City Journal Autumn 2014

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Marcus A. Winters
New York’s Public School Paradox « Back to Story

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Mr. Winters makes the error of assuming that teachers can any more effect the performance of the public education system then can parents.

Parents, and tax-payers in general, wish to imbue teachers with a level of authority over education which teachers clearly lack. Not from a careful analysis of the shortcomings of public education but due to the fact that teachers are the face of public education; when you deal with or consider public education the teacher's the person who comes to mind because the teacher's likely the only person in the education business most parents or tax payers have had any dealings with.

Sadly for those who make this assumption teachers are no more capable of making substantive changes to public education then are parents. The authority to make systemic change has been seized by the legislature's of the states and local school boards. In the words of Walt Kelly, we have met the enemy and he is us.

The job of educating kids has been handed over to the democratic process and the results, now that they're increasingly difficult to ignore in the form of endlessly-higher funding demands and gradually-diminishing educational accomplishment, highlights what a lousy idea it is to entrust anything that can be done any other way to the democratic process.

Would anyone board an airliner in which all important decisions concerning flying the aircraft were made via a vote of the crew? Go under the knife if important decisions were made based on polling all the professionals in the operating suite? I rather doubt it and the silliness of notion of decision-making in those situations is reflexively obvious - people laugh at the image of a flight crew voting on how to fly the plane.

Sometimes decision must be made correctly and quickly. Democracy's not quick and it certainly can get things wrong. Democracy's prone to capture by special interests in which a relatively small group has a vital interest in the outcome of a decision in which the larger group has little interest. Democracy vitiates responsibility by sharing it while concentrating authority dangerously.

In fact, democracy's a lousy way to run anything, as Winston Churchill observed. Unfortunately for society there are certain classes of problems for which there are no substitutes so the shortcomings of democracy must up with be put.

The education of children is not one of those class of problems. The vast majority of children come with some small number of adults who'll kill or die to protect that child and dis-empowering those adults in the area of education does not serve the interests of the child or the interests of society. The extent to which those adults are dis-empowered serves as a rough determinant of the efficacy of a public education system which means that any public option will always produce poorer results at higher cost then a private system. That truth is borne out by the continued existence of the private education market.
I appreciated your article and think you make some strong points. However, I strongly question the premise. You state:

"The survey results make clear the challenge facing New York’s next mayor: teachers fight to protect their interests, regardless of whether those interests conflict with students’ welfare."

The survey certainly does not make this clear. All the survey you cite does is express voters' preferences for educational policy, and show that teachers as a group do not agree with those preferences. You beg the question of whether reforms such as school choice and tying teacher compensation to student performance is effective.
Teacher teaching in the Bronx May 23, 2013 at 5:29 PM
I would like to seem Mr. Winters teach in the South Bronx and claim he has nothing he has to do in between teaching periods. What a shameful article.
As a former tenured High School English teacher who struggled, along with a few, a very few, of my peers to provide the best possible public education for our students I can attest to the fact that teachers only care about their students to the extent that their students can be used to make their "ride" in the system easier and more lucrative for them. The system is an open failure and the public is too politically correct to say so ~ intimidated by fear that their kids will be "punished" if their parents speak out against an individual teacher or because too many people they know personally are "in the system" and they do not want to hurt anyone's feelings. This is why the system MUST be reformed from outside -because no one, including the clients of the system, will ever have the guts to address the facts and initiate an honest, truthful debate about the real issues except those who have nothing personal to lose. p.s. I quit teaching, along with five of my young peers, after six years, and when we did the superintendent begged us to stay saying: "why are all of our smart, eager and best teachers leaving the system?" Our answer - "because of the union, the politics and - the system." Teachers, heal thyself!
Typical ignorance: "Public education has failed this nation." from Hattip

In fact, over the last 30 years public education has improved steadily. So few students drop out early that the "average" scores do not reflect what all is happening. We are keeping everybody on board.

This article is no better. It attacks unions based on the LIFO standard for layoffs. But that is a non-issue. There are no layoffs. doesn't happen.

What has happened is that the first three years of teaching are used to filter out incompetents. That process is what matters. And the teachers unions are more aggressive there than any political organization.
We are supposed to trust the same people who spy using Bloomberg terminals with our children's private data? Count me out.
Ed in the Apple May 22, 2013 at 5:00 PM
Straw men! No one has been laid off in New York City in over 30 years - high attrition rates create vacancies. In the early Klein years Region 5 (East New York. Brownsville, Rockaway and South Jamaica), one of the pooresr sections of the city had the highest growth in test scores and worked closely with the union.

So-called reformers have chosen to fight rather than to partner with teachers - conflict over collaboration - and the voters seem to understand.
I do not see the paradox:NYC is full of a bunch of Leftists lunatics and parasites. Of course they "support the teachers".

Excluding those on the take, do you really think that these people have the wherewithal to comprehend these issue.

I suggest you leave Manhattan and go into an outer borough and stand across from the school when kids are dropped off. Just have a look at what goes on.

It is pure waste of money and time--it is an illusion of education.

The only reform is to force people to pay for their own children's education and to do so at competitive private schools that actually teach something useful.

Public education has failed this nation. It cannot be meaningfully "reformed".