Posts Tagged ‘Efficiency is the Enemy’

NYTimes Columnist David Leonardt’s Analysis: Big Business is Winning… My Analysis: It WILL Win in the Public Sector if Voters Don’t Stop It

June 21, 2018 Leave a comment

David Leonardt writes compelling op ed columns on the economy and I tend to agree with almost all of his findings… with one notable exception. Mr. Leonardt is among the many NYTimes editorialists who unwittingly (I hope) buy into the notion that education is not a public good but a commodity. Mr. Leonardt, like many of his colleagues on the Times, is a school choice advocate and, as part of that advocacy, wants schools to compete in a lightly regulated marketplace. What he and his colleagues fail to recognize is that public schools, unlike private corporations, are governed by locally elected officials who will tend to make decisions that favor local needs and concerns over the needs and concerns of shareholders who reside in distant cities and make their decisions based on spreadsheets.

In Mr. Leonardt’s column earlier this week, The Charts Show How Big Business is Winning, Mr. Leonardt offers this overview of how the “big fish” have gobbled up the “small fish” in the national economy:

The changes over the past quarter-century are pretty remarkable.

In the late 1980s, small companies were still a lot bigger, combined, than big companies. In 1989, firms with fewer than 50 workers employed about one-third of American workers — accounting for millions more jobs than companies with at least 10,000 employees.

Since then, though, many small businesses have struggled to keep up with the new corporate giants and with foreign competition. You can probably see a version of the story in your community. The hardware store has given way to The Home Depot. The local hospital and bank are owned by a chain. The supermarket is Whole Foods, which is now owned by Amazon. The family-owned manufacturer may simply be out of business.

The share of Americans working for small companies fell to 27.4 percent in 2014, the most recent year for which data exists, down from 32.4 in 1989. And big companies have grown by almost an identical amount. Today, companies with at least 10,000 workers employ more people than companies with fewer than 50 workers.

After reading the column, I left the following comment:

For Mr. Leonardt and his colleagues at the NYTimes who believe that the way to improve public education is to commodify it so that it competes in the marketplace, here’s what to expect in the decades ahead: (or Walmart) Public Schools that employ thousands of teachers and answer to shareholders and executives in a faraway city will soon supplant your local public schools that employ 50 or fewer teachers and are beholden lo local voters who elect school boards from citizens in their community. If you don’t see this happening, you aren’t learning from the trends Mr. Leonardt describes in this column.



What Public Schools SHOULD Be Focused On

June 15, 2018 Leave a comment

The solution to our seemingly intractable problems is found in this thought provoking article.

President Trump Unilaterally Imposing His Agenda… and Democracy is in Peril

June 1, 2018 Comments off

Over the past few days I’ve read article after article describing steps the President is taking to deregulate the national and international marketplace and to strip the rights of workers. Yesterday’s Common Dreams had four different articles that exemplify the unilateral actions he is taking. He’s planning to eliminate rules designed to avoid future bank bailouts. He’s backing out of longstanding trade arrangements and, in doing so, arbitrarily picking winners and losers. He’s ignoring requests of regulatory agencies to provide information they request. And, in an action that should cause concern for every worker in our country, he is unilaterally stripping the rights of Federal employees the right to job site representation, a right that is enshrined in labor law.

In the parlance of the business community and anti-union conservatives, “job site representation” often requires the creation of a “do nothing job”. In the parlance of the unions, it provides funding for full-time union official to serve as a liaison between management and the workers and to ensure that the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement are being kept. In reality, the guidelines for the compensation– if any– of the union representative are based on the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) itself.

In public education, the “job site representation” can take several forms. In Northern New England, I’m unaware of any CBAs that provide release time or funding for job site representation. Instead union dues cover the costs of field representatives who handle local labor disputes and provide support in negotiations. In Maryland, where there are larger districts, many are served by a field representative funded by State-wide union dues and a local representative, often a teacher who is released from classroom duties on a full or part-time basis. In the NYS district I led the district provided sufficient funds to cover the cost to backfill a classroom teacher to serve as “job site representative”.

