Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Local teachers voting to disassociate from state, national teachers unions

A county teachers association in Maryland is standing up to state and national teachers unions that they don’t believe represent the best interests of local teachers and educational excellence for students.

The Wicomico County Education Association (WCEA) will decide next month whether to formally disassociate from the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) and the National Education Association (NEA), — a local blog — recently reported.

The president of the county teachers association figures that — with dues in excess of $500,000 sent up the ladder to state and national unions — the local teachers can perform better for themselves the services the WCEA and NEA claim to offer local teachers associations. This vote comes also in the wake of years of transparency issues within the MSEA and the NEA.

In 2009, the MSEA learned of an embezzling scheme from an affiliated local teachers union but chose not disclose the details to union members or investigators, covering up the scandal from dues-paying members who may have been inclined to leave the union otherwise. The NEA is also notorious for using dues funds in questionable ways — including spending more on politics and lobbying ($44,797,771) than on actual representational activities in 2012 and dishing out over $200,000 at a Washington D.C. hotel for “Presidential inaugural cost” in the same year.

Just as families and local communities understand how to best educate students, local organizations of teachers are not at the mercy of large, bureaucratic — and often scandal-ridden — state and national unions. In fact, the opposite is often true.

Excellent teachers, given the prerogative to negotiate on their own merits, hold far more leverage for high-paying contracts than an organization like the NEA coldly touting the influence of millions of members without a word about how that organization’s participation will contribute to educational excellence with the children in a community. Similarly, local associations of teachers are accountable to school boards and families because the community’s children are influenced and led by those teachers every day.

Wicomico County teachers will vote in April on their specific decision. If the local association votes to go it alone in representation, public educators everywhere should carefully observe how much more effectively a local organization can utilize their resources for future contract negotiations and how little they will miss the cumbersomely expensive, selfishly run MSEA and NEA.


What if there were no public schools? It might not be as bad as you think

Whenever we talk about education reform, we talk about the most boring, narrow stuff. You want education reform? I'll show you education reform.

Imagine that omnipotent space aliens from the planet Zyrglax land on Earth and take control of the United States. But these aliens are somewhat bizarre, and they change only one thing: they teleport all public school buildings into the sun, and prohibit the government from any action or law providing for public education, even ruling out school vouchers and the like. All school budgets are rebated back to the taxpayer. Failure to comply will result in America being blasted to dust from orbit.

What would happen?

I'm serious — let's game this out. What would happen?

Well, at first it would be chaos. Millions of kids would be out of school, parents would be helpless, and so on.

But what would happen next?

For the upper class, not much would change — except for a handful of magnet public schools, they've basically opted out of the public education system.

What about the middle class?

This is where things get interesting. For one, a lot of people would smell a great business opportunity. Average private school tuition in the U.S. was $8,549 per year in 2010. Catholic schools manage to get it down to $6,018, and to $4,944 for elementary. For a middle-class family making $50,000 a year, putting your kids in private school would be a sacrifice, but it would be doable.

And there's a lot of data to suggest that those prices would be driven down — possibly way down. Currently, schools make almost no use of technology. There are no large education corporations, meaning there are no economies of scale (the Catholic Church is a big institution, but Catholic schools are operationally and financially independent — and the church is hardly known for its management acumen). Competition is hindered by the school district catchment system, and there is little incentive for innovation, given the fact that private schools are undercut by free public education.

Another thing you would see, therefore, would be a lot of innovative schools. You would see a lot more Montessori schools, given the overwhelming research that suggests that this almost 100-year-old method of education produces the best results. Think about it this way: In what kind of industry would a significant productivity enhancement method be ignored by the profession for several generations?

You might see new models emerging like AltSchool, a company that uses computers and small-group instruction to provide a better educational experience. At $19,100 a year, the tuition is unaffordable, but given that the company has raised $33 million from top-tier Silicon Valley venture capitalist firms, one has to imagine that it will over time lower its prices to achieve scale.

