We Should Not Vouch for Utah Vouchers

Author: Professor Warner Woodworth, BYU

As a lifelong church member and professor at BYU’s Marriott School, I’ve observed our political leaders for many years. As a longtime Utah resident, I grew up attending Salt Lake City schools. The high quality of my teachers motivated me to attend college at both BYU and the U. From there I went on to receive two masters degrees, and then earn a Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, and have loved university teaching all my life.

My wife and I have sent our ten children to schools in Provo schools, and now as grandchildren come along I find it necessary to address the question of vouchers. In past months I attempted to ignore the issue, anticipating that it was simply another bad idea whose time had come, and would soon also go. But because of the political clout from in and out-of-state coalitions, along with Big Money, such is apparently not the case.

We have treasured the wonderful and dedicated public school teachers both we and our kids have had. We always felt a commitment to support the schools, volunteering at times and encouraging public officials to provide more fair and ethical levels of compensation for those we trust with our young. When inane decisions were made over the years to cut taxes, further eroding the capacity of those in the teaching profession to continue in their service to build Utah’s future, we were deeply saddened. The dollars sent back to us as refunds were immediately forwarded on to our children’s schools to help buy basics like chalk and erasers. No frills–just the educational necessities Utah politicians did not think necessary.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen many teachers move to other states to teach where education and the future of the next generation was more valued than in Utah. While officials mouthed the importance of the family, their actions suggested otherwise. I recall some of our community teachers being forced to change careers in order to support their families. One promising young Mormon educator quit his job in our neighborhood school and joined the military because even that career paid better and required fewer hours.

For a long, long time a small group of Mormon-professing political extremists in the Utah legislature have attempted to inflict a voucher program upon the public. Their numbers grew during the machinations of the 2007 legislative session from the supposedly independent branches of our government which colluded to foist on us a supposedly Republican and conservative agenda. While the pretext for all this has been parental choice, I’m now convinced that this is primarily another tactic of the country’s neo-cons to dismantle public sector services that have made us the envy of the world. The Utah movement continues trends started by Newt Gingrich & Co. to privatize government, outsource the military, dismantle social security, hire actors to play scientists and reporters, and defund hundreds of federal and now state programs that have served us well over many decades. Presently, schools are simply the latest targets to be caught in the crosshairs of contemporary extremist guns out to hunt down and kill any quality-of-life institutions that may still be breathing. Clearly, some of them apparently studied at the Dick Cheney School of Shooting Range Safety!

In spite of rhetoric about free agency, the need to put God in the classroom more, the importance of educational choice and independence, voucher proponents actually anticipate government handouts. Their strategy is largely being advocated by people who apparently prefer government subsidies to hard work and market forces. Our lawmakers strive all they can to ignore the ‘least of these.’ They try to get beggars off the streets, cut funds for single mothers and so on. These folks are against subsidizing the poor, and they continually vote against legislation that would help the most vulnerable in our state. On the other hand, they obviously believe in welfare for the upper middle class and the rich, the ones already able to send their children to private schools. As a registered Republican, this hypocrisy galls me to no end.

The advocates of the voucher dream complain that big, outside unions are funding this battle. (Translation: Trade unions are the “secret combinations” warned about in the Book of Mormon.) They employ red herring terms such as liberal, labor, and special interests. But the real story is just the opposite. It’s rich CEOs who moved here from California (i.e. Overstock.com) who have spent millions for their voucher campaign, as well as the right-wing heirs of Amway and Wal-Mart fortunes. It’s libertarian outfits like the Sutherland Institute which has been largely funded by big donors who got their millions from outside the state. Several of these were non-LDS right-wing extremists who were first attracted to what they saw as a rare brand of ultra-conservatism, and admit they later joined the church for political reasons, as well as gospel truths. Some of these individuals now claim Utah as their residence, but they don’t like moderate governors like Jon Huntsman.

In Sutherland’s case, proponents even attempted to give credibility to their cause by linking it to the region’s Mormon heritage and pioneer values. For anyone with an inkling of understanding about LDS and Utah history, it was sheer fantasy, one of the most ludicrous claims ever promulgated about the state’s politics. Then again, perhaps it was no worse than the infantile Oreo cookies ad shown on television featuring a married couple who were always viewed as Mormondom’s pre-eminent Yuppie couple. No longer young, they are definitely urban professionals, and have achieved the fame and status they sought among the wealthy of the Wasatch Front.

Incredibly to me, this group supports a proposed law that would give at least $500 to those already having plenty of money to send their kids to private institutions, if they so desire. These folks want to be free to teach Ezra Taft Benson’s ultra-right ideology and school subject matter, along with the gospel of John Birch, and the evils of centrist and rational electoral behavior. With regard to Referendum 1’s economics, it has no upper-income limit regarding how much such people earn, so the wealthiest Utahns can receive public assistance, otherwise known as welfare. During the first year, this program will cost Utah taxpayers over $5 million, and when it is fully implemented 13 years later, the financial burden will skyrocket to $71 million! This seems to be fiscal insanity, not unlike the recent era of Whitehouse tax cuts for America, even as our nation sinks deeper into the abyss of massive federal debt.

In Referendum 1 there is no concern about so-called “schools” qualifying for support as long as they have 40 students. Even more disconcerting is the fact that the “teachers” in this plan only need some type of “expertise,” or other. Apparently the denigrated joke about schools offering courses in Underwater Basket Weaving will finally become a reality in our state. Such questionable skills may potentially qualify a teaching applicant as an instructor in the new voucher institutions. (They should not be referred to as “schools.”) Such individuals do not need to be professionals, nor will they have to be certified. Based on the recent growth of private schools in upper class Utah neighborhoods, the educational content is likely to skip math and science in favor of Cleon Skousen’s treatise from his Freeman Institute materials.

If the law passes, we will see a plethora of new schools. I can already envision the celebrated names of these emerging institutions: The Orrin Hatch Academy of Critical Thinking, the Sean Hannity Institute of Media Accuracy, the George W. Bush School of Strategic International Development, etc. Educational content for use in such schools could include public policy successes like the town of La Verkin in southern Utah which in 2001 passed a law making it a United Nations-Free Zone. Or they could teach a case on how Howard Ruff led the fight in New York to block Hillary Clinton’s campaign to become a senator from that state. Other examples might be the career success of Vance Smith, a Mormon who recently was selected as the new president of the John Birch Society; the insidious Second Amendment tactic during the year 2000 in the little town of Virgin, Utah where the city council, caught up in the frenzy of Y2K millennialism, established a policy that all families must have a gun and ammunition in their homes. Are these the values and teachings we want the next generation of Zion’s children to believe and practice?

Defunding public schools in the epicenter of Mormonism under the guise that it will better Wasatch Front quality of life is a reckless hope based on sheer fantasy. It’s not good for most families, and especially not desirable for children. At Tuesday’s election please join in cutting off the legs of this monster before it consumes the legacy that proclaims: “The glory of God is intelligence.”


  1. Chuck McKinnon says:

    Dr. Woodworth, I am neither a Utah resident nor an American, but with the lone exceptions of a comment on the cost increase over time (from $5M to $71M) and some concern expressed about teacher qualifications, I see nothing substantive in this essay. It appears to be mostly fulminating about the incursion into schools of a political agenda you obviously deplore. That, and a shotgun condemnation of policy direction in Utah generally.

    Maybe I’m just missing a whole bunch of context that you can safely assume your intended audience possesses. You’re obviously very upset about this issue, but as a disinterested outsider I found myself thinking “there is no explanatory power here.” After reading what you wrote, I don’t know a single thing about the issues surrounding school vouchers in Utah that I didn’t know before (which was nil).

  2. When you start claiming that private schools will start offering classes in Underwater Basket Weaving, you forfeit the credibility of discussing the actual issue instead of just throwing around extremist claims. Are you interested in a discussion, or just spouting off? Parents are not dumb enough to put their kids in a school with such a lame curriculum.

    Your third and fourth paragraph offered a few examples of what’s wrong with public schools. Perhaps some competition from the private sector will encourage the govt to fix the problems, as they do not seem to be doing much about them right now.

    My gripe with public schools here in Utah County is specifically with their math curriculum. They used “Investigations Math” until parents demanded they throw it out because it wasn’t actually teaching any math. This year, a teacher said that they’ve got a new math textbook, but it’s still Investigations Math dressed differently. I want my child to learn actual math, not self-esteem, group project math.

    I look forward to private schools that teach actual facts to young children, and that’s what I’ll be lookin for in a private school. I won’t be taking my child to some political right-wing brainwashing factory. Have a little more respect for your neighbors’ judgment. You sound like U of U faculty, who always assume the worst about people in Utah County. We’re not all right-wing nutjobs, and if you live here, you ought to know that.

  3. StillConfused says:

    I am totally and completely for the voucher system. Parents deserve a right to choose where their kids are going to school and should not have to double pay in order to send their children to a good school. If the concern is that people would leave public school under a voucher system, that says a great deal about the public school system. Fix the problem rather than force people to continue to fund it. My children both graduated public schools and do well in life — because I was there to teach spelling and grammar when the public school teacher said “what’s the point; that is what spell check is for.”

    How about we take other industries and do the exact same thing? Everyone must support a state run grocery store even if the food is crap. If you want good food, you have to pay for the crappy food and the good food. You can see how silly this whole thing is.

  4. StillConfused says:

    p.s. the whole class warfare thing is LAME!!!!

  5. Steve Evans says:

    Is it Friday already?

  6. Huh,

    Sounds more like a rambling lefty political speech then a serious examination of the issues relating to vouchers.

    I think I would probably vote against vouchers if I lived in Utah. I simply do not see the need for them in a largely middle class state with succesful 2 parent families and a functioning education system.

    I would though support vouchers were I grew up in Chicago or more specifically inside the actual Chicago public school boundaries where bad parenting combined with typical poorly run public schools and overly powerful unions are destroying generations of kids.

  7. Warner,

    You sound as politically motivated as those you criticize.

  8. Hey guys, lay off. He’s a registered Republican!

  9. It’s discouraging to see somebody I respect immensely and who is insightful and articulate on many issues engage is this sort of low polemic. There are good arguments to be made against the voucher proposals; unfortunately, Prof. Woodworth fails to make them, going instead for the cheap shots against Hannity, Ruff, et. al.

    Dick Cheney School of Shooting Range Safety

    HA! There’s a kneeslapper!

  10. Question:
    What’s the legal framework that private schools in Utah operate under? In the UK, private schools have to meet certain statutory educational requirements.

  11. Mike Parker says:

    Once again, someone tries to convince us that it’s really the government’s money, we’re just holding it for them temporarily.

  12. Even more disconcerting is the fact that the “teachers” in this plan only need some type of “expertise,” or other.

    The requirement in the law is either a B.A. or “expertise.” I worked as a lawyer for six years before deciding on a career change. Since I’d considered teaching as an undergrad, I thought I’d look at becoming a political science teacher.

    Imagine my surprise to find out the public school system did not think I was qualified to teach political science because I did not have a B.A. in PoliSci. My law degree and experience counted for nothing. But I could teach in the area where I had a B.A., even though that knowledge was 10 years out of date.

    Under this law, I’d be qualified to teach PoliSci in a private school because of my “expertise” even though I lack the B.A. that public schools require.

  13. Sometimes by the way President Ezra Taft Benson’s name is used in a post or comments (in the ‘Nacle) you would never know he was an apostle or the prophet of the Church. It’s a little strange to see his name used so casually and contemptuously. Yes, he was very conservative … but his status for us should go a little beyond mere politics.

  14. As a former Utah resident, and long term watcher of public school policy, I have concerns about the proposed voucher system in Utah. My wife has taught in both the Utah and Washington State schools, is National Board Certified in Math, and currently is working with a Microsoft grant in efforts to improve the teaching of science and math in the public schools. I’ve spent time observing and video taping in classrooms, and have read and researched information about schools and how to get success. I’ve also sent six kids through the public school systems in both states.

    My concern about vouchers in general is that they have the potential to divert already inadequate funds from the public schools to private schools, where there is no guarantee of improved curriculum and success. The proposed Utah voucher system, as Warner indicates, requires that a qualifying school be no less 40 students. Generally in education, small is better. The Gates Institute primarily grants money only to small schools (ie, 250 or less). However, I have heard Utah residents talk about “Campus” model private schools, where the kids would meet once or twice a week, and the rest of the time be homeschooled. It appears that oversight is limited at best, and the lesser qualifications for teachers in the proposed voucher system is troubling as well.

    Warner’s polemics bothered me a lot as well, but he is right about many points. As a parent, some of my kids did just fine in school, others required more hands on assistance. The curriculum has changed as the culture and needs of a technologically advanced society has changed as well. I am as concerned about parents who want to push the old “skill and drill” math over newer problem solving approaches to math education. Sure, kids need to learn their times tables, how to multiply and divide, but today’s professional requirements are more geared to group projects, cross-discipline problem solving, and learning the context of how math is used at work, which is not the way that many of us boomers and gen-xers learned math growing up.

    Long comment only to try and make the point that more privatization of education is not likely the answer to the troubles facing Utah’s public schools. They’ve long been underfunded, and now are even more pressured, as are schools in most states, by the unfunded federal mandates of No Child Left Behind. It’s a worthwhile goal, but creates budget problems for schools as they focus more on teaching to the tests, rather than the goal of educating students across broad disciplines. That’s why you see fewer electives at school, fewer music, art, and vocational classes.

    Think twice about supporting the voucher program as proposed in Utah.

  15. I must be the choir, but I sure enjoyed the preaching. Warner’s point, as I understand it, was that a general association between Mormonism and the voucher movement has been both posited and actively advertised. His voice proves this is not the case, and is a worthy reminder that believing Mormons who haven’t just moved from the East Coast reject vouchers. And some fire in the belly to resist what appears to be the deliberate cooptation of sectors of Mormonism within the corridor by the Mammon-centric neocon movement makes sense to me.

    I oppose vouchers on many fronts, including concern that such programs specifically are intended to withdraw from the public system those parents and families who are most committed to cooperative education, concerns that these merely become a new government subsidy for silly entrepreneurism (which I oppose to actual innovation), the clear implication that workers ought to be powerless (eliminate unions, encourage employees who are minimally qualified thus highly expendable), and the very real dangers of abandoning our neediest children (what private institution would ever, without massive government subsidy, agree to care for the profoundly disabled?)

  16. It just seems preposterous to me that with the lowest spending per-pupil in the country, and with teacher salaries that should leave every family-values voter in Utah burning with embarrassment and shame, we would even consider something so expensive and unproved as vouchers. Until teachers in Utah are paid a living wage, and until we are willing to pull ourselves out of the competition for biggest education cheapskate, we have no business messing around with voucher entitlements.

  17. danithew,

    My respect for Pres. Benson has gone up immensely over the years as I have seen the results of his efforts at putting the Book of Mormon back in a central place in our theology. He was an admirable and worthy prophet and leader of the church. His politics, prior to becoming the President of the Church, appear to me to be misguided and divisive. His service as President of the was remarkable as it was free of political comment and focused instead on the work of the Church.

  18. Melinda, # 12,

    There are two aspects to teaching, subject matter expertise, and instructional theory and practice. Both are required for a teacher to be successful, and your comments are appropriate in the sense that teachers should know their stuff. That’s why teachers are normally required to continue their education in both their subject of expertise, and also in teaching skills.

    This is further compounded by the requirements of No Child Left Behind that teachers need to teach within their areas of expertise, or in your case, your BA degree. It’s not all the fault of the public schools. Schools run the risk of being declared as “not meeting” the federal standard when they let teachers teach outside of those areas. With so many schools in so many states not being able to meet the “adequate yearly progress” requirements of NCLB, they can’t allow you to teach PoliSci by federal mandate.

  19. 14 – About the “already underfunded” school system. I’m from California, where we have a really high rate per student, and many of our schools are doing really bad! Money isn’t the only answer to public school’s problems.