While this model of compensating a “job site representative” seemed unusual to many of the school board members, having worked in the automotive industry as part of my cooperative education program as an undergraduate I recall witnessing the same system at the Rouge Engine Factory of Ford Motor Company. As an innocent college student I heard both sides of the story and could see both the benefits and potential opportunities for corruption and conflict that existed.

The benefits to workers were assurance that someone who had influence with management could forcefully present their side of an argument in a grievance and could bring dangerous working conditions to the attention of foreman without resorting to the grievance process. The opportunities for corruption were that in some cases the “job site representatives” were appointed as a reward for loyalty to a particular faction of the union leadership… and that meant that the level of service varied. On balance, though, the benefits from an employee’s perspective generally outweighed the costs.

The benefits of having a paid job site representative to management are largely abstract. If managers could forge a harmonious working relationship with their job site representative they would have a similarly harmonious working relationship with their workforce and, presumably, productivity would increase. But the costs to underwrite the job site representative seldom matched the benefit, because the costs always came off the bottom line while the benefits could not be readily quantified.

As our private sector workplaces changed over the past several decades, fewer and fewer companies paid for job-site representatives. Indeed, the job site representative role makes more sense in a manufacturing environment than in a service environment and as our manufacturing sector withered so did the role of the job site representative. But the laws that guarantee the opportunity for these positions to be included in CBAs stubbornly remain in place in the private sector even though they have vanished in the private sector. And their perpetuation is a source of resentment among taxpayers who see the position as a “no work” job.

As Common Dreams writer John Queally reports, the union representing the federal employees is pushing back:

The lawsuit (pdf) by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), a member of the AFL-CIO which represents approximately 700,000 federal employees, argues that among a slate of anti-worker orders signed by the president last Friday, one of them specifically exceeds the president’s constitutional authority and violates the First Amendment right of workers to freely associate.

“This president seems to think he is above the law, and we are not going to stand by while he tries to shred workers’ rights,” said  AFGE national president J. David Cox Sr., in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “This is a democracy, not a dictatorship. No president should be able to undo a law he doesn’t like through administrative fiat.”

the orders signed by Trump are designed to limit the amount of on-duty time federal workers can spend on union business, make it easier to fire employees, and compel federal agencies throughout the government to forge less-friendly contracts with unions.

This is more than union busting – it’s democracy busting,” Cox said on Friday after the president’s signing of the orders was announced. “These executive orders are a direct assault on the legal rights and protections that Congress has specifically guaranteed to the 2 million public-sector employees across the country who work for the federal government.”

In his statement on Wednesday regarding the AFGE’s lawsuit, Cox said that Congress has laid out clear workplace labor laws to protect organized federal employees in order “to guarantee workers a collective voice in resolving workplace issues and improving the services they deliver to the public every day – whether it’s caring for veterans, ensuring our air and water are safe, preventing illegal weapons and drugs from crossing our borders, or helping communities recover from hurricanes and other disasters.”

The lawsuit, he added, shows that federal employees “will not stand by and let this administration willfully violate the Constitution to score political points.”

Needless to say, many conservative editors and political pundits don’t see it that way. Instead, they claim that these “reforms” are needed to “clean up the mess” in Washington and provide the same degree of “efficiency” that exists in the private sector.

Those elected to Congress are supposed to be our job-site representatives and are supposed to ensure that we are protected by regulations that will help us keep our opportunities in place. Here’s hoping voters can see that the vaunted “efficiency” of the private sector that Mr. Trump and the GOP view as necessary is the cause of off-shoring factor jobs, suppressing wages, and undercutting the opportunities for full-time jobs that provide a living wage and decent benefits.

Texas Attorney Offers Cold Hard Facts: Underfunding Creates Conditions that Contribute to School Shootings

May 31, 2018 Comments off

In an op ed that appears in today’s TribTalk section of the Texas Tribune, attorney George S. Christian presents some cold hard facts on school funding and funding for health care that should give pause to his fellow Texans. In the op ed Mr. Christian cites the following factors that contribute to schools NOT being the “safe and nurturing places they should be”:

  • Declining state financial support of public schools has seriously undermined their ability to provide adequate counseling to students and school employees.
  • (Y)ears of state budget cuts have adversely affected our ability to identify and treat people with mental illnesses
  • Underfunding of public schools: “We cannot hope to sustain the Texas Miracle and build a peaceful, open and secure society free of fear if we do not possess a first-class and well-financed K-16 education system.”
  • Underfunding of teacher salaries: “If we want high-quality professional work, and most agree that we do, we have to pay a professional rate for it.”
  • (A) depressingly high rate of poverty, well above the national average, with even higher rates for children.

Mr. Christian elaborates on each of these points, and concludes with this, which echoes the title of his op ed piece, which is “Safety in Public Schools Shouldn’t Be A Partisan Concern”:

Churchill knew that if you don’t give people the hard facts, they won’t understand what job has to be done. Let’s face the hard facts together, and together surmount them. Let’s turn away from the divisive political discourse that pits Texan against Texan, group against group, party against party, the state against local communities, and change the political discourse. Elections matter, but people matter much more.

But here’s a hard fact Mr. Christian overlooks: it’s POSSIBLE that for some politicians elections matter a lot more than children, and for some voters low taxes matter more than anything… and in both cases selfishness overrules altruism.


My Letter to the Editor in Response to the “Teacher Revolt”

May 9, 2018 Comments off

A few days ago I wrote a post in response to an editorial that appeared in our local newspaper, the Valley News. Today the newspaper published this letter I wrote, drawing from some of the points I made in that post:

I applaud the Valley News for writing an editorial in support of the public employees who are funded by taxes. The concluding paragraph of the editorial calling for public employees to wrench funds from “politicians who want to maintain a stranglehold” on “pay raises and more resources”, however, overlooks one crucial point. Voters who elect austerity minded politicians do so because they are convinced that all government spending is bad and that all taxes are confiscatory.

Voters who lost jobs when mills closed, who lost benefits and pensions when their former employers were bought by a larger conglomerate, and who are struggling to make ends meet are generally not sympathetic to public sector employees who are fully employed and hold jobs that offer good wages, benefits, and pensions. And their sympathy for public sector workers is even more diminished when those employees are funded by their taxes.

Many voters who work in the private sector want to see government run like a business, and most of the major donors to both political parties see “privatization” as the ultimate solution to the problem of “government inefficiency”. Both conservatives and neo-liberals believe that deregulated for-profit businesses could do a better job of providing education, police protection, fire-fighting, and road maintenance because competition will result in those tasks being done at the lowest cost possible. The resulting race-to-the-bottom in wages and benefits will benefit the businesses who assume responsibility for these functions and it might save the taxpayers some money, but it will also result in a further hollowing out of the middle class.

If public sector employees want to elect officials who support more government spending or “wrench” more funds from politicians, they will first need to convince a majority of voters that government ISN’T the problem and their taxes are being well spent.

West Virginia Could be the Beginning of a New Era… or the Beginning of the End of an Old One

March 12, 2018 Comments off

When Diane Ravitch writes that an article is a “must read”, she is almost always right… and her recent post linking to a “must read” article by Rachel Garringer in Scalawag magazine is a case in point. Ms. Garringer’s article, “Learning from the Leadership of West Virginia’s Teachers” is a case in point. In the article. Ms. Garringer interviews recounts how the teachers across the state initially listened to the leadership of the two unions in the state, AFT and NEA affiliates. They patiently and deliberately made their case to the State legislature and built support in their communities for the need for higher wages and better compensation– particularly better health care. When the legislature remained intransigent, however, the state-wide union leadership gave a green light to a two day strike. When that failed to elicit the firm support from State politicians, the unions recommended “rolling strikes”… and at that point they lost control of the grassroots movement that emerged from the patient consensus building and teachers, using social media, went on a wildcat strike.

