leadership, but that he had acquired so much power among so many elements that it was impossible to stop him until after tens of millions of people died. This makes sense: in recent European politics, Vladimir Meciar was an important democratically elected leader of Slovakia while Slobodan Milosevic was a war criminal who died in prison: the difference between them was the systems they ruled in, rather than their temperament or personality style.

Given that, Deng’s work in displacing Hua Guofeng — China’s Gerald Ford — was more involved than I had thought. It was not merely the question of “opening” China v. keeping China closed, as Hua had begun engagement with both the west and the communist bloc. Rather, members of Deng’s own generation (including Chen Yun and Ye Jianying) sought to keep Hua in power precisely because he was week. What’s even most surprising is that Deng’s first designated successor, Hu Yaobang, also missed the Hua years.

The central event of Deng’s term may have bene the Tiananmen Massacre of 1989, which Vogel discusses both directly and obliquely. Vogel, who calls it the “Tiananmen Tragedy,” draws a direct comparison to the Tiananmen Incident of 1976. The ’76 events at Tiananmen Square (closer in time to the ’89 events than the ’89 events are to us) was a mass protest against the rule of the aging Mao Zedong and the Gang of Four by workers, students, and cadres. Like the ’89 events, the ’76 events had as their proximate cause the death of a beloved leader who had been persecuted by the Surpeme Leader (Zhou Enlai by Mao Zedong, Hu Yaobang and Deng Xiaoping).

For those looking for ominous parallels, the leadership team in charge of China during the ’76 protests were dead or in prison within six months.

Of course there were differences: the ’89 protests were larger in scale, and the government’s reaction was more violent. Indeed, confirming my earlier suspsicions after read wikileaks cables, Vogel states that the government lost control of Beijing out to the Third Ring Road – a 30 mile beltway around Beijing.  (For comparison, the DC Beltway is 64 miles long.)

For the most part, Vogel does an excellent job in his discussion of the events. Vogel criticizes the notion that the protestors were primarily interested in democracy as a form of government. Rather, Vogel interprets the protests were organized against inflation, against totalitarianism, and against anti-bureacraticism.

Zhao Ziyang, Deng’s designated successor at the time the protests began (and who would spend the rest of his life under house arrest, secreting dictating his memoirs), blamed his own policies for leading to inflation as a primary cause. The role of inflation as a cause of social stress is well known, and the fight over inflation may be a especailly important in Chinese politics.

Additioanlly, China in 1989 was still a totalitarian regime for educated youths. Vogel’s writing here is clear, so I’ll just quote from it:

But in 1989, with a shortage of trained graduates in key industries and government offices, government policy still mandated that graduates be assigned their jobs. Since one’s job assignment was based in part on what the political guides who lived with the students wrote in the “little reports” in each student’s secret records, the political guides became the symbol of government surveillance. The political guides were rarely as well educated as the students on whom they were reporting; some were suspected of favoritism and flaunted their authority to influence a student’s future. Many cosmopolitan, independent-minded students detested the constant worry about pleasing them. “Freedom,” to them, meant eliminating these political guides and being able to choose their jobs and careers on their own.

This focus on individual liberty was exacerbated by the fact that “intellectuals” (those with at least a high school education) were the primary losers of the economic reforms of the early and mid 1980s. While local entrepreneurs were providing jobs, creating goods, and revolutionizing the countryside, the decline of the regulatory state combined with the totalitarian control of city life to create an explosive situation:

Party and government workers, state enterprise employees, and others with fixed salaries were furious to see rich private businesspeople flaunting their material wealth and driving market prices higher, threatening the ability of salaried workers to pay for their basic food and clothing needs. The problem was exacerbated by corruption: township and village enterprise workers were enriching themselves by siphoning off needed materials and funds from state and public enterprises; independent entrepreneurs were making fortunes, in part due to government loopholes; and “profiteering officials” were finding ways to use society’s goods to line their own pockets as the incomes of law-abiding officials stagnated.6 Migrants beginning to stream into the cities also contributed to the inflation problem.

