Reading and Shaking My Head

 This column appeared in the Puget Sound Business Journal (that fount of public education knowledge) and was written by Bob Wallace, a columnist at the PSBJ.  It is called, "Education Union Holds State Hostage."  Mr. Wallace dissects the issues around McCleary and it would probably have served him better to bone on issues before commenting on them.
The first item to note - right in the first paragraph - is this new dog-whistle code being used by conservative ed reformers - "the public education industry." In the next couple of sentences, Mr. Wallace rails about the constitution's mandate of public education as its "paramount duty."  Let's see how he puts it:
Suffice it to say, our state constitution says something to the effect that the state's paramount duty is to provide 'basic education.' While no one seems to know exactly what basic education is, the judges have determined that we aren't adequately funding it.
If he has any doubts about what the constitution says, why doesn't he just read it (especially since he's writing about what it says?)  As well, he apparently did no research about what HAS been done in the Legislature, for decades, to determine what basic education is.

He then does the classic thing of multiplying the "roughly" $12,600 per year per student that is funded via local levies, state/federal dollars x 25. (He says "assuming 25 kids or so" in class, not realizing that many classes are much larger than 25 students.) He deducts teacher salary and then says, "We've either got a Donald Trump-sized margin or one whale of a lot of overhead, waste or both."  

Or, there is administration for each school, facilities upkeep, nutrition, safety, curriculum, computers...should I go on?  I'm not going to dispute that it is likely there is some waste or too many  administrative costs but it's nowhere near the level he is alleging.  And, he doesn't say how HE would spend the money (ed reformers never do.)

He does say one interesting thing:
To comply with the court edict, the Legislature merely needs to come up with new state revenue to off-set the levy money, then district-by-district place a cap on levies so that the schools get the same money they would have had and the tax-payers don't get double-dipped.
Did you see that?  "New state revenue."  Gets me all happy and stuff.   Except that I fear he's being sarcastic as he then says:
This, however, is nothing more than an opportunity for the education lobby to land a windfall.   Of course, they want to increase rather than replace dollars, and we all know what they would be spent on - salaries for members of the union for whom about half the legislators in Olympia are lap dogs.
Again, he clearly doesn't know the real state of Washington state's public schools if he thinks all of McCleary dollars would all go to teachers' salaries.

He also has one fair thing to say, noting the high number of students who don't graduate or don't graduate ready for college/workplace:
Is this solely the fault of teachers and the education bureaucracy?  Of course not.  I believe much, if not most, of the blame lies with society.  Absence of a father in the home, drugs and a culture that disparages academic achievement are more significant contributors.
He then goes on to extol how a voucher system would be better so that "schools would have to compete for their business."  Sigh.  Again, despite efforts to make it so, public education is NOT a business.  (He does note that "the likelihood of a voucher system in Washington is about zero."
Frankly, a few more kids getting rapped on their knuckles by nuns or inculcated with a little morality training wouldn't be a bad thing for this country.  
No comment because that statement can just hang out there all by itself.

So what does he offer?
Next best thing might be an expansion of the charter school system.  While they lack the experience, systems and in some cases the accountability of the parochial schools, they offer similar benefits of parental involvement and dedication to student achievement.
Couched in those terms, he certainly makes charters sound, well, underwhelming.

He claims that the teachers' union "rules Olympia" and yet a completely new charter law was passed in the last legislative session over getting McCleary done .

It would appear that Mr. Wallace is completely out of his depth on this one.


Charlie Mas said…
I continue to be astonished by these business types who presume that they have something to say about public education when it is abundantly clear that they don't know or understand the first thing about it.

Does Mr. Wallace manages his own business from a similar position of ignorance and arrogance?
Charlie Mas said…
Letter to the editor of the PSBJ:


I read the confused and confusing Observations by Bob Wallace "Education Union Holds State Hostage" with difficulty. Aside from Mr. Wallace's gross misstatements (is he actually that ignorant about public education issues or is he just feigning ignorance to spread misinformation?), his argument was mistaken as well. Mr. Wallace clearly wants us to believe that our school districts are wasting tax dollars on administrative costs. Yet he inexplicably wants to hold the teachers' unions responsible for this spending. While the column proved that Mr. Wallace knows almost nothing about public education in Washington State or the McCleary decision, surely he knows that the administrators who are allocating and collecting that wasteful spending are not members of the teachers' unions and, therefore, the teachers' unions are completely innocent of the wasteful spending he decries. Mr. Wallace might as well blame the students for the growth in administrative costs; they have about the same authority over district budgets as the teachers.

Beyond that utter failure to make a logical argument, Mr. Wallace, like so many of his ilk, displays what can only be either pathetic ignorance or malevolence as he spreads misinformation about public education in Washington State. Does he really not know that basic education has been defined? The legislature defined it years ago. Does he really not know how education funds are spent? Every school district budget is a public document. If Mr. Wallace wants to know how education funds are spent, he can discover it for himself. Does he really believe that half of the state legislators are "lap dogs" for the teachers' unions? Let's remember that this is the same legislature that refused to give teachers a cost of living adjustment for six years, cut teacher pay during the Great Recession, refused to fully fund education, refused to allocate funds for voter-approved class size reduction, and approved a charter school law. In fact, it is hard to name a decision by the legislature in the past ten years that served the teachers' interests. Does that sound like "lap dogs" to anyone else? Mr. Wallace bemoans the graduation rate and the readiness of public school students. Is he really ignorant of the fact that high school graduation rates are at all time highs while high school graduation requirements are at all time highs as well?

I am left curious. I can't tell if Mr. Wallace is too lazy or too thick to learn, or if he is intentionally misleading people. Should we attribute his remarks to stupidity and incompetence before we presume ill-intent? Either way, I don't care. Mr. Wallace could keep his misinformation to himself if it were not for the Puget Sound Business Journal and your decision to broadcast his ignorance. He may not know better, but you should. He has no responsibility to the public, but you have. Step up and take enough responsibility that you do not make your readers dumber for having read your paper.
Charlie Mas said…
I keep reading the same fake-dumb questions and statements over and over. Enough! Anti-teacher and anti-education advocates keep asking the same disingenuous questions and spouting the same false statements over and over no matter how many times they have been answered or corrected.

1) Basic education is undefined. No, it isn't. It was defined by the legislature years ago.

2) The amount needed to fully fund education is never enough. No, that's not true. The amount needed is a finite amount and it is the amount necessary to meet the definition of basic education set by the legislature years ago.

3) State funding for education goes to the teachers' union. No, it goes to pay for education expenses, the largest of which is, as it should be, salaries for teachers. The teachers are paid the salaries they earn. They, in turn, pay a portion of their salaries to the union for representation. They can, if they choose, also contribute to a political fund, but that contribution is optional. When the money goes to the teachers' union for representation it is coming from the teachers, not the state.

4) The teachers' unions control the state legislature. Hardly. Not to say that legislative votes are not for sale, but the teachers haven't controlled them. The legislature did not grant teachers a cost of living adjustment for six years, reduced their pay during the Great Recession, have not funded voter-approved class size reduction, and hastily passed a charter school bill. That is not a legislature controlled by the teachers' union.

5) The teachers' union bought the McCleary and Charter School decisions from the Supreme Court with their contributions. Those decisions were based on the constitution. None of the people who don't like those decisions can offer a reason based in law to support the other side. Court decisions are not for sale, and if they were for sale they would not be so cheap; the unions contributed less than $2,000 to all but one of the campaigns.

6) Classrooms are getting funded with over $300,000 (based on average spending per student and average class size). Average spending per student is a meaningless number that is nothing like the spending for a typical student because there are some students who are very expensive to educate. Average class size is another almost meaningless statistic since a number of the certificated staff in a school are not classroom teachers. So the conclusion is based on two utterly faulty presumptions and is, therefore, utterly faulty as well.

7) Too few students graduate. Graduation rates are at all time highs.

