These days just about every politician in Raleigh is saying (as often as he can) how he wants to spend more money on schools and give teachers raises.
But what if the root of the problem with schools isn’t money.
This is a bit simple but the prime movers in public education are: Politicians, Bureaucrats and the Teachers Union.
Now, the politicians have so many problems on their hands – budgets, Medicaid, Obamacare, and coal ash spills – that education only gets a piece of their time.
A politician’s also got to fret over getting reelected, so if giving public school teachers tenure is popular he’s likely to be for it regardless of whether it’s good or bad education policy.
On the other hand, bureaucrats in Raleigh and at local school boards work on running education day in and day out. And the teachers union wouldn’t even exist if there weren’t public schools.
Now, like most groups, bureaucrats have their own goals. A bureaucrat aims to keep his job, earn a comfortable wage, receive a raise or promotion now and then, and retire with a state pension. A bureaucrat does not like making decisions. Making decisions can cause controversy. Which gives birth to risk. Which can land a bureaucrat in the soup.
The teachers union also has its own goals: The union has members. And it wants to get them raises. Now, raises for teachers sounds fine but it turns out there’s a glitch there too.
Republican legislators support ‘Merit Pay’ – a plan that pays good teachers more than not-so-good teachers. That sounds fine too. But it doesn’t fit in with the teachers unions’ goal. Because poor teachers pay the union dues just like good teachers do .
Not long ago the State Legislature passed a bill so every local school board could give 25% of its teachers – the best teachers – bonuses.
You might think that would have been greeted with joy – but, instead it was greeted with horror.
Suddenly education bureaucrats were faced with making thousands of decisions – they had to choose who were the best teachers. And making those decisions didn’t appeal to them at all. It was going to be controversial. And risk was sure to follow.
The teachers union wasn’t happy either. Some of its members – the best teachers who got bonuses – would be happy. But 75% of its members were going to be unhappy and the union couldn’t very well support a plan that left most of its members mad.
Awhile back Senate Leader Phil Berger passed a bill that said third graders had to learn to read before they could be promoted to fourth grade. He also provided funds to help students who were struggling and, to insure flexibility, he left implementing the plan to local school boards.
Again, the bureaucrats reacted with horror.
Deciding whether 3rd graders could read properly entailed more decisions and this time those decisions were bound to make parents unhappy.
The local bureaucrats bucked the plan up to the state bureaucrats (at the Department of Public Instruction) who twisted and turned and created a plan so unwieldy that, when their first battery of tests landed on 3rd graders heads with a thud, parents’ screams could be heard all the way to Raleigh.
The Superintendent of Public Instruction got so rattled she announced Senator Berger had made a terrible mistake and declared 3rd graders should be promoted whether they could read or not.
So it looks like – to improve schools – we’ve got to get the bureaucrats and unions out of the business of deciding policy – because their goals and what’s best for schools are two different things.