Saturday, May 26, 2012

"Improving Education for the 21st Century" defined


On the surface, Merit Based Pay , new Teacher Evaluation schemes, and relaxing teaching licensing appear bizarre, ineffective, and mean. Look a little deeper.

Oh, they're certainly mean, that's indisputable, but they're only bizarre when their purpose is misunderstood, and they're likely to be *highly* effective in their real aim.

America wants to "improve" education in much the same way it wants to make American workers more "competitive." Chinese workers do not out-compete Americans because they're smarter or more skilled; they out-compete Americans because their labor can be had for a small fraction of the cost of that of an American counterpart. Furthermore, Chinese laborers will work six days a week all year long, live in on-site dormitories and get up en-masse in the middle of the night to modify a production process. From the perspective of capital, Chinese workers are highly valuable and American workers must increase their value to compete for capital's wages.

Clearly, the lowering of input costs has been the only way that global capital has been able to continue to grow both production and profit. Hiking prices on the output end would never work, especially as increased demand for consumption in America is inextricably bound up in China's desire to grow economically. And to be clear, China isn't magic; as soon as the cost of Chinese labor can be undercut by somebody else, production will move. It's a race to the bottom. That's the competition.

“Improving” education is also all about lowering input costs. Something over 60% of that cost is tied up in teacher salaries and benefits. The actual number is really hard to get at, given that the Federal DOE doesn't track the statistic, but 60% nationally is probably low when you look at disaggregated state data in a variety of different ways. All other costs, administration, facilities, transportation, etc., each make up a very small percentage of the total. In the simplest terms, effectively lowering the input costs of public education means lowering the cost of teachers.

What stands in the way? Well, several things, but they all go back to the notion that teachers are professionals. Professionals lead “middle class” lives, they require significant post-secondary education, they expect professional autonomy, etc. All of this makes them expensive. The De-professionalization of teachers would make them much cheaper. Again, that's the competition – lowering the input costs and increasing the value of the labor.

In order to do this, there must be justification. This justification has been carefully constructed since at least the “Nation at Risk” report from the 1980s, and it is coming to fruition through new teacher evaluation schemes. Let's just say it: capital has done a great job of putting the framework in place to make this all happen. Unions have been made captive. National standards create a framework for cheap mass-market curriculum. The public believes that competition will provide them with the sort of schools enjoyed by the wealthy. Now all that needs to be done is to identify the bad teachers and get rid of them. It's hardly surprising that the “bad” teachers are those who have seniority, realize higher wages, and view themselves as the best people to make educational decisions for their students.

Let's say we can get rid of 20% of our existing teachers and replace them with classroom “assistants” who'll work for half the wage. We can use the billions in savings to pay for standardized hardware and software to teach children in large classes, overseen by compliant and strict adults who understand that their real purpose is to keep the kids in line. Maybe this could even help to eventually change the uncompetitive nature of American workers and prepare them to be as valuable as their peers from China.

Mean? Yes, but that's the role of the state: to make the tough decisions that create value for capital. Just wait and see how effective these evaluation schemes will truly be. What's good for Apple, is good for America.


R. Gary Valiant is a former public school teacher, administrator, college instructor, and education bureaucrat. He currently lives in Kennewick, WA and both his children attend public school. To register your disapproval of education reform, go to

Indiana teachers, REPA II, the proposal to deskill teacher licensing, will be voted on this summer. To voice your opinion on deskilling teachers, you have until June 21st to comment on the IDOE website.  Find out how and more information HERE.

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