Walker’s Budget Plan is a Three-Part Roadmap for Conservative State Governance

Tim Fernholz wrote an excellent article in the National Journal about the “bait and switch” of Governor Walker’s Wisconsin plan. Fernholz points out that the short-term deficit problem can be covered by debt restructuring, and that the big pieces of the bill that relate to dismantling public sector unions, control over Medicaid and creating a no-bid energy asset sale process are not directly budget related.

There’s a three-prong approach in Governor Walker’s plan that highlights a blueprint for conservative governorship after the 2010 election. The first is breaking public sector unions and public sector workers generally. The second is streamlining benefits away from legislative authority, especially for health care and in fighting the Health Care Reform Act. The third is the selling of public assets to private interests under firesale and crony capitalist situations.

This wasn’t clear to me at first. I thought this was about a narrow disagreement over teacher’s unions. Depending on what you read, you may have only seen a few of these parts, and you may have not seen them put together as a coherent whole. This will be the framework that other conservative governors, and even a few Democratic ones, will use in their state, so it is good to get a working model in place. In order to frame where it stands now, I’m going to chart this and give a set of descriptions and must-read links:

Defund and Delegitimize Public Workers

You wouldn’t know this from the popular narrative, but, as Zach Carter found, Wisconsin’s public pensions are among the nation’s healthiest. Carter walks you through the numbers from people like the nonpartisan Pew Center for the States, which found Wisconsin to be a “national leader in managing its long-term liabilities for both pension and retiree health care.”

There are many things, like removing unions’ ability to collect dues or requiring annual votes, that aren’t budgetary or service driven at all but are simply mechanisms for bleeding the union dry.

What I found most interesting about the 20 minutes phone call between Governor Walker and a prankster claiming to be David Koch (transcript) is this:

WALKER: …That’s all they wanna talk is what are you doing to help in the governor in Wisconsin. Next I talked to Kasich every day, you know John’s got to stand firm in Ohio. I think we can do the same thing with Rick Scott in Florida, I think Snyder if he got a little more support could probably do that in Michigan. We start going down the list, you know, there’s a lot of us new governors that got elected to do something, big.

KOCH: You’re the first domino.

WALKER: Yep. This is our moment…

[Walker:]…I had all my cabinet over to the residence for dinner. Talked about what we were going to do, how we were going to do it, we had already kind of doped plans up, but it was kind of a last hurrah, before we dropped the bomb and I stood up and I pulled out a, a picture of Ronald Reagan and I said you know this may seem a little melodramatic but …when he fired the air traffic controllers and uh I said to me that moment was more important than just for labor relations and or even the federal budget, that was the first crack in the Berlin Wall and the fall of Communism because from that point forward the soviets and the communists knew that Ronald Regan wasn’t a pushover…

Firing the air traffic controllers brought down the Soviet Union? When the true believers get together and talk openly, they don’t talk about this being about the budget, or getting innovative school practices in place, or whatever. It’s about showing their enemies that they mean business and aren’t pushovers. He believes that by smashing one you can smash them all. And he believes he is the first domino to move.

Other states won’t need unions to fight. Notice Providence, Rhode Island firing all of their teachers, to selectively rehire them later. This is how ground out our elites want to see the labor contract.

Cutting Government Services

From the CBPP: “[Walker’s] bill would strip the legislature of practically all of its authority to set the guidelines for the program (known as BadgerCare), leaving the power to do so almost solely in the governor’s hands.”

Shawn Doherty has covered this for Cap Times, as well as Jonathan Cohn, David Wahlberg of the Madison State Journal, AnnieJo at DailyKos and Amanda Terkel of Huffington Post.

This is the most important thing that has gotten the least coverage. The administration of Medicaid would be moved away from the state legislation to be more directly under the control of the Governor’s office. People may be dropped right away and there could be extreme games of chicken with the Federal government over medicaid spending.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services is currently being run by Heritage Senior Fellow Dennis Smith, who has been making his right-wing think tanker bones arguing that states should drop out of Medicaid, the long-time dream of the extreme right. It is telling that “Smith wouldn’t discuss Medicaid provisions in the upcoming budget bill” even though it’s all he’s been writing about for years.

Specifically, one of the last things he wrote had this talking point: “Congress and the Administration have enacted a sweeping overhaul of one-sixth of the American economy, dramatically expanding the scope of federal power….When governors and state legislators realize that they have been reduced to mere agents of and tax collectors for the federal government, bipartisan opposition from the states will be inevitable.”

This power grab by the Governor will be the beachhead for slashing medicaid rolls to record lows and planning the conservative opposition against health care reform more broadly. The people who elected the Governor deserve more information about what his ultimate goals are.

Privatizing Assets

Privatize everything. Ed from ginandtacos caught the language related to no-bid energy asset sales in Walker’s bill. Both Felix Salmon and Yves Smith have followed up on how this will be a new normal for states over the next two years, where more and more government infrastructure is going to be sold into a crony favor-and-campaign-contribution trading environment. Matt Taibbi’s new book has a chapter on this topic that is really good. This is going to be much more relevant over the next two years, and we should learn about how it works and what the consequences are early on.

Notice that each of these objectives overlap with each other. Privatizing services cuts public workers out while crony deals, skimming and poor services creates distrust in the government, leading to a negative feedback loop.

States will have to deal with their budgets. There are costs coming down the road. But the important thing to understand is that the new wave of governance at the state level isn’t about handling these problems — it’s about changing what the government does in a more reactionary and polarized way. Squeezing regular people to provide benefits will maintain and expand our high levels of inequality. Its about making struggling parties weaker and strong parties richer. Making it almost impossible to raise taxes later is irresponsible and dangerous, but it accelerates this plan. They hoped to handle this all behind closed doors — sadly for them, and lucky for the public, activism and the internet are shining a large spotlight on their actions.

