Schooling the teachers: a plea for education reform

At present, education is a hot-button issue in American politics, and in American society in general.  President Obama has continually spoken about the centrality of a strong public education system to the future of the United States.  Education, the development of human capital, has been deemed a fundamental human right by the United Nations. 

By developing each successive generation of students into increasingly productive human capital, the public education system of the United States has the unique opportunity to provide for the future good of our economy and our democracy through present policy aimed not at avoiding the bad—recession, war, and instability—but by promoting the good—high productivity, a properly informed electorate and a more intelligent polity. 

For these reasons, it is good that education policy has recently occupied a significant space in the American political discourse.  It is important, however, that the issue’s salience is not wasted—the United States lags behind other wealthy countries in educational achievement; reform is necessary, and should be prioritized as a national issue. 

The easy part, of course, is identifying a problem; it is much more difficult to discern a pragmatic solution.  A public education system that does not measure up to others in the developed world is concerning.  A public education system that does not efficiently utilize its resources to provide the students it serves with the best possible education is a problematic one.  That is, even ignoring the possible (probable?) need for increased spending on education in order to improve the quality of the human capital and its outputs, our education system is not doing as well as it should be. 

There are a multitude of private schools in this nation that spend far fewer dollars per student per year than many public schools.  My own alma mater, Cheverus High School in Portland, Maine, is one of these schools.  Unfettered by the Teachers’ Union and unbound by the least-common-denominator absurdity of the No Child Left Behind Act, my high school was able to offer me far better instruction and overall education than public schools in my area which spend more than twice as much per student. 

That really pisses me off.  There is no reason that good, intelligent, passionate teachers should be reserved for those who are lucky enough to have parents that can afford private school tuition.  There is also no real reason that such teachers can only be employed at private schools—other than the Teachers’ Union.  Like the trust companies that unions originally battled, the Teachers’ Union causes massive inefficiency in the education system by engineering a perversion of the incentive system for teachers. 

This is exemplified, as recognized by The Economist in, “Those Who Can,” by the decision of the Union to block an offer by the Washington, D.C. school system for much higher pay in return for less job security.  The results are threefold: first, fewer talented individuals choose to become teachers than do in other countries, such as South Korea, where compensation is much greater.  Second, those talented individuals who do become teachers may be blocked from finding a job by incumbent teachers who simply do not produce results but cannot be removed because of Union protection.  Third, without the threat of removal or replacement, teachers are not incentivized to even try to be good teachers. 

Ultimately, the Teachers’ Union services educators by doing a disservice to the educated. While it is important to give job security to those who provide a vital role for society, it is a waste when it protects teachers using their tenure as a means of giving a subpar education with impunity. As No Child Left Behind is dismantled, I hope that education reform will become present in the nation’s psyche. America’s schools need an overhaul, and while it may not be through the ways I’ve suggested, it must come before our students fall even farther behind.

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