  20. Parents should have the right and the means to choose what kind of an education they want their children to have. If the public schools weren’t failing so spectacularly across the country, there wouldn’t be any need for this discussion. When only 60% of high school students graduate from some schools (not necessarily Utah schools – I am in Florida), there is definitely a problem – a problem that doesn’t go away no matter how many dollars get thrown at it. Competition and choice -possibly a way to at least get the government schools attention. Besides, I thought liberals were all for “choice”…

  21. I read somewhere recently where the biggest factor that determines success or failure in a child’s education is parental involvement. I would say parental involvement also would greatly improve the educational system itself- if enough parents see that texts are inadequate, that teachers are poorly trained, etc. and voice these concerns, perhaps the system itself will begin to improve. If parents do nothing and are not involved in their child’s education, how can they complain that they system has failed? Let’s all take more of the responsibility that belongs to us as parents….

  22. If the public schools weren’t failing so spectacularly across the country

    My US experience is limited to suburban Baltimore, Maryland. The top public school in the state was down the road from me. It was not “failing” and I would have been happy to have sent my children there. It was one of many good schools in Baltimore. Yes, some schools in the city were awful, but there are other factors in play there. One of which is funding.

  23. Sam, # 15,
    Perhaps this is the greatest danger in voucher systems. As parents with the means to make choices pull more and more kids into private schools, the public schools will be left with the kids who have no choice, ie special needs, handicapped, kids from families of the working poor, with no other recourse than publics schools.

    Outsider, # 20: While I sympathize with the idea that choice will lead to improvements, most school districts that I am familiar with are trying to offer choice via charter schools, open enrollment, magnet schools, etc, to the extent that funding is available. A private school that is brand new with no track record at all is a pretty high risk investment to me. Better to put your kid in an existing Catholic school.

    Education seems to be a lightning rod for distrust of government, fears that our moral values are being eroded, and general dissatisfaction with society. Someone echoed a favorite theme of mine, which is if you don’t like how your public school is working for your child, get involved. Volunteer, talk to teachers about your child and their homework, get to be known at the school, and you can have a direct impact. Students with parents actively involved in their education do better, period.

  24. If you think of vouchers as pell grants for elementary age school children, they become more palatable. If you think of them as the first step on a slippery slope to the dismantling public education, less so.

  25. Ironically, the biggest proponents of vouchers in Utah are the Catholics, not the “Mormon-professing political extremists”.
    On well, don’t let that get in the way of a good rant.
    I’ll avoid repeating my posts on this from the other discussion and just mention a few links like KSL’s article
    I think that we have some great schools here in Utah. But we also have some poor ones. All we’re asking is for the state to let us choose what school we send our child to. Yes, there are some choices in the public ed system, but why not give us more choices. Sometimes, the choices that are offered through public ed are not enough to fit the needs of individual children.
    The public schools are expecting a huge increase in numbers.
    If you are living in a 3 bedroom home with 4 kids and one on the way, one child leaving home will not make your mortgage go down, but it may prevent you from having to move to a larger home and getting a larger mortgage.

    One comment from KSL:
    However, I’ve sat down and tried to really get a good look at how this program works. I may have been wrong in my assumptions, but after my calculations I still saw more money per student than before. Correct me if I’m incorrect in my calculations. What I did was very simple.

    I assumed one school district had 5,000 students. That would mean, the school district would receive $37,500,000 for the school if vouchers were not in place. That is based on the $7,500 per student figure. Lets assume that the fixed costs are $20,000,000 for the district. That would mean that only $17,500,000 goes directly into the education of the students, or $3,500 per student.

    Now, let say of those 5,000 students, 200 have decided to utilize the voucher and transfer to a private school. The district will now get $36,000,000 for the students enrolled (7,500 * 4,800) plus and extra 1,000,000 for the students who have transfered (that is $7,500 less the average voucher (which generously estimated around $2,500, it’s really about $1,800 – leaving $5,000 * 200 transfered students.) That would be $37,000,000 to the district, only $500,000 less than before the vouchers were used.

    Now, less subtract the fixed costs (20,000,000) from that $37,000,000 so that it equals $17,000,000. Divide that by the 4,800 students and you have $3,645.83, or 168.83 more per student.

    Of course, there are probably at least 100 kids living in that district whose parents never considered putting them in public school. You know, the parents who have four year olds and will sent them to kindergarten in a private school with or without vouchers. That would put another $500,000 in the public school system, which brings the total money allotted to the district the same as it was before any student transfered to private schools with vouchers.

    I am not a CPA, and will never claim to be. I my A- in both my college Accounting classes and haven’t really looked back. If I am wrong in my generalization, please let me know. Please correct me if I’ve made a mistake.

    Side Note: There a few problems with your arguement, that have nothing to do with the funding/accounting. You place textbooks and supplies in your list of fixed costs. If a school knows how many students are enrolled in each subject, why is the administration buying more books and supplies than are needed? If the schools has 90 5th grade students, they only need 90 5th grade math books, right? If the number drops to 80, then they should only buy 80 books. If the school still buys 90, then I would not want my student surrounded by such fiscally irresponsible adults. (Also, new books do NOT need to be in the bugdet every year, basic math, english and science concepts are the same today as they were 7 years ago when I was in public school.)

    Also, if my child leaves home, no my mortgage payment does not go down. However, my gas and lighting bill will be cause he will not by using appliances in my house, or using so much water to take bath. I will no longer have to buy him clothes or food. I would save significantly overall. However, my son is only 4 and I would not wish him to leave for another 15 years. I understand that a couple less students in a classroom will not cut down on energy, etc. I’m just pointing out that that specific example does not mesh with this issue.

  26. Last Lemming says:

    This seems like the best opportunity for me to disabuse people who might have been fooled by George Will into believing that the voucher proposal will actual save the state money. Will made the following claim:

    And every Utah voucher increases funds available for public education. Here is how:

    Utah spends more than $7,500 per public school pupil ($3,000 more than the average private school tuition). The average voucher will be for less than $2,000. So every voucher that is used — by parents willing to receive $2,000 rather than $7,500 of government support for the education of their child — will save Utah taxpayers an average of $5,500. And because the vouchers are paid from general revenues, the departed pupil’s $7,500 stays in the public school system.

    First of all, the source of the $7,500 is not clear and the number conflicts with a study issued by the Utah Taxpayers Association last month that puts average operating expenses in 2005 at $5,169, increasing to only $5,647 by 2022. Will also conveniently forgets that a significant chunk of the operating expenses represent fixed costs that will not decline as pupils exit the system. The buildings still need to be heated, the administrative staff still needs to be paid, etc. But even if you look at just the variable cost per student instead of the average cost, you still get a figure that is higher than the likely savings from pupils exiting the system. That is because the figure still includes the cost of special education, which is approximately 2.5 times that of the typical student who would use a voucher.

    Then there’s that line about how the entire amount remains in the school system because vouchers are paid out of general revenues. Nice try, George. Future appropriations for schools will undoubtedly adjust to reflect the smaller pie of post-voucher money available. Either that, or they will just cut taxes since the public schools obviously won’t need as much.

  27. Melinda, how exactly does a law degree qualify you to teach political science? Political science, is after all, a theoretical discipline (at least, it is to any one who went beyond 100). Sorry, I’m a poli sci ABD and I think there’s a good bit of difference. While I’m generally not a fan of certification, I do believe that some overlap is necessary…

  28. StillConfused says:

    About teacher pay — that argument is extremely disingenuous. Have you ever stopped to calculate the teacher’s hourly wage? It is actually quite high. So I feel no sympathy there.

    Plus, if teachers are really that miserable, why don’t they get another job. This is the US and you are free to change jobs as desired.

    Like I said before, I fully support vouchers because I fully support someone getting to choose how their own money is spent! Novel concept I know.

  29. Regarding “choice,” it bothers me that people imply that they have no choice today and will only have choices with a voucher system.

    We recently had a family move into our neighborhood specifically because they wanted their child in a different school than where they lived. Perhaps that is an extreme case and I’m not suggesting that as a solution for everyone. However, we all have choices.

    If you are unhappy with your local public school option and can’t afford a private school, perhaps a local charter school would be better. Choose, perhaps, to get involved in your child’s education. Let’s not be deceived into thinking that a voucher system will solve all of the problems….

  30. California Condor says:

    I have conflicted feelings about public schools. I am a product of public schools and my experience was hands-down wonderful. But now that I have studied economics I have strong free-market leanings and I realize that public schools are pretty much a socialist state-run, centrall-planned apparatus. Wouldn’t it be more efficient to drop the whole system? Just give everyone a huge tax break and let everyone find a private school for their kids. In a competitive market private school tuition would drop to levels where people could afford it with their tax breaks. Future plumbers wouldn’t be forced to waste time learning Emily Dickinson. Future computer programmers wouldn’t be forced to waste paint on lame finger-paintings of dogs. We’d save millions of dollars on paint alone.

  31. Ironically, the biggest proponents of vouchers in Utah are the Catholics

    Judge Memorial Catholic High School in Salt Lake City is a fine institution and when I was briefly a substitute teacher there I was astonished to learn that it had very few LDS students. More LDS families should support Catholic education. I’m proud of my own Catholic high school alma mater, and of my (brief) association with Judge Memorial.

  32. Julie, your comment #28 made my day. Thanks.

  33. ed johnson says:

    The policy debate over vouchers is important and interesting. Too bad this post contributes nothing to this debate.

  34. Stillconfused:

    here’s teachers average hourly wages. Keep in mind that this covers 33-42k, whereas in Utah, the average for a BA is about 27k, or just about 11/hr.

  35. California Condor says:

    Matt W. (35),

    I think your numbers are off. A teacher who makes $27,000 a year gets summers off, a week break in October, maybe two weeks off for Christmas, and then maybe a spring break. They are done by 3:30 or 4:00 pm. They get all major holidays and some minor holidays off. When all is said and done, they might make about $18.00 an hour. And then for teachers whose salaries are in the $30,000s, then the hourly wage is even higher.

  36. Julie et al, please refrain from mockery of the post or its author. There’s no call for that.

  37. Stillconfused,

    Most non-teachers assume that teachers are only “working” during regular school hours. Teachers have contract times they are required to be in school, but that doesn’t begin to cover the amount of time to grade, plan, have faculty meetings, meet with parents, help kids after school, etc. In addition, there are the non-paid time spent supporting after school activities, and the work they take home because they can’t get it all done at school.

    I’ve watched my wife average 10 hours a day at school as a Junior High math teacher over the last 10 years, and then the average of 2 to 3 hours of grading and planning spent at home during the school year. It’s a 60 hour a week job for the good teachers. Yes, there are some that do the minimum, but those are not the rule.

    Julie, I know you are a home school proponent, and I respect those who are willing to take that on and do a good job. I will also agree that the original post exhibits poor logic, is filled with scare tactics, and not well done. I just know from experience that funding for education in Utah has always been hand to mouth, and just claiming that the vouchers will come from the general fund is a bit of a red herring in and of itself. I don’t see the Utah legislature continuing to fund public schools at the same level if a significant portion of students do go into private schools. I fear that the voucher system will only hasten the day that the poorest performing public schools get taken over by federal mandate under NCLB, which I fear will only hasten the decline in general.

    Good luck to all in the Utah elections tomorrow. I really do hope that it turns out best for the most, and that whatever happens is for the good of the students.

  38. “a significant chunk of the operating expenses represent fixed costs that will not decline as pupils exit the system. The buildings still need to be heated, the administrative staff still needs to be paid, etc.”

    Last Lemming, this is false. School districts would consolidate as students exit the system, just like they do now. Communities age and the number of school children drop — the schools are re-purposed or sold. My elementary school in Sugar House is now an office building, my mom’s elementary school in Holiday was razed.

    I’ll grant you that the bureaucrats running government schools aren’t geniuses, but even they aren’t so foolish as to heat buildings without students.

    The best case scenario would be that as students exit government schools (which everyone admits would happen if government allowed parents to take their money elsewhere), private schools would buy many of the government school’s facilities. The schools wouldn’t go away, just their management.

  39. California Condor says:

    I’ve watched my wife average 10 hours a day at school as a Junior High math teacher over the last 10 years, and then the average of 2 to 3 hours of grading and planning spent at home during the school year. It’s a 60 hour a week job for the good teachers.

    Ok, but then she gets 10 weeks of vacation a year.

  40. They are done by 3:30 or 4:00 pm.

    Anyone who has ever taught knows this is certainly not the case. Teaching requires time outside of the classroom to a degree that most people really don’t grasp.

    When exactly do think work gets graded and lesson plans constructed? My sons teacher spent most of the summer going to class at a local university to learn more about a new math program that’s being used for the first time this year. She didn’t get paid anything extra for that.

    Although some teachers here in Arizona are able to take the summers off and get jobs doing other things (the favorite seems to be working for parks and rec, especially the aquatics is almost all staffed with teachers) but many teachers are on year round, and intercession is way to short to even consider another job.

    I don’t have all the answers but I think complaining that teachers are paid too much is really misguided.

    We’re lucky because my kids schools are really great. But we are also fortunate because Arizona has an open district policy which allows a lot of movement between districts – which is also a big incentive for the districts to lure the students away with great programs, great teachers, etc. because the districts get the money for the kids who come from out of district. The cream then does tend to rise because they pay better and are able to attract the professionals who have decided to leave to pursue something more satisfying (my 7th grader currently has 5 MA and two PHD teachers). My high school senior has an ex chemist PHD teaching his AP chemistry class, a professional psychologist teaching AP psychology, etc. It seems like a system that works pretty well.

  41. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 31
    Amen, Condor!!! For that matter, why require children to be educated to any particular level at all? Leave it up to the parents! Soon I will be able to open my soccer-ball factory in El Segundo and hire local labor (the stitching requires little hands) rather than outsource to Bangladesh.

    And as for those over-paid teachers, let them do some real work for a change. Once education is fully privitized and optional, they can work as supervisors in my factory. At least then they’ll really earn that lavish $11 an hour!

  42. “please refrain from mockery of the post or its author. There’s no call for that.”

    Steve, Woodworth mocks voucher advocates like me by claiming we want to establish “the Sean Hannity Institute of Media Accuracy” and the “George W. Bush School of Strategic International Development” in order to teach “the gospel of John Birch.”

    If there a defensible rationale for requiring mockery to flow in one direction only, you haven’t explained it.

  43. MikeInWeHo says:

    (Oops, I meant to reference #30)

  44. Matt,

    I am not so sure about your last paragraph. I am trying to imagine parents in large numbers exiting the local Keller TX public schools were my kids go because of vouchers. It simply would not happen. The schools are to good.

    To me vouchers should be an option for those parents in low performing urban schools. Like DC, Chicago, NY etc.

    I just cannot imagine the majority of Utah voters with kids in largely adequate public schools voting for vouchers.

  45. Matt, consider it a personal challenge to your capacities for restraint and aplomb.

    Personally, I don’t care about the topic one bit. I don’t live in Utah, don’t have school age kids and can’t vote. I didn’t see Prof. Woodworth’s article before it was printed. I can see that the post mocks voucher advocates. But the fact is that he’s a guest of BCC, and as an admin I will make sure that he is treated kindly. I hope you can understand. I don’t believe the post is an inherent obstacle to your cogent and polite conversations on the topic.

  46. California Condor says:

    MikeInWeHo (43),

    why require children to be educated to any particular level at all?

    This is actually an interesting question…

  47. bbell,

    Most Utahns won’t vote for vouchers (the latest polling was 56% – 36% against), but it’s not because they wouldn’t use them if they were available. Everyone agrees that if vouchers were implemented, the government schools would lose students. That’s why a voucher program like Utah’s, which excludes children already in private school, is still opposed by the teachers unions so forcefully. The teachers unions only oppose school vouchers because they know parents will use them.

  48. First off, I’m all for vouchers. I’ve yet to hear a convincing argument against them. (especially this post)
    However, I must take issue with those of you who think that teachers are somehow making plenty of money. Sure, the students leave at 3:30, and they get a couple of day/weeks out of the classroom during the year and three months off for the summer, but that doesn’t mean that they stop working. When they get home there are papers to grade, lessons to plan, and parents to talk to. Also, many teachers also direct other programs such as extra-curricular activities and they might get a little extra for that, but it hardly makes up for the amount of time they must put into it.
    As to why they don’t go out and get another job: There are probably many reasons but some might be that they enjoy teaching. They like to give something back to the community. Like parenting, there are plenty of aspects that are difficult, but the rewards are worth it.

