By Paolo von Schirach
July 9, 2012
WASHINGTON – One of the key components of Obama’s jobs program proposal was to provide funding that could be used by states and local governments to hire more teachers. The president stated that this was a good way to fill major shortages that hurt the quality of education, while at the same time creating new employment for needed teachers.
Many more teachers, no test scores gains
Well, he got the employment part right. But, as for teachers shortages, it is not so. Andrew Coulson who directs the Cato Institute (a Washington think tank) Center for Educational Freedom has a very interesting op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal, (America Has Too Many Teachers, July 9, 2012). The basic truth, he writes, is that America has in fact too many teachers. Since 1970 public education employees have doubled, (and most of them are teachers), while the student population has grown my a mere 8.5%. And so, as he put it: ”Employment has grown 11 times faster than enrollment”.
In the meantime, overall test scoreshave stayed the same or improved fractionally here and there. Which is to say that many more teachers serving just a few more students have not helped. Tax payers pay more salaries; but American public education stagnates.
Charter schools are an answer to the failures of public education
And we have plenty of evidence that it is so. As public schools fail to provide a good education, charter schools proliferate, and usually they perform much better than public schools. Some charter schools are so popular that admission is only by lottery, because it would be impossible to enroll all the children who would otherwise apply there.
Sadly, we must agree with Coulson. Hiring more teachers has little to do with policies aimed at improving the quality of education. Hiring more teachers is a “jobs program” and a way to assuage a powerful constituency: the teachers unions, always happy to see their ranks and thus their clout grow.
Public schools are mostly about employing teachers
Most unfortunately, in America today the main institutional purpose of public schools is to provide employment for mediocre staff who do a poor job at educating children. Public schools systems somehow forgot that their “clients” are the children, not the teachers.
Charter schools seem to get this basic principle: education is about kids, and teachers are there only to provide quality services to the students. And the market place –parents and families– now can tell the difference between the public and private sector approach. Parents understand that quality education for their kids is in the private sector.
More charter schools
And this is why charter schools need lotteries to allocate whatever places they have. Hopefully their success will inspire others. At some point all American children will have a chance to migrate to a better system. This one failed. Adding more teachers to dysfunctional public schools may help president Obama get more votes, but it would do little to help kids.