Local Government

"Unanswered" Questions That Answer Themselves in the Very Next Line


"Failure" is too nice a word

These three sentences appeared consecutively in today's New York Times:

But the real question, still unanswered, is whether you can cut school taxes without damaging schools. The average teacher salary in Hastings is $96,597. The superintendent makes $228,000.

Let's see, is this mic on? Can I get a little more reverb? Good. WE ARE OUT OF MONEY, ASSHOLES.

Not only that, but we are out of money because YOU STOLE IT, FROM THE CHILDREN. And the rest of us.

According to the linked story, activists are claiming that the local school district spends $27,500 per student. While we don't know whether that's precisely true (shoot, why would you print the real per-student cost, in the newspaper article about controversies over school spending?), even if that number is half the size it's a big blinking neon WTF.

Here is how the system works, ladies and germs: First, during the good times, when people are (rightly) paying attention to concerns outside the dreary slog of politics and public policy, go ahead and double the cost of state government, in like five years, without a shred of detectable increase in the quality of services. Next, when times get bad, complain bitterly about "savage" and "annihilating" budget cuts, threaten to eliminate the very favoritest of all public services (say, access to the gorgeous state parks in California), and then cut your payroll by all of … a quarter of one percent. After all, why fire a single teacher when the stimulus package will pay for all of them? Finally, when all else fails, raise taxes, to "close the budget deficit" and "restore our education budget to current levels."

These people, all of them who contribute to this scam, should be ashamed of themselves. And they should be bounced far away from the levers of public policymaking.

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  1. Matthew! The language…to the principal’s office.

  2. Mmm. That is a tasty rant.

  3. You just don’t care about teachers, Matt.

    1. You jus’ don’t care about the children, Matt.

      1. teh childrenz

    2. “I’ll vote it down like a raise for schoolteachers!”

    3. And you are a racist because there have to be minority kids and teachers in there somewhere.

      1. Also a mysogninist because most teachers are women.

  4. Ladies and germs?

  5. Good, even the liberals are beginning to understand that the good time gravy train is approaching the final stop.

    1. I suppose. Just barely understanding.

    2. I was pretty damned shocked to see Newsweek advocate firing the shit out of bad teachers.

  6. And they should be bounced far away from the levers of public policymaking


    1. I’m starting to think that nothing short of summary and gruesome public executions will clear out the dead-wood. And we can reduce the deficit by selling tickets – it’s a win all the way around.

    2. guillotines are expensive and require maintenance when they get sticky from all of the various bodily fluids. Rope is cheap, and not as quick.

    3. guillotines are expensive and require maintenance when they get sticky from all of the various bodily fluids. Rope is cheap, and not as quick.

    4. Drawn and quartered. If you really want cheering crowds this is definitly the way to go.

      1. Nah. Crowds are craven at best. The guillotine is clean and the head falls into a basket so the squeamish continue to enjoy the fun.

  7. What do we want?
    Smaller classrooms!
    When do we want them?

  8. The problem is that when education began to decline in the 70’s, people were told, “The problem is that we don’t value teachers highly enough! We need to raise teacher salaries to bring them more in line with what professionals make!” And they believed it.

    And so now teachers make the salaries doctors and lawyers make.

    But there has been no discernible improvement in education, despite the vast increases in teacher salaries, for pretty simple reasons:

    1. The public school model makes the salaries of individual teachers irrelevant. There is no direct connection between achieving outcomes and maintaining your customer base. If we socialized the manufacturing of cars, tinkering with the salaries of auto workers wouldn’t protect us from the resulting shitty cars.

    2. The deterioration in student performance is linked to demographic changes in the student population that aren’t easily addressed by educational changes.

    3. The same dingbat girls from your high school who enrolled in schools of education kept enrolling. The increase in salaries did not improve the human capital going into the system, because people choose or reject education as a career based in large part on their attitude towards caring for other peoples’ children, and only partially based on the salary. So we didn’t professionalize teaching, we just gave a huge pay increase to dingbat girls. We could cut their pay 30% and the same people would still enroll in schools of education.

    1. And teachers still manage to perpetuate the lie that they are grossly underpaid. It’s amazing how often people will tell you with a straight face that teachers are underpaid and overworked. NO! Not only are they paid well over market value to work the same nine or ten hour days as the rest of us (albeit with an hour or two of mandated breaks thrown in), but on top of getting every government holiday off and two weeks of break at Christmas, they get the entire summer off as well. It’s a racket.