  49. Once again, I forgot to refresh. Sorry if my comment is a little redundant.

  50. Matt,
    That’s a pretty strong assertion, knowing what motivates the teacher’s union. Have they said as much any place?

    Like Steve, I don’t live in Utah or have school age kids (although unlike him, if I lived in Utah I could vote), and I don’t especially care what Utah does. But I can think of a number of reasons a teacher’s union would be opposed to a voucher bill outside of believing it would draw students away from public schools (anything from the fact that it would weaken the union’s strength to the idea that it is bad as a policy matter). I wouldn’t dream of imputing any of these motives to the union, because I don’t know, but the motivation you impute sounds to me like pro-voucher (or anti-union) propaganda (which is not to say it hasn’t been said, just to say, what’s your source?).

  51. California Condor says:

    OK, maybe teachers have to grade classwork during their spare time, but at least high school teachers who teach difficult subjects like chemistry and trigonmetry might have some “off-hours” during the day when they can work on that.

  52. Steve, in that case I would request you remove my comment altogether. As it is, readers will assume I resorted to ad hominem or said something more outrageous than other commenters have done. Surely Woodworth understood his logic and analysis would be sujected to critical scrutiny when he asked BCC to post it.

  53. I have never met a teacher who was the sole financial supporter of his/her family. The spouse always has to work to make ends meet.
    As far as monetary compensation goes, I think ‘teacher’ is just about at the bottom.

  54. As to why they don’t go out and get another job: There are probably many reasons but some might be that they enjoy teaching. They like to give something back to the community. Like parenting, there are plenty of aspects that are difficult, but the rewards are worth it.

    Then they are paid enough.

    McIntyre! McIntyre! McIntyre!

    (I believe that if you say his name three times he will appear and dispense economics wisdom.)

  55. Matt, okey-doke.

    gst, I think you’re confusing Frank with Candyman.

  56. But the fact is that he’s a guest of BCC, and as an admin I will make sure that he is treated kindly.

    Clearly, you were not at Columbia during the Bollinger administration.

  57. #55 You can’t pay the bills with intangible rewards.

  58. That’s a pretty strong assertion, knowing what motivates the teacher’s union. Have they said as much any place?

    There have been lots of debates about the vouchers in Utah, and the opposing side is usually represented by a current or former member of the teachers union. In every case they argue from the assumption that if vouchers pass, many parents will choose to pull their kids from the government schools. It’s a staple of every debate:

    Teachers union rep: “Utah’s government schools are great and parents agree.”

    Voucher advocate: “Then you have no reason to fear competing with private schools on equal footing.”

  59. California Condor, let’s talk about those 10 weeks of vacation in the summer.

    Last summer, our schools ended up here the 24th of June. My wife had to be back in the classroom for three days before school actually started the day after labor day.

    She also spent a week at meetings for the Microsoft grant that she is involved with, plus another week learning to be a trainer for a computer aided math curriculum for the safety net kids (on the bubble as to passing the state math competence tests). During the remaining 8 weeks, she actually got to be “on vacation”, which is pretty good, until you think about the extra 20 hours a week for the rest of the school year. She spent more time in extra hours than she gained by being off for 8 weeks. This year, she chose not to teach summer school, as she has the last two years.

    She loves teaching, she loves junior high kids, and wouldn’t want to do anything different. She also gets paid better in Washington than Utah, but Washington is still in the bottom rungs of the school pay ladder nationwide.

    I have a son who won’t teach in Utah, because he would have to take a 40% cut in pay from his teaching job in Hawaii’s public schools. He now works selling computers, and is thinking about going back to school to get a second degree so he can earn a real living.

  60. Julie M. Smith says:

    “In every case they argue from the assumption that if vouchers pass, many parents will choose to pull their kids from the government schools.”

    What always amazes me about this is that it concedes that parents don’t think that that school is the best choice for their child–they are only stuck there because they don’t have the financial resources to move or pay tuition.

    Which reminds me: those of you worried about John Birch Academy or The People’s Republic School #47 should remember that those things are 100% legal now. They are just restricted to the rich. If you are really concerned about that, you need to quit wasting your time thinking about vouchers and work to make private schools illegal.

  61. StillConfused says:

    The average hourly wage PRESUMES true full time work. Teachers only work 179 days a year and some of those are “career ladder” and other types of things. Also, pretty much anyone who is an educated professional works more than the 40 hour week. In employment law it is called an “exempt position.” Think of engineers, etc. They often work more than 40 hours a week.

    But it has been my experience throughout both my children’s public school education that there was never a teacher who put in 8 hours a day, much less more. Now I only had two children and they were only in 12 grades plus kindergarten each, so I am sure that there are other cases where teachers actually do extra work. I just didn’t get to meet them.

    Because they work approximately 1/2 of your typical exempt employee, a simple rule of thumb would be to double their stated salary and that is what they are effectively being paid.

    Again, if it isn’t enough money, go do a different job. Just don’t be surprised when you have to work in the summer and are expected to put in more than 8 hours a day. And complaining to your politician won’t get you anywhere.

  62. I guess Still Confused thinks that teachers wander into the classroom at 9:00 a.m. and scratches his/her head and six hours of lessons pop out, and then when the little kiddies have gone home they toss the homework/exams/essays into the magic grader and voila! they come out marked with comments and grades, and then when there’s the school activity in the evening or on the weekend, they don’t actually have to show up because they have a whole room of clones behind the janitor’s closet and so, life is easy and they deserve to make $22K a year.

    To say nothing of having to deal with obnoxious kids and worse parents and the yahoos in the state legislature who never did learn much in school but now they’re in control, and educrats and bureaucrats and Republicrats.

    It’s a wonder they don’t all run off to Mexico with some 13-year-old.

  63. Julie, amen! No more private schools at all. Plus homeschooled kids should be barred from college educations.

  64. Julie M. Smith says:

    I’m sorry, Steve, what was that you were saying about mocking?

  65. I’m serious! I don’t trust them.

    That said, I can imagine an exception for those who have learned a skilled trade in utero.

  66. Stillconfused,

    Not to be mocking, but I hope that the vouchers pass, and your kids get to go to a private school where the teachers get $11 an hour, work a six hour day, and don’t have to be certified teachers, just have “expertise”.

    Okay, maybe I am mocking, but with six kids through the public school system, a wife and two adult kids who teach, I just don’t see the kind of approach to teaching your kids and my kids that you describe.

    My work in high tech requires additional outside hours, study, research, gaining professional certifications and the like. Why don’t you think that teachers (the good ones) do the same?

    I used to laugh about the “best part time job” comments regarding school teachers, but after living with my wife the last ten years, it isn’t very funny when she’s too busy in the evenings with school work to do anything else. I’m absolutely not kidding about the 60 hour weeks. She arrives at school at 7 AM, returns home about 5, and most evenings has another 2 to 3 hours of school work. And she only gets a 30 minute lunch.

    I know elementary teachers that put in that kind of week as well, and are nearing burnout faster than they are nearing retirement. Wait until the voucher election is over, and the emotions have died down, and then go ask 5 secondary and 5 elementary teachers to total up the time they spent the previous week, and then let me know how many are putting in a seven hour day, 179 days a year only.

  67. StillConfused (and any others claiming teachers in Utah are paid enough – or even too much), I never have been as insulted personally by a series of comments as I have by yours in this thread. I started my career as a high school teacher and coach. I made around what a beginning teacher makes in Utah. I worked at least 60 hours each week – and I stopped calculating my hourly wage for coaching after about 30 seconds, when I realized it would end up being less than $1/hour. I am dead serious – less than $1/hour. I worked hard throughout the summer in order to save money to supplement my income throughout the school year just so I could live on what I made as a teacher and allow my wife to stay home with our children. I couldn’t do it, so she had to work part-time at a health club nursery – where we didn’t have to pay for child care. I was raised poor, but we weren’t any poorer then than I was when I was teaching. I don’t want teachers to make so much that people go into it just for the money, but I am appalled that a teacher in many places has to do what I did just to survive and raise multiple children.

    There are MANY problems with public school education in this country, but teacher pay is not one of them. To assert otherwise is ignorance, plain and simple.

    I am not a proponent of vouchers – not at all – and many of the arguments for vouchers that are put forth are manipulative and overwrought, but the tone and many of the justifications presented here might push me to support them if I weren’t knowledgeable on the subject. I just don’t like polemics and name calling, no matter the position being defended.

  68. California and Confused:

    I’m sure other people have already addressed your claims about teacher pay, but I’m not patient enough to read through them. I’m just going to shoot of a rash response instead.

    Vacation Shmacation. It’s all about hours. I’m a high school teacher and the minimum I can get away with is ten hours a day. Most days it’s more; for instance, this Thursday I collect 90 3-page 12th grade essays (not a fun read in case anyone wondered), which means I’ll be putting in twelve hours a day until they are done.

    But let’s suppose the twelve hour-days are balanced out by the days I am too tired to bring work home and the days that go only half-time (noon dismissal) and call it an average of ten hours a day. There are 180 days in a school year; that’s instructional days only, weekends and holidays not counted. So a teacher making $27,000 a year (the figure that somebody somewhere mentioned in this thread) and working 1800 hours earns, by my calculation, $15 an hour before taxes.

    For a bright, motivated, dedicated college graduate (which I can promise you 90% of teachers are), that isn’t “quite high” by anyone’s deifintion (unless you’re one of those folks who thinks teaching is rather like flipping a hamburger — and lots of people do).

  69. The problem with the whole discussion of teachers salaries is that first we have to agree on what economic system we are going to work within. This will help us determine what a teacher “should” be paid.

    Capitalists want the market to determine teacher pay (hence comments about teachers who don’t like their pay finding a different job), but capitalism requires many market forces working together for the system to check/balance itself.

    Teachers unions work hard to restrict market forces such as paying teachers very different salaries based on performance and firing poor teachers. There are consequences to that. Merit-based pay (as opposed to tenure-based pay) leads to the best people making a good living and the worst people looking for other jobs. Teachers I know don’t want a merit-based system. The downside is that this means a lot of money that we should be paying to our best teachers (which would in turn create an incentive for talented people to become teachers) is instead spread evenly among all the people who have been teaching for X number of years, regardless of their effectiveness.

    If a teacher wants to complain about teacher salaries, I want to know if s/he is willing to live within a merit-based system. If not, I don’t have a lot of sympathy.

  70. Julie M. Smith says:

    Jacob J,

    I’m a former classroom teacher who would have preferred merit pay. However, the problem is determining what constitutes merit–it isn’t as simple as seeing who sold the most cars by the end of the month. How precisely do you think teaching merit should be determined? Test scores? Grades?

  71. Jacob J, your point is well taken, but let me throw your own quote back at you: “capitalism requires many market forces working together for the system to check/balance itself.”

    Who would determine the “merit” and how? If the principal or other administrator could determine pay, they might be tempted to say all their teachers are great, so they can all get great pay and the administrator won’t have to deal with teachers who hate him/her for giving a bad review.

    Leaders could try to counteract this by giving bonuses for administrators who reduce costs by NOT doing that. But then the administrator would be incentivized to give everyone low reviews, saving money to enrich themselves. Perhaps each administrator could be given a set budget that they can divide as they see fit between good and bad. But if every school gets the same budget, schools in less desirable areas would be hugely disadvantaged–most teachers would rather be at a school with nice kids, so those dollars wouldn’t go as far for the rowdier schools.

    So then the problem starts all over–who determines rowdy and how?? Testing could be an alternative to the administrator, but that brings all kinds of issues about fairness based on how good the students were before the teacher got them, and all the “immeasurables” on a test.

    Some things just don’t fit well into a market scheme. Markets are GREAT for things that fit the model. But round peg/square hole with some things. Education is one.

  72. Julie,

    Given your preference for merit pay, I sypathize with you if you complain about your former salary. Of course there is an issue of determining merit, but this is an issue everywhere. People who think it is straightforward to determine merit in technical companies do not have experience in technical companies. Where I work, we have to compare the performance of people making vastly different contributions. Although I work in a technical company, all the people I work with are so far removed from any bottom line that such comparisons are utterly meaningless. Same for number of sales since I am not in sales.

    I have had long and interesting conversations with my teacher friends/family about how teachers can be ranked against each other, but it is more than I can represent in a comment here. I just want to stress that determining merit in a teaching situation is no more difficult than many of the places where merit based systems are used. After all, if you have worked in a school you know that everyone gets a pretty good idea of who are the better teachers and who are the worse teachers. They must be figuring it out somehow, right?

  73. blah,

    You make my point exactly. I am not saying teachers must be willing to work within a capatilist system. I am only saying that thier poor pay is in large part due to the absence of that system. If you are correct that market forces can’t be adapted to the profession of teaching, the result is that we should all get used to teacher’s pay being bad and move on.

  74. Julie M. Smith says:

    Jacob J, I don’t buy the comparison. My husband has one of those ‘very small cog in a very big machine’ type of jobs, but his merit pay has a basis in his relationship with his manager in setting out goals and meeting them. Lest that sound instantly applicable to teaching, tell me how to evaluate a teaching goal of “convince 30 8th graders that ancient Egypt is worth learning more about” or “improve the writing ability of my 7th graders” or “teach my 2nd graders the times tables in the most efficient way so that their parents don’t have to scream at them at 9pm while they cry because they haven’t finished learning them for the test tomorrow.” My fear here is that a poorly designed merit pay system will get us exactly where the poorly designed standardized tests have: to a place where we emphasize only extremely-low level skills and stress out little kids.

  75. Last Lemming (@26),

    George Will is right. Utah has a rapidly growing school age population. Enrollments are projected to increase by 160,000 over the next ten years. This increase is far larger than the projected number of students who will take advantage of private school vouchers (~15,000). The fixed cost argument is invalid because the vast majority of public schools will have rising, not falling enrollments.

    In addition, the legislature has funded the full weighted pupil unit for any students who depart, for a term of five years, insulating every school district from any financial impact during that period.

    Ultimately, this dispute revolves around one key issue – namely do government schools have a divine right to every tax dollar spent on primary education? I don’t think so. Competition and freedom of choice – limited as it is – would be a healthy thing.

  76. Julie,

    If what we implement is “poorly designed merit pay system” then you are correct that the results will be poor. I am constantly amazed that teachers think it is intrinsically impossible to tell a good teacher from a bad one. In my job, I don’t have any luxury of setting a goal and being ranked well if I meet it. I am ranked yearly and things change so much during a year that I cannot possible set long term goals that are relevant by the time they could be evaluated.

    As the end of the year, I get to make a pitch for why I did a good job, how I contributed, and why I am valuable to my group. There is no one magic vector on which to compare teachers, you have to take many things into account. Testing is obviously one vector which is useful, but not complete or perfect. Like all systems where there are customers, you must also get feedback: feedback from students, feedback from parents, feedback from peers, feedback from administrators. The idea that teachers cannot be meaningfully compared is just bogus. Every problem you cite has a direct analog in the environment where I work. If teachers want better pay, they need to work in a system that is able to provide it. The downside is that such systems offer much worse job security. There are always trade-offs.

  77. Sir – your satire in school naming conventions shows a want of feeling and calls you out as a political opportunist masquerading as a community activist.

    If you told us up front about your political angst your credibility would still be intact.

    It is not.

  78. Julie M. Smith says:

    Jacob J, I consider “much worse job security” for teachers a very good thing. But I have serious doubts about the ability to design a good merit pay system. All of the ideas you mention have serious practical problems: What student will highly rate a teacher who made them memorize three Latin declensions instead of letting them host a mock Olympics? What parent will prefer the teacher who told them that they needed to spend 30 minutes per night laboring over CVC word with their whiny first grader instead of sending them home with a cute little picture to color?

    The main problem is that the rewards of good teaching are generally not immediately apparent and/or appreciated by parents, students, and sometimes even other teachers (stop making me look bad!) or administrators (stop rocking the boat!).

