Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Democrats endorse public school elections, teacher recalls?

Jerry Stratton, July 20, 2016

Evaluate teachers like legislators

I recently saw an odd meme on Facebook that both illustrates the poor state of education among the left today, and suggests an interesting idea for improving public schools that does not involve vouchers. A group called “Winning Democrats” started a meme calling for treating legislators and teachers the same when it comes to measuring job performance.

Making teachers elected and recallable is an interesting idea.

Now, the group didn’t seem to realize that’s what they’re calling for. Their meme suggested devising a method for tying legislative pay to job performance:

Legislators want teachers to be paid according to their effectiveness as evaluated by student test scores.

How about paying legislators according to their job effectiveness, as evaluated by job creation and economic growth?

They don’t seem to realize that such a method already exists for legislators: elections and recalls.

Their ignorance is probably a reflection on the poor state of Civics instruction in the government-run schools they attended. But the idea is worth thinking about. Attempting to measure teacher performance is an understandable attempt to mimic a free market; but government always fails when it tries to fake a free market. Any rules put in place to pretend to be a free market end up being gamed by those taking part in the system, usually the administrators on both ends of the system. We saw this in California’s power exchanges, we see it today in the federal insurance exchanges, and we see it in all of the corruption attendant in trying to hold government schools accountable for the education they provide.

In a sane school system, parents of children who were not being served well by one school would simply take their children to another school. Teachers who failed to serve students well would be out of a job, or relegated to less remunerative non-teaching roles; any school that retained poor teachers would go out of business. This, of course, already happens in private schools, but because most people can’t afford to pay twice for their children’s education most parents cannot use private schools.

For most parents, there is only one option for school just as there is only one option for government: the government-run school that their tax dollars pay for.

But Winning Democrats is right that we have come close to solving this issue in government by providing for the election and recall of politicians, judges, sheriffs, and various other public jobs. Providing a similar mechanism for public school teachers, as Winning Democrats unwittingly suggests, is not necessarily a bad idea. Government schools share some features with legislatures: they negotiate with each other to determine how much they get from taxpayers, for example. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to include school administrators in the election/recall process.

The best choice, obviously, is school choice—it puts parents directly in control of their children’s education. But recallable teachers would at least give communities some control over what to do about bad teachers and, potentially, bad administrators.

Recalling teachers will probably not fix the bloated administrations that government-run institutions inevitably seem to grow. That requires school choice. I could imagine trying to fix this with a None Of The Above option added to administrator elections. If None Of The Above wins, the district must eliminate that position. I’m going to guess, however, that such a system to emulate a free market would be gamed pretty quickly by adding buffer positions to make up for the losses. It’s almost impossible to legislate against gaming a system that emulates, rather than is, a free market. School choice would solve it since school choice isn’t a system: it’s an absence of a system to remove choice. It’s just parents deciding where to send their children. Schools that spend too much on administrators and not enough on teachers will go out of business when parents have a choice. That’s why the biggest opponents of school choice are not teachers, but administrators, both in the teacher unions and in the schools themselves.

Nor will it fix one of the more subtle problems with our monolithic government-run system, which is that every parent wants schools to teach what they want their kids to be taught, and not teach what they want their kids not to be taught. School choice would, obviously, tone down all of the rhetoric about what should or should not be taught in school and what should be taught at home.

Elections for teachers would probably be too unwieldy. But absent parental choice, letting the community recall bad teachers from public schools when government school administrators refuse to do so ought to at least help improve teaching quality, and remove one of the biggest arguments against government-run schools: the near-complete lack of accountability for bad teachers that leads to the so-called dance of the lemons.

In response to 2016 in photos: For photos, memes, and perhaps other quick notes sent from my mobile device or written on the fly during 2016.

  1. <- War on transgenders
  2. Natural monopolies ->