      1. Teacher’s salaries vary greatly from one part of the country to another. My sister has been a primary school teacher for some 30 years and currently makes under 50 grand – not exactly a killing after 30 years. Of course, this is a small school district with shallow pockets.

        1. Not to mention, her benefits and pension are way unimpressive.

          1. I’d be really mad if the pension I could start collecting at age 42 wasn’t enough to buy a big house on the beach.

    2. I’ve read that a lot of it is a retention problem on the student’s part. If we did away with summer vacations, scores would be much higher. Or so I’ve read anyway.

      1. I know other nations do it that way. When I was in Switzerland in the early 90s, they had a 4 week summer break. But, over the course of the year, they went to school about the same amount as kids in the US. They just had lots of breaks.

        1. I was reading Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers and made the claim with data to suggest that class size and money thrown at schools was worthless. However, extending the school year would improve things immeasurably as you wouldn’t have a three month gap of knowledge every year. Plus the first month wouldn’t be lost trying to review everything to get back anything that was lost and needed. I thought it was a good idea.

          1. Man, school sucked enough without that idea. Glad I got out of high school before that gained any momentum.

      2. Our kids’ school district uses a modified traditional schedule, which gives the students two months off during summer instead of three, the whole T-giving week off, and longer Winter and Spring breaks. I’m not sure how much better two months off is as compared with three–that’s still a long time to be away from the classroom–but there seems to be less need to do the spend-the-first-month-reviewing-last-year’s-stuff routine.

        1. Gee, summers off has been pretty standard since after WW II. Maybe the problem is how much learning actually occurs during the school day/year.

          What I see today are lots of “projects” and field trips and other “activities” in an attempt to make learning relevant and fun–rather than expecting the application of effort.

    3. What Fluffy said.

    4. The problem is that when education began to decline in the 70’s, people were told, “The problem is that we don’t value teachers highly enough! We need to raise teacher salaries to bring them more in line with what professionals make!” And they believed it.

      The new mantra is that too much emphasis is placed on testing and results-driven outcomes.

      1. well, when the tests used to measure the outcome are hunks of crap, then I have quite a bit of sympathy for the new mantra. Under the “No Child…” regime (and, to a certain degree, since the era of standardized multiple-guess testing) it has become more important to teach kids the skill of passing the test than to teach them skills for succeeding in life.

    5. “And so now teachers make the salaries doctors and lawyers make”

      uh, with gold-plated, defined-benefit lifetime pensions, they make more, plus 100% job security, cushy hours, and massive amounts of vacation time

  9. My prediction:

    There will be a massive tax increase, which will ultimately fail to solve the fiscal problem unless there is a miraculous and real recovery.

    Then, when the next tax increase is being put together, there will be massive revolt, and death struggle between the taxpayers and the Master Class of rent-seekers and state employees.

    If the taxpayers win, the current political class will be more or less annihilated. If the Master Class wins, then the next stop will be some sort of fiscal collapse and bankruptcy, and nobody really knows how that will play out.

    1. Roadwarrior scenario?

      1. Give up the dream, Feral Kid. It ain’t gonna happen that way.

    2. ‘…and nobody really knows how that will play out.’

      I think it’s interesting to approach the question from a bit further back.

      From a distance it’s not difficult to see: the desire for a priesthood (e.g. the current education establishment, etc.), on the part of society in general, has never had anything to do with religion. The root issue has always been a certain tendency toward escapism on the part of the populace; the vehicle changes, but there are only so many manifestations available; these are necessarily parasitic in nature and as such, are by definition, unsustainable and inherently utopian.

      As secularism displaced religion, it was always possible that worship of government would fill the vacuum, and indeed, this is what happened. That is to say, the fledgling Enlightenment became an aborted one; though the players would now wear different labels, modern society, being not theocentric but mystical nonetheless (as Rand correctly articulated), is functionally indifferentiable from that which preceded it.

      The question then: what comes next, and when? As the current outward form of the fallacy unravels, as it must, what new form will it take, if any?

  10. How do you really feel?

    Now I really want a blinking neon WTF sign. Color suggestions?

    1. Classic red would bring a nice retro touch to the modern acronym, but the light blue is certainly higher-energy and more eye-catching…

  11. Next, when times get bad, complain bitterly about “savage” and “annihilating” budget cuts,…

    And get every liberal on facebook to post a status on the same day saying something like, “I love teachers, children, and puppies. And I don’t understand how anybody could be so heartless and evil as to support cutting our school budgets. If you agree, post this, too.”

