Word is that the Chicago teachers’ strike is on the verge of settlement. That probably means that school reform will fade as a political issue, but it shouldn’t. But before it does, a few odds & ends to address.
Dylan Matthews, revisited
In my critique of Dylan Matthews’ awful bit of apologetics for Rahm Emanuel (“How much do teacher strikes hurt kids?”), I spent a lot of time on his use of Michael Baker’s NBER working paper (“Industrial Actions in Schools: Strikes and Student Achievement”) that allegedly showed damage to student test scores after a strike, using Ontario in the late 1990s as a test case. I focused on the political context of the labor strife in that time and place, which both Baker and Matthews overlooked. But I didn’t really go after the core of Baker’s argument, which turns out to be rather weak on close inspection.
The results indicate that “long” strikes, which last 10 instructional days or more, in grade 6 have significant, negative effects on grade 3 through grade 6 test score growth in reading and especially math. The impact of a strike in grade 6 on math score growth is a reduction of 29 percent of the standard deviation of test scores across school/grade cohorts. The average impact of strikes in grades 2 or 3 on score growth is small, negative and statistically insignificant, although there is some heterogeneity in the impact across school boards.
So strikes during grade 6 have an impact on grade 6 scores, but strikes in grade 3 have none? If anything, that shows a short-term effect that decays over time. Baker’s work doesn’t address at all what happened to those allegedly injured 6th graders by the time they got to 9th. And, while 29% of the SD sounds like a lot, if you look at the actual scores in the appendix of the paper, the differences are quite small.
Also, Baker’s literature review at the beginning of his paper shows mixed findings in past studies, including some papers showing no effects at all. Matthews did not mention that.
The conventions of academic writing, even of the most mainstream sort, do impose certain disclosure requirements that journalists don’t always observe.
Yglesias explains why teachers’ unions are different
In a post yesterday (“Why teachers unions are different: A reply to Doug Henwood”), Matt Yglesias takes exception to my speculation on why elite liberals don’t like teachers unions (“Why do so many liberals hate teachers’ unions?”). Boiling it down to a soundbite: unlike labor disputes in the private sector, where raises would come out of the pockets of shareholders, raises for public sector workers come out of the pockets of “taxpayers,” meaning you, me, Matt, and everyone else—mostly, that is, people of fairly modest means.
This use of “taxpayers” is a fascinating bit of ideology. Its dispersion into wide use marks a very successful deployment by the right of a very conservative notion. It is founded on a view that one lives in this world primarily as an individual, and consumes privately. Any sense of collective consumption (or investment, if you prefer), via the public budget, is ruled out. As is so often the case with right-wing concepts, reactionaries have a much clearer and more consistent sense of the politics behind their buzzword. Liberals, or neoliberals, like Yglesias import the right’s concepts without fully integrating them into their worldview. Yglesias wouldn’t support Paul Ryan’s fiscal policy, but he’s happy to use a word that’s deeply implicated in its underlying concepts.
Also ruled out in this usage of “taxpayers” is any sense of the state as a contested realm for class struggle. We’re all taxpayers—even though the upper classes, who are overflowing with money, have long been evading their share of paying for public goods like education.
In Chicago, Hyatt heiress Penny Pritzker (who hates being called an “heiress,” so: heiress Penny Pritzker, heiress heiress heiress), the 719th richest person in the world according to Forbes, has been showered with tax breaks by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s government while she sits on the board of the public school system. In fact, she got a $5.2 million tax break for a hotel development while the schools in the immediate vicinity of the proposed development are seeing a proposed budget cut for next year of $3.4 million (“Penny Pritzker’s TIF”).
As the sociologist Rudolf Goldscheid put it, “the budget is the skeleton of the state stripped of all misleading ideology.” In this case, using the word “taxpayers” is the misleading ideology. People who can pay more to support public schools aren’t being made to pay—the very same elites (including Rahm himself) who send their kids to private schools. Which leads us nicely on to the next item.
But before we get there, Yglesias praises my critique of some public sector unions that I aired after Walker’s victory in the Wisconsin recall. But that was a critique of the unions for not making any alliance with the broad public over the quality of services, or articulating any general interest in defending mass living standards. The Chicago Teachers Union is not that kind of union at all. It has been a model of how public sector unions should act, making it clear that it’s fighting for better public schools on behalf of just about everyone. They’ve been rewarded with strong public support, especially from parents (“A new poll proves majority of parents and taxpayers approve of fair contract fight”).
Ok, now on to the next item.
Finally, this (“There’s a Simple Solution to the Public Schools Crisis”):
Billionaire wise hobbit Warren Buffet once told school reformer Michelle Rhee that the easiest way to fix schools was to “make private schools illegal and assign every child to a public school by random lottery.”
I suppose this is rather, um, impractical, but it does have a marvelous clarifying simplicity about it. And watching people who are comfortable with vast disparities in schooling come up with arguments against Buffett’s proposal is very amusing.