As post-1989 say an end to rapid inflation, and end to totalitarianism, and the establishment of a modern regulatory state, perhaps the Tiananmen Protestors were successful in their objectives?

If the protestors were successful, one would expect the man who opposed them to have failed, and Deng Xiaoping might have. To me this is the biggest revelation of this book: Deng was shut out of government as completely post-Tiananmen as Mao had been post-Great Leap Forward. Just as biographies of Mao have to wonder when the best time for him to retire would have been, a good argument can be made that Deng should have stepped down in 1987.

High-level officials either saw the Tiananmen incident as an example of a bumbled overreaction, the consequences of bad policies, or both. Hu Yaobang had used earlier student protests of 1987 as a method of cementing his own popularity with the party and the people. If Deng had allowed this transition to take place, he could have maintained primary in a system where the next ruler was a close long-term companion with similar views. Indeed, the only official who seems actually in favor of it is Li Peng (the adopted son of Zhou Enlai who argued for a crackdown at the time), who appears to be so out of China’s leadership he had his diaries published by a the same company that published Zhao Ziyang’s memoirs! (Vogel also mentions that since the time of the protests, the terms used for it in the government have evolved from Counterrevolutionary Riot, to Riot, to Mass Disturbance, to Event, implying a slow “reversing of the verdicts”).

The other stand-out figure from the 1987 protests was Jiang Zemin, who met protesting students in front of a “mass audience.” When he was heckled, Jiang invited the hecklers to the stage to criticize him directly. After they did so, Jiang emphasized that democracy is a result of the development in society, and in English stated that the essence of democracy in America was:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Jiang reciting the Gettysburg Address in English wasn’t just a cheap parlor trick: it simultaneously demonstrated a serious understanding of what democracy looks like while also emphasizing that building a society in a process driven by “intellectuals” (thus emphasizing the critical role of students and the bureaucracy in Chinese civilization) as opposed to mass movements.

If Deng had selected Jiang as a future replacement earlier, he could have started the Jiang administration earlier and cemented the role of the modern regulatory state.

Vogel cites the old Chinese saying, “the Soviet Union’s today is our tomorrow,” in the context of the Tiananmen protests. It is interesting to think of the great impact that the Soviet Union had one Chinese thinkers. Vogel states that Deng Xiaoping was in the class and same study group as Chiang Ching-kuo. At the time they were studying in Moscow, Russia had moved from War Communism (central planning) to the New Economic Policy, intended to be the first stage of socialism (market-based reforms aimed at increased production). The reforms that Deng and Chiang completely revolutionaized daily life, based on a Soviet model that in the USSR had been killed by Stalin. Indeed, Vogel observes the trend of the Communist Party to re-establish continuity with the Xinhai Revolutionary era, when the Communist Party operated on the directions of Moscow in a United Front with KMT.

Vogel’s amazing work is nearly ruined, however, by his almost random lapses into ridiculous propaganda. My impression after reading this book is that he does this to flatter specific soureces. This is most obvious at the beginning and end of the book, where the Deng hagiography is greatest

“He possessed the natural poise of a former wartime military commander.”

“He made it clear that he did not represent on locality, one faction, or one group of friends.”

But it occurs most often when Vogel is speaking generally, and so a careful reader can ignore it. Sometimes the text is coded, such as this reference to Mao Zedong (in which “errors” are mistakes within the party, and are explicitly not “crimes”):

In his later years Mao was to commit devastating errors, yet he remained a brilliant political leader with deep insight and bold strategies.

And this reference to Lin Biao, which seems internally inconsistent. Is Lin a hypochondriac, is he suffering from a head injury, or he is suffering from PTSD? These options seem mutually exclusive:

Lin Biao, a reclusive hypochondriac after his head injury in World War II…

Chiang Ching-kuo is often the target of Vogel. Whether in this sentence, which is so beyond wrong it is stupid:

When he was informed of Deng’s proposal, however, Chiang Ching-kuo was defiant: he repeated his intention to increase the military budget, build up his fighting forces, and eventually retake the mainland.

to the repeating of insults:

Deng explained that Chiang Ching-kuo could be extremely cocky.

to an Orwellian erasing of history. For instance, in the discussion surrounding this photo:

Vogel notes that Li Peng was with Zhou Enlai at Tiananmen Square. He completely ignores the identify of the first facing straight into the camera: Wen Jiabao (China’s current Prime Minister).