I suspect that “uprisings” of teachers will continue across the nation as intransigent politicians refuse to provide adequate funding for schools… BUT the battles over raising taxes to pay for settlements will be politically complicated. I foresee a situation where teachers’ roles will be to educate the private sector employees about the benefits of organizing… and if they are successful in doing so the baristas and wait staff who work for national chains and employees of national retailers will have a template to follow that might enable them to get the wages, benefits, and working conditions they deserve.

The politicians who are promoting the principles behind Janus should be careful: the may be creating a monster they and their donors will be unable to squash. Because when the day comes that employees see that excessive profiteering and shareholder and CEO greed are diminishing their earning capacity the political tide could turn. Teachers would be wise to unite with other public sector employees, none of whom want to earn huge sums of money but all of whom rely on the voters and taxpayers for support if they hope to make a living wage. Police, fire fighters, public works employees, and social service employees all depend on taxpayers for support and all have suffered from the GOP’s plans to drown government in a bathtub and the neo-liberals infatuation with “re-inventing government” by outsourcing and privatization.

While West Virginia’s strike might be the beginning of a new era, it could just as easily mark the end of an old one. If the voters don’t gain an understanding of how the system is working against them they will react the same way as voters in WI did when Scott Walker undercut collective bargaining. By promoting the narrative that all taxes are confiscatory and any group that seeks a settlement to improve wages and working conditions is “greedy” Walker and the GOP succeeded in dividing voters against each other. And just as bad are the “reformers” who have convinced the public that privatization of public services and the competition in the marketplace will result in greater efficiency and thereby save the taxpayers gobs of money. The conservative and neo-liberal politicians are counting on the continued ignorance of voters. It is now up to teachers to educate them. If the unions hope to regain footing, they will need to lead this charge.

“Efficient” Outcomes Based Education Good for “Second Tier” Colleges and Learners… Not So Much for Affluent Students

February 25, 2018 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes features an op ed piece by Molly Worthen, an assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, titled “The Misguided Drive to Measure ‘Learning Outcomes’“. In the article, Ms. Worthem describes the cottage industry that has sprung up around the demand that colleges prove that students are receiving a good return on investment through the use of standardized assessments that “measure” whether students are mastering skills like “truthseeking” and “analyticity.” In her essay, Ms Worthem also notes that this desire to measure “outcomes” is particularly emphasized in second tier colleges, particularly those state and proprietary colleges designed to serve first generation students. At the same time, the “elite” colleges effectively ignore the entire movement, signaling a disdain for any effort to measure what a college education provides for its students. Near the end of her article, Ms. Worthem offers this observation:

“Teaching it is not a cheap or efficient process. It does not come from trying to educate the most students at the lowest possible cost or from emphasizing short, quantifiable, standardized assignments at the expense of meandering, creative and difficult investigation.”

In a comment I left at the conclusion of the article, I noted that this drive for efficiency is the fallacy in the entire “reform” movement in public education, which is designed to use standardized tests to identify “best practices” that can be scaled up to help “deficient schools” improve their performance as measured by standardized tests. The “failing” public schools serving those who do poorly on standardized tests, like the “less prestigious colleges”, gear their curriculum to increasing their test scores while the public schools serving affluent and well educated children– who do well on these tests without coaching— offer a wider array of courses and opportunities.

What I didn’t note in the comment was this: the “elite” colleges do not make any effort to strive for affordability any more than “elite” private schools or “elite” public school districts. The parents who spend their own funds to pay tuition for elite private schools or pay a premium on their housing to reside in affluent school districts do not view their spending as “throwing money at a problem”. Rather, they see the premium prices they pay for schooling and housing as an investment. In the meantime, those who resent paying taxes for “other children” see low test scores as evidence that their precious tax dollars are being spent wastefully. The desire for cheap and efficient education only exists when voters are seeking a rationale for lower taxes and when voters see education as an “expense” as opposed to an “investment”.