But while I have no problem with the idea that there should be consequences for Beverly Hall or Michelle Rhee or any other school chancellor who presides over cheating, I’m genuinely puzzled by what anti-reform people think these cheating scandals prove.

Matthew Yglesias

Genuine puzzlement, right up there with “swear to God”, usually precedes a lie. It’s the verbal equivalent of clammy sweat and rapid blinking, and even on the rare occasion that it doesn’t presage a whopper, it makes everything subsequent seem dishonest. Yglesias goes on to set fire to a hiring hall full of unionized straw men who want teacher pay to be tied to tenure of service and nothing else, but what the hell, I’ll see if I can raise my voice above the crackling fire.

The cheating scandals prove that education reform is a wholly fraudulent endeavor. It isn’t the equivalent of a doping scandal in sports; it’s the equivalent of Enron, Madoff, the financial crisis. You think testing has something to do with compensation, hiring, and firing? It doesn’t. Testing is the accounting of the reform movement, and the executives are cooking the books. They’re manipulating the statements so it looks like the venture is turning a profit. Well, actually, it’s got negative cash flow. The gains are phantoms. The enterprise is insolvent. Even by its own standards, reform fails.

The central proposition of so-called education reform is that it endeavors to make schooling more entrepreneurial. Now this is bogus on its face. The most salient fact about entrepreneurialism is that most ventures fail. Is that the proper model for the delivery of a universal service? Consider the question irrespective of your thoughts about the larger questions surrounding the provision of universal education. Ostensible reformers say they want to mimic the dynamism and innovation of the private sector. The first question is: to what end, exactly? The second is: do you know how dynamism and innovation work?

Like most pro-market types, these people are ignorant of the actual workings of capitalism. They see Apple’s glittering headquarters, Google’s quarterly revenue numbers, and they think, Damn! I wish schools could be more like that! Strewn across the historic landscape behind all this success are hundreds of thousands of failed attempts, many of which don’t make it out of their first year. And you want school to look like this? Well, uh, no; we only want school to imitate successful ventures! Well, I want better arms and a bigger dick, but editing every other eighth of an inch out of the measuring tape will not make it so.

Here is a question for you: who is more fixated on pay, education reformers or traditional teachers’ unions? Reformers make two mistakes that have plagued badly run businesses for an age. If Yglesias had half the MBA he tries to write like he has, he’d be familiar. 1.) Monetary compensation is an ineffective and inefficient motivator of employee performance (Organizational Behavior: Leadership and Group Effect), and 2.) Labor-cost arbitrage—in this case, from union to open shop—can have diminishing productivity returns (Managing Human Resources in a Global Economy).  And once again, I’m saying: leave aside the ideological and human problems of late capitalism; even by its own standards, it fails.

What does the ubiquitous cheating in reform-era education mean? It means that reformers are so dumb they can’t even set up arbitrary benchmarks for success; they literally fail their own tests despite having written the questions and answers themselves. Imagine a panel of fish oil salesmen riddled with arthritis and clearly suffering from memory loss and you get some idea. What the cheating proves is that these people are liars and cheats, but more than that, it proves that the systems of accountancy and auditing promoted by the liars and cheaters are themselves a lie. The reform is doubly fraudulent.

Now, it may be true that seniority is a bad way to determine pay. I don’t really have a dog in that fight. But let me propose to you this one staggering advantage seniority has over “performance.” It cannot readily be faked.

22 thoughts on “Valedictatorian

  1. But let me propose to you this one staggering advantage seniority has over “performance.” It cannot readily be faked.

    I once lied about my age. But it wasn’t an intentional lie; I had simply blacked-out for several years during my twenties.

  2. I’m imagining a remake of Paddy’s movie “The Hospital” with your dad playing the George S Scott part and you playing the Barnard Hughes part. You’re so often so magnificently angry that you couldn’t possibly be a successful exec like your dad.
    But you do make a damn fine Paraclete of Kiborka.

  3. i love how quick progressives are to sell their own down the river without a fight. Yglesias’ non “problem with the idea that there should be consequences” reminds me of the way the Dems did ACORN.

    testing results are fake. like public opinion polls. there is literally nothing at stake here. yell “witchhunt!” or something, at least. DON’T BE FATUOUS.