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44 Responses to Walker’s Budget Plan is a Three-Part Roadmap for Conservative State Governance

  1. Pingback: Balloon Juice » The Walker Roadmap

  2. Great post – tying it all together! The same strategy and tactics used at a national level during the Bush administration. I’d be interested in hearing views on what we can/must do to regain the initiative.

  3. Joe M says:

    Just a couple of quick corrections – in your transcript, you have “Cassick,” it’s Kasich. Also, in your illustration and in your text, you talk about removing Medicaid oversight from the “legislation” – it should be “legislature”. Great post.

  4. Mike says:

    Thanks all. Joe M, fixed on Kasich, can’t fix graph right now but will definitely in next version.

  5. Sandi says:

    Here in NC we are already seeing some of this. We don’t have public employee unions, being a right-to-starve, er, right to work state, but the newly minted Republican majority is wasting no time going after Medicaid and is making noises about privatizing as much as they can. They’ve lifted the cap on charter schools as a start, which technically are public schools, but don’t have to provide the same things, like transportation, the REAL public schools have to.
    They are also in process of establishing a committee to administer the Health Care Reform Act, but they’ve weighted it with Blue Cross/Blue Schield NC and the Chamber of Commerce (!), along with NFIB and other conservative business coddling interests.
    After living through the ’80s and seeing America’s resentment and terror over the Japanese “buying everything in sight”, I can’t help but wonder if they’ll have the same concerns this time around? Especially if it isn’t made clear that many of the profiteers will be SWF?

    • Christine says:

      Go to the move on website find a Rally this Saturday. This is not just for union employees this is for anyone who wants to keep the American way of life. In WI we keep finding more and more devious stuff in the bill. Things no one knew about this is not about doing what the people who voted them in wanted it’s about their own agenda to destroy these State governments. Take Action get out, talk to your friends and relatives. Go onto your legislatures web site and read the bills.

      Good Luck
      Power to the People

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  7. PeakVT says:

    Privatizing services cuts public workers out while crony deals, skimming and poor services creates distrust in the government, leading to a negative feedback loop.

    Don’t forget campaign donations. CEOs of companies handling privatized services donate to those who push privatization – Republicans.

  8. K. Williams says:

    “They’ve lifted the cap on charter schools as a start, which technically are public schools, but don’t have to provide the same things, like transportation, the REAL public schools have to.”

    This is exactly the kind of knee-jerk pro-teacher-union nonsense that’s alienated so many independent voters. The more charter schools we have, the better. There is no reason (either theoretical or empirical) to think that teachers’ unions improve students’ education. Teachers have no right to employment — if they are underperforming, then they should be fired. The problem with teachers’ unions is not their use of collective bargaining to get better compensation and benefits. The problem is their use of collective bargaining to set up obstructive work rules that limit the state’s freedom in trying new approaches to education.

    • Tim says:

      Sigh, it’s like “Waiting for Superman” in every one of your pointless posts.

      Charter schools are not shown to be universally better than public schools. In fact, the results of much research has shown that most are equal or worse than the public school average. But hey, don’t let empirical evidence get you down.

      In states that do not have unionization of teachers and in charter schools, there is no evidence that the ease of firing teachers improves education whatsoever. It is a purely theoretical argument which has no applicability in education (especially with the lack of any effective uniform measure to measure efficacy).

      Perhaps, though, you should look into the results of economic integration that has shown positive results, whereas charter schools have not on the average.

      But I guess then you’d have to stop beating down on unions, which it seems like you’ve done without question and without thought.

      • K. Williams says:

        “Charter schools are not shown to be universally better than public schools. In fact, the results of much research has shown that most are equal or worse than the public school average. But hey, don’t let empirical evidence get you down.”

        Actually, Caroline Hoxby’s work on New York City charter schools and the performance of lotteried-in and lotteried-out students shows convincingly that students who attend charter schools from kindergarten through eighth grade see considerable improvement in both math and reading relative both to the lotteried-out students (who are probably their closer peers) and, of course, relative to ordinary public-school students. Charter high-school students see relative improvement in their Regent test scores and their graduation rates. Of course, charter schools aren’t “universally better” — no one has ever suggested they are. But the best charter schools are significantly better than the best traditional public schools at improving the education of inner-city kids. The key is figuring out how to scale up those models.

        More generally, I don’t understand what you think your critique of charter schools, and your emphasis on the value of economic integration, proves. If charter schools are, on average, no worse than public schools; if teacher efficacy can’t meaningfully be measured; if the real key to improving education is economic integration, then what’s the cost of getting rid of tenure, or for that matter, of reducing teacher salaries and benefits? If, as you’re arguing, teachers don’t actually make much of a difference relative to economic integration — or if, at the very least, we can’t tell if teachers make a difference — then there’s no good reason to boost teacher salaries, no reason to let teachers cling to tenure, etc. Nor, for that matter, would it seem to make sense to put more money into the system in the absence of economic integration, since by your account there’s no meaningful way to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

        On top of that, the insistence that there’s no way to really tell whether teachers make a difference or not demolishes the only good arguments for teacher tenure and seniority. In an educational system, where the only goal that matters is improving children’s learning, there’s no obvious reason why we should allow seniority and tenure — both of which are inefficient practices that drive up costs and privilege teachers’ rights ahead of everyone else’s, including the students. The only reasonble argument for them is that they actually make schools perform better. But by your own account, there’s no reason to think that they do, or in fact no reason to think that we have any clue about them. So they should be abolished, giving communities more freedom to do as they wish with their schools and at the very least ensuring that simply having had a job will not, by itself, guarantee that you’ll continue to have one.

      • Tim says:

        “Actually, Caroline Hoxby’s work”- There’s plenty of controversy regarding her positions and how she got her findings. In general, metal analysis has shown mixed results, even when included stuff like hers. (Also, many found that if they were tethered to a school board there was no difference than public school performance)

        Charters are marginal, their improvements rarely even crossing statistical significance in only a few studies. Instead of focusing on them, there are many other means to improve education results.

