Rethinking the Education Model

The Boston Latin School was founded in 1635. It is believed to be the first taxpayer funded public school in America. In 1852 Massachusetts adopted the first compulsory school attendance law. And while the concept of tax funded compulsory education traveled a rocky road in the 1700’s, it became a well established and generally accepted model prior to the Civil War.

The value of a free public education was fundamental to the advancement of the United States as a formidable economic and military force in the world. It flourished in large part because there was an intimate relationship between parents and teachers. Schools were local – even in large cities where the schools were a reflection of the neighborhoods that surrounded them. Parents understood the importance of education for their children’s advancement and they paid attention to what went on in the schools and provided much of the discipline for rambunctious children. Teachers, not yet subjected to the idea of being a “second parent,” were able to devout their time singularly to teaching. But this began to change as states did away with the “doctrine of sovereign immunity” which in many jurisdiction barred public employees from striking.

As states began to recognize public employee unions and implement collective bargaining, two things occurred virtually simultaneously. First, in traditional private sector labor relations there are two opposing forces – the unions representing the workers and a management team representing the owners (shareholders). The right to strike and the right to withhold employment were counterbalancing forces that sought to arrive at a fair compromise as to compensation and working conditions. But the public employees learned quickly that it was far more important to ensure that the “management team” was more beholden to the union than to the taxpayers. The private sector unions historically favored Democrats and so there the public employees unions planted their flags and in short order became the major financial arm of the Democrats on a local, state and national basis. Heavily Democrat states find the Democrat campaigns overwhelmingly financed by large public employees unions. When the public employee unions in Democrat states sit down to bargain there is no counterbalancing force – they are essentially negotiating with their comrades. And add to that no one at the table is dealing with their own money –it is all taxpayer money and if you adjust the tax rates just right you can immunize those in the same economic strata as your members and leave the burden to a distinct minority of taxpayers to pay. You need only look at the last several tax increases in Portland in particular and Oregon in general to see that application.

And second, what were once professional organizations quickly became unions. Less attention was paid to improving the educational skills of members and more to promoting the political status of the unions. The National Education Association (NEA) (and its affiliated state organizations) and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers (AFSCME) became unions and were quickly joined by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). They were followed by nurses unions, healthcare unions, postal workers unions, air traffic controllers, etc. and in short order attracted the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). While the individual members of the teachers unions may continue to strive for educational excellence, the unions have relegated “educational excellence” to a buzz word for what they actually seek – increased wages and benefits, job security and political power.

The teachers unions routinely bemoan the plight of education and dress everything they do as being for the “chi-l-l-d-d-r-r-e-n-n” (it helps if you moan while saying it). They’re lying. Four things are the “tells” in that lying. (For those of you forced to endure a teachers union led education in the Portland public schools, a “tell” is an involuntary action used by interrogators to determine if you are lying and by gamblers to tell if you are bluffing).

 The teachers unions routinely resist any form of measurement to determine performance or accountability for teachers or progress in the classroom.
 The teachers unions resist any form of disciplinary action leaving child predators, chemical dependents and indolent teachers to continue without fear of losing their jobs.
 The teachers unions routinely resist charter schools or public support for private schools – any competition to the public school model.
 Teachers unions routinely encourage their members to advocate the unions’ political agenda to unwitting students.

None of these actions benefit the children’s education. All of them benefit the primary goal of the teachers unions – increased pay and benefits, job security and political power.

The latest instances are the resistance by the teachers unions to return to in-person teaching (open the schools). They have more medical excuses than Carter has pills – of course, none of them are supported by the “science” they so routinely assert. The Center for Disease Control has said that it is safe to reopen classes. The “beloved” Anthony Fauci has said that it is safe to reopen classes. The science has shown that school age children have a relatively low rate of infection with virtually no morbidity. The science has shown that teachers under the age of 60 are at no greater risk to infection than they would be from their other participations in life’s vicissitudes. And the science has shown that it is not the infection rate that is of concern but rather the morbidity rate which has dropped dramatically with immunization and improved treatment regimens.

The American Council on Safety and Health summarized the effects of the China virus on children in a July 14, 2020 article:

“The risk to students of reopening schools is quite small. For instance, more young adults aged 15-24 will drown than die from coronavirus. The challenge for re-opening schools is the risk posed to teachers, staff, and students’ families.”

Even in Oregon private schools have remained primarily open – at least since last Fall – and there is a decided lack of evidence that those schools have become “hotspots” or “triggering” events.

So, what is the solution? It’s nothing new – school choice. The introduction of competition into the educational system will in fact cure all of the ills of the current model. Because competition drives performance and cost as well. Competition will:

 Utilize measurements to determine performance or accountability for teachers or progress in the classroom because that is what will attract parents to send their students.
 Utilize disciplinary actions against child predators, chemical dependents and indolent teachers in order to protect the students and encourage parents to send their children.
 Embrace competition as a means of demonstrating their worth to attract parents and students
 Minimize political propaganda for fear of alienating parent and students who will have choices.

When I say that this solution is nothing new, it is acknowledgment that the teachers unions with their Democrat allies have successfully resisted school choice for decades. However, the performance (or lack thereof) by public schools during this pandemic gives rise to an interest in alternatives to pubic education and well it should. The best solution is to have taxpayer funds follow the children – not follow the school. A beginning is a structure like that used in Arizona where taxpayers are free to direct a level of contributions to public and/or private school foundations which are in turn is allowed as a credit (dollar for dollar) on the state income tax. Those of us who can participate in this program are cognizant of the performance of the schools to which we direct are contributions. In doing so we follow the original model where parents and taxpayers were intimately involved in local schools – all to the betterment of education and the children.

Publicly funded education is still a critical need for the advancement of society in America. Where those public funds placed should be a decision for the parents and taxpayers rather than the teachers unions.