If We Give Them Apples Will They Give Back Our Wallets?

If Thomas L. Friedman is the worst successful columnist in America, his pagemate Gail Collins may be the worst New York Times columnist you've never heard of, because why would you intentionally subject yourself to the wince-icisms of an unfunny humorist?

Collins' main value-added lies in providing a window into a certain media mindset, given that she used to edit the NYT's editorial page. It's helpful (if painful) to know that the following view about public teachers and politics is widespread among our newspaper pals:

[T]eachers — good citizens who are always worried about what the government will do to them next — win the political participation prize. During the presidential race, the line in Barack Obama's speech about how standardized tests should not "come at the expense of music or art or physical education or science" often got more applause than getting out of Iraq. [...]

They are exceedingly, intensely, grateful to [Florida Gov. Charlie Crist] for vetoing a bill that would have tied their pay, employment and even certification to the performance of their students on standardized tests. [...]

Can I digress, people, and say that while it's important to make teachers accountable, telling them their jobs could hinge on their students' grades on one test is a terrible idea? The women and men who go into teaching tend, as a group, to be both extremely dedicated and extremely risk-averse. The stability of their profession is a very important part of its draw. You do not want to make this an anything-can-happen occupation, unless you are prepared to compensate them like hedge fund traders.

It's a terrible time for American teachers — almost every school district is facing monster budget cuts, and a number of politicians have tried to make them the villain in the story. [...]

Meanwhile, all this anxiety cannot possibly be good for classroom performance. Keep an eye on Florida. And give the next teacher you see a smile, or an apple.

Yes, teachers "win the political participation prize," and not only because they have little propaganda/production units at their disposal every day (oh how I remember making anti-Proposition 13 agitprop in elementary school!). Over the past two decades, the heavily Democrat-leaning National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers have donated the 7th most political money and 14th most, respectively, in the nation. In California, teachers unions accounted for 20% of all political donations over the past decade, leading to such results as:

* General Fund K-12 spending increasing by 191.5 percent from FY 1990-91 to FY 2008-09, an average of 6.11 percent a year.
* A K-12 General Fund budget in the belt-tightening year of 2008-09 that was still "$7.4 billion higher than it was five years ago - and average daily attendance during that same period has declined by 74,000 students."
* Nearly $100 billion in new school construction bonds.
* Chronically underfunded pensions and benefits that no one believes are sustainable at current levels of taxation.

If by "prize" Collins means "a bigger share of our zero-sum taxpayer dollars," then her description is accurate. But doing less with more of our money while helping drive budgets nationwide into the ditch, blocking just about every attempt to tie teacher performance to job evaluation, creating systems in which even dangerous incompetents can't be fired, and digging their heels against charters, vouchers, and having education money follow students? No Gold Star from me.

Katherine Mangu-Ward profiled Washington, D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee in our May issue.

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  • ||

    In NYT world, there are only "monstrous budget cuts" never monstrous budget increases.

  • ||

    Is Friedman really that much worse than Herbert, Dowd or Douhat or Brooks? That is some pretty steep competition.

  • ||

    Don't forget the world's most self righteous man, Kristoff. And that curious waste of print, Fish.

  • ||

    @dbcooper

    Reading Stanley Fish's articles should be punishment for child molesters, as prison is not punitive enough. I am surprised that he can reach his keyboard through his kevlar coated bubble of self-importance.

  • ||

    I think Friedman gets the prize because he is a really, really shitty writer on top of a poor thinker. Seriously, I have years of education in decode texts for meaning and I can't puzzle out his columns half the time.

  • ||

    All of them except Friedman fit a prototype.

    Herbert, angry black liberal
    Down, cynical boomer feminist
    Douhat, conservative who is ashamed of other conservatives
    Krugman, angry liberal academic.

    Friedman in contrast is kind of his own brand of stupid.

  • ||

    John,

    Don't you actually mean Brooks instead of Douthat? It's not that Douthat cannot end up going all the way in the Brooks direction, but I don't think he's there yet.

  • ||

    Definitely Brooks. Douthat is just his apprentice. You are right, Brooks is the better example.