        “More generally, I don’t understand what you think your critique of charter schools, and your emphasis on the value of economic integration, proves.”

        That charter schools are a mediocre solution at best, a rebooting of social organization which has the same capacity for success and failure as the previous system, generally.

        Economic integration has shown meaningful results, specifically for poorer children.

        “If charter schools are, on average, no worse than public schools; if teacher efficacy can’t meaningfully be measured; if the real key to improving education is economic integration, then what’s the cost of getting rid of tenure, or for that matter, of reducing teacher salaries and benefits? If, as you’re arguing, teachers don’t actually make much of a difference relative to economic integration”

        Wow. Way to completely misunderstand the nature of the difference between inner city (IE: poor) and suburban schools. I’ll spell it out for you. Better teachers do not flock to the most poverty stricken districts in droves. Wealthier areas bring higher pay and less stress. Teachers who do tend to go into struggling inner city via programs like TFA or anything else burn out very quickly, often many of which don’t finish their first year.

        In simple terms, economic balkanization of schools reaches teachers as well as students. The assumption of a uniformity in teaching performance and talent belies the vastly different environments between 10% low income and 90% low income schools. Economic integration helps spread teachers out by spreading the lower income students around more evenly between schools (and thus avoiding the situations that drive good teachers away from failing schools).

        “On top of that, the insistence that there’s no way to really tell whether teachers make a difference or not demolishes the only good arguments for teacher tenure and seniority.”

        The only method that has any semblance of fairness is peer review, preferably by an outside organization of teachers. Standardized testing has myriad faults, which is often mirrored by other means of measuring. Measuring reading levels of fifth graders does not measure simply the fifth grade teacher’s performance, it measures the building of the child’s reading ability through 5th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st and often preschool (which obviously isn’t as common for poor children). Thus blaming a fifth grade teacher for students who were already behind seems not only cruel, but dangerously unhelpful to improving education.

        As for your comments about tenure, you won’t exactly encourage improved performance by making people into nervous wrecks terrified that their careers could be ended at any moment. The very style of “Fire the bastards!” is meant to instill fear, not an atmosphere of improvement.

        If you want to actually improve the education system you can do a few things:

        A) Actually fix massive social issues, almost all of which are relating to the fact that some people are very, very poor while others are not. The ones who are poor almost always do poorly, and the ones who are not almost always do equally as well as their parents (or better). The correlation between educational achievement and social class is not a new phenomenon.
        B) Economic integration.
        C) Do not let local (or state) school boards meddle in textbook selection (which results in essentially useless self-censored history and government texts).
        D) Increase money spent on education in general.
        E) Actually investigate the bureaucratic structures of education (and education administration), analyzing them thoroughly for conflicts, failures & weaknesses. Work to eliminate these without creating more problems. (This, at least in concept, was part of the charter school idea)
        F) Instead of firing teachers and instilling an atmosphere of anxiety and fear, focus on actually supporting them in improving their performance. Terminate only those who are either incapable (after assistance) of performing to the (fair) standards upon which they are being judged.
        G) Pay (& treat) teachers in a manner deserving of the time and money they spent on education. If you want to pay them the median wage when the median worker is not college educated, you’re going to have problems.

  9. robk says:

    We probably should make education the least attractive profession possible. This will ensure only those who really want to make a difference will suffer for their calling.

    /sarcasm

  10. Julie says:

    K.W., Tim never said that there’s no way to tell whether teachers make a difference. He said we lack effective uniform measures to assess teachers. There is a lot of empirical evidence that excellent teachers have an enormous impact on the ultimate academic accomplishment of their students. The problem is that the only way that we know how to identify those excellent teachers is to track the achievement of all their students over many years, so we only know how to identify them after the fact.

    So, knowing that good teachers do in fact make a huge difference in the success of their students, how do you think that reducing the pay and job security of teachers will attract better teachers?

  11. K. Williams says:

    “A) Actually fix massive social issues, almost all of which are relating to the fact that some people are very, very poor while others are not. The ones who are poor almost always do poorly, and the ones who are not almost always do equally as well as their parents (or better). The correlation between educational achievement and social class is not a new phenomenon.
    B) Economic integration.”

    The problem is that A and B are not going to happen. Inner cities are not suddenly going to become significantly less poor. Suburban kids are not going to suddenly be bused into the inner city, or vice versa. We don’t have metropolitan school districts, and we’re not going to get them. And this is not because people support charter schools — it’s because social class, and the geographic concentration of poverty, has been a permanent reality in the United States (and in most developed countries for that matter) for the past century and a half. The question is, given that A and B are not going to happen, what is to be done? Your answer amounts to spending more money (D and G) — textbook control is a trivial issue, and E is just a call for more study of the issues. And I’m fine with spending more money on inner-city schools, as well as spending significantly more money on high-performing teachers. But that is never going to happen as long as there’s a lack of accountability for institutions and teachers that do a bad job. And that accountability can’t, as you suggest it should, come from other teachers — the notion that only teachers can successfully evaluate teacher performance is flatly absurd, and in a union-based system, peer review is simply a recipe for logrolling and scratch-my-back, I’ll-scratch-yours behavior.

    • Tim says:

      “The problem is that A and B are not going to happen. Inner cities are not suddenly going to become significantly less poor.”

      We could, you know, actually aim our macroeconomic policy away from deindustrialization, financialization and higher structural employment. As well, we could rebuild the social safety net into something designed to produce better education outcomes (like free preschool for poor children). Still, it would require major commitments and serious policies, which is a far cry from the current policy of “Fuck the poor”.

      “Suburban kids are not going to suddenly be bused into the inner city, or vice versa.”

      Actually, it’s been done in a few districts, usually those where the suburb and the city itself are a single uniform district as opposed to a set of suburban and city districts. It’s entirely feasible.

      “t’s because social class, and the geographic concentration of poverty, has been a permanent reality in the United States”

      Saying it is permanent is to ignore the reality of the situation. Since 1965 we have increasingly self-segregated economically. It is something that could be dealt with, or at least lessened, if there was any incentive to try.

      “Your answer amounts to spending more money”

      Not everywhere. There are some schools that have sufficient funding via their district property taxes. Poorer districts are in desperate need though, and the funding difference is very, very big. (The reason I say spend more is to avoid actually reducing funding from one school to move that funding to another)

      “textbook control is a trivial issue”

      No, it’s not. If you’re not informed on the issue (IE: have read high school textbooks after graduation) and haven’t seen some of the total shit that passes for non-science textbooks, don’t call it trivial.

      “But that is never going to happen as long as there’s a lack of accountability for institutions and teachers that do a bad job. And that accountability can’t, as you suggest it should, come from other teachers — the notion that only teachers can successfully evaluate teacher performance is flatly absurd, and in a union-based system, peer review is simply a recipe for logrolling and scratch-my-back, I’ll-scratch-yours behavior.”

      FROM ANOTHER INSTITUTION. Using teachers from other institutions who are trained peer evaluators has been shown to be much, much harder than any other form of evaluation. It is also much more fair.

      And why would this evaluator be in a union? Even if they were, why would they been in the same union when unions are localized (and state at most)? What reasons would they have to callously ignore the fate of children for the sake of a job of someone they have no personal (only professional) connection to? You imply VERY specific behaviors as if they are pre-determined outcomes, but I never see any evidence to support it.

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  13. lt says:

    K. Williams: Actually, as Richard Kahlenberg recently reported in Slate, in Montgomery County Marlyand and Toledo, where peer evaluation has been used, teachers were much harder on one another than administrators.

    Also, nothing can be done about economic inequality only if people decide that nothing can be done.

  14. chris says:

    But the best charter schools are significantly better than the best traditional public schools at improving the education of inner-city kids. The key is figuring out how to scale up those models.

    Yeah, scaling up cherry-picking is hard.

    Inner cities are not suddenly going to become significantly less poor. Suburban kids are not going to suddenly be bused into the inner city, or vice versa.

    Doesn’t this kind of fatalism amount to just surrendering to the superior political clout of the wealthy suburbanites? If equalization of funding/conditions and class integration would produce better outcomes, then people who care about quality of outcomes should fight for it, even if suburban parents don’t like to have their children go to school with Those People.

    But that is never going to happen as long as there’s a lack of accountability for institutions and teachers that do a bad job.

    How do you prevent the accountability mechanism from turning into scapegoating or an instrument of petty tyranny, like it is in most private-sector workplaces? Imitating the employer-employee relations model of WalMart or McDonald’s seems like a recipe for disaster.

  15. Mark A. Sadowski says:

    This looks like the roadmap to Pottersville, where every dream is crushed under the mighty thumbs of the Koch brothers.

  16. K. Williams says:

    “Actually, it’s been done in a few districts, usually those where the suburb and the city itself are a single uniform district as opposed to a set of suburban and city districts. It’s entirely feasible.”

    It’s not entirely feasible, precisely because in almost all of the US, suburbs and cities aren’t in the same school district, and never will be. That boat sailed after the Supreme Court held in 1974, in Milliken vs. Bradley, that it was unconstitutional for courts to impose metropolitan-area-wide remedies to fix segregation inside urban areas. If it’s unconstitutional to impose those kinds of remedies even in the case of race — which actually is a constitutionally-protected category — it’s never going to happen in the case of class, which isn’t. Continuing to cling to the fantasy that this is going to happen does not make it more likely. It’s simply a counsel of hopelessness for inner-city kids.

    “Saying it is permanent is to ignore the reality of the situation. Since 1965 we have increasingly self-segregated economically.”

    No, it’s not ignoring the reality of the situation. It’s acknowledging it. We have had ghettos in the United States since the advent of mass immigration in the mid-19th century. Inner-city schools have always been dominated by poor kids. Are you actually trying to argue that before 1965, schools in Harlem or Bedford-Stuyvesant or Watts were full of middle-class white kids? They weren’t. Talking about how you might transform this reality may be comforting to your cozy liberal sensibilities. But the only hope for inner-city kids is transforming the schools.

    On that note, it’s very good to see Randi Weingarten, head of the AFT, is finally coming to terms with the fact that teachers’ unions need to stop defending their lowest-performing members, and now says that teachers who are rated unsatisfactory — by their principals — should be given a year to improve, and if they don’t, they should be fired within 100 days: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/25/education/25teacher.html. That schedule still seems to allow for too much foot-dragging and bureaucratic nonsense, but it’s still good to see the AFT acknowledging that if your principal thinks you’re doing a crappy job, you’re probably doing a crappy job, and you should be fired if you don’t improve.

    • Mark A. Sadowski says:

      I’m not sure that your interpretation of Milliken vs. Bradley is correct. School districts around Wilmington Delaware are drawn specifically to pool the city with the suburbs. So it is feasible and within certain restrictions it is constitutional.

    • Tim says:

      “It’s not entirely feasible, precisely because in almost all of the US, suburbs and cities aren’t in the same school district, and never will be.”

      And that can’t be changed why, exactly? If left alone to their devices suburbanites will balkanize the system, but you can fix it with a concerted effort.

      “That boat sailed after the Supreme Court held in 1974, in Milliken vs. Bradley, that it was unconstitutional for courts to impose metropolitan-area-wide remedies to fix segregation inside urban areas.”

      Uh, racial segregation. Economic integration is another policy entirely (which does not target races), more akin to redesigning the organizing paradigm from locality to a more organized system where schools are not over or underburdened.