  12. Education has been immensely successful in educating the public on the fact that the more money you put into government the better it gets.

    The budget deficits attest to this. If this weren’t true the less-educated public surely would have voted budget-busting politicians out of office and we would show surpluses.

    Our investment in education has worked. A better-educated America is demanding more investment in the public sector.

    (Damn! I should be an Obama speech writer.)

  13. I have a much higher regard for public school techers than most people here seem to, but $96k? What the fuck?

    I think that paying teachers more was a good idea, but not by itself. To go along with that, you also need to make it very easy to fire them if they are not good at it.

    Also, many teachers are still underpaid. Teacher compensation varies extremely widely and $96k is not typical by a long shot.

  14. I was reading Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers

    My condolences; I thought that book pretty much sucked.

    1. P Brooks you clown. I thought it was damn good reading. But then I’m a man with taste and class. 😉

  15. Why do you hate the children, Matt?

  16. activists are claiming that the local school district spends $27,500 per student

    WTF indeed. Last I checked, that’s substantially more than tuition for the best private schools in Chicago.

  17. Also, many teachers are still underpaid.

    Name two.

    1. Meredith Wright and John Allen. Happy now?

  18. I’m a 23 year teacher in Texas, a no state income tax state. I make just over $50,000. I get a lot of time off, but not every day away from students or out of the class room is a day off, but I like the job and it has many perks.

    1. And as an added bonus, you don’t have to contribute to Social Security, because you have your own retirement system!

    2. “not every day away from students or out of the class room is a day off”

      you mean like pretty much every single other white collar private sector worker?

    3. Let’s see,just out of college with $50,000 for a job that is 10 months out of 12, even allowing for extra days. If that were a 12-month-a-year job, that would be around $60,000 just out of college. That’s awfully danged sweet.

      1. Retiring after 20 years isn’t too shabby either.

  19. I think all the problems in public schools could be solved quite cheaply and painlessly if the damn kids would stop being little dumbasses all the time.

    1. This should learn the little bastards.

  20. Lorenzo (just using you as an example; no animosity here) is a good example. Where else in the entire job market can you, as a recent college-grad with nothing more than a bachelor’s, start of at 50K?

    1. I think Lorenzo has been teaching for 23 years. At least that is how I read it. According to the data I can easily find, a typical starting salary for a teacher in Texas is around $33k.

      1. Right. I started at $17,900 in the late eighties. I have a masters degree also, but the district in which I teach pays only $400 or so a year extra for that.

      2. Which, while not fantastic, is pretty decent money for Texas (and most of that area of the country, for that matter). Definitely enough to live comfortably on if you’re not trying to support a family.

    2. Computer Science

      1. Engineering.

        1. Yeah, I make 50k as an engineer after getting my BS in December, but now I’m quitting to get my PhD.

    3. As a fresh out of school college grad, I started at $45k and within 6 months was making $70k. I’m a software engineer. Of course, I pay almost exactly 1/3 of that in taxes… (overall rate, not my top tax bracket). And I have over $65k in college loans to pay off.

  21. No coffee this morning Matt?

    Excellent rant by the way!! And comparing a cost of $27k/annually per kid, that could pay for two childrens tuitions at the school (a little over $13k annually) where I send my son… which happens to be considered one of – if not – the very best in in our area. Why the average person on the left don’t want a system that offers more choice to parents, particularily poor parents, baffels me.

  22. I’m an ESL teacher in Korea at the moment. I’m 22, apparently unemployable in Stateside, and this is my first real job. If you factor in “paid for” flights to-and-back, rent and other shit (I realize that it comes out of my check regardless, but not having to haggle for rent in a different language is a perk) I make roughly 45k a year.

    I can attest to the advantages of smaller class sizes. I do teach at a private school where kids have a huge incentive to behave; apparently, it’s not uncommon for kids to get beaten for poor grades. I’ve heard that teachers in public schools still use corporal punishment. Still, the difference in teaching a class of 7-10 kids and 20 is FUCKING HUGE. And having an amazing academic, if not social, education in a high school with small class sizes, I agree with that concept on both ends of the aisle.

    My mother is a middle school teacher in Indiana. My mom has been teaching for 20+ years, is extremely dedicated and even has a masters in education. She gets a raise every year but still only gets paid about 50-55k.

    It is true that her job has a lot of perks. She gets three months off, every year she has personal days that roll-over (she has accumulated almost 200 that she can cash in when she retires) and a lot of autonomy. But she also works 7-5 on most days and very often much more than that.