We would almost certainly see a great increase in home schooling, especially assisted by technology. Households might get better education, more sanity, and more fulfilling lives — and more financial stability, paradoxically — by having one spouse educate their children.

But wait a second, you say. Maybe that's true, and maybe we would see a lot of better schools get started and grow to scale — but only for those who can afford it.

To think about that, it's important to keep in mind the omnipotent, deathray-wielding space aliens from my thought experiment. Typically, if we saw a situation in which kids were kept out of school for being poor, there would be highly justified national outrage and a government program would quickly be voted in. But remember! The space aliens are here, and if you pass a law, they will space-bomb the entire country!

Stick with me here. What will happen is that philanthropy will take over. Yes, there's a track record of various small government types saying that if you slash this or that program private philanthropy will take over, and yet it seems it never does. But Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have together decided to devote tens of billions of dollars to charitable causes. More than 100 people have signed Gates and Buffett's "Giving Pledge," getting billionaires to agree to donate more than half of their wealth to charity. And the most popular charitable cause among hedge fund titans is education.

Let's not forget the Catholic Church has been educating poor immigrants at below-cost for well over a hundred years. You might disagree with these people's politics and motives, but you can't deny that their love for education is sincere.

Today, most of these people don't build free schools left and right because — well, first because they lack imagination, but mostly because kids already are in schools, albeit bad schools. And most of them prefer to focus on working within the system, trying to improve existing schools. But if there were no schools, and no prospect of getting schools via government program, of course there would be a national philanthropic groundswell to build and fund those schools via private initiative.

So what would happen? Well, as we said, the upper class would be the same. The middle class would probably have better, albeit more expensive, education. And the lower classes would still get free education, and possibly better education. At the end of the day, the number of kids in school would be the same as today. And many families would end up better off, though some might be worse off.

Would it be utopia? Absolutely not. There would be many bad things going on. A roiling free market is innovative and creative, but it also creates disturbances. There would be problems that we can't foresee.

Should we not only shut down all the public schools, but also prevent the government from having any education policy? Absolutely not. This isn't a policy proposal. It's a thought experiment.

One of the biggest problems of human imagination is status quo bias. Just because we have some stuff around us, we can't think of another way to arrange it. And because of this status quo bias, our debates about the future become impossibly cramped. Education is definitely a victim of this. A lot of people imagine that without public school, children would be left to play in traffic or huff glue, and nobody would ever get educated, except for the children of robber barons. But if you take the time to actually think it through, you realize that it would be a different world.


South Carolina University Holds "How to be a Lesbian" Seminar, Uses Taxpayer Money

Students at the University of South Carolina Upstate have the opportunity to learn “How to Be a Lesbian in 10 Days or Less,” courtesy of taxpayer money. The event is part of a two-day April symposium and conference which intends to explore the “new normals, old normals, future normals in the LGBT community.”

Campus Reform reported:

 The symposium is funded by outside grants as well as university funds according to Dr. Lisa Johnson, the Director of the Center for Women’s & Gender Studies at USCU.
Dr. Johnson declined to discuss what percentage of the funding was coming from the university.

“Until you call and ask how much money has been spent on heterosexual literature, I’m not going to answer that question,” Johnson told Campus Reform.

Earlier this month, the South Carolina House of Representatives voted to cut almost $70,000 in funding for two public universities, including $17,142 from USCU, over literature containing gay themes.

This event would be less newsworthy had not a traditional marriage conference recently been denied funding and decried as “hate speech” at Stanford. The event was discriminatory, according to the Graduate Student Council:

 One value is to promote “marriage and sexual integrity.” When they say marriage between one man and one woman, and if promoting this, does it not imply that whatever formula that does not fit your definition does not have integrity? It does.
The administration eventually “found” the funding after national media attention and a letter to the Provost with a friendly reminder of First Amendment rights.

Just think about this logic for a moment. While Stanford University was afraid speakers coming to discuss marriage and sexual purity would be dangerous for gay students, a two-day indoctrination on how to become part of the LGBT community is funded by the state.

Let's hope this is not the "new norm" we have to look forward to.


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