Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The "Accountability of Education" Anti-Pattern

Monday evening Ashford held a town hall meeting to discuss whether or not the Ashford school budget should be a separate voting line item or be incorporated into the overall town budget. Eventually, the budgets were merged.

Something that has become increasingly clear to me as we discuss educational funding (and lord knows this is an endlessly painful topic) is that the public has so bought into the idea that voting on school budgets somehow sends messages to the educational establishment that they are blind to the plain reality that it does no such thing.

In fact it is an anti-pattern of accountability. By the time budgets are presented to the public there is very little in the budget that has not already been set in stone. The effect of binding arbitration and contractual commitment leave little to negotiate and what little there is to bicker about is the chickenfeed that most nourishes kids.

The effect on local politics is animus between taxpayers and children's advocates. The true beneficiaries of this process are never disturbed. Comforted by never having to defend their cups running over, they can sit on the sidelines offering platitudes about "do it for the children" and lament that society doesn't care.

In fact, I rarely meet someone who doesn't care. Everyone wants better education but most are delude into thinking testing is a panacea.

If we truly want to affect better education more cost-effectively we need to begin to pass legislation that disallows teacher contract negotiations to exist in a closed and self-serving system. Educators granting educators special interest favors to one another is unfair to taxpayers. And collective bargaining that allows teachers to exclusively point to fun house mirror contracts of other school districts while ignoring the economic pains of the citizens bearing the burden of their windfall raises and benefits will eventually destroy the profession.

Connecticut teachers can no longer claim to be underpaid. The incomes of working families not in government or teaching has dropped well below the -4.2% reported. Teachers and school personnel are out-earning these people by upwards of a whopping 10% a year in Connecticut. This is likely true of most government employees.

These are unsustainable trajectories. Teachers need to begin deflating their expectations for more money, benefits, and perks. The piggy bank wallets of parents are empty and filled with credit debt. The current system of contract negotiations is bankrupt.

Teachers need to stop resisting technology, innovation, and the social responsibility to look beyond the paycheck in their union activities. It is time to stop pan-handling for yet another perk and start creating better curriculums, classroom processes, and civic investment. And it is time for teachers to invest in their own self-education just like everybody else not on a government dole does.

A resource toward managing teacher expectations and reforms is available here. Smart taxpayers and teachers will spend the time to read it.

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