Educational Insanity

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”.

Albert Einstein

This is a pretty simple test.


You are given a workforce of approximately one hundred people all of whom are certified by the government to work in the field of education. On average they earn $100,000 per year including retirement and healthcare benefits. They are paid solely on the basis of their educational achievement (including annual continuing education opportunities that you provide) and the number of years in service. Within the confines of those two elements of differentiation, everyone is paid exactly the same without regard to performance.

Over the last three decades you have documented a continuing decline in the output of your workforce. You have also documented a continuing increase in the number of hours that your workforce spends on non-educational activities – government mandated reports, political activism and student social welfare (student hygiene, student nutrition, student sex education, student self-esteem, etc).

You are not allowed to terminate any of your workforce. You are only allowed to institute disciplinary action in the most extreme instances after you have demonstrated that the employee has engaged repeatedly in conduct that you have documented as being specifically forbidden multiple times. Even at that the allowed disciplinary action seldom, if ever, results in suspension without pay or reduction in pay. The lack of discipline in the workforce is matched by the lack of discipline in the classroom where the most disruptive students get the most attention.

Your workforce only has to work for nine months per year but is allowed to complain for twelve. And within those nine working months they are allowed twenty-nine days (nearly six weeks) without teaching their students, not including weekends.


In resolving this problem do you:

A. Continue the current system with no significant changes and raise everybody’s salary and benefits; or
B. Change the system.

If you answered A. you are part of the entrenched political and educational elites beholden to teachers and public employee unions and by definition educationally and institutionally insane. If you answered B. you are a part of the great unwashed who, according to those elites, know nothing about anything and are constrained to shut up and pay your ever increasing tax bill to further their folly.

But you are not as ignorant as the elites would have us believe. In Hans Christian Andersen’s tale The Emperor’s New Clothes:

“… [T]wo weavers promise an emperor a new suit of clothes that they say is invisible to those who are unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent – while in reality, they make no clothes at all, making everyone believe the clothes are invisible to them. When the emperor parades before his subjects in his new “clothes”, no one dares to say that they do not see any suit of clothes on him for fear that they will be seen as stupid. Finally, a child cries out, ‘But he isn’t wearing anything at all!’” Wikipedia

The public school systems are failing in almost every major metropolitan area of the United States. In those states dominated by the Democrats they are allowing those failing urban schools to drag down those outside the urban areas by imposing one solution for all. The decline of the public schools has paralleled the rise in the power and wealth of the teachers unions (and the public employees unions) which have become one of the primary financial resources for campaign finance for Democrats locally and nationally.

We are at a point where graduates of public schools are required to take remedial courses in basic areas such as reading, writing and mathematics in their first years of college in order to make up for the failures of public high schools.

When a high school graduate is unable to find the average of a series of numbers we know that the public school system is failing – the emperor is wearing no clothes. (For those of you forced to endure a teachers union led education in the Portland Public Schools, the average is found by adding the series of numbers together and dividing the sum by how many numbers there are in the series.) If a student cannot piece together a sentence using at least a noun and a verb and without including “like”, “you know” or “actually” you know the system is failing.

Most importantly, after three decades of decline you know that throwing more money at a failing system is not the answer. And you are not alone. Last week (May 18) The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote:

“It is possible to argue that the greatest moral issue in America—and there are many—is the generations-long failure to give an adequate education to children in the country’s poorest neighborhoods. Failure begets failure in many urban school systems, and we at least have arrived at a shared admission of what happens. It is called falling behind.

“Two wealthy Americans— John Walton of the Walmart fortune and New York investor Ted Forstmann —decided enough was enough. Each contributed $50 million to create a new idea called the Children’s Scholarship Fund. The CSF is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary, and it is indeed an occasion for celebration. The Fund has raised $741 million and provided scholarships to 166,000 students.

“This didn’t happen merely because two rich guys wanted to do something nice with their wealth. Both had thought a lot about the seemingly intractable problem of underachieving inner-city kids. On the day they announced the first scholarship awards, Forstmann said: ‘Some insist that if we would just keep doing more of what we have been doing—spend more money, hire more teachers and reduce class sizes—we will get different results. I don’t believe that anymore.’ [Emphasis supplied]

CSF provides scholarships to enable children to attend private and charter schools. It has basically given up on the failing public school system. And for good reason.

Why would you think that increasing the pay of a group of teachers who are all ready failing their students will improve things? Are they going to work harder? Be more productive? Be more innovative? No they are not. Not now, not at any time during past three decades of decline, not ever. The whole system is rigged against those expectations. Nobody is going to work harder, be more productive or innovative if at the end of the day they are going to be paid exactly the same as the worker who does the bare minimum to get by. You will get harder work, more productivity and more innovation if a worker can differentiate himself from others in order to achieve greater pay or more opportunities for advancement. That is the nature of man. It is also the nature of man to repress hard work, productivity and innovation if there is no reward for doing so.

CSF doesn’t have a monopoly on innovation and educational improvement. Others have tried similar programs for school choice with demonstrable success. Even state governments are getting the message. For instance, Arizona has adopted a unique program that allows taxpayers a dollar for dollar tax credit for contributions to public and private school foundations. In doing so it has allowed taxpayers the rare opportunity to direct a portion of their tax dollars to schools that succeed. (The program is capped at about $550/$1,100 annually.) And while states like Oregon – dominated by the teachers unions – have sneered at the idea, they already have in place a similar program to benefit political organization – you can get a dollar for dollar tax credit up to $50/$100 for donating to a political organization. Surely if that tax credit program is good enough for the politicians it should be good enough for the children for whom they cry crocodile tears each campaign season.

And there may be even greater help on the way. The United States Supreme Court is set to decide Janus v. AFSCME in the next month. The decision will likely ban mandatory contributions to public employee unions, including the teachers unions. As a result the teachers unions will lose influence bought by campaign contributions.

Whatever the cure, politicians owe the nation’s children a clear path out of the corrupt and failing public education system and a road map to alternatives that are likely to teach them to read and write, add a column of numbers and think for themselves. We can only dream.