  • ||

    Friedman is a stereotype too, just one who haven't had to spend as much time with. He's the academic that no one else thinks is funny, but imagines himself hilarious. Students have learned to laugh at his jokes, so that means he just keeps making them.

    Look at his columns, they read like carefully constructed in-jokes for a group of friends he's never had.

  • ||

    Good point.

  • Warty||

    I have years of education in decode texts for meaning

  • peachy||

    Maybe he was channeling Friedman...

  • ||

    *decoding*

    Don't be a dick, I'm home sick and high on a cocktail of allergy medication and painkillers.

  • Warty||

    I just thought it was an excellent example of RC'z law. Dick.

  • ||

    One day I shall feast on your squalling spawn.

  • Ted S.||

    Could you name the medications so the rest of us can get high, too?

  • ||

    Claritin-D and hydrocodone. Speedballing. I'm up, I'm down, I'm up, I'm down. It's OK. I've had better.

  • qwerty||

    Here's one vote for Brooks. He is unimaginably awful.

  • Almanian||

    Well, thanks a lot. My head just exploded. Yeah, I've gotta take the blame - I decided to read the article.

    Still...

    **shakes fist at The Enabler Matt Welch**

  • Almanian||

    good citizens who are always worried about what the government will do to them next

    THE FIRST SENTENCE MATT! KABOOM, WENT MY HEAD!

  • Almanian||

    And now I gotta go deal with Senators and fucking Economic Advisors and the press and the fucking union...after reading this and having my head blow up...oh, fuck everything!

    **shakes fist at Matt Welch on the way out the door**

  • ||

    My advice to you is to start drinking heavily.

  • Lethal Injection||

    My advice is to picture them all naked. You should be fine. As long as you don't start touching yourself.

  • alan||

    My advice is to stay cool, calm collected, smile a lot, say witty things, keep every one comfortable and with out a hint of suspicion, while you work on building that robot army. Oh, yeah, and drinking helps.

  • Xeones||

    Is Friedman really that much worse than Herbert, Dowd or Douhat or Brooks?

    They're all worse than each other. It's like an ouroboros of crap.

  • ||

    I am not sure what is more depressing; that the country's alleged "paper of record" employs that cast of morons or that millions of people think they are smart and well informed because they read that editorial page.

  • alan||

    The later, definitely. Tommy Friedman and the Krugster don't go all Chony Nice Guy oh, no not again, on us in da threads.

  • ||

    It's like the NYT op-ed page has found a loophole in the Laws of Thermodynamics for the constant generation of absolute and utter bullshit. It clearly produces more bullshit than goes into it.

  • Ragin Cajun||

    Like a BS monopole?

  • ||

    It's quantum bullshit. The normal laws of bullshit that you and I have to obey break down at that level.

  • ||

    Actually, you can create something very close to a BS monopole by lining pundits together in what researchers at Lawrence Livermore Labs call a "Haulbucks" Array. Just line them up in sets of four, in a left-up-right-down fashion, according to political/rhetorical leanings (left or right spin, positive or negative spin), and you will observe that the BS field on one side is nearly eliminated, whereas the field on the other side is substantially augmented.

  • Matt Welch||

    I don't understand what this means, but it sounds awesome!

  • ||

    Geek/Nerd humor. See this link for the inspiration: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halbach_array. If you Reason guys can spin it into a full-fledged spoof, have at it, tho a "tip of the hat" in appropriate directions would always be appreciated.

  • Ragin Cajun||

    We need a unit of BS, called a "Friedman". All nonsense articles should be measured in Friedmans, which could be the number of excerpts incredulously quoted. As in, "That latest Gail Collins articles is at least 5 Friedmans."

  • ||

    They're all worse than each other.

    Sounds like an Escher print of suck.

  • ||

    +1 Got a laugh out of me.

  • ||

    Boot-licking, boot-strapping, what's the difference?

  • ||

    I always pictured Friedman as more of a strap-on guy.

  • alan||

    [T]eachers — good citizens who are always worried about what the government will do to them next — win the political participation prize.