As Vogel does not let these propagandistic statements guide the narrative, the simplest explanation seems to be that he is repeating lines given to him by sources, in hopes of flattering those sources and gaining access to more information later.

This disappointing note is perhaps shared by the similarly hagiographic: The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China, It weakens an otherwise great narrative and forces the reader to be very cautious about what the author’s agenda is.

So Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China is an insightful, thought-provoking, and aggravating book. Recommended!

Some Thoughts on the Education Reform Debate

On the eve of the President’s State of the Union, Dr. Wayne D. Lewis, Jr., penned these thoughts:

  1. I want to hear President Obama say that we must increase the number of high quality public school options available to parents. The president has been a supporter of increasing public school options for families in the past and I hope to hear that commitment reaffirmed tonight.
  2. I want to hear President Obama say that we do not currently have the necessary teaching and leadership capacity in our schools to prepare our children for 21st Century success; and that states must adopt a “by any means necessary” approach to getting teacher and school leader capacity to where it needs to be.
  3. I want to hear the president say that states must hold schools, teachers, and leaders individually and collectively accountable for student learning. I want him to say that schools where children do not learn are of no use to us. I want him to say when children do not learn, adults have to lose their jobs.
  4. I want to hear President Obama say that he will remain committed to the federal government providing financial supports and incentives for states that take bold steps toward implementing serious reform in their public schools; not the surface stuff that everyone likes, but really committing to going back to the drawing board to redesign systems so that all children can learn.

I was pretty happy reading this, because I believe the list represents evidence that my model of the education reform debate is accurate.

Dr. Lewis outlines the need for the Federal-Academic Complex and States, to cooperate in pushing education reform, which they are doing. He also observes that teachers are the primary obstacle to reform, which they are.

In another post, Dr. Lewis attacks several “lies” common among those who oppose education reform. His thoughts, with mine in italics, follow:

All in all, I’d have to say that Dr. Lewis is pretty smart!

Zune 6K

I love music, and my employer offers an interesting service called “Zune” which combines very good visualization software  with the ability to use a music rental service. While I probably wouldn’t be using Zune to ‘rent’ music  if I didn’t work here, I still would think it’s the best music visualization software I’ve encountered. Right now I’m listening to Silence! – The Musical, but as I listened to by 6,000th track on Zune, I was listening to Thao & Mirah, by Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn and Thao Nguyen.

Rock on!

Where Did All the Jobs Go?

One reason we are in a jobless recovery is the poor quality of U.S. public schools. Schools fail everyone who cares about child development: employers cannot find qualified workers, and parents go into debt to pay the rent or mortgage in a good school district.

From How to Keep Jobs in America [PDF download]

From Why Outsource?

Something like ~25% of the reasons given in these surveys boil down to bad public schools.

America needs good public schools, which can be held accountable through good measures of student accomplishment. We don’t have them because teachers are scared of what life would be like if they were treated like professionals. This is too bad — if teachers do not embrace reform, we’ll end up with drones reading following idiot-proof scripts that put students in front of computers…

… which would still be better than the current system.

Why Are Teachers So Rich?

The New York Times has an infographic with the title “The Top 1 Percent: What Jobs Do They Have?” It looks like this:

The fascinating part is how many elementary & high schools teachers are in the top 1%: 59,362.

Half-Sigma interprets this as implying that teachers marry into money. I think something like this is close to the truth: teaching is a “polite” profession where workers are basically unaccountable and output is essentially unmeasurable. If the wife of a one-percenter wishes to work, but wishes to work in a place where she she does not have to sully herself with competition, results, or measurable contributions, teaching is a fine profession. And because many Americans mortgage themselves into the most expensive school district they can afford, human cognitive biases will make teachers’ neighbors think they are doing a good job! (After all, if you mortgaged yourself into a bad school district, that implies you’re a pretty bad parent.)