    I think teachers should be paid a comfortable salary, perhaps 60k or so. The problem to me is that the bad ones cannot be culled. Teaching is an important position and should be rewarded as such. Higher salary=better applicants. But this mindless growth in expenses is sheer lunacy.

    1. “but still only gets paid about 50-55k”

      uh, no, she is paid far more than that when you take into account the value of her guaranteed, lifetime, inflation adjusted pension she will receive, the kind that no private sector white collar worker could ever have

    2. She works 7-5 most days? That’s horrible. And weekends, does she ever spend some time working on the weekend too? I am not trying to mock you or your mom here, but 10 hour+ days are more common than not for most professions outside of low-skilled basic hourly labor.

      The issue I have with teachers complaining about making $50k annually after many years of service is, well, what did you expect? You chose a very stable field, knowing there would always be a demand for your skills, additionaly a field the that generally does not reward/punish performance. It also generally has tremendous other benefits including an excellent healthcare plan beyond what most private industries offer and a pension in addition to other retirement plans that can contribute to over and above.

      So, $50k per year for the risk/reward/demand/skill level needed seems about right to me. For truly outstanding teachers, I wish there was a way to pay them more to remain teachers, but thank the unions for that one.

      On the other hand, if she was an ambitious, entrepreneurial teacher who willing to take risk and work longer hours with fewer breaks, fewer holidays and more time away from her family, she could have opened her own school and paid herself whatever she felt she was worth.

      1. I addressed the issue about perks in my post so I will ignore that.

        I will go on record saying that anyone who teaches Special Ed for more than 20 years with a Masters is worth more than 50K a year.

        My brother is a computer programmer, and a damn good one apparently. He got out of school making about 60 a year. He works his ass off and he has earned every penny (shit he probably deserves more.) His worth is driven by market forces and private interests. My point is that teachers’ pay should also be driven by the same actors. All else being equal, higher pay draws better qualified applicants. The public school system is fucked. I’m in favor of vouchers and school choice. My point is that as a consumer, I’m willing to pay my share of 60k or so for a highly qualified educator to teach my children. Although I have no children, that seems to this naive pawn a fair salary.

    3. Considering that the median household income in Indiana in 2007 was about 47,500, I think your Mom is doing quite well.

  23. A newer, angrier Matt Welch. I can’t say I disapprove.

  24. Slightly O/T:


    “You kept making all the stops?”

    “Well people kept ringing the bell!”

  25. The median income for California in 2008 was $61,017. Are the teachers really worth $35,000 more per year?

    That’s just crazy. Almost six figures to teach middle school? I give all the respect in the world to those who do it, but this is ridiculous.

    The citizens of California could not possibly be more deeply in denial of their current situation if they believe $96K for a SCHOOL TEACHER is reasonable.

    1. I very much doubt that $96k is typical, even in CA. This is one extreme example. The average teacher salary in CA is actually $60k, slightly less than the median income for the state. I would say that that is probably too much for most teachers, but let’s keep some perspective.

      1. Isn’t that the median FAMILY income for the state?

        That means two average teachers in the same household would have a family income TWICE the state average.

  26. By the way… they don’t “make $50K per year”. They “make $50K per 9 months”, which, if normalized to the average worker’s “year” is the equivalent of “making $66K per year”.

    I’m just sayin’…


  27. Here in Los Angeles, student enrollment is down and families are leaving in droves yet the Los Angeles Unified School District is still building new schools. Obviously they are trying to keep the union workers busy.

  28. Hey Matt, do you think the NYT heard you, or do you think they put on their ear plugs when they saw you walk up to the mike?

  29. I would like to see 3 things happen for better education:
    #1 Give parents the vouchers to spend on childrens education.
    #2 Only teachers get the vouchers, they outsource all building costs, and administration.
    #3 All students do take before and after tests each year and teachers use this to promote their services and there record is public knowledge.

    1. Clearly you hate the children.



  31. I think we could solve more problems by eliminating bad students than by eliminating bad teachers.

    I probably would have been eliminated, but I have no problem advocating for this now that it does not affect me. It’s not hypocrisy if you admit to it, right?

    1. Slay the bad teachers and bad administrators first and see if the problem stops.

    2. My ex was a teacher, so I understand what you’re saying, but one of the problems with bad students is that they aren’t being held accountable. One of the reasons that they aren’t being held accountable is that teachers don’t want to upset parents & ruin their meal ticket. Another problem is bad parents.

      One benefit of vouchers is that it would allow the parents who give a shit could segregate their kids from the kids with parents who don’t.

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