  79. Count me among those who are disappointed with this essay. I will vote against the referendum because I believe there are good reasons to oppose it. I cannot understand why those reasons are not part of the public debate over it. This essay pretends that the serious problems with the public schools that motivate this type of legislation do not exist. It is insulting to people who are on the other side of this. It suggests that pro-voucher groups have evil designs and want to dismantle civil society!

    I believe that if the teachers unions would get serious about teacher performance and accountability, support for vouchers would dry up. As a parent, it appears to me that job security comes ahead of the needs of students as a priority for the teachers union. This is wrong. I also dislike the argument that parents whose children attend substandard public schools with bad teachers should just get more involved in running the school. For many working parents, this is not practical. The purpose of the schools is to educate children, not to provide teachers with job security.

  80. I am all for the concept of merit pay in theory, but until we fix the school funding issue it’s going to be impossible to implement in many, if not most, districts. Right now, Ohio’s funding has been declared unconstitutional for ten years – a decision I support fully. For the first seven years, the legislature proposed one funding change after another that did absolutely nothing to address the issues that caused the ruling. Each was rejected. Three years ago, the legislature stopped trying and simply refused to budget in any different manner.

    What this means is that the schools and districts in this state are stuck with a ten-year-old, unconstitutional funding mechanism that relies on citizens to pass tax levies every few years to cover inflation costs – including teacher salaries. Many districts still pay teachers what they did ten years ago – specifically because so many citizens are fed up with the constant requests for more money from their own pockets – on top of all of the other taxes they are paying – simply to continue the same level of performance they have seen for years.

    In this environment, any rise in salaries for excellent teachers must mathematically be offset by a decrease in salaries for poor teachers. Rewarding excellent teachers economically as a way to entice higher performance across the board sounds great, but that only is possible if there is more money available to pay for the higher total salary base throughout the district – and it simply isn’t there for most districts. One could argue for reduction in other areas, but that is a whole separate issue.

    Vouchers won’t begin to address any of this.

  81. Like a belated and not terribly useful fairy godfather, I have responded to gst’s cries for succor, written up a post on vouchers, and posted it on the best blog in the Universe. Those of you in the know will know where that is.

  82. California Condor says:

    lurkgirl (68),

    I find it hard to believe that teachers average 10 hours a day. If I’m not mistaken, teachers at my high school got two or three “off-hours” during the day.

    Jacob J. and Julie M. Smith,

    A fair merit based system would be based off of a principal’s in-class evaluation combined with student’s change in test scores.

  83. California Condor says:

    Ray (67),

    If you were making less than $1.00 an hour, then you truly were getting shafted. I hope made a scene in your principal’s office and quit, slamming the door behind you.

  84. CC, Many, if not most, of them do – including every good-excellent one. Please accept the word of multiple teachers and former teachers on that.

  85. CC, you really don’t understand teachers.

  86. Jacob J.,

    I am in my ninth year of teaching and I am at least open to the idea of merit-based teacher salaries. But like Julie, I am skeptical that an excellently (or even acceptably) designed system is possible and like Ray, I don’t think the money is there.

    In order to pay the most excellent teachers the salary they deserve (which here in Orange County, CA is arguably upwards of $80k), districts would have to pay the worst and laziest teachers $20k (not a livable wage here).

    Here’s where you say, “So what? Go find a new job then.” I agree except that… the district would then have to count on employing crappy teachers in order to afford to pay the excellent ones, the very good ones, the good ones, and the merely acceptable ones. See the problem?

    But if Jacob is willing to write the check, then I am willing to have my pay based on my performance.

  87. #85 – Perhaps that was a bit too harsh. Let me clarify:

    I was making that amount for the stipend I received for the extra hours I put in as a coach outside of my classroom duties.

  88. Julie (#78),

    Notice that there are tensions between the different sources of feedback (which is good). Testing requires that children learn the material, which is in tension with student feedback (which improves if teachers go easy). I have a less cynical view than you of the kind of feedback that would be given by parents. If they knew it made an actual difference, I think parents could give very valuable feedback, but it would just be one consideration. If I was a teacher and my raise next year counted on the students testing well (or well in relation to previous performace as suggested in #82) in conjunction with good feedback from students, parents, and principal, that would certainly influence my behavior. It would certainly help us identify the best teachers. The thing is, what I suggested is the most rudimentary system possible. We could do much better if we were committed to merit-based pay and put things in place to help us evaluate and compare teachers (today we essentially have nothing).

    Ray (#80),

    I agree that no one is excited to pay more when they feel sure it will lead to the same performace as before. As to your point about paying the best teachers out of the pockets of the worst teachers, that is what happens in my industry.

    lurkgirl (#86),

    I don’t want to give the impression that I think merit-pay will magically solve all the problems. I am just arguing that it is a major factor in why the system (as a whole) does not function well. If we allow capitalism in, then what happens is we actually pay more money to the schools which perform better, and they can afford good teachers since they have proven they know how to utilize them. See how that solves the problem? Rewarding success leads to more success. Rewarding mediocrity leads to…well…what we have today. Oh, and by the way, I am already writing the check.

  89. Wow. I had to rub my eyes and take a double take to make sure that some commenters were actually suggesting that teachers were overpaid, let alone paid adequately.

    Teacher pay is just a huge, looming problem that overshadows everything else. Until professionals feel their skills and education will be rewarded with at least a respectable living wage as teachers, nothing else will matter much. Including and especially vouchers.

    Also, what kind of “efficiencies” will private schools funded with (or established through) vouchers introduce into the system while still keeping tuition within a range that will make the vouchers at all applicable? Either they will cut out less-quantifiable educational components (the kind that foster critical and abstract thinking), thus training students just enough to be consumers. Or they will emerge and fall in rapid succession based on fly-by-night pedagogical methods.

    A comment way up the thread said: “Future plumbers wouldn’t be forced to waste time learning Emily Dickinson. Future computer programmers wouldn’t be forced to waste paint on lame finger-paintings of dogs.” Wow. Just, wow. If you think education is only about job training, there’s a Bob Geldof movie you really, really need to see.

  90. Jacob (#88) – Yes, it happens in your industry, but the point lurkgirl and I are making is that the $20K left over when the crappy teacher quits is all that is available to hire a new teacher to replace the crappy one. When that is all that is available, you are left with the ability to hire . . . another crappy teacher. Overall, the system hasn’t changed one iota.

    So, a question: Would you rather have a chance of hiring and paying two good teachers (or even a good one and an excellent one), or would you rather guarantee a crappy one for every excellent one – and how do you justify the latter decision to the kids (and the parents of those kids) in the crappy teacher’s class? “Sorry, we had to guarantee you (your child) a crappy teacher, because we had to guarantee those other children (those parents) an excellent teacher” just doesn’t cut it. You better be locking the panic room door when you finish saying that – and no district in its right mind is going to cause the flood of lawsuits that are sure to result.

  91. MikeInWeHo says:

    This idea that teachers anywhere are overpaid….WOW. I’m with Jeremy.

    The fundamental problem with the U.S. educational system is the fact that the electorate is unwilling to provide adequate funding. All the rest just follows. We’re the uber-capitalist society. Until teaching becomes financially attractive, we will never have enough good teachers.

  92. Peter LLC says:

    As the end of the year, I get to make a pitch for why I did a good job, how I contributed, and why I am valuable to my group […] Like all systems where there are customers, you must also get feedback

    Just out of curiosity, how much time do you spend each year soliciting and compiling feedback?

    You mention in #88 that knowing you would receive feedback “would certainly influence [your] behavior” and in #75 that “there are always trade-off.” What trade-offs could we expect if teachers were to alter their behavior in pursuit of positive feedback?

  93. Peter LLC says:

    Make that

    and in #76 that “there are always trade-offs.”

  94. I’m a little amazed at some of the arguments and comments here.

    Somewhere in the midst of some of these arguments it seems we’ve lost focus of a simple idea. When we don’t pay teachers well, there is no way to attract the best and the brightest. And that secondly, as a nation, as communities, we should want each and every child to have equal eductional opportunities.

    These are idealistic goals that are difficult to implement at times – there are complications, and I understand that those are not always simple problems to fix. What disturbs me though is there seem to be some here who say those are not ideals. To me, that’s stunning.

    California Condor – do you really believe that there are no reasons that as a society we shouldn’t want to educate all children? That all are created equal? You seem to be advocating for some sort of system where if Johnny doesn’t seem very smart we shouldn’t be making him read poetry, he should go off and learn to dismantle a car.

    Future computer programmers shouldn’t have to take art?

    Is it really that simple for you? Does it follow by logic then that artists shouldn’t have to learn math? Or to read for that matter? Where does this type of education lead us as a society?

    I’m assuming Brave New World is one of your favorite books.

    It is also apparently impossible for you to understand the basic altruistic nature of most teachers. People with personalities who only do things because there is the lure of money, never went into teaching in the first place.

    This however, doesn’t mean we can get away with not paying teachers at all!

    I understand what Ray is talking about. We had a really hard time getting a speech & debate coach at my sons school this year because when you figure out the time commitment you aren’t even earning minimum wage for that extra job. It’s a huge responsibility with no pay. How grateful I am for a teacher who doesn’t mind spending almost every weekend and 2 days after school for several hours, on speech & debate. My sons life has been so enriched by this very self-less individual.

  95. I too am puzzled at the line of argument that teachers are overpaid. Supporting vouchers does not require resort to this absurd and patently false claim. If it does, then that shows a huge problem with the theory of vouchers.

  96. Last Lemming says:

    I said:

    a significant chunk of the operating expenses represent fixed costs that will not decline as pupils exit the system. The buildings still need to be heated, the administrative staff still needs to be paid, etc.

    Matt Evans said:

    Last Lemming, this is false. School districts would consolidate as students exit the system, just like they do now. Communities age and the number of school children drop — the schools are re-purposed or sold. My elementary school in Sugar House is now an office building, my mom’s elementary school in Holiday was razed.

    Mark D. said:

    George Will is right. Utah has a rapidly growing school age population. Enrollments are projected to increase by 160,000 over the next ten years. This increase is far larger than the projected number of students who will take advantage of private school vouchers (~15,000). The fixed cost argument is invalid because the vast majority of public schools will have rising, not falling enrollments.

    So it seems I am wrong for two contradictory reasons. When you guys get your stories straight, maybe I’ll try again.

  97. Last Lemming,

    Those arguments are not contradictory, but rather complimentary. They show how schools would be protected under two radically different scenarios.

  98. “complementary” that is.

  99. As a society we like to talk about how much we value our children, but the truth is, we don’t. Teachers salaries are a direct reflection of that.

    Anyone who thinks teachers aren’t underpaid is deluded.

    I personally think the entire public school system needs to be scrapped and completely redesigned, from funding to scheduling to how classrooms operate and material is taught. But then I went to a very unusual elementary school in the liberal-arts 70s.

  100. MikeInWeHo says:

    My parents both started out as high school teachers, which is also how they met. I grew up with many family and friends who were public school teachers. A few who stick with it career-long can establish comfortable middle-class lifestyles, but it seems like many go into administration where they can be paid more.

    As bbell implies, the real problems are in the big urban centers. L.A. Unified School District might start out a teacher at upwards of 40k/year, but in an environment where a smallish 2 bedroom condo costs a minimum of a half-million dollars…who’s going to take that deal? I’m sure it’s even worse in New York City. Except for the few who have other resources, teachers in such cities must accept either extremely long commutes (upwards of 2 hours each way), or tolerate sub-standard rental housing for life.

    The idea that teachers should be motivated by reasons other than money, as some comments imply, clearly does not pan out. Even a voucher-fueled Catholic school system could not come up with enough altruistically motivated teachers to provide a good education for all our kids.

  101. StillConfused says:

    #99. How does valuing ones children relate to teacher’s salaries?

    I greatly value my children and their success and personalities are a direct reflection of that. That is a relationship that is shared between the parent and child. I do not see the salary of a public school teacher as a component in that relationship.

  102. Susan M, I couldn’t agree more.

  103. #101- you send your children to be with this person for 6-7 hours a day. If said person is barely scraping by and not feeling much job satisfaction, what kind of job performance will they be turning in? We cannot expect a teacher to be so altruistic about their chosen profession that a sub-standard salary coupled with the life-stress broght on by such isn’t going to intrude on ther job performance.

    If teachers were paid more, more people would go into teaching, and bar, such as it is, would be raised.

  104. Let me add to this thread(jack) about teacher salaries the following quote from Pres. Monson, from theJune 2000 1st Presidency message. And just TRY to tell me that this statement wasn’t directed, if obliquely, to the cheapskate Utah legislature.

    There is no more important aspect of public education than the teacher who has the opportunity to love, to teach, and to inspire eager boys and girls and young men and young women. President David O. McKay said: “Teaching is the noblest profession in the world. Upon the proper education of youth depend the permanency and purity of home, the safety and perpetuity of the nation. The parent gives the child an opportunity to live; the teacher enables the child to live well.” I trust we shall recognize their importance and their vital mission by providing adequate facilities, the finest of books, and salaries which show our gratitude and our trust.

  105. Ray (#90),

    You are treating the whole system as a zero sum game. You were correct back in #80 when you said people are fed up with paying more money for the same bad performance. I would be happy to fork out additional money if it was going toward a system which was designed to promote, reward, and select for excellent teachers. I’m not the only one who feels that way.

    Peter LLC (#92),

    I spend some time (an hour?) every two weeks keeping track of my contributions/status and then once a year I have to come up with a document making the pitch I spoke of in #76. The person who would get stuck with the most extra work is the principal (and staff) who would have to do all of the reviews. It is a real cost, but most industries find the cost to be worth it. I freely admit there are drawbacks and benefits to the kind of system I describing. Even if we took a baby step and made it reasonable to fire poor teachers, that in itself would help.

    To repeat, however, I am not saying teachers shouldn’t be paid more, I am saying the education system as it currently functions is not conducive to providing high paying jobs. There really are customers in the educational system, whether we like to think of it that way or not. Customers don’t get excited about paying more money if they are not happy with the product.

  106. California Condor, you asked about planning time during the day (“teachers at my high school got two or three “off-hours” during the day.”).

    Secondary schools normally grant 1 out of 6 class periods per day as a planning period, not two or three, unless the teacher is working on a reduced contract. In that case, such as one teacher I know, she earns 60% of the normal pay for teaching three periods a day.

    But let’s talk about the planning period. You’ve got to prepare to teach 5 classes, averaging between 25 to 30 students per class. It would be easier if you only had one prep, such as 5 classes of Intermediate Algebra. Most schools, and most teachers, don’t have that luxury. Two or three “preps” are more often the norm, such as two periods of Intermediate Algebra, two periods of Geometry, and one period of Trigonometry. Each prep requires different work. No teacher I know gets all of their prep done in one period per day. that’s why the teachers and those who really know teachers on this thread talk about routine 10 hour days.

    Too much of the argument about vouchers has turned emotional and polemic. I’m just trying to help get some facts straight.

    Good luck today, whatever side you are on.

  107. California Condor says:

    Bandanamom (94),

    Maybe we should give people the freedom to choose what they study, and not cram a state-mandated curriculum down their throats (a la North Korea). Now granted, young children might not have the reasoning skills to make informed decisions, so their parents would make those decisions for them.

  108. CC, that’s an excellent idea. I would like my kids to study esoterica, exclusively.

  109. Jacob J.,

    I agree that feedback can be a useful tool to improve performance (though not where I work–here performance reviews amount to secret, unscheduled and unpublished surveys of colleagues and superiors), especially when combined with incentives and a transparent review process.

    At the same time, if education is a public good (it is at least non-rivalrous, as you point out to Ray in #105), then market forces alone may not be up to the task of providing the best to everyone.

  110. Here is a good right up from a long time friend.

    For me, it’s this in a nutshell:

    “Should I as a parent be allowed to decide what is done with my tax money the state has set aside for my child’s education?”


    “Should the state bureaucracy decide what is best for my child?”

    I don’t really care the effect it has on “Utah’s Schools” I only care the effect it has on my kid. I in fact support taking ALL of the money allocated to my kid out of the EDUCATION FUND. I reject the idea that Utah’s Public Schools provide the most appropriate education for each and every child.