    She nuked the fridge of full retard on that one.

    * Nearly $100 billion in new school construction bonds.

    I'll add to that, in our state we have a lottery supposedly funding our system of public instruction that is reported to be a great success according to the tax paid agitprop that is nearly indistinguishable from other frothy and fun product commercials, and, yet, we still had a school funding bond on the ballot for my county in last Fall's elections. WTF is up with that!

  • ||

    There are a lot of retarded things that pass for thoughtful everyone knows that commentary among the circles Collins runs in. But I think "we don't pay our teachers enough" might be the worst.

  • SIV||

    Accountability requires that they be paid like hedge fund traders.

  • cynical||

    Look, either you're unfirable or you're paid ungodly amounts of money. There is no middle ground. Unless you're a high-level public sector worker, in which case you get both.

  • Brett L||

    It occurs to me that if teaching wasn't a 90% state-paid profession, teachers wouldn't be constantly worried about what the government will do to them next.

  • ||

    OH wow, excellent question indeed. Well done.

    Lou
    www.anon-web-tools.es.tc

  • ||

    "It's a terrible time for American teachers — almost every school district is facing monster budget cuts, and a number of politicians have tried to make them the villain in the story."

    The fact is that nothing short of economic collapse would have forced concessions from this hated cartel.

    "The women and men who go into teaching tend, as a group, to be both extremely dedicated and extremely risk-averse. The stability of their profession is a very important part of its draw."

    Sometimes I read these pieces and I get the sense that these writers like Gail Collins have never gone in to talk to the boss and demanded a raise knowing damn well he or she was worth it.

    There's no job security like the job security that comes from knowing full well that your boss can't replace you for less money. I've experienced that kind of security myself when I used to work for other people--in fact, I learned to see it as a trap...

    Some really hard working, talented people get stuck in rotten jobs because of job security. I worked at an acute care hospital that closed down and reopened as something else--they laid off everybody but me and one other person when they closed down, and we had to work our asses off...

    I remember we had a party with all the people who used to work there about a year after we reopened, and I remember talking to all of them about their new jobs and realized they were so much better than the one I'd kept. I remember the moment I realized that maybe the people who were laid off--maybe they were the lucky ones!

    If I were still locked in that dead end job, I would be so damn depressed! Oh, but my job was always secure.

    "You do not want to make this an anything-can-happen occupation, unless you are prepared to compensate them like hedge fund traders."

    What a beautiful world that would be!

    What if the sky was the limit in terms of pay for teachers?

    I've seen would be investors get angry because they couldn't buy an equity position in an oversubscribed offering... Put together national chains of consumer friendly, profit producing, high performing schools, and those schools will compete on salary for dedicated teachers. ...and they won't have any problems finding the money to pay them.

    The money will chase them down and demand a piece of the action.

  • Joshua||

    A favorite quote of mine: "Don't be irreplaceable.. If you can't be replaced, you can't be promoted!"

    I can't source it though.

  • Abdul||

    Hey, if you can read that column and find the logical flaws, thank a teacher!

  • ||

    why would you intentionally subject yourself to the wince-icisms of an unfunny humorist?

    Oh, I dunno. I LOLed at this:

    [T]eachers — good citizens who are always worried about what the government will do to them next

    Maybe you meant "unintentionally funny", not "unfunny".

    I've always thought of teachers as being constantly worried with what they can get the government to do to us next.

  • ||

    [T]eachers — good citizens who are always worried about what the government will do to them next — win the political participation prize.

    Of course they do; that's why they instruct their young victims students to run home and tell Mommy and Daddy to vote *for* the budget increase.

    I'd re-post my Billings Gazette link from yesterday, but I'm too lazy.

  • ||

    Thanks for reminding me. There are coworkers I wanted to share it with.

  • Public School Teacher||

    Remember, kids, it is immoral not to want to give us more money. If you don't want to give us more money, you're ungood citizens, and if your parents don't want to give us money, then they're doubleplusungood citizens.

  • Colin||

    And the California Teacher's Retirement Fund is one of the largest institutional investors, if not the largest. Funny, how they never get blamed along with the rest of the Street.

