They don’t have to care

By Larry Sand
August 8, 2017

Despite what union leaders say, competition makes everything better.

A 1995 interview with the late Apple founder Steve Jobs has just resurfaced and is available on YouTube. While the interview, conducted by Computerworld’s Daniel Morrow, went on for 75 minutes, the 3:42 Jobs spent talking about education is memorable. The Silicon Valley visionary knew as much about how to run an education system as he did about operating a wildly successful tech company.

The problem there, of course, is the unions. The unions are the worst thing that ever happened to education because it’s not a meritocracy. It turns into a bureaucracy, which is exactly what has happened. The teachers can’t teach and administrators run the place and nobody can be fired. It’s terrible….

Twenty-two years later, not much has changed – least in strong union states – where there is little choice for parents, massive school districts are entangled in bureaucracy, and meritocracy is just an eleven-letter word.

Jobs went on to explain the effect that a monopoly has on a customer.

What happens when a customer goes away and a monopoly gets control, which is what happened in our country, is that the service level almost always goes down. I remember seeing a bumper sticker when the telephone company was all one. I remember seeing a bumper sticker with the Bell Logo on it and it said “We don’t care. We don’t have to.” And that’s what a monopoly is. That’s what IBM was in their day. And that’s certainly what the public school system is. They don’t have to care.

“They don’t have to care.” And that is at the heart of the matter.

Competition for the education monopolists is like daylight was for Dracula. Los Angeles teacher union President Alex Caputo-Pearl claims that charter schools “create inappropriate competition.” The National Education Association claims that, “Voucher programs siphon scarce resources from already underfunded public schools.” And most recently American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten went over the edge, desperately trying to equate parental choice to pre-1960s southern segregation, which I easily debunked here. The NEA assertion that vouchers hurt public schools fiscally is just not true. In fact, public schools typically improve when there is choice. As EdChoice researcher Greg Forster has shown, not only do private school choice programs have a positive effect on students’ academic outcomes in public schools, they do taxpayers a big favor at the same time. Forster looked at 28 empirical studies that examined choice’s fiscal impact on public schools. Of these, 25 show school choice programs save money. Three find the programs to be revenue neutral. None of the studies reveal a negative fiscal impact on public schools.

As for Caputo-Pearl’s “inappropriate competition” comment, that doesn’t hold up either. A recent study from New York City has the unionista crowd scratching their heads in disbelief. Alex Zimmerman summarizes the results in Chalkbeat. “The study finds that being closer to a charter school led to small increases in math and reading scores, boosts in reported student engagement and school safety, and fewer students being held back a grade (in the traditional public school.) The test score gains increased slightly more in traditional public schools that are co-located with a charter.” (Emphasis added.)

So not only don’t charter schools hurt traditional public schools, they make those schools better too. Sarah Cordes, a professor at Temple University and the study’s author, thinks a close proximity “might really get administrators to get their act together.” She adds that the charter sector “is working as it was intended: creating pressure on administrators to improve the quality of their schools.”

Cordes’ study is not the first on the subject. Brian Gill, a senior fellow at Mathematica Policy Research in Cambridge, MA, looked at 11 studies in 11 different states which compared the effects of charter schools on traditional public schools and found that six studies showed “some evidence of positive effects, four found no effects, and one found negative effects.” 

To state the obvious, public education in America is big taxpayer-funded business – a business that eats up $670 billion a year, every year. And Jobs proposes a free market approach to improve the very troubled enterprise. (Since Jobs has created largest and most profitable company in the world, with fanatically loyal customers, maybe he knows what he is talking about?)

The market competition model seems to indicate that where there is a need there is a lot of providers willing to tailor their products to fit that need and a lot of competition which forces them to get better and better.

A strong universal voucher proponent, the visionary Jobs knew what we needed to do. If Jobs’ ideas were to be implemented, student achievement would rise as would the paychecks of star educators. The only losers would be unqualified teachers, bureaucrats and unionistas, none of whom at this point care about educational quality.

Because they don’t have to.

(Courtesy of the Wayback Machine, a full transcript of the Jobs’ interview is available here.)

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

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