    I can tell that that as the parent of a child with Autism…they are woefully inadequate. To get the state’s money for my child would prevent a lot of debt in my family we’ve been spending on special education for him. Instead, they are telling me he doesn’t need their help and they are going to keep our money anyway?

  111. I was talking on a societal level, StillConfused, not a personal one. If we really valued kids like we say we do, we’d give them better educational systems. Better medical care. Better support to parents. Better protection from abuse. Etc.

    Unfortunately we don’t live in an ideal world and we have to work with what we’ve got. But I stand by my comment—our society does not value children as much as we say we do.

  112. Austin,

    My heart goes out to you. Kids with special needs certainly get short shrift in public education, with too few special ed qualified teachers, lack of funding for all of the needs, and no recognition from NCLB that a special needs kid may not perform at grade level. They are required by law to be at the same performance level as everyone else, and the schools can not take them out of the testing pool, or their test score is counted as zero.

    However, as I am sure you are aware, there are very few private schools that also are equipped to meet the needs of these kids. The more we take the best and brightest out of public schools, the more difficult it becomes for the kids left in public schools.

    I wish there were better answers for parents than what you are probably faced with. I’ve had a couple of ADD kids, which still makes them pretty mainstream, and we have struggled trying to get them the best environment for learning, with limited success. Nowhere near the difficulties you have faced, but I appreciate your concerns.

    The state bureaucracy should view you as a partner in your child’s education, but declining funding and federal mandates aren’t helping.

    Ray, you get my vote for the “Voice of Reason” in all this discussion over the last two days.

  113. California Condor says:

    If we completely privatized education, parents would pay top dollar for the good teachers. So teachers would have a financial incentive to be good teachers.

  114. Perry Shumway says:

    I totally agree that anyone who thinks teachers aren’t underpaid, as a general rule, must be living on a different planet. But even if we could magically snap our collective fingers and double teachers’ salaries overnight, I’d bet that there would be little long-term impact, if any, on our kids’ education. There might be a little more competition for teaching positions, so the overall caliber of teacher might improve to some degree, but MOST of our existing teachers are already pretty good at what they do, anyway. By and large, teaching would continue to take place in much the same way it does now.

    A number of people here have indicated great surprise at the callous attitudes of others who don’t see teacher pay as a gigantic problem. Jeremy in particular (#89) considers it “a huge, looming problem that overshadows everything else.” As for me, it’s only a symptom of what’s really wrong with the system. I have nine kids, all of whom are in (or will be in) public schools. No way on my salary could I send them to private schools. My wife and I try to supplement their scanty education at home, as best we can. But in spite of the well-intentioned efforts of countless teachers, administrators and PTO members, public education is a resounding failure. And no – injecting a lot more money into it isn’t going to somehow convert it into something wonderful.

    There’s simply no good, compelling reason for state governments – let alone the federal government – to be in the business of teaching our kids, at all. We have limitless evidence that the government does it very, very poorly. And yet as a society, we seem to think that the only alternative is a bunch of private schools for rich kids, and no education for the rest of us.

    It drives me crazy that so many people think that the only way to cure any of society’s ills is through government programs, funded by compulsory taxation, mandated by statute, enforced by bureaucrats. At what point did we lose faith in ourselves – we, the people – and our ability to do these things on our own, in our communities, without whining and begging for the heavy hand of government to do our work for us?

    Education should be strictly community-based. State governments should have nothing to do with it. Individual communities – cities and towns, even neighborhoods – should be free to decide where and when and how to educate their children. Some might assemble schools made up of volunteers; others might enlist private schools. Still other communities might make school mandatory and tax their citizens to pay for it. No one can say exactly how things would work out, if the government got out of the business of educating kids, but this much I do know: people who have forever been apathetic, uncaring, uninvolved, would suddenly find a great need to participate, to make a difference. Churches – OUR church, for heaven’s sake! – would rise to the occasion, providing locally-based education solutions which would be infinitely more tailored to local populations, more personal, more efficient, and in every way better. And people would voluntarily work together to provide education solutions for those in other neighborhoods and communities who don’t have enough resources to properly educate their own kids.

    The marvelous thing is that all of this could – and WOULD – happen, entirely independent of governmental coercion. People of their own free will would work together to help educate our kids. As it is now, everyone is apathetic, because the government is in charge of the whole thing, so we pretty much don’t care. If education were returned to the hands of the people, you’d see it turn around.

    It’ll probably never happen, but I can dream, can’t I?

  115. Jason Brown says:

    I beleive that the issue of vouchers is a false choice. We are forced to take the sides between a public system that is geared for the creation of complacent workers and willing consumers, and a system of privatized education that ignores the fact that if education is privatized, only those who can afford education will get it.

    Is not education a human right? If we privatize it then we open yet another door for the stratification of society.

    The solution then is not a simple one. Education should perhaps be neither public nor private, but not-for-profit. Run by Organizations whose primary concern is quality education for everyone, not indoctrination or profit.

  116. StillConfused says:

    #115 “Is not education a human right?” Based on the world in which we live, I would have to answer NO.

  117. StillConfused says:

    #112 — Why is it assumed that “the best and brightest” would leave the public school system in a voucher program? Is it assumed that family wealth and individual intelligence are tied?

  118. Jason Brown says:

    Also, it is a sad state of affairs when i see comments to the effect of “i only care about my kids”. as if we are literally not supposed to care about anyone else. That is exactly what our economic system has trained us to do. But really if we look inside ourselves it isn’t a controversial idea to assume that we should also care about the kids next door, and those down the street. Privatizing education and the support it has received shows how deeply propagandized we have been by our media and economy. Is this not a Mormon blog? It is as if the commandments dont apply to everyday life, only in the abstract. Love one another, care for the poor, wo unto the rich. Those are basic ideas that should apply to every aspect of our lives ESPECIALLY the economy.

  119. California Condor says:

    anyone who thinks teachers aren’t underpaid, as a general rule, must be living on a different planet

    Teacher’s hourly wages aren’t that low when you factor in the 10 weeks of vacation.

    I have nine kids, all of whom are in (or will be in) public schools. No way on my salary could I send them to private schools

    If there was no state-funded schooling, a demand would pop up for low-cost private education that you might be able to afford with your tax savings. Or, if you really think your kids would benefit from certain types of education, you could arrange for certain types of financing for tuition like many people do for college.

    There’s simply no good, compelling reason for state governments – let alone the federal government – to be in the business of teaching our kids, at all.

    This might be true.

    It drives me crazy that so many people think that the only way to cure any of society’s ills is through government programs, funded by compulsory taxation, mandated by statute, enforced by bureaucrats.

    This is a money quote. I like it.

    Churches – OUR church, for heaven’s sake! – would rise to the occasion, providing locally-based education solutions

    Actually you raise an intriguing point– we have BYU, BYU-Idaho, BYU-Hawaii, and LDS Business College. Why not private LDS Church-sponsored K-12 education? The Catholics have it.

  120. CC, the LDS Church did in fact have several private pre-college schools. The last of these, located in New Zealand, will close when the last of its current students graduate in 2009. Read more here.

  121. Actually, there is one LDS private school here in Utah County. It’s called Liahona Academy.

  122. California Condor says:

    Steve (120),

    Thanks for the link.

    Angela (121), is that school actually run by the Church?

  123. Actually I stand corrected — the Church continues to operate a number of schools throughout the Pacific Islands. Wiki has a list.

  124. Angela–I don’t think the Liahona Academy is directly run by the church.

    Jason–I think you’re creating a straw man here. By and large voucher supporters aren’t saying that other people’s kids are unimportant. They’re just saying that their own kids are more important. Once my kids are out of school, I have no problem continuing to pay my property taxes and let them be funneled into the public schools. But for now, I don’t like being forced to choose between a) jeopardizing my kids’ futures by keeping them in inferior schools, or b) paying twice to educate my children.

  125. Actually, I’m not sure. I assumed it was because it’s curriculum is based on LDS doctrine. Here is the link: http://www.liahona-homeschooling.com/index.php

  126. Jason – Sorry, but just because people disagree with your pov does not mean they have been brainwashed. It must be nice to know that you know what is best for my children.

  127. Jason #118 BIG amen

    Angela #125 – that school is not run by the church or even financially tied to the church. There are several private schools and even a college in Virginia who are run by members and have a church based curriculum, but the church has no ties to them. There are a couple of elementary schools here in Arizona with a church based education as well.

    California Condor. I don’t even know where to start.

  128. kristine N says:

    Perry–what are you talking about? Public education in this country, run by the government, is a huge success. Yeah, we’re not the best of the best when you compare US test scores to other first world nations, but we educate our citizens pretty darn well overall, and certainly better than if education were optional. Our economy has, for the last half-century or so, reaped the benefit of our well-educated workforce. If the economic benefit we derive from the investment our government puts into each person in this country doesn’t justify that investment, I’m not sure what would.

    CC–teachers may get 10 weeks of “vacation,” but they typically put in more than a 40-hour work week during the year once you include prep and grading time, and almost every teacher I know works in some capacity during that “vacation” time.

    For what it’s worth, I voted for the voucher program simply because the greatest hindrance I’ve seen in a classroom is overcrowding. My Dad (a middle-school math teacher) spends more time disciplining students in his large classes than he does teaching, which is a waste of time and resources. In his smaller classes he is able to spend more time teaching and interacting with his students in a positive, educational sense simply because he doesn’t have to spend as much time telling kids to sit down or quit talking to their neighbors. The voucher program probably wouldn’t take very many students out of classes even if implemented, but it also wouldn’t take out very much funding from public education because the funds to support it are supposed to come out of a different pot.

  129. Jacob J–
    “I am constantly amazed that teachers think it is intrinsically impossible to tell a good teacher from a bad one.”

    You’ll notice that (at least speaking for myself) I made no such argument at all. Any remotely qualified principal could come up with reliable evaluations of their teaching staff, drawing on a number of data sources (direct observation, student and/or parent feedback, test scores, self-evaluation, etc).

    The problem, as I outlined in my other post, is that (given some basic assumptions) schools are not a good fit for a market. So principals (or whoever) would end up either lacking incentives to come up with reliable evaluations, or even with positive incentives to do very pathological things in the system (again, not that they can’t but they won’t). The basic assumptions I’m referring to are that every child deserves a quality education, and this is a right assigned to the CHILD, independent of the parent’s ability to out-compete other parents on some metric (most likely money).

    At it’s root, the place where you work is market-based. So that trickles down from the top through the levels of management, down to your own personal annual evaluation. Things may get fuzzy in a few places with favoritism or something, but because the core/root of it is market-based, that will tend to want to correct itself.

    This is just not the case for a philosophically universal public good like free education for all children. There is no core/root market, and artificially inserting one in the middle of the layers of hierarchy (ie. something like vouchers) will still end up dysfunctional because it is an artificial graft into the tree.

  130. mini-correction: “(again, not that they can’t but they won’t)” –> “(again, not that they can’t come up with good evaluations but they won’t)”

  131. Kristine N,

    California Condor has gotten many responses about the workload and hours spent by teachers, but CC absolutely refuses to admit it. No one who is a teacher or close to a teacher in this thread has said that they only work a 40 hour week, yet CC continues to insist it is true.

    Principals and other administrators really do know who the good teachers are, and also the bad teachers. I’ve personally known three teachers who have been forced out of the public schools here for not being good teachers, and while I can’t judge them myself, it is interesting that all three have ended up teaching in (gulp) private schools.

  132. MikeInWeHo says:

    Privitizing compulsary K-12 education would turn our schools into something akin to our healthcare system: a huge mess. If you privitized it AND made it non-compulsary, the system might work. You’d wind up with illiterate children pulling at your sleaves in the streets, though. Ever been to a country where that is common?

    And why stop at education? Why SHOULD my tax dollars subsidize the water system in South-Central LA? With the amount that’s probably wasted out of my huge tax bill, I could undoubtedly have Evian flowing into my house instead. (sarcasm = off)

    The string is overlooking the fact that there are plenty of examples around the world where universal public education works great: Japan, many countries in Europe, etc. So it is possible.

  133. there are plenty of examples around the world where universal public education works great

    And don’t forget that public education is working just fine in many parts of the US too. As I said above, that was my experience in Maryland.

  134. I’m curious, how many people live in areas that have alternative schools?

    Our district here in California doesn’t have any, but two of the districts we lived in in WA state did. The best of which was originally a home-schooler’s resource center (for the district to retain some of the funding they were losing to people going the homeschool route) that turned into a full-blown school. My kids went there for awhile and thrived. The school required parents to volunteer a certain number of hours a month.

    Does Utah have any alternative schools? I would think they’d be getting more and more popular.

  135. I have a hard time reconciling the arguments, both pro and con, to the school scene I remember in Utah. The idea that vouchers are for the benefit of wealthy elites is pretty funny, imo. C’mon, this is Utah. Unless things have changed greatly in the past fifteen years, most private schools are associated with the Roman Catholic church, and half the kids who attend are children of undocumented migrant workers who speak Spanish at home.

  136. Perry Shumway says:

    Kristine (#128) –

    I apologize for assuming that the many problems of the US education establishment are self-evident. Clearly, a number of people who have posted here agree with your glass-half-full view of the American system, which I can appreciate. My challenge to this viewpoint is on three levels.

    The first is the mountain of data – news reports, studies, scholarly essays, books – which berates the American education system based on comparative results. The average American K-12 student ranks relatively low on many lists comparing test scores with those of kids in other countries. And compared with levels of education in the 1950s and 1960s, I’ve seen a number of reports indicating that we’re far behind, and steadily falling further.

    These things are less meaningful to me, though, than my second area of consideration, which is my own experience, both as the father of publicly-educated kids, and as a person who still remembers what it was like to be a student at a high school in northern Virginia. Vast amounts of my school-related time – maybe 90% or more – were spent in non-learning activities: walking the hallways, waiting in the lunch line, riding on the bus, waiting while the teacher tries to quiet the class, watching movies when there was a substitute teacher, fighting sleep while sitting through irrelevant Socratic-style lectures, standing at my locker, walking around and talking with friends, and on and on. I’m not trying to knock my teachers – it’s the system’s fault, not theirs – but in my case (and my children are largely the same), most of my pre-college learning was the result of personal reading habits, conversations with my parents, and my own observations of life around me. I learned some – a little – within the formal bounds of my public education – but I could have learned SO much more.

    Which leads me to my third contention, which is that the real problem with US public education is not based in how it compares with education in other countries. Rather, it’s the fact that our human potential is far, far greater than public schools seem to realize. Everything is dumbed down, to cater to the lowest common denominator. What if our children grew up in a society in which calculus was routinely taught at the fourth-grade level? Would everyone consider it impossibly difficult? I don’t think so. Kids would grumble and complain a little, like they do now, and then they’d just buckle down and get their work done and consider themselves normal in every way. It frustrates me to no end that the only yardstick for determining whether American public education is a success is comparing ourselves with other nations, or with previous eras. This mindset is so limiting. We can achieve so much more, and it’s a tragedy that we don’t. And with public schools, we never will.

  137. I don’t think that our public schooling system has contributed to our being “the envy of the world.”

    As far as academic excellence goes, the US is not the top of the pile anymore.

  138. Haven’t read all the comments, but it sure sounds like those who have the most concerns about vouchers are teachers.

  139. #134: Susan M, I don’t know if this falls in your definition of “alternative” but my public school district went to a choice plan about 5 years ago that has really changed how education happens in this county.

    If you don’t like your assigned neighborhood school, you can apply to any other school in the district on a seating-available basis. If that school is in the same transportation zone, they’ll even send a bus to pick your kid up.

    There are 50 magnet schools (K-12) in 15 different scholatic specialties; Arts, Economics, IB, communications, accelerated learning, talent development, math and science, military academy-style, Montessori, open (contract-based) education, paideia (I really don’t know what that means) classic traditional, a school of technology, early-college, and language immersion schools. If you choose one of these the district provides transportation.

    We have a lot of choices but I’ll go on record as saying that too many choices can be as difficult as too few. I lead the yearly school tours at my son’s magnet school (we chose language immersion) and I get the same frustration every year from the parents of rising Kindergarteners. When there are so many good possibilities how do you decide?