    Also, Teacher's Insurance is one of largest in the industry.

  • Fluffy||

    You gotta keep an eye on Gail Collins.

    She has a meme she likes to repeat - she likes to try to find a way to worm into her articles the point that things would work better if people would stop trying to make sure things were fair.

    As in "we'll never fix health care if people worry about whether our solution is fair" or "we can't have effective public education if people demand taxation methods that are fair", etc.

    She does it a lot.

    Keep your eye out for it.

  • ||

    She also does something common for left/liberal writers: "Sure, we all want [teacher accountability], but [standardized tests] are the wrong way to do it!" Where the first option is a problem that has festered under left/liberal control for decades, and the second is some barely adequate attempt to solve it.

  • ||

    And of course no alternative to the problem is offered. Sure we want accountability. But I will never agree to any method you advocate to get it.

  • Lethal Injection||

    From a Reason piece entitled:

    Last Chance for School Reform

    In July 2008, Rhee revealed her opening gambit with the teachers union: She offered the teachers a whole lot of money. Under her proposal, educators would have two choices. With the first option, teachers would get a $10,000 bonus—a bribe, really—and a 20 percent raise. Nothing else would change. Benefits, rights, and privileges would remain as they were. Under the second option, teachers would receive a $10,000 bonus, a 45 percent increase in base salary, and the possibility of total earnings up to $131,000 a year through bonuses tied to student performance. In exchange, they would have to forfeit their tenure protections. To make good on her financial promises, Rhee lined up money from private donors; she has been close-mouthed about their identities, but The Washington Post has reported that likely contributors include Bill and Melinda Gates and Michael and Susan Dell.

    Says Rhee: “I thought, this is brilliant. Everybody talks about how teachers don’t get paid enough; I’m going to pay teachers six-figure salaries! I’m going to pay the best teachers twice as much as they are currently making. Who could not be in favor of that? But people went ballistic.” Getting incentive pay required giving up near-absolute job security. “That,” she says, “is when the crap hit the fan.”

    If I add the Reason linl, the squirrels think it's spam. Funny that.

  • ||

    Sure, we all want [teacher accountability], but [standardized tests] are the wrong way to do it

    My younger sister is a public school teacher of 19 years. The other day she said something about how standardized tests "cause teachers to teach to the test". After hanging up the phone I realized that we used to have another term for that, cheating.

    So, since "teachers" are going to cheat, you don't have tests anymore! Problem solved!

  • ||

    "The other day she said something about how standardized tests "cause teachers to teach to the test".

    Yeah, kinda like those medical schools teaching to the human body. Doctors need the arts! How do me know that flute playing won't cure cancer?

  • Zeb||

    I don't think cheating is the right word necessarily. You could make the same argument that studying for a test is cheating.

    The standardized tests do suck. But the problem is with the government school system. A single monolithic system for accountability will always have an easy way it can be gamed. What we need is schools with diverse approaches to student and teacher accountability and that can fire teachers who do badly and reward those who succeed.

  • In Time Of War||

    "Can I digress, people,..."
    There is a very special place in Hell for people who use the word "people" as a plural, second person pronoun.

    Until she outgrows the '70s, she has nothing of importance to say.

  • ||

    And yet, one of the reasons given for preferring government-oriented solutions to market-based ones is that the market is "inherently unfair." It's an interesting trick, getting people who flocked under your big tent in hopes of finding "fairness" to no longer worry about "fairness" because they need to actually get something, anything done. But many pols and spin-doctors give it a try.

  • ||

    Teachers are just good people worried about the government. That is when they are not stealing from their students.

    http://www.cfnews13.com/News/L.....ckers.html

  • Ragin Cajun||

    Or getting them to electrocute themselves for a Mountain Dew.

  • ||

    Similar thing happened at my high school.
    We had vending machines whose profits were to fund student activities. The teacher in charge of the money stole $50,000 over a multiple year period.

    The kicker though, was that the teachers dad just happened to be my probation officer. And, the shining example he always told me to aspire to was his white knight teacher son. After that incident, I saw my po only one more time,and that was to sign the papers at the end of my probation.