      And it has been done, and it can work.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/25/education/25raleigh.html?_r=1

      “No, it’s not ignoring the reality of the situation. It’s acknowledging it. We have had ghettos in the United States since the advent of mass immigration in the mid-19th century. Inner-city schools have always been dominated by poor kids. Are you actually trying to argue that before 1965, schools in Harlem or Bedford-Stuyvesant or Watts were full of middle-class white kids? They weren’t. Talking about how you might transform this reality may be comforting to your cozy liberal sensibilities. But the only hope for inner-city kids is transforming the schools.”

      No. This is flat out garbage. Have you not even heard of White Flight?. The ethnic makeup of cities has been modified in the last 50-60 years, and with it the wealth & class makeup of cities has been drastically altered. Economic integration (both in terms of funding and in students) has been shown to provide better results.

      If you wish to follow the suburbanite line of “I’m all for helping other people as long as it doesn’t require me to do anything or make any sacrifices”, I can at least understand that level of honesty. It’s always convenient how people say that “the only hope is that I don’t have to make any sacrifices (but these other people do) to fix this injustice.” However, to simply say that it is not possible is complete bullshit.

      “That schedule still seems to allow for too much foot-dragging and bureaucratic nonsense, but it’s still good to see the AFT acknowledging that if your principal thinks you’re doing a crappy job, you’re probably doing a crappy job, and you should be fired if you don’t improve.”

      Principals should not be evaluating their teachers. They should be able to submit certain teachers to be evaluated outside of an established period, but you should not have the fates of teachers decided by someone with which they directly work. Always review with outside parties that have only a professional interest.

      Generally though, evaluation is fine, assuming they put some sort of support/retraining effort into the person before simply firing them. It goes back into what I said before, if you create a system of support for teachers to improve (along with negative and positive incentives) you will see some progress in most schools (exceptions being mostly inner city).

      However, if you cultivate an atmosphere of tension, fear & anxiety through purely punitive measures with zero support (paying teachers who are doing well does not count), you’re going to see very little meaningful progress.

    • chris says:

      it’s still good to see the AFT acknowledging that if your principal thinks you’re doing a crappy job, you’re probably doing a crappy job, and you should be fired if you don’t improve.

      Or your principal is full of shit/just getting back at you for office political reasons/etc. Evaluation is a job for independent auditors; the skillset required is different than what makes a good principal, and using an outsider reduces conflicts of interest and promotes objectivity. I’m disappointed that the AFT wouldn’t insist on an independent evaluator verifying that the principal’s rating is well-grounded in fact.

      Why focus so much on teachers in the first place? If a good principal can have a positive impact, then a bad one can have a negative impact; so why don’t we hear calls to break up that nasty principals’ union so that we can identify and fire all the bad principals?

      Teachers make more convenient scapegoats, that’s all.

  17. swellsman says:

    One small error in the post: technically, what is being described is not a “negative feedback loop,” but a “positive feedback loop.” Negative feedback loops work to keep a system from running to extremes and getting out of control/unstable. Factor A goes up, which directly causes Factor B to go up, which then stops Factor A from rising any further or causes it to go down.

    Positive feedback loops are just the opposite. Some outside force causes Factor A to go up, which drives Factor B up, which in turn directly causes Factor A to increase some more. A good example of this is global warming and the shrining polar icecaps. Increased greenhouse gases trap heat, causing more ice to melt and less to form. The decrease in ice means less heat is reflected back from the earth, causing temperatures to increase some more. This in turn leads to less ice, etc.

    I know this is a small and picayune point, but it is one that I’ve been thinking about for while now. Our failure to appreciate that “positive feedback loops” are bad for societal systems (even though they sound good, i.e., they sound “positive”) leads to massive blindspots. If our goal is a stable (though not rigid) society, it would help if we all understood that it is negative feedback loops that we need to be creating. (The Founders’ “separation of power” doctrine, for example, is a form of a negative feedback loop.)

    I think it is because we have been accustomed to thinking of positive feedback as good (think childrearing) and positive feedback is good in circumstances like that. But, as a whole, any stable system is going to have to recognize the need to eschew postive feedback loops – which have negative consequences — and to embrace negative feedback loops – which have positive consequences.

  18. K. Williams says:

    The situation in New Castle County in Delaware is unique, because the court found — in Evans v. Buchanan — that there had been de jure segregation throughout the state of Delaware, and that therefore remedying the situation required, and permitted, the creation of a single school district for the county. In other words, since there was (or had been) racial discrimination in the suburban schools as well as in the inner-city ones, a county-wide remedy was appropriate.

    In Milliken, by contrast, the Court ruled that in the absence of evidence that “school districts have failed to operate unitary school systems or have committed acts that effected segregation within the other districts,” or that “school district boundary lines were established with the purpose of fostering racial segregation,” multi-district remedies were impermissible. Unless you can demonstrate these things, then court-ordered metropolitan-area integration (and it would have to be done on the basis of race, not class) isn’t going to happen.

    It is theoretically possible, of course, that parents in suburban towns would voluntarily agree to merge with urban areas to create a unified school district, and have their kids bused into the inner city. Theoretically possible, but empirically impossible. I’ll just say it again — in the vast majority of cities, economic integration of the public schools is a hopeless goal.

    • Tim says:

      “It is theoretically possible, of course, that parents in suburban towns would voluntarily agree to merge with urban areas to create a unified school district, and have their kids bused into the inner city.”

      It seemed to mostly be the other way around- inner city kids bused to suburbs & suburb children attending localized or magnet schools inside the city (by choice). You’re somewhat parroting the line of fear that most uninformed suburbanites might believe, but it is completely unbecoming of an argument dealing with actual evidence.

      “Theoretically possible, but empirically impossible. I’ll just say it again — in the vast majority of cities, economic integration of the public schools is a hopeless goal.”

      It can be done, but people have to care about fixing problems in society. It is in your own personal interest to make your child’s education better than others, and consequently to make their education worse than your child’s.

