Monday, 5 December 2005

Unions v children

Kindergarten teacher strikes in NZ raise again the question of what teacher unions actually bring to the table. Reason magazine has a short summary of how Californian teacher unions act against the interests of children. Who would have thunk it: Teacher unions resisting giving principals the ability to sack teachers that can't teach! Making it obvious once again that the interests of teacher unions are not cognisant with the interests of students.

Two law changes however, Propositions 74 (on teacher tenure) & 75 (paycheck protection) seek to makes some changes, in California at least. Two chances of that happening here... [Hat tip Stephen Hicks]

Meanwhile, as New Zealand kindergarten teachers strike for more pay we hear the usual blandishments about what they're paid, and how they're worth this, or how they're worth that. But of course without a real market in eduation it will never be possible to establish what teachers are actually worth -- without a market there's just no way to establish what anything is worth. As Ludwig von Mises explained years ago, "central planning by the government destroys the essential tool — competitively formed market prices — by which people in a society make rational economic decisions." If kindergarten teachers truly want to find out what they're
worth, the best thing they could do is to argue for an end to the central planning of education.

The teachers union, NZEI, are also complaining that a demand to increase contact time from 25 hours to 30 or 35 hours is " unworkable as it would not allow enough time for teachers to do essential non-contact work." Perhaps they could reflect that if much of the Ministry-mandated paperwork requirements were removed, then spending so much non-contact time on nonsense would be unnnecessary, and spending more time in the classroom with children would be possible.

Linked article: Hey, teacher unions! Leave those kids alone!
The impossibility of socialism


  1. the NZ kindergarten teachers are not really striking over pay - they have pay parity with their primary and secondary colleagues which will be fully implemented by the middle of next year for all except Head and Senior teachers (who are asking for their parity to be reinstated at these negotiations, but that's the only pay claim).

    Some of the paperwork is Ministry mandated, but a lot of the work done in non-contact time is similar to the preparation, planning and assessment work that teachers in schools do, particularly those teaching New Entrants. It's actually part of being professionals - not just babysitters, and it's contributed to an increase in quality.

  2. Span, a pay increase for senior and head teachers is one of their three chief demands, so it's worth at least a comment.

    Being professional doesn't necessarily entail all the pointless paperwork and bureaucratic nonsense that all teachers are required to do by the Ministry -- indeed, it becomes hard to be truly professional with all the piles of crap that must be produced. Not all paperwork is pointless -- as you say, proper preparation, planning and assessment is essential -- but too much oif what the Minsitry requires is just a waste of time and shelf-space.

    That's the thing, though, with central planning. Central planning has a problem measuring 'quality,' so instead of measuring real quality it sets up various proxy means by which 'quality' is measured -- all of which require truck-loads of paper. And then, due to all the time spent on producing these 'proxy measures' -- what amounts to time-wasting nonsense - real quality falls through the cracks for want of time to pursue it.

    I'm suggesting that instead of arguing about what the Ministry's central planners require (which grows with each new year), that central planning of education cease altogether.

  3. yes it is one of the three main demands, but the problem is that most people hear strike and think "must be about pay", when actually it's about much much more than that. even the pay issue is not about asking for X%, it's about asking for the principle of pay parity, which was agreed to in the past, being carried out in practice.

    in terms of central planning, paperwork, etc - i don't know enough about the day to day practice of being a kindergarten teacher to say how much there is, but how do you monitor quality without at least some?

  4. Span you asked, "in terms of central planning, paperwork, etc - i don't know enough about the day to day practice of being a kindergarten teacher to say how much there is, but how do you monitor quality without at least some?"

    Good question. It's the question presently plaguing the guardians of the tertiary treasure chest, isn't it?

    When you choose shoes you buy, the car you purchase, the holiday you book, the dating website you join, the internet forum you spend your time do YOU decide on quality? How do YOU monitor it? The difference between what YOU do to ensure quality and what a central planner does is the difference between comsuming something yourself and knowing first-hand what you've got, and being at arms' length from the final consumption and needing to set up 'proxies' by which to measure the quality. In the case of early childhood education, those proxies take the form of mandating minimum qualifications, minimum standards for classroom size, numbers of staff and their contact hours, paperwork requied to show conformity with the Early Childhood Currriculum 'Te Whaariki' -- itself another sop to central planning of education -- and uniformity of educational outcomes all across the land. A one-size-fits-all system and a mountain of forms to fill out to show that one is conforming is the leitmotof of a centrally-planned and centrally-controlled system.

    But it doesn't guarantee quality. Far from it. These are just proxies for quality -- substitutes for it. Quality and conformity are not the same thing. Far from it.

    In short, the method by which quality is judged under central planning or centralised control is very different to the method by which a consumer judges quality. Parents themselves are often at odds with what the Ministry mandates -- as are many teachers -- but the Ministry just goes right on insisting that it's right.

    Choice is the key, and letting people exercise it. But choice is not what the central planners like you to have.

    One thing apparent from the brief illustration above and from the recent Wananga debacle is that quality can not be mandated from above, and also that where the money comes from is not unimportant. He who has the gold makes the rules, but even if all the rules are followed to the letter, there's no guarantee of quality therefrom. The short answer is to decentralise decision making and decentralise payment - remove the central planning so that decisions on quality are made by those who know how much quality costs, and what exactly is needed -- just as you do when you choose a new pair of shoes, or invest your time in a new internet forum. You choose, for you, and you pay the cost in either time or money.

    The four ways of spending I mentioned in today's post about the Wananga are relevant in answering your question:

    1/. You spend your own money on yourself -
    e.g, you buy your own toys, and you've probably saved for them. You look after them.

    2/. You spend someone else's money on yourself -
    e.g., a kid gets hold of Dad's wallet in the toy store. Lots of toys, most quickly broken or ignored.

    3/. You spend your own money on someone else -
    e.g., you buy a toy for a friend. It's cheap.

    4/. You spend someone else's money on someone else. Neither price nor quality are important -
    e.g., your parents buy a toy for your friend. Its cheap. He doesn't want it.

    Who pays and fdor what is crucial in determing quality of spending. It is also important to have a realistic and contextual standard of quality. 'Quality' is not a static concept. Generally speaking, the more quality you have, the more you have to pay for. