Everyone Realizes that Teachers Can’t Teach, and Don’t Care

My friend Mark Safranski used facebook to share this story: “At long last, Michelle Rhee’s funders revealed,” by Beth Hawkins. Michelle Rhee, the subject of Hawkin’s article, is the former Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools, and is despised by teachers unions for promoting accountability among teachers. Sine that time she has been active as a policy advocate for education reform.

The article by Beth Hawkins notes that Rhee’s “multi-million-dollar backers include top donors to the campaigns of both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, as well as foundations that back charter school proliferation, so-called parent-trigger laws and public-sector union reform. ” Ms. Hawkins notes this is obvious, preceding her statement with “Whatever you thought of Rhee five minutes ago, prepare to have it confirmed.”

The reason that this is obvious is that everyone knows that teachers don’t teach and that teachers don’t care. By “everyone,” I mean other stakeholders such are employers, state governments, the federal bureaucracy, the research community, and others. It is not surprising that these groups, after having been abused by bad teaching for decades, are trying to make things better.

If teachers actually taught effectively, employers would not be dedicated to reforming the educational system. They are attempting to reform the system because despite high unemployment, it is difficult to find employable workers in the United States.

If teachers actually cared, state and federal agencies would not be dedicated to reforming the educational system. They are attempting to reform the system because teachers lack empathy for other stakeholders who have political sway, and don’t even bother to cover up their poor performance.

Teachers are selfish, like others in the education reform debate, but unlike others they neither contribute to the greatness of our nation nor align themselves with the interests of others.

I am glad that individuals like Michele Rhee (whose own rhetoric is strongly pro-teacher) are out there fighting for education reform. I am glad that others are in the fight too, pushing back against teachers who can’t teach, and don’t care.

14 thoughts on “Everyone Realizes that Teachers Can’t Teach, and Don’t Care”

  1. It seems I am becoming a star at TDAXP 😉

    I think the potential profit here for influential people may override teacher “empathy” or lack thereof as a motivator, or the desire to improve the education of children:

    http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/education/article_dbf9b959-0c73-586c-97e7-6fca3a729b39.html

    The above shenanigans is from one of the nation’s largest for profit charter companies. Another major charter is run by a secretive Turkish Islamist billionaire who is the spiritual leader of Turkey’s ruling AKP Party:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%BClen_movement

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/07/education/07charter.html?pagewanted=all

    http://www.americanthinker.com/2010/03/islamist_guelen_movement_runs.html

    So the picture has more nuance I suspect than teachers bad, reformers good 🙂

  2. Hey Mark,

    Thanks for the comment. You’ve always been a guiding light for this blog. 🙂

    Interesting to see the Turks involved. This is an echo of the past, for an early enemy of the teachers front organization’s initial was the Catholic Church and its schools. Interesting how the teachers front has long resisted placing religious institutions under its umbrella!

    More broadly, the picture’s definitely more broad that good reforms and bad teachers. Specifically, it’s best painted as teachers who can’t teach and don’t care. If they were effective at educating, other self-interested parties who want educated workers would coopt them. If they were effective at politics, other self-interested parties would see their interests flatted by them. Instead, teachers come across at rentiers who are bad at extracting rents. A dangerous position!

  3. “If they were effective at educating, other self-interested parties who want educated workers would coopt them. If they were effective at politics, other self-interested parties would see their interests flatted by them. Instead, teachers come across at rentiers who are bad at extracting rents. A dangerous position!”

    —Those who can’t, teach? Or, Those who can’t teach, teach?

    I’m on the fence for personal reasons. I can’t imagine surviving a whole school year as a teacher, at least for K-8 or so. So I have admiration for those who not only survive the experience but enjoy the experience. Plus I doubt that our factory system is at least partially at fault.

    I would suggest that large corporations who are suffering due to a lack of qualified candidates should begin their own charter schools, K-12, and hire from within that pool of candidates. Consider it an investment. I’ve also always been partial to the idea of targeting education to students better. Vo-tech training, apprenticeships, etc., would serve many students far better than classes on cell division and ecosystems—for other students, the reverse might be true. (Just off-the-cuff examples.) Beginning at a younger age, for better specialization, might be a very good idea.

    But imagine having to be a teacher and teaching the Vo-tech student all about the finer workings of biology! Poor things.

  4. I’m not going to tell my wife you wrote a post with this title. She’s bound to be offended.

    I have a theory about a major factor on this topic that actually supports your point, although awkwardly. Our method of educating our teachers is wrong. Potential teachers have too much of an investment by the time they are allowed to fail.

    I currently work at a school and let me tell you, that learning curve is steep. At the moment we have an extraordinarily high number of student teachers, and some of them are failing at it. They are 5 years into their education (or frequently 1st year teachers), tens of thousands of dollars in debt, and just now learning that they aren’t cut out to be in the field. Some of them just cut their losses and move on, but some can’t let go of that investment. And once they have a job and a career, they do what they can to protect it, whether they are right for it or not.

    Teachers need a different educational system. Maybe a more Piaget heavy version of an apprenticeship? Something with a higher early fail rate.

  5. Curtis,

    Thanks for the comments.

    Perhaps Mark might share some of his objections to such corporate ed reform, in the context of Curtis comments? 😉

  6. Dan,

    I’m not certain that corporations would find the idea of creating their own charter schools cost effective, although it might present an interesting alternative model.

    Plus you’d run into the problem of child labor laws, or some variant, if children in those schools had any requirement to work for the corporation upon graduation. (Or had to agree not to work for competitors?)

    I can see the issue possibly becoming relevant in the future, if corporatism and oligarchy continue their ascent. OTOH perhaps I’ve read 1 too many SF books.