      It comes back to the simple truth of most social problems. They exist because some people want them to.

  19. petridish says:

    This discussion reminds me of the Downing Street Memo in which the evidence was “fixed” around the outcome. Here the outcome is “it’s the teacher’s fault.” Has anyone ever considered that there are actual children involved is this equation as well?

    Consider that a frighteningly large number of ELEMENTARY school children line up first thing in the morning to take their psychoactive drug for ADD or ADHD or depression or acne, for god’s sake. Side effects of these drugs include obesity and diabetes, by the way. Then they go off to their breakfast of sugared, flavored milk from antibiotic and hormone treated cows which are fed GMO feed. After that auspicious start, they are sent off to the teacher to BE TAUGHT (ineffectively, it seems, as well as too expensively.)

    Next it’s off to lunch which includes more of that same nutrient-rich milk, fried mystery meat, french fries and ketchup as the vegetable. Now back to more gettin’ educated.

    After school it’s home for supper in a nation in which, among other things, one green pepper costs as much as an entire “happy meal,” including the Chinese -made toy.

    I wonder if it has ever occurred to any of these think tank toadies that even the most reasonably paid, non-union, benefit-less, non-collectively bargaining teacher could only be marginally successful under these conditions.

    I suspect it most definitely has.

  20. K. Williams says:

    “Uh, racial segregation. Economic integration is another policy entirely (which does not target races), more akin to redesigning the organizing paradigm from locality to a more organized system where schools are not over or underburdened.

    And it has been done, and it can work.”

    Wake County is a single school district. You can institute policies of economic integration inside a school district. You cannot institute them across districts, which is what you would need to do if you want to bring suburban kids into urban schools, which your narrative of fixing the consequences of White Flight would require.

    “No. This is flat out garbage. Have you not even heard of White Flight?. The ethnic makeup of cities has been modified in the last 50-60 years, and with it the wealth & class makeup of cities has been drastically altered. Economic integration (both in terms of funding and in students) has been shown to provide better results.”

    Yes, I’ve heard of White Flight. It’s changed the ethnic makeup of cities. It hasn’t dramatically changed the ethnic makeup of inner-city ghettoes, which look much as they did sixty years ago (with the exception of more Latino immigrants). In 1950, East Harlem schools were almost entirely black and Puerto Rican. Harlem schools were almost entirely black. Bed-Stuy schools were almost entirely black. That’s why, in the wake of Brown v. Board, there was a major effort to integrate the city’s public schools. That would hardly have been necessary if the schools had been integrated in the first place, as your bizarre version of inner-city history would suggest. The economic makeup of the inner city hasn’t changed, either. In 1965, 42% of the people in Watts were living below the poverty line. Today, about 40% live below the poverty line.

    “However, to simply say that it is not possible is complete bullshit.”

    No, it’s not bullshit. It’s just true. Suburban parents are not going to assent to send their kids to inner-city schools, and if they don’t assent to that, it’s not going to happen. There are things that simply are political realities — the US, for instance, is never going to become a socialist country. Recognizing these realities is necessary if you want to actually deal with problems as they are, rather than how you wish they were.

    • Tim says:

      “Wake County is a single school district. You can institute policies of economic integration inside a school district. You cannot institute them across districts, which is what you would need to do if you want to bring suburban kids into urban schools, which your narrative of fixing the consequences of White Flight would require.”

      Merge districts, build schools (long-term) toward the edges of the city to lessen transportation problems.

      Also, you keep misunderstanding. It isn’t about bringing white kids into inner city schools, it’s about taking some of the poorer children out of failing schools and spreading THEM around the system as to create a more even distribution. Read the article, less than 2.5% were forcibly moved each year, mostly inner city kids.

      “That’s why, in the wake of Brown v. Board, there was a major effort to integrate the city’s public schools.That would hardly have been necessary if the schools had been integrated in the first place, as your bizarre version of inner-city history would suggest.”

      I understand that migration and settling patterns have segmented cities along with policies like redlining. However, given that white flight and gentrification are new phenomenon that are defining our schools as either impoverished or wealthy, it seems valid to mention those OVER the events you mentioned.

      “The economic makeup of the inner city hasn’t changed, either. In 1965, 42% of the people in Watts were living below the poverty line. Today, about 40% live below the poverty line.”

      A single part of LA? It’s a good thing that you have such a large sample size, right? Besides, the point isn’t that the economic landscape has completely changed (though it has significantly in many areas, due to deindustrialization), it is that these places themselves are balkanized economically. If you put all of the poor kids into the same school, you get generational poverty. The results are pretty clear.

      “No, it’s not bullshit. It’s just true. Suburban parents are not going to assent to send their kids to inner-city schools”

      Again, that’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the process, spoken like a true suburbanite.

      “and if they don’t assent to that, it’s not going to happen.”

      Perhaps, because in this country money means a lot more than justice.

      “There are things that simply are political realities — the US, for instance, is never going to become a socialist country.”

      You’ll have to tell me what the abolition of private property has to do with school districts that aren’t designed to create generational poverty.

      “Recognizing these realities is necessary if you want to actually deal with problems as they are, rather than how you wish they were.”

      There has been 40 years of little improvement (regression in some cases). Economic integration has shown that it can provide much better results.

      Either you care about helping students, or you don’t. You can’t say “I care so much!” while not wanting to possibly sacrifice anything. It just doesn’t work that way, and to try to convince otherwise is an (amusing) exercise in doublespeak.

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  22. K. Williams says:

    “Again, that’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the process, spoken like a true suburbanite.”

    I’m not a suburbanite, and, as I said on another thread, I’m from a family of people who have spent their lives teaching in inner-city schools. So I don’t need to be lectured about willingness to sacrifice, or about what city schools need.

