Thursday, January 27, 2005

Taming the Education Beast

The Jones-Mascaro Bill (HR197) that would govern acceptable family size in Utah actually aims to resolve education underfunding.

It has become standard practice throughout the US to attempt to resolve education problems by adding funding. We hear the continual whine that Utah is at or near the bottom in per-student education funding. However, Utah rates above average in educational achievement.

While it pains me to see some teachers earning a low salary (especially the ones that have a positive impact on the lives of my children), I am stunned that many of us buy into the continual haranguing by educator unions and the news media that we aren’t paying enough for education. Where else do we as consumers complain that something is too inexpensive and that we are getting too much for our money? Study after study has proved that there is almost no correlation between education funding and educational quality.

The problem is that a lot of our education dollars aren’t getting to the teachers. An inordinate amount is spent in the bureaucracy that exists above the school principal level – the overhead services. My cousin was the State School Superintendent until spring 2004. He went to great lengths to show that Utah’s overhead is lower than the national average, but that does not excuse the vast amount of overhead spent on things that do not actually improve the education of the children.

While there are many reasons for problems in education, a major reason was eloquently outlined by Terry Moe in the Wall Street Journal (registration required) on Jan. 13 and reprinted on Jan. 22, 2005. The basic thesis is that educator unions are the root of some insidious problems in our education system.

For all their lofty rhetoric, educator unions do not exist to serve the children; they exist to serve their members. And as you can learn in any collegiate organizational behavior course, all organizations, including unions, take on a life of their own and seek to expand and propagate themselves. Today’s educator unions have departed from even serving their rank-and-file members to merely serving themselves. They have become powerful lobbying groups that promote bleeding-edge leftist policies and that serve their officers and staff.

Educators should not be denied group representation; however, their unions have become so powerful that citizens have been cut out of the loop. The PTA isn’t much better. The national organization has become increasingly liberal and many local organizations are so controlled by educators (that are also members of the big unions) that it should probably drop the “P” for Parent from its name, and become merely the TA.

Thanks to educator overrepresentation in our education system (and probably due to a lot of parental apathy), schools have become increasingly bureaucratic and are hamstrung by policies that prevent implementation of improved teaching methods. Teachers are just as much hostages to this system as are students and parents. They are often not even able to consider better teaching methods due to heavy-handed union contracts. Everyone knows who the lousy teachers are, but administrators are powerless to get rid of them.

Educators are overrepresented in our legislature when compared with the population at large, so UEA and NEA positions are promoted with abandon in Utah policy. Our lawmakers continually sit down and look at trying to figure out how to get more money into our education system.

Unions need a counterbalance. Some of this is occurring as people are pursuing home schooling and private schools for their children. But that’s not enough. Citizens need to band together and develop an organization that will represent their interests. Only then will we be able to have open analysis and debate about changes that will actually improve our children’s education -- changes which would be considered heretical in the current environment.

Educator unions aren’t the only problem faced by our education system, but they certainly are one of the major problems. Only an involved citizenry can help.

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