  4. Like most pro-market types, these people are ignorant of the actual workings of capitalism.

    Oh, dog, yes. I had the most infuriating blog-argument years ago with someone about the tendency of marketing budgets – to say nothing of most corporate budgets – to justify themselves year over year, regardless of performance. The marketing department actually gets mad at you if you don’t spend their entire budget for a month, for a quarter, for an annum. “But if a company were run that way,” someone objected, “competition would–” You don’t get it. It’s a feature, not a bug.

  5. I don’t know about ignorant. Considering the history of Apple and Microsoft, if you can snag an idea by any means and make tracks to the patent office, riches will follow. I imagine Rhee and co. have first-mover advantage at this point in time.

    But yeah, Yggy is still a chowderhead.

    1. Rhee and co. don’t own the patents; they’re just the middle managers–they think they’re getting rich, and they think their little options package is real equity. But as soon as the guys at Kaplan and Pearson and the rest of the real ownership have extracted what they can, they’ll kick the managers to the curb. Unlike the bosses at Washington Post Company, these people actually believe their own marketing.

  6. I don’t get the idea of treating education as a for-profit business. Absurd in lots of ways. And, I have real problems with the testing mania that consumes education. As a kid, we took every imaginable test but only “crammed” for the state regents exam. 100% of those who applied were accepted to college. Most got money. That was the Catholic school formula in the 60s and it could work now — teach them, test them, encourage them, protect them and value them. Of course, that was before the demise of the American family as anything other than an economic unit. Still, as is the norm, Jacob nails the problem quite well — they’ve done an incredible job of solving the wrong problem and have managed to screw that up in addition to aggravating the original problems by adding fatigue and sinking a lot of costs. Of course, libertarians respond only to financial motives…which has damnall to do with teachers.

    1. “And, I have real problems with the testing mania that consumes education.”

      I do as well. The problem is they want to do it on the cheap, with $12/hr proctors and scantron machines. Multiple choice is a poor way to evaluate learning in any subject. A real evaluative test would resemble the AP tests I took in high school, 75% of which involved essays and short answer (if I remember the tests cost $300-$500 to take). But then they’d actually have to hire qualified educators to grade the exams. However, it would make cheating much more difficult, funny how the reformers don’t bother to include that in their precious testing

  7. It’s hilarious that when he ‘puzzles’ at those Anti-Reform People!!!!!! he pretends not to understand that Reform! simply means to form over again. In the issue at hand, the intent being: to re form in a manner only suitable to sociopathic robber barons such as Bill Gates; who, for a certainty, don’t want kids to have the freedom of exerting their ideaology that those robber Barons had as children.

    There is no given, inherent benefit to society at large in Reform! Matty should be embarrassed, if he weren’t so smug and self satisfied, he might be. Pathetic.

  8. (Sorry, off topic (jus a tad): Jacob, Krugman is now blaming those MS Slicer Filters™. He’s now assured that once they’re updated the global economy will be just fine!)

  9. A characteristic of late-stage capitalism is a need for perpetual crisis in order to maintain the illusion of growth and to distract from the real crisis, which is about the emergence of post-human systems that subordinate consciousness. The tertiary symbol of late-stage capitalism is Google’s driverless car. School reform is about what we should do with all that extra time we’ll have on our hands.

    Clang clang! Clang clang!

    1. P Gas –

      There is a deeply trenchant historical irony lurking in your statement:

      “School reform is about what we should do with all that extra time we’ll have on our hands.”

      Namely, that if you check the etymology of “school”, it traces back to the Greek word for “leisure” (because the usual suspects thought that the proper use of leisure time by a gentleman was to pursue knowledge.)

      In fact, some mid-last-century philoospher wrote a whole book on the relationship between the two – forget his name and the title of his tome … only remember shelving it one day as a work-study student in the college library …

  10. I’m a big fan of his constant use of the term “low moral character.” I’m surprised he doesn’t mention the moral character test cheating scandal.

  11. Management by numbers in public services leads to cooking the same numbers almost organically. Targets, quotas and other incessant evaluation practices of public sector employees is direct class war by union-hating neoliberal networks against what they perceive as the enemy.

    Eat your quota of rich folks this month guys.

  12. You’re right that monetary compensation is ineffective and inefficient in improving performance for a fixed set of employees, but it’s pretty obvious that increasing teacher pay would increase the pool of people interested in becoming teachers. That would allow schools to be more selective and hire better-performing teachers.

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