    More to the point, you’re consistently mistaking my description of the way things are for a description of the way things should be. In an ideal world, suburban parents would be willing to “merge districts” with cities and send their kids to urban schools. In the real world, they aren’t going to do that to satisfy some liberal technocratic idea of what social justice requires. You can keep working to change this. But it will be futile, as futile as trying to make the US a socialist country would be (that was the point of the comparison).

    Now, you say that you’re not talking about sending suburban kids to city schools. Well, let’s look at New York City. 76% of the students in NYC public schools qualify for free lunch. How, precisely, do you propose to economically integrate those schools without bringing in suburban kids? If you just bus out some of the poor kids, what happens to the ones who are left?

    You keep mistaking my descriptions of the way things are for the way I think they should be. They’re not the same thing. But it’s silly to imagine that you can remake people. Suburban parents want their kids to get the best education possible. They do not want to risk that in order to perhaps improve the education of some other parents’ kids. Why you think you’re going to be able to convince them otherwise is beyond me.

    That’s why the only answer is to figure out what high-performing inner-city schools do right, and replicate it across the country. Take PS 172 in Sunset Park, which I have some experience with. It’s a public, non-charter school. 80 percent of the kids are on free lunch, almost 25% are in special education, and perhaps a third come from Spanish-speaking homes. Yet its students perform better than those in richer, more economically integrated neighborhoods, like Park Slope and Carroll Gardens. Almost all of their kids pass the state’s math and English tests, most with high scores. By your account, this school is some kind of bizarre miracle. By my account, it shows what’s possible when you have excellent administrators and teachers — even when those teachers have tenure. I’ll just say it again — you can go out and work for some dream of economic integration, or you can work to make more schools like PS 172 or like the Amistad Academy in New Haven. I know which is more likely to help inner-city kids — and it isn’t the option you’d choose.

    • Tim says:

      “I’m not a suburbanite, and, as I said on another thread, I’m from a family of people who have spent their lives teaching in inner-city schools. So I don’t need to be lectured about willingness to sacrifice, or about what city schools need.”

      Interesting, because as I live in one of the richest (by median income) suburbs in the nation, I find it odd that I think it is understandable for society at large to work together and sacrifice to fix serious issues in education while you seem to believe that a society somehow isn’t responsible for the sum of its actions, or the fixing of the consequences that causes.

      “More to the point, you’re consistently mistaking my description of the way things are for a description of the way things should be. In an ideal world, suburban parents would be willing to “merge districts” with cities and send their kids to urban schools. In the real world, they aren’t going to do that to satisfy some liberal technocratic idea of what social justice requires. You can keep working to change this. But it will be futile, as futile as trying to make the US a socialist country would be (that was the point of the comparison).”

      It’s not liberal or technocratic. It is simple logic. Cluster all the people with rough lives, suffering families, violent neighborhoods and all other negative correlated effects with poverty into a small concentrated set of schools and you have already given up on meaningful progress.

      Yes, as a nation we have consistently stood behind actions which have brought us closer to a nation of vast suffering and rare privilege, where the wealthy fly out of their wealthy enclave over the shantytowns in their personal helicopters to the helipad on the top of their corporate tower.

      So because we are heading in this direction, we should simply say “Oh, well it’s impossible to change society, so why try?” as our cities devolve into hellscapes and our infrastructure rots while the wealthy flee with their obscene fortunes to some enclave on the other side of the world?

      Sounds like you have a political ideology of weakness. Settling for less over time and never actually dealing with the real issues.

      “Now, you say that you’re not talking about sending suburban kids to city schools. Well, let’s look at New York City. 76% of the students in NYC public schools qualify for free lunch. How, precisely, do you propose to economically integrate those schools without bringing in suburban kids? If you just bus out some of the poor kids, what happens to the ones who are left?”

      Obviously, the ones who are working & middle class above the poverty lines remain in the city. You create prosperous new magnet (or year-round) schools, necessary inside the city to draw suburban children into the city. Then you bus some of the poorer children outside of the city to suburb schools. Remember, there is a threshold of low income children that any given school is allowed to have under any of these systems, so obviously all of the children in the city are not required to move.

      (Also, ideally, you would also want to build schools on the fringes between the city and the suburbs, where you could more easily mix the children with shorter bus rides.)

      As far as the children who are left, you avoid the paradox of failing schools, like Wake County did. As a school begins to have problems, as is common with city schools, the quality of teaching instruction, environment & attainment goes down. This further pushes better teachers out to the suburbs, and new ones generally avoid the school or burn out very quickly (some in less than a single year). No more failing schools with obscenely high poverty rates, and thus many of the city students can remain with their local school.

      “You keep mistaking my descriptions of the way things are for the way I think they should be. They’re not the same thing. But it’s silly to imagine that you can remake people. Suburban parents want their kids to get the best education possible. They do not want to risk that in order to perhaps improve the education of some other parents’ kids. Why you think you’re going to be able to convince them otherwise is beyond me.”

      Society rarely addresses its problems in a clean and efficient manner. Often, they are left to rot until it begins to be important in a daily aspect to a large segment of the population (that has political power). In the case of schooling and urban poverty, we have already turned many of our cities into urban hellscapes already via deindustrialization. But it is an ongoing process, the decay will cause instability and the political classes will notice. They may ignore it, but ultimately it is either addressed or it explodes, in the form of violence and revolution. Just like the welfare state in the 1940’s, people must be convinced that for their good (and safety) that a society must take care of those who have the least. As the GINI and other measures of inequality show, we are pushing ourselves down that road every day.

      “That’s why the only answer is to figure out what high-performing inner-city schools do right, and replicate it across the country. Take PS 172 in Sunset Park, which I have some experience with. It’s a public, non-charter school. 80 percent of the kids are on free lunch, almost 25% are in special education, and perhaps a third come from Spanish-speaking homes. Yet its students perform better than those in richer, more economically integrated neighborhoods, like Park Slope and Carroll Gardens. Almost all of their kids pass the state’s math and English tests, most with high scores. By your account, this school is some kind of bizarre miracle.”