8) Public school graduates are unready for college and career if not actually illiterate and unable to perform simple calculations. Graduation requirements are at all time highs. Students without disabilities cannot graduate unless they have passed state proficiency tests or otherwise demonstrated the required knowledge and skills.

Charlie Mas said…
... continued

9) No one knows what school districts are spending money on. School district budgets are public documents. There is no mystery about how the money is spent. If you want to know, read the budgets.

10) School district budgets are rife with waste. School district budgets are public documents. Name the wasteful spending if you can. So far no one who decries the waste can actually name any wasteful spending of note. When pressed, they name Silas Potter, as if that were relevant.

11) Schools are wasting money on liberal indoctrination and social engineering instead of the three R's. School district budgets are public documents. Name the line items for the spending on liberal indoctrination if you can.

12) Teachers' unions are bad for students. There are states without teachers' unions. They are among the worst performing states academically. Clearly, teachers' unions are good for students. Teachers' working conditions are students' learning conditions.

13) Teachers don't care about kids; they are just in it for the easy work, the short hours, the gold-plated benefits, the high salaries, and the gobs of vacation time. The work is not so easy, the hours are not so short, the benefits are not so gold-plated, the salaries are not so high, the days off are not paid, and they aren't even all really days off. Beyond that, the idea that the people who dedicate their lives to children's education - working at it full time for decades - don't care about it is simply absurd. If there were someone who cared more about children's education that person would become a teacher.

14) Public schools don't innovate. Teachers innovate every day. They have to when they are meeting the unique needs of individual students. On a larger scale Seattle schools has language immersion programs, Montessori programs, and non-traditional programs in every part of the city.

15) Public Schools are not accountable. Public schools are run by elected school boards who stand for re-election every four years. That's public accountability. Charter school boards, on the other hand, are not subject to election.
Po3 said…
He also advocates for corporal punishment in our schools.

What a gem of a guy.
Jan said…
Great letter Charlie. Hope the print it (but not holding my breath).
Jan said…
the = they
Anonymous said…
Charlie wrote "7) Too few students graduate. Graduation rates are at all time highs."

I agree with most of the points Charlie makes, but I don't think the fact that a 77% graduation rate is an "all time high" (the OSPI website shows from 2001 onward) is really a valid rebuttal of "too few students graduate".

Charlie Mas said…
@LisaG, If you only count the students who enter ninth grade, then the graduation rates may not be all time highs. If you count all of the school-age children in the community, they are.

Also, when people say "too few students graduate", I always ask them: "What is the right number of graduates?" So tell us, LisaG, what number of students should graduate? 80%? 85%? 90%? 95%? 100%?

It's a tricky question, isn't it? Is 100% a realistic expectation? And wouldn't people claim that the graduation requirements were relaxed to make that happen. How do people allocate responsibility for graduation rates? What portion are due to the efforts of the state? the districts? the schools? individual teachers? the students? their families? There is no attribution analysis, so it's possible that one school or district with a 82% graduation rate is actually doing a better job of motivating students to graduate than another school with a 79% graduation rate.

Usually when the anti-education folks say that the graduation rate is a sign of failure they presume a graduation rate of 100%, but that's only because they really haven't thought about it.
Anonymous said…
I was critiquing your argumentative reasoning, not saying anything about responsibility, failure, or what "the right number of graduates" should be.

But since you asked, and I have thought about it, one can obtain the right number of graduates by asking 9th graders and their parents (or guardians) whether they want to/expect their child to graduate from high school. The larger of the two numbers is the right number of graduates. For some schools the number will be 100%, for other schools it will be lower.

You wrote "There is no attribution analysis, so it's possible that one school or district with a 82% graduation rate is actually doing a better job of motivating students to graduate than another school with a 79% graduation rate."
Did you mean to have those two numbers swapped, instead?

Charlie Mas said…
Yes, thanks for catching that. The numbers should have been swapped.

I like your answer for how many students should graduate. All who aspire to graduate should graduate.

Please allow me to correct myself in another way. When anti-education trolls whine about the number of graduates, their statement is usually expressed as "The graduation rate is too low" so the fact that the graduation rate is at an all-time high usually is responsive.

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