September, 2010 browsing by month


SQ744 – Far from a winning team

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

We just got a slick mail piece trying to connect sports team rankings with educational ranking in Oklahoma. As most of us already know, there is no connection at all with our various sports teams and education, despite the student-athlete myth. This one plays on the other great myth of the political-educational complex, namely that there is a direct correlation between spending on common education and the quality of the education. All one has to do is look at the tragedy of the Washington D.C. school system to see that this is plainly not true.

The D.C. system ranks among the highest in teacher pay and per-pupil spending in the nation and is at the absolute bottom in quality.  When we see how much wailing and money the AFT spent to get rid of Mayor Fenty and soon his Education Chancellor Michelle Rhee, it is abundantly clear that the only thing the teachers’ union cares about is protecting their jobs  and to hell with the kids, the parents and everyone else.

The one thing connected to sports that actually does have a direct bearing on education is that you put your best people in the game if you want to win, and put the rest of the folks either on the bench or off the team.  It does not matter how much experience they have, what certifications they have or anything else. Whether it is coaches or players, those that put out 110% and don’t make excuses get the victories and those that whine about funding and process and seniority lose. This is the lesson from sports that we should apply to public education.

Piles of money will not get you a winning team if the main criteria for coaches and players is certifications and seniority, regardless of performance. A union will never produce a winning team because “winning” is not what they are about. Unions are about job protection and grievance process. There was a time when they were also a guarantor of a certain level of skill and expertise going back to the guilds, but that has long been eroded by the almighty gods of process and seniority.

The one true thing from the mailer is where it says, “SQ744 takes control of school funding away from lobbyists and government bureaucrats, and puts it in the hands of local parents, teachers and school boards.” The problem is that none of those local parents teachers and school boards are in Oklahoma.  We may as well hand over our school funding decisions directly to the NEA/AFT. The results would be the same.

A new film by David Guggenheim, not exactly a conservative ideologue, called Waiting for Superman, will hopefully help to further drive a wedge between those who want to worship process and protect jobs and those who actually care about educating the youth of our country, regardless of party or persuasion. There is also a good review of the film by Matthew Shaffer at National Review Online, (Rocking the Boat on Education) who saw it at a screening sponsored by Democrats for School Choice.

Education is the single biggest factor that can liberate young people  from a dysfunctional, troubled or just loveless home into a functional, productive and fulfilling life. I think that is more important than guaranteeing the job security,  grievance process and pensions of so-called “teachers” that will never make the starting lineup.

Are unions really the problem?

Monday, September 6th, 2010

Having seen both abusive and unresponsive management/owners and the protection of mediocre and unproductive workers by unions in places I have worked, I have to say that the real problem boils down to humans and egos. Both management and unions are quite capable of ruining a firm when they let egos run amok.

In the labor-management transaction, there needs to be a deal that both sides can live with and that will neither break the firm nor take unfair advantage of the worker. The problem is that in many cases, the unions have come into play only after a history of abuse by the employer, so neither side is really bargaining without an axe to grind. Once in place, unions frequently continue to push for more and more concessions, regardless of the net effect on the health of the employer and because of the employer’s attitude towards workers, the negotiators cannot really trust or believe each other.

Some of the unions themselves are unwilling to deal fairly and openly with their own employees as detailed in this piece by Deroy Murdock in National Review. Here again, it’s all about a few people not being able to distinguish between being CEO or President and being King.

Clearly there are major abuses on both sides. The “rubber room” where some union teachers spend years whiling away the day at the taxpayer’s expense because it is so complicated and expensive to just discharge them is a current example.  But, for every example of a union procedure or benefit that seems unbelievable to the rest of us, there is a negotiator somewhere that agreed to it for that employer.

In the public sector, those seen as “management” may agree to nearly anything as they have no vested interest in the “business” anyway, since revenues are based on taxation and legislation rather than a free-market. For this reason I have some real problems with unions in the public sector, unless the union contracts are subjected to a public vote by either the people or by their elected representatives. Otherwise it is just one government employee making a deal with other government employees while no one really has the responsibility to look after the public interest.

On the other side, I once worked for a firm that kept changing the bonus criteria every other month because someone in the home office decided they were paying too much out in bonuses. The net result was that it became essentially impossible to meet the bonus requirements and the very things the bonus was set up to encourage disappeared. At the same time, pay rates were frozen and the employee share of the benefits plan shot up. Needless to say, productivity suffered greatly and absenteeism became a problem. Disappointed with that outcome, management went for the stick instead of a better carrot and several workers, myself included, started to investigate union representation. It had become clear that the firm’s priorities had changed from encouraging productivity to controlling labor expense within very tight parameters.

Republicans would have us believe that all unions are evil and that business owners and managers are all fair and honest folks who just want to make an honest profit from their efforts. Democrats would have us believe that every worker, whether in private business or on the government payroll must be protected from the evils of management and owners. Like so many other issues, neither tells the whole story. Neither side wants to tell you that most things are not black and white, because then you might actually start evaluating candidates as individuals instead of by party affiliation. To paraphrase, the fault lies not in our unions or employers, but in ourselves.