Arnold Kling  

Read What Arnold Says

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On C-span last night, I happened to hear part of the State of California Speech. In addition to a recognizable name, the Governor of California has interesting ideas.

We must financially reward good teachers and expel those who are not. The more we reward excellent teachers, the more our teachers will be excellent. The more we tolerate ineffective teachers, the more our teachers will be ineffective.

...I can also announce that we intend to wipe out nearly 100 unnecessary boards and commissions, abolishing over 1000 political appointments in the process.

No one paid by the state should make $100,000 a year for only meeting twice a month.

In my view, government's biggest weakness relative to the private sector is its inability to reward success more than failure. The biggest reason that I believe private-sector education would prove superior in the long run is that I think it would tend to weed out failing teachers and failing processes in general.

Governer Schwarzenneger also proposes putting a judicial commission in charge of redistricting, in an attempt to take political gerrymandering out of the electoral process. I recommend reading the entire speech.

For Discussion. What are the arguments against the idea of merit pay for good teachers and firing bad teachers?

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The author at Catallaxy in a related article titled Arnold on Arnold writes:
    Arnold Kling captured some dank nugs from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's State of the State Address. My fave line:No one paid by the state should make $100,000 a year for only meeting twice a month.Gov. Schwarzenegger also introduced the i... [Tracked on January 6, 2005 7:49 AM]
The author at Hispanic Pundit in a related article titled The Governator Is Impressing Me writes:
    The Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his State of California Speech, states: Now, the third item relates to the education of our children. California will spend $50 billion on K through 14 education this year; that's $2.9 billio... [Tracked on January 7, 2005 3:20 AM]
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    If one of the ways to develop brain activity in unborn children is to read aloud to them, I wonder to myself whether it's the actual reading, or just the voices speaking words. I can't imagine that fetuses are really... [Tracked on January 13, 2005 6:17 PM]
COMMENTS (12 to date)
Eli writes:

The only argument I can think of against merit pay for good teachers and firing bad teachers is that it may provide a pretense for administrators to give raises to cronies or to fire teachers with whom they disagree politically or otherwise dislike.

That said, I think a healthy, competitive market in education would reduce the survival rate of such corrupt school administrators. Charter schools and voucher programs provide some inoculation against these ill effects. And of course, it may be true that even without a competitive market in education, the benefits of merit pay may exceed the costs of cronyism.

Oystein Sjolie writes:

Measurement problems. What is a good teacher? A teacher whose students perform well on exams, (results which can be partly manipulated by the teacher)? A teacher whose students will become responsible citizens, which only will be known in decades. The same measurement problem occurs of course in the private sector, but the boss in the private sector is always much closer to the ones picking up the bill than the head or master at the school will be. The school often being a monopsonist in the teacher labor market, exagerates the problem. All in all, however, I am in favor of rewarding good teachers and especially fire bad ones, but there are major difficulties around. Including parents (taxpayers) at school boards to control the master seems important.

Steve writes:

I make no apologies for this comment, however, Gov. Schwarzenneger presents himself as a gleeming puppet that is responding to the whims of the most financial active members of California society.

Deb Frisch writes:

"In my view, government's biggest weakness relative to the private sector is its inability to reward success more than failure."

Interesting hypothesis. I'd say the biggest weakness is allocating pork, bailing out uncompetitive industries (steel), spending billions on public bads (Bush War II) instead of producing useful goods and services.

But you're the expert on economics, here. What do I know?

Bob writes:

Deb, your list consists of additional examples of the exact problem - government neither rewarding success nor penalizing failure - that Arnold has raised. The steel industry is the most obvious but they all fit. Feel free to argue that your examples are more important than improving the teacher population or the quality of U.S. education, but that will be an uphill climb IMHO.

Deb Frisch writes:

I don't think the distinction between "doling out pork/producing public bads" and "doling out public goods and services" is quite the same as the one AK started with. It seems much more basic.

Lawrance George Lux writes:

Rewards and Punishment will not alter structural failures in the system. That said, at least Teachers can become better Consumers. lgl

back40 writes:

"...merit pay for good teachers and firing bad teachers" may well result in pay increases for many but very little turnover. We'll end up with more costs but no immediate benefits. Over decades this will attract a better sort of person into teaching, a good thing, but it won't improve education for a long time.

another bob writes:

I can't wait for the CA state commission that draws up the rules and regulations for doling out the merit increases to teachers. I guess we know where those 1,000 state bureaucrats will showup next. More of the same.

Govt can do a reasonable job of providing funds for a good or service (e.g. food stamps, school vouchers) but usually does an abominable job of producing the good or service (e.g. Collective farms, public schools).

Private schools paid for by public and private funds changes a bunch of things for the

Boonton writes:

What evidence is there that bad teachers are the cause of educational problems? This may offend some but I think for the most part teaching is a job that is hard to really mess up. Given students who have parents who expect them to learn even a below average teacher will do an accepatable job.

What objective evidence is that there bad teachers are the problem? If bad teachers are the problem & they are caused by gov't's inability to properly reward/punish teachers then why didn't this problem exist 30 years ago? 50 years ago?

Mr. Econotarian writes:

I believe the major problem with the modern US public school system is child motivation.

Children are not motivated enough to learn. They also behave in ways that are highly distracting in class. Government employees have few means to control distracting students due to the Bill of Rights. The few who can practice a rare art form, which often is not correlated with their subject knowledge.

I also blame parents. But why do parents allow their children to be unmotivated and badly behaved? For one, children are basically herded through the education process regardless of learning or behavior, so there isn't much motivations for parents to step in and fix those issues. Almost everyone graduates.

Secondly, parents do not see schools as an investment, since they don't pay for them (directly).

If schools cost everyone money, I believe that parents would "encourage" their children not to waste their money, and children would become more motivated and better behaved.

Moreover, I also believe that ending monopoly rents (like those due to the war on some drugs) in economically depressed areas would make the return to schooling greater due to enhanced economies, again enhancing learning motivation.

There is also a peer issue. Kids who learn encourage their peers to learn. Kids who don't want to lean do the opposite. The geographic predestination of students to their public schools causes a discrimination based on property values. Rich people move to rich areas with good schools. Poor people have no such choice. Even free market schools would not eradicate this issue (as good schools would cost more), but I have a feeling that it would reduce it, as poor people with good students may wish to pay more to have their children in better schools.

dsquared writes:

The "problem" with education in Anglo-Saxon countries is that too much is dependent on the individual teacher; the system is set up in order to be dependent on having a gifted rather than an ungifted teacher.

The really successful education systems of the world, like the French, German or Japanese, recognise that K-12 education is essentially a Taylorised process. What is needed is a strictly defined curriculum, prescribed methods and lots of rote-learning. When this is in place, you don't need to play around with compensation schemes because a) the difference in performance between a good and a bad teacher is much smaller and b) the process is more efficient, because it is designed according to its aim; the handing over to children of a lot of factual knowledge.

Contra the saccharine proverbs beloeved of the teaching profession, children are not "candles to be lit"; they are buckets to be filled. Some children have a natural interest in learning and an endearing curiosity about the world. However, some don't and they need to know their times tables too. The little scientists can do their thing outside school.

There are actually quite a surprising number of stupid social policies which exist in the English-speaking world because various people didn't want to look like one of the nasty characters in Dickens, but the prejudice against Gradgrinds is probably one of the most destructive.

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