Monday, May 24, 2010

A Nest Almost Empty

This week will end with the graduation of my youngest daughter from high school.

It is, of course, a time to taste the bittersweets of life. For the time being I'm more than content to let blogging sit on some obscure list outside my priorities. I expect to start blogging again in a week or so when the parties have ended and most of the tears have dried.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Fallow Fields of Education

How badly akilter must things be in Michigan for the state to even consider encouraging otherwise productive employees to become unproductive? However bad it must be, we have arrived.

The short term benefit in luring employed teachers into the ranks of the retired is being estimated at $700 million. That is a huge chunk of money that would go a long way toward closing the state's looming budget deficit.

The teachers are being lured with a small retirement bonus while those staying behind will be subject to paying higher employee contributions for benefits packages. Most of the remainder of the estimated savings will be garnered with new replacement teachers being hired at lower wages and reduced benefits.

The opportunity to shave huge annual amounts from today's budgets sounds like a good deal for taxpayers. However, in twenty years, after most of these newly retired teachers have collected two decades worth of state provided retirement and with legions of new teachers in the system who replaced those retired, is the benefit to the state as spectacular as it is being projected?

I profess ignorance in the plan's total impact as I have not studied it. Fiscal reality would have to suggest that higher teacher contributions is a good thing regardless of whether the early retirements were incentivized or not. Fiscal reality would also suggest other items that are not being seriously looked at.

A person that reaches the labor market at age 25 (late for most of us) would have to put in 40 years before reaching Social Security's magic number of 65 years (early for many more.) Yet we have many thousands of teachers each year reaching an early retirement age long before either that magic 40 year threshold or the age of 65 have been reached.

While luring many teachers into the retirement ranks early will help in the short term (and indeed might even help over the long term,) an ultimate solution to the problem will not be achieved until a systemic change is enacted--a change that resolves to put Michigan's teachers pay and benefits more closely into line with that of the national average.

It is a solution that the unions will not like and it is a solution that politicians might find difficult to enact. Until then, I suppose, paying productive people to become unproductive is the best solution.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Picking Sides in the Detroit Public Schools' Fight

I commented on this article on Mlive where people in the comments were very quick to defend the education establishment.

About a dozen protesters opposed to the actions of Detroit Public Schools' emergency financial manager Robert Bobb were led away in handcuffs after staging a sit-in inside the state Capitol on Wednesday.

The protest was organized by a group called By Any Means Necessary. More than two dozen protesters came to the Capitol to ask Gov. Jennifer Granholm to get rid of Bobb, her appointee. They also wanted the governor to attend a Detroit school board meeting this month and stop the school closings Bobb has planned in the cash-strapped district.
Robert Bobb is not charged with an easy task; picking up the pieces after an entire generation of educational neglect and fiscal abuse. It should not be surprising, however, that he is not a popular person among those who benefited the most during that lost generation. Commenter jesssed said
seriously study after study proves students learn best with small class sizes. to limit class size you need more teachers, it is that simple. The problem is everyone wants quality education and some of you don't want to pay for it...
And mdewey chimed in
First - education is not a business. Students are not car parts. But thanks for the apples to shotguns analogy - it was funny in a tea party ignoramus sort of way.
Second - The Detroit teachers do not belong to the MEA/NEA. They are AFT. American Federation of Teachers for the acronym challenged. If you're going to throw mud and make unfounded accusations try to at least get within the realm of reality.
Third - If ... ah the heck with it... keep foaming at the mouth, goofball, you make the case for your supposed opposition better than you could ever conceive.
To which I replied:

Actually, education is a business and even more, it is a trillion dollar industry. The point is not that a student is a car part or a widget but rather that an education, whether of good or poor quality, is a product.

In addition to that, we see that money is not a solve all to our educational deficiencies. Numerous studies have borne that out. In Michigan we find that educators are compensated at many thousands more per year than their counterparts in other states--many of which produce higher quality students. In fact, nearly half of our state's budget woes would be solved if Michigan educators were simply compensated at the national average. While more money to the school districts always sounds like a great idea, FOR THE CHILDREN!, the truth is that most of that additional money is simply slathered onto the same teachers and administrators.

It is also not true that small class sizes automatically achieve superior results. Japan, with an educational system much more successful than our own, has class sizes much larger than those in America. This is true through much of the industrialized world.

It has been pointed out (and accurately) that Michigan school districts are forced to educate students that probably do not belong in the classroom. Yet, the teacher's unions support the inclusion of all children, not because it makes their classrooms more effective (the opposite is true) but because it creates a need for teachers' services. The teacher's unions also will stand behind teachers who are proven to be ineffective. Teachers unions are not in the business of educating, they are in the business of representing what they feel is in the best interest of their members. That boils down to job security, better pay and better benefits. Anything else is simply window dressing and far down the list of priorities.

Who is satisfied with the Detroit school system other than those who for years have bellied up to the taxpayer buffet? Hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, lowest test scores in the nation, lowest graduation rates in the country, crumbling schools, graft, dead employees on the payroll, and a school board more interested in protecting the status quo than in providing any substantive improvement.

I don't expect everyone to be a fan of Robert Bobb, nor do I expect the man to operate without any mistakes. However, given the choice between Bobb and the education establishment in Detroit I'll take Robert Bobb any day of the week. His heart is in the right place and he wants to put quality education first.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A UAW Promise

United Auto Workers members made tough sacrifices to help keep the domestic auto industry alive and union workers should expect to be rewarded when it bounces back, UAW Vice President Bob King said today.
In other words, Michigan, we've taken this industry to the brink once and we're not afraid to do it again. In fact, we promise to.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Blogging Vacation