The Low Quality of the US Education System Destroys Jobs

Childcare is one of the dimensions of force in the education reform debate. The New York Times has an excellent story, How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone work, that does a great job of emphasizing how the US educational system is failing the two stakeholders of childcare: employers and parents.

The US Public Education System Fails Employers

As the story’s authors, Charles Duhigg and Keith Badshet, make clear, the cost of labor is a small part of the cost of high-tech electronic goods. A much bigger concern is finding skilled workers, with “skilling” meaning anything from a technical degree after high school to a four-year engineering degree:

Companies like Apple “say the challenge in setting up U.S. plants is finding a technical work force,” said Martin Schmidt, associate provost at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In particular, companies say they need engineers with more than high school, but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree. Americans at that skill level are hard to find, executives contend. “They’re good jobs, but the country doesn’t have enough to feed the demand,” Mr. Schmidt said.

The story makes clear that America does not have enough skilled workers. Considering the high unemployment rate, it is sickening to read about factories moved overseas because they cannot find skilled workers here.

But such calculations are, in many respects, meaningless because building the iPhone in the United States would demand much more than hiring Americans — it would require transforming the national and global economies. Apple executives believe there simply aren’t enough American workers with the skills the company needs or factories with sufficient speed and flexibility. Other companies that work with Apple, like Corning, also say they must go abroad.

It is important that U.S. educators (teachers, administrators, and others) stop doing such a terrible job. They not only prevent their graduates from getting jobs on account of their shoddy education. They prevent their graduates from getting jobs on account of the shoddy educations of others.

A reply I sometimes hear is that companies like Apple should train workers themselves. Mark Safranski, a good friend of mien, wrote that “the specialized industrial skills that are required for production” should be taught by companies, at corporate expense, as part of the hiring process. The New York Times makes clear how foolish this position is: when schools produce workers that can’t work, this taxes corporations in both dollars and time.

It may or may not be wise to fund public education through taxes on large employers. But it is certainly foolish to produce an unskilled workforce that takes time to educate, and then be surprised that modern supply chains have passed you buy.

The US Public Education System Fails Parents

While companies are free to move production to other companies (or be outpaced by foreign companies that are already oversees), the “tax” of poor education for parents is more painful, because of more personal.

One of the victim’s of our inability to produce educated workers is Eric Saragoza, an engineer who was eventually laid off as middle-skills manufacturing jobs evaporated. Because there weren’t enough trained workers, this is the economy that the US public education system have given to Mr. Saragoza and his family:

Mr. Saragoza was too expensive for an unskilled position. He was also insufficiently credentialed for upper management. He was called into a small office in 2002 after a night shift, laid off and then escorted from the plant. He taught high school for a while, and then tried a return to technology. But Apple, which had helped anoint the region as “Silicon Valley North,” had by then converted much of the Elk Grove plant into an AppleCare call center, where new employees often earn $12 an hour.

There were employment prospects in Silicon Valley, but none of them panned out. “What they really want are 30-year-olds without children,” said Mr. Saragoza, who today is 48, and whose family now includes five of his own.

After a few months of looking for work, he started feeling desperate. Even teaching jobs had dried up. So he took a position with an electronics temp agency that had been hired by Apple to check returned iPhones and iPads before they were sent back to customers. Every day, Mr. Saragoza would drive to the building where he had once worked as an engineer, and for $10 an hour with no benefits, wipe thousands of glass screens and test audio ports by plugging in headphones.


Teachers are in it for the money. They are not any morally worse in that respect than publishers, who also want to redirect funds away from students toward themselves. But in the current education reform debate, only teachers are against improving the teaching profession in principle, because reforming the teaching profession would mean that we could hold bad teachers accountable (which means that some teachers will lose their jobs, and all teachers will have the pressure of doing a good job in order to be paid well).

The US education system hurts all Americans, even those who manage to escape the US education system with their ability to work intact. Not reforming the US education system does not only mean consigning millions of students to a sub-standard education: it means consigning tens of millions of American workers to joblessness.