Stimulating Stagnation in Education

According to a New York Times report, the Obama Administration admits that over half of the jobs it created or saved by its stimulus package  (325,000 out of 640,000 jobs) were in the field of education, mainly those of teachers.

Had that money really been spent in ways to promote educational productivity, it would have been faithful to the investment goals of the stimulus package.

But the money has in fact been spent to keep school employees on the payroll, while ensuring that teachers’ salaries climb upward with each year of experience, and giving those with a master’s degree a bonus.

In Marlborough, Massachusetts, the mayor was courageous enough to say the district could not afford the annual increment this year.  Since millions of other Americans have lost their jobs and almost everyone in the private sector is being asked to accept a salary freeze, that seems not too much to ask of school teachers.  But “no,” said the local union, and the teachers are now “working to rule,” which means, of course, putting student needs last.

At last report, the Marlborough mayor is facing a strong challenge in the election on Tuesday. She is learning the hard way that if one fights a teachers union, it can be expected to fight back on election day (even while claiming neutrality).  The Marlborough story helps explain why virtually every other district in the country is hoisting teacher salaries as if the economy were forging ahead at a hundred miles an hour.

So we have a nearly $800 billion stimulus package focused mainly on rewarding an outmoded, self-indulgent school system, where employees control the election chances of those on the other side of the bargaining table.

All of this might be justified if we had the faintest hope that the additional monies were lifting student performance and preparing them for a workplace that expects higher levels of skill than ever before. But the most recent results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress reveal that schools are as much in the doldrums as ever.

If the Obama Administration is really going to stimulate the economy, they need to find some tools other than one that simply bails out the educational status quo.

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