      No, it’s an anomaly in social organization. There are always superior forms of organization than the ones we have (even if they maintain the same goals), the problem is often that money, tradition and the politics of power prevent them from being enacted. There can be badly run schools in any district, thus it doesn’t negate the argument for economic integration, rather, it layers upon the existing argument to create an even more comprehensive approach to fixing education than “It’s the teacher’s fault”.

      After reading about it, the support system PS 172 provides for its students is a far more successful (likely more expensive if applied universally, but not a problem for me) than that of most schools. Yes, it is a model that should be applied more broadly, perhaps with less focus on standardized testing.

      “I’ll just say it again — you can go out and work for some dream of economic integration, or you can work to make more schools like PS 172 or like the Amistad Academy in New Haven. I know which is more likely to help inner-city kids — and it isn’t the option you’d choose.”

      On the short term, changing the organization and approach of schools will bring decent results for a smaller number of kids. It’s a great anecdote that has a lot of sway with us, a student from a poor background becoming some famous executive because of his fantastic elementary school!

      Unfortunately, any social organization (bureaucracy) can improve, or decline. Just because a school is good now under a certain leadership does not mean it cannot face problems later under weaker leadership or strain. This is true of all social organization, which is why it is important not to put all future success or failure in a the formation (and maintenance) of extremely effective ones.

      If you want to remove poverty on a generational level, and you want to end racialized poverty, then you need to take serious and meaningful steps. Your version of a solution is a band-aid on a vastly self-perpetuating system of generational and racialized poverty that has shown no hints of stopping. The difference, of course, is that I would accept both short term small scale solutions & long term large scale solutions.

      Perhaps it has to do with outlook. You seem to want kids to do better on tests, and for teachers to be fired more easily. I want to as many people as possible to receive the best education (not tests) as possible, and I want to lessen human suffering.

  23. K. Williams says:

    “Why focus so much on teachers in the first place? If a good principal can have a positive impact, then a bad one can have a negative impact; so why don’t we hear calls to break up that nasty principals’ union so that we can identify and fire all the bad principals?

    “Teachers make more convenient scapegoats, that’s all.”

    Oh, I absolutely think administrators should be able to be fired at will — getting rid of bad administrators is essential. But we focus on teachers’ unions because they’re vastly more powerful and vastly more influential in protecting tenure and trying to block attempts at educational reform.

    • Tim says:

      “Oh, I absolutely think administrators should be able to be fired at will — getting rid of bad administrators is essential. But we focus on teachers’ unions because they’re vastly more powerful and vastly more influential in protecting tenure and trying to block attempts at educational reform.”

      Actually, teacher’s unions have been pushing for reforms in education for a long time. The difference is that they want a different approach than you do. There’s been no evidence in at-will states that teachers have performed any better, too. (So saying that amounts to blocking education reform is a fallacy)

      Still, there should definitely be conditional requirements for job security, and that is the one area with which teacher’s unions have (understandably) been somewhat obstinate. Continued job security should be conditional on satisfactory performance, not office politics.

      • chris says:

        I agree, with the caveat that as I said upthread, performance evaluation is a job for independent auditors. The administrator on the scene is too likely to have an axe to grind, and probably doesn’t have the relevant expertise to disentangle bad teaching performance from students handicapped by outside factors, anyway.

        The devil is in the details of the auditors’ methodology, and it might well turn out to be impossible to objectively evaluate anyone until they’ve taught for 5 years and you’ve followed the performance of their ex-students for 3 more (or something like that), but at least you eliminate the biggest source of bias, interpersonal relations/office politics.

  24. K. Williams says:

    “Yes, as a nation we have consistently stood behind actions which have brought us closer to a nation of vast suffering and rare privilege, where the wealthy fly out of their wealthy enclave over the shantytowns in their personal helicopters to the helipad on the top of their corporate tower.

    “So because we are heading in this direction, we should simply say “Oh, well it’s impossible to change society, so why try?” as our cities devolve into hellscapes and our infrastructure rots while the wealthy flee with their obscene fortunes to some enclave on the other side of the world”

    This is the rant of a self-righteous suburban leftie who despises this country and has never actually lived in one of these “hellscapes.” Indeed, your entire last comment is an almost perfect encapsulation of all the reasons why the left has lost all traction with middle-class Americans. I’ll leave you to do your work in “lessening human suffering.” Good luck.

  25. Pingback: Crass “Do They Owe Us A Living?” « Dynamite Chair

  26. AnnieJo says:

    Thank you so much — EXCELLENT job of tying it all together.

  27. Tim says:

    “This is the rant of a self-righteous suburban leftie who despises this country and has never actually lived in one of these “hellscapes.””

    If wanting to help people in a meaningful way within the current system is self-righteous and “leftist” then guilty as charged. You may want to ask what that says about you, though.

    As far as hating this country, that seems absurd. A true patriot is a man who loves his country and does his best to see it improved.

    “Indeed, your entire last comment is an almost perfect encapsulation of all the reasons why the left has lost all traction with middle-class Americans.”

    Even if one was to believe such ridiculous invective regarded at an established sociological and economic pattern, it seems the point is moot. Conservatives are reducing the size of the middle class and increasing the ranks of the poor (1 in 7 Americans now), thus in a generation or two those supposed middle class voters who are deluded into voting against their interests (on the whole) and those of society at large will be reduced to a much smaller and weaker political faction.

    Since we’re apparently taking pointless shots at each others, good luck backing a political party aligning itself entirely with corporate masters.

  28. EMT says:

    It’s amazing how insidious Walker’s power grab is, considering the Republicans control both chambers of the legislature as well– like he thinks he was elected king instead of governor.

  29. Pingback: Walker’s Wisconsin Blueprint for Neo-Feudalism

  30. Pingback: The Political Economy of Unions, Public Sector or Otherwise « Chasing Fat Tails

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