    There is a gentle competition between the magnet programs. Obviously if no one chooses a particular program it’s not going to last very long (the communicating arts K-12 program is in jeopardy as we speak) so the schools have to perform so that prospective students choose their program. I think that competition is healthy and the students benefit from it.

    It’s not utopia, though. Those who really apply themselves end up with a world-class education, but those who don’t apply themselves often feel left out and underperform. One high school is in danger of being taken over by the State because of the underperformers but had enough high-achievers to make the Newsweek list of the top 1000 High Schools in the nation in 2006. In fact 13 High schools from this district made the top 1000 in 2006 (only eleven high schools in all of Utah did the same).

    I don’t have a dog in the Utah Vouchers race, but I’m skeptical of those who clamor for assistance in opting out as promoting “choice.” If you really think you are lacking choices in your kid’s education, get on the school board’s case and clamor for some real choices!

  140. Last Lemming (#96), schools are built in new neighborhoods, closed in older ones. Schools are being re-purposed and razed in Salt Lake and Granite school districts while Jordan and Alpine districts can’t build them fast enough. Districts know what to do when they have fewer students.

  141. I’m skeptical of those who clamor for assistance in opting out as promoting “choice.” If you really think you are lacking choices in your kid’s education, get on the school board’s case and clamor for some real choices!

    Why is a buffet of government schools “real choices”, but the inclusion of private schools just scare-quote “choices”? I imagine you agree we’re better off because the feds are neutral in providing financial assistance to students attending BYU and Harvard as well as UCLA and UC-Santa Barbara, and that they don’t merely insist that government universities offer all the choices one could ever want.

    Given your good experience with school choice, and the apparently strong government schools in your area, why wouldn’t you welcome the increased competition private school vouchers would add? Only those who *aren’t* thrilled with the current choices would use them, so why would you care?

  142. My point, Matt, was that opting out has always been a choice. Adding vouchers into the equation doesn’t generate any new choices. It may, I will relent, make opting out available to a few more people but it hasn’t increased parental choice one iota.

    I’m also skeptical about how many will suddenly be able to afford to opt out and move to private school. I would suspect that instead of serving more students, private school tuitions will go up if more money were suddenly available.

  143. I agree with Perry Shumway’s assessment (#136) in that schools underestimate and underutilize childrens ability to learn. My 7th grader (who happens to get all A’s, by the way) brought home this problem recently for homework: True or False: 7>6. I think even he had a laugh at that, and absurdly easy and overly redundant problems are not uncommon. Our children really are capable of so much more than this.

    At the same time, it is enormously challenging to meet the needs of each child. Some simply are behind while others are more advanced. The most effective teaching is always one-on-one or in small, homogenous groups, but this simply is not practical for public education.

  144. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 133

    Good point, Ronan. The suburban school district where I grew up in Michigan remains excellent to this day.

    Or perhaps the problems in our public schools are just a reflection of our divided, increasingly dysfunctional culture. Keep in mind that in most cases, public schools are controlled by an elected board of education. Look at how well things run in DC, or your state’s capital. Is it any surprise that your local public school district is messed up too?

    Gosh, I’m going to turn into an quasi-anarchist if I ramble on like this. California Condor, here I come!

  145. BTW, with 67% of precincts reporting, vouchers appear headed for defeat, 64/36.

  146. Let me add, also, that even though Dr. Woodworth’s post was pounced upon by many commenters, in part, because it connected vouchers to the moonbat wing of the Republican part, I can’t help but point out the circumstantial evidence that the ONLY county where vouchers have come even close (48%) was Washington (my home county).

    Washington County happens to encompass both of Woodworth’s moonbat examples: LaVerkin and Virgin. (It also includes Washington City, my home town, which attempted a few years back to rescind the 17th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.) I have no doubt that if vouchers had passed, within six months some patrionoid, anti-evolution, flat earther “Freedom Academy” would have opened its doors in Washington County. And I’d be so confident of its commercial success that, if I were just a hair more cynical than I am, I’d be tempted to invest in it…

  147. nasamomdele says:

    The Vouchers provide up to $5000- this goes to lower income children. High-income families, like my sister in Alpine, get closer to the $500 ammount for a oucher, or in her case, nothing. If anything, the vouchers were very positive in giving a leg up for kids to gain the education they deserve based on their merits. Very good discussion on the topic.

  148. The results of the vote in Utah demonstrate why vouchers will probably never work anywhere. People are generally pretty happy with their own neighborhood schools and want their children to attend there, even when other, better options are available. The number of parents who want to withdraw their children from the neighborhood school will always be in the minority.

    I live in an area where the districts all have open enrollment. You are free to enroll your student at any school you want. Even though some of the neighborhood schools are terrible, their enrollment remains stable. This argues against the pro-voucher position that competition will drive out failing schools, and against the anti-voucher position that when parents have options the schools will collapse.

    I agree completely with the position that public school teachers are underpaid and deserve a higher salary. That argument needs to be made on its own, though. I see very little connection between teacher pay and quality of education. Utah is always at the bottom of the pile in teacher pay but consistently in the upper third in ACT results, and first among western states. When other states appropriate three times a much per student and achieve worse results, it is difficult to argue that more money is the answer to the problem of crummy education.

    Jeremy, I hear you on the Patriot acadamy, and you are probably right. But if you lived where I do, you would be forced to contribute your tax money to Paul Robeson high school where kids learn that the CIA is planting crack cocaine in their neighborhoods. Moonbattery is pretty evenly distributed across the spectrum, but the way the schools are set up now, only one kind of moonbattery gets funded.

  149. “I live in an area where the districts all have open enrollment. You are free to enroll your student at any school you want. Even though some of the neighborhood schools are terrible, their enrollment remains stable. This argues against the pro-voucher position that competition will drive out failing schools…”

    Vouchers introduce far more competition than open enrollment does. Open enrollment is like competition among McDonald’s franchisees. Just like McDonald’s franchisees don’t advertise against each other, the good government schools in your district are not publicizing how awfully their fellow government schools are performing, and encouraging parents to switch. With vouchers, private schools would actively *recruit* students, highlighting the weaknesses of other schools, distributing flyers in neighborhoods with failing schools, and offering them an alternative. *That* kind of competition would improve education.

  150. To clarify one matter: the Justin who posted comment 77 is not me, and I am not him. Nor did I authorize him to serve as my official spokesperson.

  151. Mark IV, with all due respect, the argument that parents can already choose their kids’ schools because public schools have “open enrollment” is deeply flawed. The “desirable” schools still have limited capacities, and once they’re met they turn additional students away regardless of any “open enrollment” policy the district may have. My mother-in-law moved heaven and earth in order to get her kids into the public high school of her choice, and she was still only 75% successful.

  152. kristine N says:

    Perry–I would submit here that the purpose of an education isn’t so much the information–it’s the training in how to think and how to learn, and perhaps most importantly, how to ask questions. Yes, students could be more challenged, especially the ones at the top, but I’m not all that convinced that’s always a good thing. It may seem that giving students a list of everything they should learn is the best way to teach them, but handing students everything and not leaving them room to explore and think on their own is a stifling to creativity as not teaching them at all, perhaps even more so.

  153. Perry Shumway says:

    Kristine – Stifling creativity is one thing; allowing our children to fritter away their time in non-productive, wasteful, pointless activity because the system is too unwieldy, bureaucratic and inefficient to accommodate their needs, is quite another.

    It’s not just that students at the top are not intellectually challenged enough; the problem is that the entire system celebrates and perpetuates mediocrity, rather than passion and drive. The apathy that I’ve seen among parents and students is disheartening. It’s no wonder that student achievement isn’t anywhere near what it could be.

    I’m curious, Kristine – although you see public education as a “huge success,” do you think it might be possible that education could actually improve if relegated to religious institutions, local parent groups, and charitable organizations? Or are people incapable of teaching their children without massive state and federal government intrusions?

    You say that the “perhaps most important” function of a public school is to teach kids to ask questions. I agree that it’s healthy and good for people to know how to question things, to challenge the status quo, to think outside of the box. With that in mind, the “healthy” question I’m posing to you is, why don’t you think we as parents, churches and charitable groups can do as good a job at teaching our children as the government now does? Why is this model not worthy of consideration?

  154. Vouchers introduce far more competition than open enrollment does. Open enrollment is like competition among McDonald’s franchisees. Just like McDonald’s franchisees don’t advertise against each other, the good government schools in your district are not publicizing how awfully their fellow government schools are performing, and encouraging parents to switch

    Actually, this isn’t true. The districts here in Arizona routinely “advertise” to lure children away from other districts. And many of them are successfull. My children attended the local district until a couple of years ago when I started getting emails from an adjacent district touting it’s recent success in areas that interested me. There were a lot of things that enticed me to switch my kids (who were already at a really good district in terms of reputation and test scores) but mainly providing smaller classrooms, more arts programs, and more advanced classes in the high school and middle school along with a more intensive language immersion were enough to lure me away.

    The schools here have giant banners outside when their destricts are performing well. The standards here are simplified into categories which are “non-performing” (no ones going to advertise that, obviously), “performing”, “performing-plus”, “highly performing” and “excelling”. My kids were already at highly peforming and excelling schools but all the schools in our new district are excelling.

    We have some charter schools here in Arizona who do really well too and we have some public schools that have a quasi-charter school inside the public school as another lure (it’s called “traditional” school and you can opt for that program rather than the regular curriculum). So open enrollment can work.

    The biggest problem I see is transporation. If you are poor and both parents work, how are you going to get your kid to ther other school? I have the luxury of being able to drive my kids where I please but this isn’t an option for many families.

  155. Mark IV, with all due respect, the argument that parents can already choose their kids’ schools because public schools have “open enrollment” is deeply flawed. The “desirable” schools still have limited capacities, and once they’re met they turn additional students away regardless of any “open enrollment” policy the district may have. My mother-in-law moved heaven and earth in order to get her kids into the public high school of her choice, and she was still only 75% successful.

    This may have some validity but from my experience the exact same problems exist with private schools. My friends who have tried to get their kids into many of the local private schools have had to wait in waiting lists because the demand is so great. These are parents who can afford private school without vouchers. What would happen in a scenario where vouchers exist? It seems to me it could cause additional problems, not solve them.

    I personally love open enrollment.

  156. JimD, sure, you’re right, there are limits. My larger point is that there is a lot of inertia in favor of neighborhood schools. A parent might agree that a school five miles away is better but for various good or bad reasons (child wants to stay with friends, transportation, etc., etc.) they stay with the school down the street. So the model that assumes that schools will compete on quality alone breaks down quickly.

  157. Warner Woodworth says:

    I’m quite amazed by all the comments on my blog. Obviously it hit a nerve, not only in Utah, but beyond. If there would only be such a response when I write about justice, serving the poor, or seeking peace!

    Regardless, I want to make some further comments of my own. Presently, at 10:00 PM mountain time [WW emailed us this response — BCC Admin], it looks like the ill-conceived voucher effort will go down in the flames it deserves, thank goodness. So our grand objective of halting it before take-off looks like it will be accomplished, a feat that is no small matter in the reddest state of the union.

    But to several blog responses by BCC readers:

    First, regarding the accusation that voucher opponents used “scare tactics.” Actually, that came by proponents, some through TV ads, but primarily by an expensive flyer mailed statewide that was slick and brightly colored with pictures of Halloween artifacts like ghosts. It backfired because most Utahns saw it filled with intimidation and false accusations. It attacked the UEA and NEA, organizations which consist of our kids’ teachers. Proponents claimed the anti-voucher citizens were oppressed by “special interest groups, “hoping no one would realize the obvious: That Parents for Choice in Education was itself the epitome of what the term “special interest” means.

    Second, so much of the blogger comments focused on the pros and cons of Utah teacher pay. While this is a critical issue in the state and has been for years, it’s not the central feature of the voucher debate. As an HR specialist, who teaches compensation and other practices to graduate business students, I can safely assert the fact that public educators in Utah suffer enormously from the lack of adequate compensation.

    Personally and professionally, I have always liked Pres. Spencer W. Kimball’s policy, who, when he managed an Arizona insurance company, said his policy was to always pay his employees top wages. It’s unfortunate that the Utah legislature cannot conjure up similar feelings of professionalism, idealism, as well as a little charity in the resources they allocate for teacher pay.

    Third, some readers were offended at the laughable terms I employed in characterizing some of the Republican party’s most well known political extremists. Yes, it was over the top, but unlike Bush and Cheney I did not use the “F” word or the “S” word like they do in referring to opposition colleagues and the press. Nor did I refer to voucher advocates as “nutcakes” like Sen. Hatch did on KSL-TV, referring to the patriotic protesters at a Salt Lake rally against the Iraq war and Bush. Among the demonstrators were military vets, Utah religious leaders, and mothers whose sons died in combat carrying out the Commander-in-Chief’s failed policies. Heck, I didn’t even refer to pro-voucher advocates as “Satan’s minions,” as a prominent speaker at the April 2007 Utah County Republican convention did when attacking immigrants and Democrats.

    My assumption is that the pro-voucher crowd will go back to their coffers for more money and more political ammunition to, at some point in the future, bring the issue to the fore again. So those of us who believe in one of the most fundamental of American values, the right to a public education, and the blessings of a quality learning experience funded by our taxes, will need to begin working again to prepare for a future onslaught. The fight next time will take more money, more energy, and more dedication than ever.

    To conclude, as I reflect on the past year’s struggles against the Utah legislature and its well-funded army known as Parents for Choice in Education, the 1776 words of Tom Paine who opposed England’s power as a “parent’ in that era seems fitting: “Even brutes do not devour their young, nor savages make war upon their own families.”

  158. There are two cures for the problems in public schools in Utah. One, increase salaries significantly and two, parent involvement. I taught school in California. Because of their relatively high beginning salaries ($40,000) they can be real picky about who they hire. I was on the SITE council (once a month meeting where parents came) and parents who demanded better “this and that” usually got it. Finally, regarding “Investigations Math” we were “required” to teach it for one year only. We all decided it was a pretty lame program, (and very expensive) so we selected the few good parts, used them, and went back to teaching the traditional way. We just had older textbooks for seven more years. Hopefully teachers here will use their good judgement and do likewise.

  159. If there would only be such a response when I write about justice, serving the poor, or seeking peace!

    Warner, I really liked your book Working Toward Zion and am thankful you didn’t infuse it with silly rhetoric like you did this essay.

    I’m convinced the voucher movement will continue to grow as people learn how they work. I’ve been stunned as I’ve spoken with family and friends the past week with how much misinformation they’d imbibed. (The voucher law will make Utah ineligible for federal education dollars, private schools can be run out of a home, etc.) Vouchers were not voted down on the merits.

    A school district _administrator_ in my ward didn’t even know about the voucher law’s “No Harm” provision until I explained it to him on Sunday. After we spoke for an hour, he was dreaming with me about starting a private school with me. You and I should start a school, too, with a service and humanitarian focus.

  160. Matt, it appears to me that a sizable portion of the misinformation appears to be intention on the part of many teachers. For the record I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other. It’d really depend upon how the bill was written. However I think it kind of silly in Utah since our schools and resources are quite good here.

  161. Karin, I’d suspect parental involvement is better in Utah than in most states. One can do better but that can only go so far.

    I do think increasing wages is important though. I honestly can’t imagine why anyone would teach in Utah at the salaries they offer. I’d note, however, that nearly all private schools offer worse salaries than public school. Something to keep in mind.

  162. Matt,
    Your school sounds intriguing. Say I wanted to teach in your school. How much would you pay me?

    See me as an above-average qualified, experienced teacher, early-30s. (I’m genuinely interested in the cash value you place on teachers, apropos the above discussion. I am not, alas, asking for a job…)

  163. What Ronan said. (#162)

    I would re-enter the classroomn in a heartbeat if I could support my family on just my salary.

  164. Ronan, I’d pay market rates, and recruit exceptional teachers drawn to a school that not only allows but _encourages_ creativity and innovation. My recruiting efforst would tap into teacher frustrations with the bureaucratic stranglehood gripping government schools.

