Sunday, October 26, 2014

Time for Teachers

Time: The War on Teacher Tenure
Time magazine's recent piece has caused quite a stir among educators and the public.  

Blogger, Brian Anderson, responded with a series of comments on Twitter that I thought are worth repeating. He takes particular aim at the Venture Capital (VC) approach to turn education into a mass market for hi-tech products.

Once again, it is a mistaken belief in how a sovereign monetary system functions that gives strength to the arguments of those opposing appropriate investment in universal education for the next generation. And so we turn to alternatives, thinking we can't afford to do what needs to be done.

What would a 50% increase in teacher salaries and a maximum of 15 students per class do to our quality of education? Oh wait, we don't even consider such alternatives because we think we'd have to raise taxes to pay for it. 

Thanks to Brian for permission to re-post his comments (a few minor edits were made to fix "Twitter" abbreviations). Emphasis added.  

"Let's make a list of teacher-bashing VC's, and boycott them! Why would you want to let someone make money off of your start-up who is going to use it to attack your friends, your family and your kids. I can deal with libertarians, I can do business with libertarians. Everyone is a libertarian or some kind of 'fiscal conservative'. But when you attack teachers and the public education system you make it personal. Remember that. Teacher bashers let bad logic about money and gov’t turn them into bad people. Don't be a teacher basher.

We need to move to a 100% federally funded education system, with haste.

Just because you are born in a poor place doesn't mean you should get a substandard education.

Educating your own kids is like being your own lawyer, only it’s more like being your kid’s lawyer.

It must be possible for someone to graduate high school, finance a college education, and then pay off any loans by working as a school teacher.

Libertarians would have you think that is a mathematical impossibility. But they shouldn't have a say in education OR finance.

If you have to be from a privileged background in order to follow that type of career path, we must be doing it wrong.

Libertarians and their neoliberal enablers see Ponzi schemes everywhere they look. That's because they don't know squat about finance. Education is not a Ponzi scheme. Not in kindergarten and not in grad school. Education is like everything else. The money to pay for it comes from gov’t spending.

VCs seem especially interested in education these days, and I see two reasons for the trend. The first reason VCs are interested in education is because they are libertarians and neoliberals. As such, they believe that all public spending is essentially a Ponzi scheme. They believe the deficits required to provide universal free education are unsustainable and erode the purchasing power of THEIR money. They view public school teachers as takers who are getting a free ride at their expense. Because they believe taxes fund gov’t spending.

They believe these things because they learned them from economists while they were in business school. But those economists should have constructed better theories of markets, and their students (the VCs) should have been more critical. If your best explanation of middle-class consumer capitalism has a Ponzi scheme at its center, maybe you are doing it wrong? Maybe it is not the existence of the middle class that is the problem, maybe it is your understanding of asset-pricing and accounting? Of course, I could go on about why capitalism needs deficits in order to operate a unit of account that is both liquid and stable in value.

But I want to talk about the second reason why VCs are so interested in education these days. It is because VCs are investors who put their gov’t issued money into startups and want to get MORE gov’t issued money out. They have tried to compete with Wall St. to help the middle class invest for retirement. Mostly failed because Wall St. knows money better. They have tried hawking all sorts of ad tech gizmos at fortune 500's. That's ok for a while but they know they are bleeding a stone.

They cannot MAKE people spend money that they don't have. They have tried turning the unemployed into unregulated cab-drivers and inn-keepers. The point is that they are setting their sights lower and lower. It is no surprise that they see education as a promising market. After all, money comes from govt. VCs see teachers making salaries and THEY want that money.

They want to replace your kid's English teacher with a computer program that will take them through "Of Mice and Men" one page at a time. They will print out charts and graphs that tell you how many pages per minute your kid reads, and where they sit on the normal distribution. And they are going to try to convince you that this is better than having actual teachers in the schools.

And they are going to replace public school teachers’ salaries with license fees that go directly into the bank accounts of firms they OWN. Whether they can explain it or not, VCs know that money comes from govt. That's why they are lined up at the trough. That's why they are trying to muscle the middle class out the way. To take a bigger share of the gov’t created income.

It’s also a thriving marketplace for them. If you think test scores show a problem, you can sell all kinds of products. The marketplace for (mostly worthless) school interventions on the market is denominated in the $multi-billions. Not just VCs, Conservatives, libertarians & politicians, all know money comes from government but can't/won't explain it!

The fact that gov’t spending creates the money that we earn, spend and save has a lot of consequences. When public spending dollars are allocated to individuals like teachers, those teachers are then able to spend, save and invest. That spending is what makes the rest of our investments profitable. It sends information about consumer preferences to entrepreneurs. But when (say) education spending is allocated directly to some Silicon Valley software company, it does nothing for the community.

What it amounts to is a gov’t which directly allocates capital to a group of producers selected by bureaucrats. IOW, central planning.

I want to help you visualize the difference. Imagine a map of the US with a little dot at the home of every public school teacher. Now imagine a second map where there are three big dots centered in Silicon Valley, such that the area of the three dots is equal to the combined area of all the little dots in our first map. The first map is how public education spending is distributed in our traditional system, which libertarians think is a socialist system. And the second map is how education spending would be distributed if these people get their way. So the way that gov’t spends has consequences that go far beyond the resulting change in our national debt (equity). It determines the geographical distribution of income and spending, it determines which communities are buyers and which are sellers. That's why we should reject VCs bearing better, faster, cheaper forms of education. They are the ones that need to be reeducated."