  • ||

    I hope you were on probation for something good.

  • ||

    Nope, like a majority of people who get arrested, it for misdemeanor possession. A weed pipe to be specific.

  • ||

    after it--> was

  • ||

    Don't feel bad. I almost went on probation for beating a kid who bullied me with a ball bat once in the 8th grade. My parents got me out of it. I was sorry at the time, but now I am less sorry. He needed a beating. And my life was so much more fun after that.

  • ||

    See, that seems worth it, a bully getting his comeuppance. I just had this little brass bowl and had to go to court ordered counseling, and deal with that po. Though, like I said, after his kid got busted I never saw him until my time was up.

    He actually made a point of telling me how his son was so great because he took the time to manage the activities fund without extra pay...little did he know.

  • Coeus||

    A school spokesman said it's possible the student who recorded the cell phone video could get in trouble as well because students are not supposed to use their phones during the day.

    Nice to see that the administration is appropriately contrite.

  • ||

    I have years of education in decode texts for meaning

    *snickers*

  • Lethal Injection||

    "The women and men who go into teaching tend, as a group, to be both extremely dedicated and extremely risk-averse. The stability of their profession is a very important part of its draw."

    Don't expect triple-digit gains on a 5-year CD.

  • ||

    What is so disappointing is the lack of reality in the reality based media. years of increasing teacher pay, lower class sizes, and outputs continaully going lower and lower.
    more pay
    smaller classes
    lower test scores
    rinse and repeat

    Reminds me of medicine 200 years ago:
    'he looks anemic!'
    'more leaches!!!'

  • ||

    If the teachers are so friggin' dedicated, they can make do with the pay they've got. A lot of us are having to suck it up these days; why should they be exempt?

  • ||

    There's something else that's been bothering me: okay, so they hate standardized tests. Fair enough; but when they claim that they need more money because "our children are falling behind" what data are they using to support that claim?

  • BeesInTheBrain||

    The elephant in the room is, if teachers pay was based on performance, the schools that have students who perform better would attract the good teachers the schools that didn't would have what is left over. Then it would be difficult to sell the image of "beatific saints".

    On a related note, you do realize that according to the California Federation of Treachers, California receives an "F" for school spending.

  • ||

    That already happens. The only teachers who teach in the ghetto are the young ones and the incompetent ones who can't get a job elsewhere. Any good teacher in the inner city leaves for the burbs at the first opportunity.

  • Kool||

    The other issue is that a given school could and would give the "bad" students to the "good" teachers. I see that already. My mother-in-law (seriously awesome teacher, the kind I wish I had back in the day... she's currently teaching me Spanish) has been treated horribly. Every year her students have done extremely well (on however you want to measure that), no matter with whom she begins the year. So, they started giving her the bad and troubled students. She still manages to get them caught up to where they were suppossed to be from the previous year and teaches them what she is supposed to as well. Now she wants to leave that school because of that. And, we, her family, tell her to do so!

    But that practice will become even more rampant, just watch.

  • ||

    This is pretty standard in any work environment: the most competent get known for results, and end up getting assigned the most work. The only difference may be that as a public employee, she's paid by tenure and not by competence.

  • MIke Laursen||

    "During the presidential race, the line in Barack Obama's speech about how standardized tests should not "come at the expense of music or art or physical education or science" often got more applause than getting out of Iraq. [...]"

    You know, I was brought up to respect teachers and despite everything I've learned about teachers' unions, it's still ingrained deeply in my head to respect teachers. But...

    Is she defending P.E. teachers here? Because I've only met maybe like two P.E. teachers who weren't worthless, space-wasting pieces of shit.

  • Pee-Wee Herman||

    "Can I digress, people"

    I don't know. Can you?

  • ||

    What the hell does the chart in the article show? "Benefit costs" I'm assuming means the cost to districts for health benefits for employees? But what good does calculating that on a per pupil basis do? What does this reveal? Im not sure how student enrollment would effect the cost of a benefits package which in fact rises because of increased health insurance costs. Did I miss something?

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