    Being a private school, I could actually hire you, too, even though you don’t have a Utah teaching certificate. Government schools can’t hire you because their collective bargaining agreements with the teachers union require a teaching certificate. (According to the teachers union, Bill Gates in unfit to teach junior high business or computer science classes. He’s not even eligible for Alternative Route to Licensure because he doesn’t have bachelors degree.)

  165. kristine N says:

    Perry–Other models of education certainly do deserve consideration, but I disagree that we need to consider other options because the public school system has somehow failed. Public schooling does a great job with most students; that said, there are some who need a different environment, whether it be more structured and rigid, or more open and friendly. Providing options doesn’t require we throw out all other educational venues.

    If you want time to be used more efficiently in public schools, the best thing to do is decrease class sizes and/or increase discipline in classrooms. Most time wasted in class is wasted on disciplining students. Decreasing class sizes would require lots of money, though, as you’d have to hire more teachers, and would ultimately increase the “massive state and federal government intrusions”–i.e.–funding and educational requirements.

    To turn the question back on you, why are you so offended by the efforts of our government to invest in the education, and eventual employability of the citizens of this country?

  166. I’d pay market rates

    By the sounds of it (what people say above about the market rates paid to Utah teachers), this will all remain but a pipe dream then!

    BTW, I am a fierce proponent of private schools, so I do realise that this is a complicated issue.

  167. Bill Gates is unfit to teach junior high business or computer science classes.

    For good reason. They’d eat him alive! Have you seen him unveiling new products? He has trouble managing a one-on-one interview, and middle school is the toughest audience on earth.

    Now Steve Jobs, on the other hand, could easily get an emergeny credential on charisma alone…

  168. Matt,

    Bill Gates isn’t going to work for you at market rates, certified or not.

  169. California Condor says:

    I’m glad that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs have been brought up. They are both college drop-outs yet they have changed the world. And they have become billionaires in the process (Bill is worth $59 billion, and Steve is worth $5.7 billion).

    Their careers should make us consider the value and the point of formal education.

  170. CC, you should teach middle school!

  171. Totally, CC.
    Drop out and get ahead by suing the pants of your competitors. Then steal the programming from another competitor, claim it as your own, and buy out his company. Or to approach the other, be a cool guy, lose, complain a lot about how you lost, make up with the guy who beat you, become a cool guy again, use all this to justify how overpriced your product it. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are an inspiration to us all.

  172. CC,
    If they weren’t outliers, it certainly would. However, if you look at the set of college dropouts, what percent are billionaires? Millionaires? Thousandaires?

    How about the set of college grads? Post-grads?

    There certainly are people who are successful–wildly successful–without formal education and credentials. However, even without any actual data in front of me, I would rather wager my lifetime expected earnings with both college and grad school.

    (That said, your comment, and by extension mine, is totally irrelevant. Both graduated from K-12, and the vouchers have no direct relevence to college. On the other hand, if we were to look at the set of high-school dropouts and see what percentage have successfully achieved various income levels, I would bet that the number would be even smaller than the college dropout set.)

  173. Continuing with the threadjack…

    Granite district in Salt Lake county is hiring new teachers this fall at a beginning salary of 31,604 per annum. According to an online salary comparison tool, that is more than the 40,000 salary in California. Let’s see some numbers, people! What do you think is a living wage for a beginning teacher in Utah? I say about $35,000.

    We also need to be careful of the way we make the argument for increased compensation. Try this thought experiment. I am an employee of company X. How long can I publicly say that Company X has lousy pay and if they don’t increase it, only stupid and incompetent people will work there? If I make that argument year after year, I am either a liar, or also stupid and incompetent. Yet that is exactly what the NEA and its state affiliates say, all the time.

  174. The question isn’t necessarily starting salary but how quickly one can move to a living salary and what that is.

    As I recall it would be very hard to have a family and home at $35,000 a year in Utah. The median household income in Utah in 2006 was $45,726. (Note that’s above the national average by a few thousand) However while the housing crash is finally hitting here, housing prices raised at outrageous rates the past few years here.

    Also note that Utah school districts have had to raise salaries because, as I understand it, they were having difficulty in hiring people.

    While I don’t have current figures in 2004 the average starting salary for a teacher in Utah was $26,130.

  175. Perry Shumway says:

    (# 165)

    . . . why are you so offended by the efforts of our government to invest in the education, and eventual employability of the citizens of this country?

    Only because the government does such a horrible job of it, and because so many people seem convinced that there is no viable alternative, and because the Department of Education is unambiguously unconstitutional.

    And for what it’s worth, our government does not “invest in the education, and eventual employability of the citizens of this country.” Rather, the government compels, under threat of incarceration and with enforcement by gun-toting officers of the law, the “citizens of this country” to surrender their personal property, sending $67 billion dollars of it (2007 proposed ED budget) to Washington so that an army of unnamed and unaccountable bureaucrats can redestribute it (or what’s left of it, after they take their own cut) as they see fit.

    I was on the school board in Soda Springs, Idaho, for four years, and it always mystified me that every year we citizens would have to pool our money and send it to Boise and then hope and pray that the people in Boise, many of whom had never even been to our little mountain community, might in their infinite wisdom send enough of our money back to us to allow us to try to educate our own kids, notwithstanding the numerous hoops, both state and federal, we had to jump through to try to accomplish the task. No Child Left Behind, Adequate Yearly Progress, the ISAT test, teacher certification requirements, labor laws which protected the worst teachers from being fired, federal disability requirements, and on and on and on.

    It was a nightmare; virtually none of the state and federal impositions were beneficial to the kids in any way, and it was offensive to me to see that faraway legislators considered themselves to have superior knowledge as to what our local kids needed. As a local school board, we often felt that our hands were tied and that many decisions were removed from us. And the trend is toward ever increasing federal and state control. This will in no way increase levels of education in the US, nor will it help our children. In fact, it will have the opposite effect.

    So yes, I am offended by the involvement of government in education. And though I agree that smaller classroom sizes would help with discipline and would thereby contribute to a reduction in the huge amounts of wasted time in public education, I also think that even if we agreed to spend the huge amounts of money necessary to make such changes, we would still only be struggling to minimize the effects of one symptom, rather than replacing the root cause of the problem.

    I continue to be amazed at your defense of the existing system. Do you really believe, as you say, that “public schooling does a great job with most students?” If so, then maybe you have a very low threshold for your definition of success. Have you walked the halls of a high school lately? If existing American education represents a “great job,” I shudder to think what a bad job might look like . . .

  176. To add to the debate and get a bit more back on topic. Back in college I recall reading studies of where money for schools and school reforms went. Interestingly then it seemed like most went to school buildings and supplies when those had the worst correlation with achievement and learning.

    Personally I think that while it only helps to a point getting class size down to 20 or below is ideal. And I’d skip spending too much money on computers (which obsolete quickly and seems a poor bang/buck ratio)

  177. For the record while I don’t see federal education unconstitutional I do typically see it as unfortunate (unless they want to do raw monetary distribution to local poor districts) That way some poor valley in Mississippi isn’t denied good education.

    But beyond that I’d like to see the federal government out of education. Bush’s efforts in that regard seemed short sited and unfortunate to me.

  178. Perry Shumway says:


    I couldn’t agree with you more about how lame Bush’s efforts have been. But that poor valley in Mississippi doesn’t have to depend on federal tax dollars to ensure a good education. This nation is full of do-gooders and compassionate people who want to help and are willing to contribute to worthy causes. The less of their discretionary income that goes to Washington, the more they are left with to help places like that Mississippi valley. If people aren’t voluntarily doing more right now, it’s only because (a) after paying hefty taxes, there’s not enough left over, and (b) since governments play a dominant role anyway, people become apathetic as to their own potential to contribute.

    I’ve never understood the mindset which sees people as inherently uncaring and callous and greedy. Granted, there are some people who are that way, but the vast majority of us are, I believe, good. We care. It’s unfathomable to me that the kids living in that poor valley in Mississippi would be denied a good education while everywhere else people with means would turn a blind eye and stand there and watch the Mississippi kids languish, without doing anything about it. Americans are, for the most part, not that way. But somehow we get locked into the paradigm that if the federal government doesn’t compel citizens to give money to help those poor Mississippi kids, it will never happen. Wrong!

    As for constitutionality, I know that you can’t cite any part of the Constitution which calls for a federal role in education because there isn’t one. And the document clearly states that whatever isn’t specifically tasked to the federal government is reserved for the states. I suppose someone could take this to mean that state governments are bound by the US Constitution to play an active role in education, though I would dispute that. But I’d like to see someone try to make an informed argument supporting the notion that the Constitution does, in fact, require a federal role in the educating of our children.

  179. For Warner Woodworth,

    Also, you definitely should have addressed the fact that you work at BYU, a private school that receives government vouchers from students on federal financial aid, just like the Utah program you oppose, and similarly acknowledged that your complaints about private schools have been leveled against BYU (or, as you might call it, the Brigham Young School of Reason and Academic Freedom).

    You should also explain why you believe it’s okay for BYU students to receive government money to attend a private school, but dreadful to use government aid to send their children to private school.

  180. Ronan, the market rates in Utah actually attract very good teachers. (As Mark IV noted, it’s always odd to hear the teachers unions say how good the teachers are, then argue that if we paid teachers more we could get better ones.)

  181. Regarding market rates, here’s an idea that Warner, Ronan, Ray and I might all agree on. It’s right up Warner’s alley from his book on Zion: an employee owned private school. With vouchers, good teachers could band together to start a school. They could decide their compensation packages, merit pay, and all of the other issues now handled by bureaucrats. I think excellent teachers would be drawn to a school like that, and that their reputations and enthusiasm would make their school very attractive to parents.

    I would think teachers would love to organize their own school, and would be as anxious to get rid of the administrative red tape as I am.

    Can any of the teachers explain why teachers don’t welcome the opportunity to compete with their former management?

  182. Clark Goble says:

    But that poor valley in Mississippi doesn’t have to depend on federal tax dollars to ensure a good education. This nation is full of do-gooders and compassionate people who want to help and are willing to contribute to worthy causes.

    While this is the Libertarian ideal, I think time and time again history has demonstrated that the actual number of do-gooders and what they donate is almost always vastly lower than what is needed for problems. While I have libertarian sympathies this sort of thing is why I never buy the libertarian position. There is a perception by them that folks will sweep in without government and solve problems. I think markets are important for efficiently solving problems but the libertarian ideal seems as implausible as the marxist one.

  183. Clark Goble says:

    As for constitutionality, I know that you can’t cite any part of the Constitution which calls for a federal role in education because there isn’t one. And the document clearly states that whatever isn’t specifically tasked to the federal government is reserved for the states

    Yes, but where push goes to shove is how to interpret that. And clearly constitutional interpretation by most goes against how you interpret it.

    Now one can, on idealistic grounds, limit federal government action to a bare minimum. But, while I’m skeptical of a lot of use of the interstate commerce clause, I think that the idea that the federal government can’t set national regulations or funnel money to specific projects is hard to buy.

  184. Every country that is outperforming the US in educational measures is doing so through a *highly* structured and centralized national system. In fact, when you take a close look at our system (many very weak state departments of education, local control at the district and even school level in many places, strong emphasis on faculty consensus that leads to serious inertia, etc.), it is one of the most fractured and disjointed systems in the developed world. No matter how one views the Act itself, much of the NCLB impetus has come from multiple studies that seem to show a direct correlation between centralized control and high performance in the past few decades.

    I also have some libertarian tendencies, but the idea that people will rally around poor children and provide adequate education for all is a pipe dream. If you want to make that claim, you need to be able to show at least one instances in history where it actually happened nationwide without government intervention.

  185. Perry Shumway says:

    Admittedly, I am very much an idealist. To think people will voluntarily replicate the educational system we have now is indeed a pipe dream. But to believe enough in the goodness of the average American, especially one who through a big drop in taxes is able to spend a little more than he used to be able to, is optimistic but not inconceivable.

    Matt Evans’ proposal (#181) of a teacher-owned private school is a perfect example of the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that can transform American education from the abysmal failure Ray bemoans (#184) to something entirely new, and better than any existing system.

    To conclude that centralization is the key to improvement, based on comparisons with systems in other parts of the world, is unfair and inadequate because it doesn’t take into account other factors, which probably contribute more to educational effectiveness than the relative level of governmental involvement. Students in countries in the Far East tend to score better on standardized tests than in the West; is this due to their governments? I would argue that it is more a reflection of cultural differences, such as communitarianism vs. individualism, a different work ethic (Japanese kids go to school six days a week), family expectations, cultural uniformism, differing curricular emphases, etc.

    The fact that I can’t point Ray to any single example of nationwide education in America prospering through volunteerism and local community control, indicates nothing more than the sad truth that American government has had its hands in education for far too long. I can’t show you a historical instance, Ray; therefore, it’s impossible that my proposal could work? Is this what you’re saying?

    I’m not saying everyone will support an education system as expensive and expansive as the current one; rather, I see parents getting together in communities and volunteering to teach, discipline, help at the playground, whatever, to a much higher degree than happens now. I see many different forms of teaching institutions, from a big increase in homeschooling to teacher co-ops to YMCA-sponsored village schools to LDS church institutes of learning to all manner of private school groups of many shapes and sizes. I see some communities becoming self-taxing districts to raise funds to build and run their own schools, and others in which parents get together and pool their resources to collectively teach the neighborhood children. And I see great efforts made to help struggling kids in impoverished areas improve their education – not by just throwing money at the problem, but by contributing meaningful time and materials in a personal and efficient way no government program could replicate. Consider how Church welfare programs compare with WIC and other such government agencies.

    Clark Goble – with all due respect, history is not a good indicator of whether libertarian idealism could actually work. The conditions have never been right to test the thesis in the first place. People are inherently giving and good, but the amount they can give depends largely on how much they have, and on whether they perceive that the government is already tasked with dealing with the problem. If the government were completely removed, lots of people who up to now have not actively participated in education would suddenly feel the call to change, not only because of the additional money at their disposal, but also because they would realize that they could make a big difference, and that the power was with them, and that if they didn’t do it, no one would.

    I think it’s not far fetched, nor is it anywhere near as idealistic as marxism, to assume that people would, in fact, “sweep in without government and solve problems.” Absolutely. To disagree is, in my mind, to write off humanity, and American citizens in particular, as hopelessly greedy and selfish brutes who will never rise to the occasion unless thoroughly compelled. It smacks of a certain diabolical plan that was presented to all of us before the world was.

  186. Perry Shumway says:

    Ray – your comments (#184) betray a certain naivete to the realities of American education:

    ” . . . many very weak state departments of education, local control at the district and even school level in many places . . .”

    I’m not sure which state departments of education you consider weak, but I suppose you might include Utah and Idaho, two of the nation’s reddest states, in their number?

    As for my state, Idaho (and, as I understand it, pretty much every other state in the union), it’s like this. School boards represent local, district-level control. What does such control amount to? For one thing, teacher salaries are essentially determined by the state, which dictates a salary schedule to each district and provides funding, based on the average daily attendance in the district, only to meet the minimums of the published schedule. Hiring and firing of teachers is so highly regulated that there is little control left at the local level. In my district, a venerable guy with a PhD in chemistry left a lucrative job in a local industry to teach high schoolers. The man was an inspiration to all; he put in many 12-hour days and personally dedicated himself to the success of each of his pupils. He was a superstar teacher.

    But while he was working toward his certification, he hadn’t yet achieved it, and district enrollment had been in decline for many years, and the school board had to look at layoffs. Onerous labor laws had resulted in a union contract which stipulated that if we laid anyone off, it had to be him. And the state said if he didn’t finish his certification soon, we couldn’t keep him. He was arguably our best teacher, and the know-it-alls in Boise and Washington wanted us to ride him out on a rail. For the benefit of the kids.

    School boards have essentially no say on the curriculum; it’s handed down from the state, including day-to-day lesson plans for many of the classes, and even which textbooks can and cannot be used. And while local boards vote on district policies from time to time, anything more meaningful than cheerleader practice schedules has to conform to existing statutes anyway, again rendering local boards virtually powerless. Local districts have very little say in how schools should be built, how teachers should be trained, what kids should eat, and everything else. The real power to determine how our schools are run resides at the state and federal levels, not locally.

  187. StillConfused says:

    So did the vote take place? How did it turn out?

