Public-school employees and teacher unions are better than they think they are. They don’t have to strangle parent’s free choice in how they educate their children. Public-school teachers have within them the ability to be great educators. I would like to suggest a way for them to live up to their highest potential.
The problem is the system they are trapped in. Too many teachers have become more concerned with their economic security than with realizing the best within them. This attitude is typical of many government employees. I should know, because many years ago I once worked for the City of New York, for three years.
When the City first hired me, I was young and eager. I intended to give the job my best efforts. However, I soon realized that little was expected of me. I saw the lazy attitudes of my fellow workers who had the security of tenure. Since I am only human like everyone else, I started to become like my fellow employees.
I soon realized that if I did passable work and did not make any waves, I would advance up the civil-service salary ladder just for showing up at the job. My supervisors did not make me work harder or become more competent. To make more money, I only had to grow old on the job. I quickly noticed that when I worked harder or came up with innovative ideas, I did not get paid more. I also saw that when I slacked off in my work or enthusiasm, I did not get paid less.
As a result, I gradually, insidiously, started to die inside. My spirit, initiative, and the best within me started to die. Most employees will act the same way under a similar system of rewards or punishment. If a person is not rewarded for trying harder or doing better, if he is not punished for being lazy or incompetent, most of us, myself included, become mediocre employees just putting in our time. By remaining a government employee, every undiscovered talent and possibility I had within me was being smothered in the stifling, undemanding atmosphere of government employment.
Why didn’t my government employers demand more of me? Because government agencies never go out of business–they are monopolies that stay in business whether or not they do a good job. These agencies get paid from taxes, not from individual “customers” they are supposed to be “serving.”
The public is forced to deal with civil-service employees of the Post Office, Social Security Office, or local Board of Education because these government agencies have no competitors.
Worse, government employees know this. These monopoly agencies get their “customers” by force. They do not need your consent when they take your tax money or make you wait in line to see them. So if government employees or supervisors know their agency can never go out of business, if they are not afraid of being fired for incompetence, there is little incentive to work harder or innovate.
The same psychology applies in government (public) schools. No matter how bad the public schools are, they don’t go out of business. The educrats just ask for more tax money to “fix” what they think is wrong, and the schools stay open for another fifty years, wrecking our children’s education.
In a free-market school, such things don’t happen. A private school that didn’t teach children how to read would soon lose parent’s confidence. Parents would remove their children from the school, and the school would soon be out of business. End of story.
In government schools, no matter how bad a teacher or principal is, it is almost impossible to fire him because of tenure. That would never happen in a free-market school. If students do badly because of incompetent teachers, parents will complain to the owner. The owner will quickly remove a teacher if he doesn’t improve his performance, because the owner could lose parent-customers if he doesn’t. End of story.
But government schools entrench mediocre education without hope of improvement precisely because the schools can’t go out of business and tenure protects bad teachers or principals. These schools and teachers are not accountable to parents, their true customers. That’s why so many public schools give a third-rate education to our kids.
So I offer this challenge to teachers and their unions. If you think your government schools do as good a job as private or religious schools, have the courage of your convictions, and prove it. Put your money where your mouth is. Instead of strangling parent’s freedom of choice, prove to us that you could do better.
How? Here’s a suggestion. Use your multi-millions of dollars in union dues to buy the government schools and run them as private schools, the way former Soviet Union employees bought the factories they worked in. Let us privatize the government (public) schools. Let the teacher unions buy every public school in the country. Instead of being government employees, teachers will then be shareholders in school companies they will own, like Microsoft shareholder-employees who became millionaires from their stock options.
When you, the unions and teachers, buy the schools, you will then complete with every other private school in the free-market. There will be no more compulsory-attendance laws that force parents to give you their children. There will be no more compulsory school taxes that pay your salaries.
You will complete on a level playing-field, like every other private business has to compete. You will have to prove to parents, your new customers, that you deserve to get their business and educate their children. You will have to be better than your competitors. If you teach well, you will succeed. You may even make a fortune in profits from your private schools, and congratulations if you do. If you don’t teach well, you will go out of business, as you should. Parent-consumers will decide your fate.
That being said, I predict that most of you would do great. I believe that once your unions bought the schools, your attitude and your lives would change remarkably. You would soon discover that your school’s success depended on your hard work, competence, and innovation. Fierce competition in the free market would force you to work smarter and harder and become great educators.
I believe that public-school teachers have not even begun to live up to their highest potential. All you need is to understand that the free market, rather than being your imagined worst enemy, can be your best friend.
So here’s the challenge–if you love to teach, if you think you are good educators, if you care about giving quality education to our children, prove it in the real world. Put your money where your mouth is. Pit your best against the best the free market has to offer.
Teachers, you especially will benefit from a totally free-market education system. There will be so many new schools opened, so much fierce competition for competent, innovative teachers, that teacher salaries will skyrocket.
K-12 education today is a $500 billion market, because most parents consider education as their first priority for their children. There is a huge, pent-up demand for your skills, creativity, and dedication. As a result, your incomes will rise dramatically. Your status as teachers will rise with parents as they see the new vigor and quality you bring to your profession. You will be respected and in great demand. By the way, did you know that the best private teachers in Japan are so in demand that they can earn as much as star Japanese baseball players?
So here’s the challenge I offer you. Live up to the best within you in a free-market education system, or let the best within you shrivel up in a government-run public school.
To mayors in cities across America, I extend this challenge to you. Stop wasting our children’s time and billions of our tax dollars on futile programs to “improve” the government schools. Politicians have been trying to “improve” these schools for the last fifty years, and the schools have only gotten worse. The public-school system is beyond repair because government is not the solution, it is the problem.
Instead, push to privatize the public schools in your cities. Push to get government out of the education business, once and for all. Challenge teachers to live up to their highest potential. Challenge them to consider the life-giving breath of a free-market education system. They will eventually thank you for it.
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Joel Turtel is an education policy analyst and syndicated columnist. He is also the author of Public Schools, Public Menace: How Public Schools Lie To Parents and Betray Our Children” and The Welfare State: No Mercy For the Middle Class.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Article Copyrighted © 2012 by Joel Turtel.