Monday, February 28, 2011

Wisconsin - opportunity or disaster

Do more of Wisconsin's citizens benefit, or lose if Governor Walker's bill is passed and signed into law? I believe this is the most crucial question the various parties can ask themselves. Reports suggest that the public employees are willing to agree to the wage and benefit reductions. So if the collective bargaining rights for public employees are lost, will private sector employees benefit? Or Lose? Why? Will tax payers benefit? Or lose? Why? Will families with school age children benefit? Or lose? Why?  In the short run? Long run? The State of Wisconsin?

It has been argued by many that a well educated workforce is essential for competition in today's global economy. (I've spent considerable time in China where educating their children is a national obsession.) If this is accurate, then could one argue that education is a matter of national security? Is this accurate? If it is, it would follow then that well trained, competent teachers, the linchpin of all educational exchanges, are essential to national security.  If it is accurate, will Wisconsin students benefit or lose if the bill, as written, is passed? 

What about other parts of the bill?

I am certain you can come up with numerous other categories of participants for whom these fundamental questions are valid, not to mention a plethora of equally vexing issues tied to this legislation. I'd very much like to hear what are your thoughts on any of these questions. (If you are a Wisconsin resident or student, please say so.) If possible please explain your position on loss or benefit with some data or verifiable/testable hypothesis so those commenting on your post can use the same or similar standards to support or challenge your analysis.

I look forward to hearing what you believe are the best answers.


  1. More money being dumped into the system does not make the system better unless that money is actually focused on delivering a better education for children. Collective bargaining comes with a plethora of rules that govern how schools are managed and all of these rules are focused on protecting union members. Unfortunately, these collective bargaining rules do not do what is best for children. Last in first out rules do not help children. Having a unified, lock step salary scale does not attract the best and brightest citizens to be teachers. If we want to create an educational workforce ready for the 21st century, we need to start focusing on what labor practices create the best educational opportunities for children, not the best employment opportunities for adults.

  2. Only five states do not allow collective bargaining for educators. Those states and their ranking on ACT/SAT scores: South Carolina, 50th; North Carolina, 49th; Georgia, 48th; Texas, 47th; Virginia, 44th. Wisconsin, with its collective bargaining for teachers, is 2nd.

    This says something about what happens when employess feel safer about keeping their jobs and receiving at least a minimum in consideration about wages and benefits. People can be more creative and productive when they are not plagued by fear and insecurity. The US as a country could benefit greatly with better working environments and less tyranny from the new corporate overlords.
    Lynn Allen in Broomfield CO

  3. Emet & Lynnblossom, thanks for your comments. Emet's comment seems to offer no specific data that can be used to verify or challenge his position. Lynnblossom does offer very specific data that can be easily checked for accuracy to support or challenge her conclusions.

    I will argue that any conclusion or opinion that does not include specific, testable data leaves itself open to dismissal without serious consideration because of that omission. Dr. Carl Sagan once proposed that we should carry with us at all times a "Boloney Detection Kit." The kit was a series of questions to be asked for any proposal, opinion, conclusion, data set, etc.

    First, what do you mean, exactly? Next, How do you know this to be true? Then, where/how can I access the source material you cite? There were a few more, but these questions would expose if the proffered words were imagined reality or had substance that could be tested, challenged, proved or disproved. Was it actionable? I will argue that to make decisions, take actions, invest time or money without knowing if one can reasonably expect the outcome to coincide with expectations is unnecessarily risky.

  4. Thanks for facilitating the discussion. I concur with the moderator that I did not back up my claims with specific evidence and will do so in the future when posting here. To clarify my earlier post and hopefully provide enough information so that you respond to my thoughts, here we go.

    Ensuring that the money we spend on education actually impacts student achievement is critical when determining how effective our current spending practices are and how we should spend in the future. Between 1970 and 2005, real spending for education doubled from $3,800 to 8,700 per pupil and 80% of this increase went toward additional staff positions and increasing benefits (while educator salaries remained flat in real dollars). During the same timeframe, NAEP Reading Proficiency scores (defined as over 300; scores are for 17 year old students) actually fell by 1% from 39% in 1970 to 38% in 2005. Therefore, it seems very relevant to question why the significant increase in spending has not resulted in an increase in achievement. As a point of fact, the only thing that we can prove that the increase in spending did was benefit adults by providing jobs and better fringe benefits. There is no evidence that it has helped student achievement. Therefore, it is relevant to question the practices that put those extra positions and benefits in place, why we should continue them, and how to more specifically target our school dollars toward students and their achievement. For Wisconsin, the role of collective bargaining has been significant in how budgetary increases have been spent and should be reviewed.