  188. Ray: (184)

    Every country that is outperforming the US in educational measures is doing so through a *highly* structured and centralized national system.

    However many states are arguably larger than these other nations. So this line of argument doesn’t make a lot of sense. Were it true then why isn’t California, richer and larger than most European nations, doing better with its state controls?

    The issue is really about what structures are in place rather than the regions the structures cover. I also think the biggest problem is the social fabric in which schools find themselves. i.e. American attitudes towards education; parental involvement; economic factors etc.

    Don’t get me wrong. I think there are huge inefficiencies in the American system. And there I think the points you raise are valid. However in terms of the ultimate problem I don’t think that’s the answer.

    Perry: (185)

    with all due respect, history is not a good indicator of whether libertarian idealism could actually work. The conditions have never been right to test the thesis in the first place.

    Ironically, exactly what marxists say.

    But of course what this ends up amounting to is that libertarian ideals are yet an other utopian scheme with no particular reason to expect it to be as successful as proponents claim.

    Perry: (185)

    I can’t show you a historical instance, Ray; therefore, it’s impossible that my proposal could work? Is this what you’re saying?

    I think the lack of evidence at a minimum ought offer strong skepticism. Personally I think there are compelling reasons to think the libertarian solution would be horrible precisely from history. (i.e. look at places without widespread public education – it ain’t exactly encouraging)

    I’ll drop the thread-jack though.

  189. #186 – Perry, your comment about my “naivete” is laughable. I won’t go full resume on you, but . . .

    I have worked in education and educational publishing for most of the last 15 years. I have lobbied for and obtained funding from the Ohio State Legislature – the only successful effort of its kind in 20 years. I have worked directly with the State Departments of Education in three states and with the Governor’s Council on Reading (or its equivalent) in four states. I have helped construct, administer, score and publish an independent research project and paper on early childhood reading skills acquisition – overseen and published by the Ohio Department of Education. I have ghost written an analysis of a five-year trend of reading intervention effectiveness in response to increased proficiency standards for the Chairman of the Ohio House Education Committee. At one point or another, I have met with just about every key figure in the state’s educational funding structure and with many of the key players within the Ohio Dept of Ed – as well as some of the Executive Directors of the largest philanthropic givers to education in this region.

    I could go on, but “naive” about education I am not. Departments of Education can appear to be strong and active, but it is the practical power they choose to wield that determines their strength or weakness. In that regard, multiple state Depts of Ed are *much* weaker than they appear to be to those who have not been as immersed in their actual practices and procedures as I have been.

    My opinions might be off-base, but it isn’t due to naivete.

  190. #188 – Clark, I never said I favor strict national control; I said research correlating such control with high performance in other countries is what is being used to drive reform movements like NCLB at the national level. People are screaming about us losing to other countries, and those countries are employing strongly centralized systems. That’s all I said.

    Looking back, I realize it sounded like an endorsement, but it wasn’t meant to be. I want strong centralized control at the lowest level possible to make it work. Unfortunately, in quite a few cases, districts are really messed up and state departments hide behind a CYA endorsement of local control, which produces horrible situations in multiple places. There are many well-performing schools and districts all around the country, but there are relatively few that serve predominantly poor populations.

    Utah is an anomaly, folks – and I agree that it is due largely to cultural differences, not educational or socio-economic ones.

  191. It’s unfathomable to me that the kids living in that poor valley in Mississippi would be denied a good education while everywhere else people with means would turn a blind eye and stand there and watch the Mississippi kids languish, without doing anything about it. Americans are, for the most part, not that way.

    Perry, that’s hilarious. Thanks for the best satire I’ve read in ages.

  192. Paul Ramsell says:

    The vote took place, vouchers lost, and Utah failed its IQ test.

  193. Ray, my point is that we’d expect this trend to function on the state level were it true. Since it doesn’t it seems reasonable to think there is some other factor. Correlation isn’t causation. I really wasn’t making much more of a point.

  194. Perry Shumway says:

    Ray – your education-related resume is obviously much more extensive than my own. Apologies for the assumption of naivete.

    At the same time, I’m saddened to think that your view of humanity seems to be that people generally aren’t willing to voluntarily give very much of their time and money, and that removing government from humanitarian causes, such as education, won’t result in any upsurge in community activism or charitable giving. It must be depressing to live with such a pessimistic outlook.

  195. “The vote took place, vouchers lost, and Utah failed its IQ test.

    Comment by Paul Ramsell — November 8, 2007 @ 1:16 am”

    Good. That’s one test Utah needed to “fail”.

  196. Perry,

    I’ll have to side with Ray on this issue. I’d love to think that good people would rush to fill the gap, but my experience is that the people who care are already doing that kind of thing, and the lessening of a tax burden won’t bring out a surge of humanitarian and charitable efforts.

    And no, it’s not any more depressing than seeing the huge amount of disdain many people currently feel towards public education in the first place. Everybody loves to complain about them, but public education is a very complex issue, not easily dealt with by resorting to a market-based paradigm.

    I have very little experience with private schools. What I have observed is that there are a very few really good ones that are way more expensive than the vouchers would cover. The balance seem to me to be not much better, if at all, than the public schools. I also fear the balkanization of education that could result from vouchers, with private schools that each cater to a specific predetermined constituency. I know that Warner was a little over the top with some of his examples, but the potential for “fundamentalist-polygamist”, “anti-UN Isolationist”, “John Birch”, or even “radical environmentalist” private schools chills me.

    I’m not opposed to private schools. They fill an important niche, just as home schooling does. But one of the major strengths of our country is it’s pluralistic nature. My kids grew up in a much more diverse world than I did, and are better off for it. Yes, public schools could be better, but let’s use the volunteer attitude and humanitarian feelings we have to help make them better.

  197. I’m completely for vouchers, because public schools have totally failed us. I think in the past there were a lot of smart women who had limited career opportunities, and therefore went into teaching. Because of that, the public schools were a lot higher quality than they are now. Since there are now many more jobs open to smart women, as well as the tendency of stultifying government bureaucracy to kill any spark of life that falls within its realm, the quality of teaching has continued to decline. In my opinion, public schools teach our children all the wrong lessons in the first 18 years of their lives.

    I think a system which allows more innovation, more choice by the consumers, and more flexibility will be a huge improvement over what we have now. Our economy and our systems compete very well globally from college onward into the workplace. We are among the world leaders in innovation, creativity, and performance. However, our system competes quite poorly up until age 18. We lag behind nearly every other developed country in the education of our children. Why not allow the natural forces of choice and competition dismantle what isn’t working and allow what does work to flourish?

    I’m socially very liberal, though I’m fiscally quite conservative. I’m a product of public schools, in which I almost completely wasted 12 years of my time. I think everyone at all income levels will be best served by having a system based on vouchers rather than what we have now.

  198. Perry Shumway says:

    (#196) Kevin, if pluralism is “one of the major strengths of our country,” then why does the idea of “private schools that each cater to a specific predetermined constituency” chill you? Is it that you value cultural and ethnic diversity, but you shudder at the thought of diversity of political ideologies and philosophies?

  199. Perry, let me just point out the difficulty in making sweeping generalizations about people based on very limited discussion of one or two specific problems within a very complex issue. Anyone who knows me even slightly will tell you that I am one of the happiest, laughing-est, most fun loving persons they know. I even have been accused (quite correctly) of having a bit of a Don Quixote complex. It’s why I have done much of what I have done – as part of an on-going effort to help change the world.

    In a nutshell, I simply believe, based on my years of experience in education, that most people in the world still have not risen above the natural man enough to share their resources in a way that would be necessary to do what you envision – especially knowing that doing so will reduce what is available for them to provide directly to their own children, grandchildren and community.

    Desegregated schools happened at gunpoint by governmental force, not because of charitable benevolence. Baseball was integrated socially largely by one man’s determination in the face of widespread bigotry. There are almost no suburban, White volunteers in predominantly Black, inner-city schools – and in the vast majority of these schools, there are *no* such volunteers. A few years ago, Ohio allocated millions of dollars on an attempt to increase parental and community involvement in the state’s schools. This effort caused an immediate swell in volunteers in many districts – that lasted for one school year and then faded away to previous, pitiful levels once the initial emphasis wore off due to lack of funds to continue the extra emphasis. People simply stopped participating when they no longer were being encouraged constantly to do so – when it was left up to them.

    That’s not pessimism; it’s reality. I still dream; I still lobby for change; I still look for ways to reform the system. However, I don’t spend time trying to make something work that has been tried over and over and over again without success. The classic definition of insanity is, “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I’m looking for different ways to do it, and the voucher systems I have analyzed are, imo, just more of the same old same old. Not one of them has been radical enough to make any difference – even in a state like Utah, where the problem is much more minor than many other states.

  200. Karin Bybee says:

    Just for the record, after teaching for 16 years, I retired making $67,000 in California. If I had a Masters Degree it would have been over $70,000. I think most recent grads would think that more attractive than starting at $26,000 and ending at ?. I don’t know what ending salaries in Utah are. I still say the bottom line for hiring top-notch teachers in Utah is providing a decent salary. Providing a bonus for teaching in the less desirable parts of town would also attract good talent.

  201. Perry Shumway says:

    Ray – I’m glad to hear that you’re an optimist, after all! Still, your outlook on the propensity for human beings to do good things without being forced to is decidedly a pessimistic one, as reiterated by your comments in #199 above. I will say that I’ve read your viewpoints on a number of BCC blogs and have nothing but respect and admiration for your wisdom and ocassional wit. And hopefully you don’t think my characterization of your pessimistic outlook on the question of whether American citizens would self-educate if given the chance, is a “sweeping generalization” of your general demeanor or personality.

    I agree with your assessment that vouchers won’t make much difference, especially in Utah. And you invoke historical and present-day instances of bigotry and racism to demonstrate that people are unwilling to help their neighbors. I could, of course, provide lots of examples of affluent people working to better the lives of those in inner cities and humble circumstances, but I wouldn’t be saying anything you don’t already know.

    Regarding the desegregation of schools in the South, I have to wonder whether you think that, had the government not stepped in when it did, those schools would remain segregated today, all else being equal? It seems to me that society was heading in the right direction anyway, thanks to the valiant efforts of some courageous souls. If President Eisenhower hadn’t sent federal troops into Little Rock in 1957 (and I’m NOT saying he shouldn’t have!), would schools in the south in 2007 be segregated the way they were fifty years ago?

    Because it seems to me that whenever we identify a clear problem in society, we immediately turn to the government to solve it, rather than giving society itself a little time to work through it and resolve it on its own. The danger of using the government in this way is that the citizens become complacent and ignorant and apathetic; they leave everything to the government and shun personal responsibility. The reliance on the botched federal cleanup after Katrina is a prime example; yesterday’s override of Bush’s veto of the $23 billion anti-flooding bill is another. As though communities couldn’t find ways to prevent future flooding themselves, on their own, without griping and complaining in Washington until Congress coughs up some money to throw at the problem?

    I had to chuckle when I noticed that your second example, that of Jackie Robinson and baseball integration, is a perfect demonstration of people rising up against evil and triumphing, entirely independent of governmental involvement and coercion. I’m not sure why you cited that one? It seems to reinforce what I’ve been failing at convincing you of, rather than supporting your contention that without the government to force people to be good, they won’t.

    You can call it realism; I don’t dispute that it reflects the current reality in many ways. But people don’t step up to the plate (sorry – you’ve got me thinking about baseball now) when they’re already forced to give a portion of their income to support massive, sluggish bureaucracies which prohibit them from making any real decisions or changes. They get frustrated and (perhaps like you?) pessimistic. We’ll never know if the so-called libertarian ideal will work if we don’t ever give it a try.

    You imply (if I read you correctly) that government-free education in America has been tried over and over and over again. In fact, it has never been tried, but given the sad state of education in our country and around the world, it ought to.

  202. MikeInWeHo says:

    “We’ll never know if the so-called libertarian ideal will work if we don’t ever give it a try.” Sure we can. Just look around the world, look back in history. There are lots of examples of societies where education has been “government-free.” Arguably, this has been more the norm throughout civilized history. Perhaps someone in here could provide us with some examples?

    Why did virtually all developed societies adopt state-run compulsory educational systems?

  203. Ray, I’d appreciate your thoughts on my #181.

    I really don’t understand teachers’ solidarity with their management. I can’t think of any other industry where workers fight so hard to protect their managers’ jobs.

    My best guess is that the bureaucratic nature of government schools has steered entrepreneurial types like me into other professions, resulting in teachers being disproportionately risk-averse and comfortable being led by authority (a soft Erich Fromm “Escape from Freedom” mentality) or a strong conformist ethic (adopting management’s goals as their own). But that’s just my guess, and I’d be interested in your theory.

    kevinf, I think the concern about radical schools is misplaced. I spent a lot of time in law school talking about vouchers, especially during my Education Law class. My liberal (and atheist) friends admitted that the reason they opposed vouchers was a desire for the state to intervene between religious parents and their children, to at least give “reason” a fighting chance. Let parents choose their schools, and we’d become a nation of irrational God believers. I think they are right to think that many parents would choose to place their children in a parochial school, just as many Mormons choose BYU, but I don’t think there’s really a market for what *I* consider to be moonbat private schools. And of course we could (and would) provide guidelines on which private schools are eligible for vouchers. The Utah law specifically forbade schools that encouraged anything illegal (there goes the polygamist school and the Unabomber Academy.)

    I’m glad the government ignores the atheist complaint that BYU students are eligible for federal aid despite BYU’s honor code, promotion of prayer, and religious class requirements. Let the people choose.

  204. Very beautifully and articulately stated, Dr. Woodworth.

    I enjoyed your post.

    Liz J.

  205. #203 – Matt, I would *love* that type of school. I think it would be an awesome environment, but it would take a very strong administrator to make it work properly – a real visionary person or management team who could keep the inspiration a part of the focus through the daily grind. Personally, I would separate administrative duties differently than the classic school – in a way that is too detailed to go into here.

    As to the overall educational philosophy, Harvard has an interesting paradigm – admitting and graduating a few who are world class in something but most who are well-lopsided. That’s my vision for such a school – identifying natural strengths as early as possible, ensuring adequate base knowledge in many things, focusing on natural strength and/or passion in each student to create well-lopsided students. I would make it a year-round school, with the standard summer months being dedicated to individual and/or group exploration of non-traditional topics or projects. I would hire half-time substitute teachers (one per department / category, preferably former teachers or retired professionals) to allow for regularly scheduled professional development of the full-time faculty.

    I would be happy to discuss the overall picture with you in more detail; if you have the resources or connections to make it happen, I would rearrange my life to help. I would contact everyone I know in the educational publishing industry to help produce or identify unique electronic textbooks and technological tools.

    If you really are interested in pursuing this, send me an e-mail; I will give you my phone numbers, as well.

    I think people would flock to that type of environment and philosophy – so I guess I agree with Perry at least on a limited basis. If you built it right, they will come.

  206. Thanks, Sam.

    A few years ago I had a conversation with my financial advisor, (LDS, btw) about this topic, specifically about investing in sub-prime mortgages. He advised strongly against it, and shared with me his aphorism about the market: “Sometimes bulls make money, and sometimes bears make money. But pigs always get slaughtered.” He also went on to help me understand that there were other considerations beyond yield.

    It’s an interesting question. Many of us wouldn’t buy shares in an industry we considered morally objectionable (casinos, or alcohol producers, for instance), but unwise borrowing and lending can be just a destructive as alcoholism or gambling, literally ruining people’s lives. We are warned from the pulpit about the moral dimension of incurring unwise or excessive debt, but I guess we need to also realize that the lender who extends unwise or excessive credit is also culpable. I have read with smug satisfaction how some lenders are now losing their shirts, but I guess I need to learn to curb that impulse as well.

    I think I have a slightly different view of the market than you do, since I believe it does not so much drive behavior as simply reflect it. In this case, the market is holding up a mirror in front of us, and you’re right, it isn’t pretty.

  207. Dr. Woodworth –
    I am certainly late in weighing in on this topic, but I have to say – Bravo! Your post echoes my thoughts to a tee, and I appreciate your candor.
    Thank you.