  7. Corporations creating their own charter schools might have worked in the 50’s, when people trusted them.

    Would you send your kid to Kraft Macaroni & Math Academy?

    I could see a 10-12 grade technical charter school approach being a good corporate investment.

  8. Hi Dan,

    Challenge accepted, Curtis wrote:

    “I would suggest that large corporations who are suffering due to a lack of qualified candidates should begin their own charter schools, K-12, and hire from within that pool of candidates. Consider it an investment”

    Fortune 500 corporations vice equities partnership and hedge funds have no interest in doing this and largely do not want to shoulder even the costs of training their own workforce in job specific tasks, much less general education of non-employees from which some other employer might easily benefit. Corporate interest in k-12 education primarily is in vendor relationships, non-competitively bid if possible, approved by state or local political officials (Governors and Mayors) and not district education officials who might make cost or qualitative comparisons. In a nutshell, that is how testing companies or cafeteria food providers operate, essentially a government contracting oligopoly is the norm. Similar, in fact, to the business model in the defense and health management industries so it is less like Kraft educating your kid than your HMO or General Dynamics.

    Equities and hedgies and various billionaires backing charters directly are not looking to hire the next generation of brokers or hedge fund managers from KIPP (or whatever). These investors do not send their own children to these charter schools or try to make the charters in terms of curriculum or methodology like the expensive college prep schools their children attend. They invest in charters because the Federal tax code makes it very profitable to do so (New Market tax credit) as does the prospect of having a captive market provided on contract with guaranteed profits by the government running around 12% to 17 % of the school budget.

    Education is a very difficult field to run on a for-profit basis, which is why the most successful private educational institutions up to this point have been non-profits ( Harvard etc.). The equities/hedgies are fighting for a social contract in education where the taxpayer assumes all the costs of operation, physical plant, providing customers, students assume all the risks, teachers (or in the future, unskilled behavior monitors) provide the work and the hedgies take the remaining surplus at the end, having added no value to the process (unless political lobbying is a value). Some of them are really only general contractors who will subcontract management of the charter or school district to a local operator (another layer of costs) who then hires/fires administration and staff.

    Pretty good deal for them, eh?

  9. Mark,

    That’s a description of as-is, not of potential for future innovation in education.

    I think Biz’s idea of “a 10-12 grade technical charter school approach” is very good and not as extreme as other types of innovation that could, theoretically, alter the education model as it relates to business.

    In fact, having K-8 remain under public supervision might be a good idea, insofar as the public in general, or the society in general, has an interest in assuring that all its citizens receive basic education.

    However it’s not too big a stretch to consider some future scenario in which multiple corporations working together could form a type of “education exchange” system or conglomeration of interests by creating charter schools geared toward specialized education beyond grade 8 or so. For instance, graduates of that school might have 10 distinct corporations—perhaps even including the government—from which to choose upon graduation. Higher education costs could be undercut by the corporation they choose, for further training; or, part-time education + part-time lower level apprenticeships, with the student signing a contract to work for the corporation for a set number of years.

    This would also beat the current system of having university students mortgage their entire futures via exorbitant school loans while also allowing those participating corporations to tailor-train/educate their future workforce. (And probably the employment contract period would offer corporation a chance to reduce pay, as compensation for education expenses, for those new employees.)

    But then, I am just dreaming of possible future scenarios. Public education, even higher education in public universities, seems prone to bloat and even corruption as-is.

  10. It was a description of as-is.

    Biz has an idea that is a good one. Vocational Ed was destroyed in the 70’s and early 80’s by liberal ed reformers who considered it a racist dumping ground for minorities and conservatives interested in cutting education budgets. It had no defenders despite serving a large number of students who graduated with real skills toward learning a trade. It is a missing part of the puzzle.

    Such a set-up would fill a need – it could even be linked with community colleges so in a 3 year accelerated program a student would graduate with 1) a HS degree 2) Certification in specific trade skills and 3) An associates degree or certification in business or computer programs of practical use. It might even be “naturally” profitable if charter laws were tweaked to permit tuition to be charged in place of tax dollar subsidies ( Community colleges already do this).

    However, it won’t happen any time soon because it is not attractive to investors – high start-up costs for capital investment in equipment, liability issues and a more difficult population. Incentives right now are skewed to put in as little money as possible by taking over existing public schools and then run a basic program on a shoestring for the best students possible. Or have a “virtual charter” – the students telecommute in digital equiv of mail order degree – almost pure profit. In comparison, making a huge capital investment in a quality voc ed charter chain makes no economic sense if high returns are the goal

  11. There probably are at least three ‘educationa’ systems to consider here,

    There is one associated with high SES whose purpose to to create the technical and leadership class of the country.

    There is one associated with middle SES whose purpose is to train the working class of hte country.

    There is one associated with low-SES whose purpose is to divert learnings from an otherwise attractive life of crime.

    As Mark notes, the first is potentially very lucrative, because you have a population able to pay quite a bit, and also with a far enough time-orientation that they are able to consider the future change in income or wealth associated with a good education.

    We have a de facto private system for this class already that is very expensive to enter, as Elizabeth Warren has noted [1].

    The low-SES educational system has often been partially under the purview of Departments of Corrections, until states got wise to the advantages of appearing to be politicaly correct. An instutiontalized/prison model, in one form or another, might be appropriate.

    Middle-SES districts are getting squeezed. It is difficult for them to track students, etc., which means they cannot compete with high-SES districts, but they are often partially composed of upwardly-mobile refugees from low-SES schools.

    [1] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2012/01/20/parents-and-the-two-income-trap.html

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