    Taking some facts from an Ed week blog by Rick Hess, I quote “As the University of Arkansas's Robert Costrell calculated out last week, Wisconsin's public employees collect 74 cents in benefits for every dollar in salary, more than triple the rate for their private sector counterparts. In Milwaukee, the average ten-month salary for a Milwaukee Public Schools teacher is $56,500 but the total cost to MPS is $100,005. Why? For one thing, the Wisconsin state pension calls for a 6.8% employer contribution and a 6.2% employee contribution, but MPS agreed back in 1996 to pay the employee share as well. For another, the 1982 collective bargaining agreement also grants MPS teachers a second pension, funded entirely by a 4.2% district contribution. As for health care, MPS spends 39% of wages on health insurance, compared to a private-sector norm of 11%. MPS pays the full premium for medical and vision benefits and also grants full health care to retirees, with the district picking up the entire premium in effect at retirement.” Collective bargaining should be on the table right now as the costs related to increases in teacher salaries and benefits over the past 35 years (in the way that collective bargaining currently prescribes in most agreements) does little to improve education achievement.

    As for the unnecessary risk of changing the system that Gordian’s Knot mentions at the end of his comment, I would ask, what risk are you referring to? We are getting the same thing we have always got (NAEP scores are the example quoted above) and are spending over twice as much to get right now. It seems to me that our current outlays in education are not only ineffective, but actually foolish given the data. It seems we are at a place in time where we should actually consider taking calculated risks in the way we organize our education system and its workforce instead of holding the status quo. We literally cannot afford it.

  5. In response to lynblossoms post, I think we need to be careful when we quote facts and then make statements that imply causation. The mere presence of verifiable facts in an argument does not necessarily prove anything. For example, lynblossom quotes numerous verifiable facts about the correlation between states with collective bargaining rights and achievement scores. Unfortunately, this does not pass the boloney detection test as there is no causation proven. There are plenty of other possible causes for the difference in achievement cited, only one of which is collective bargaining rights. Take Texas for example (a state in which I was a teacher). The long porous border with Mexico creates extraordinary issues for educators and one could argue that this is a “cause” for lower achievement rates in the state (or you could argue that the state’s tax system does not fund schools properly, etc.). The list goes on and on and none of the “causes” are provable until you actually show the causation between the claimed "cause" and the result.

  6. Well done. Evidence supporting a position. As Emet suggests there are a plethora of causations that may enter into student achievement. The Wisconsin experience, as promoted and defined by Governor Walker and his bill, focuses almost exclusively on collective bargaining rights for all public employees and the State's current financial condition. The reports suggest that the teacher's union has agreed to the financial cuts Governor Walker has asked for. If this is accurate then the argument that collective bargaining rights prevents the Governor or State from working out cures for its financial problems seems specious. If the unions had refused to negotiate or accept reductions proffered as essential, then the collective bargaining rights issue could be properly labeled a primary causation in the financial crisis.

    This is not to argue that collective bargaining rights might not be a cause although Lynnblossom's data, using collective bargaining rights as a common measuring device spread across the 50 states, seems to suggest it is not a negative drag on student achievement. I invite Emet, Lynnblossom and any others interested in fiscal responsibility and educational success to add their comments and data to this discussion.

  7. Emet latest note, sent March 7, 2011 is excellent argument. Lots of data from a variety of sources. He argues his new research data leaves the conclusion from Lynnblossom data open to question. Excellent. Evidence that everyone so inclined can check. In my opinion this is the quality of exchange needed to arrive at workable solutions to the problems we face every day. Slurs or rants that serve no end leave us with not only with no ideas on how to solve problems, but further polarize us making rational debate and cooperative problem solving essentially impossible. Well done Emet. I hope others will look at your data and add more evidence to this very troubling issue.

    I want to add one more question to the discussion. Is collective bargaining, whether for public or private employees, beneficial to our society as a whole?

    Thanks again for your effort and research.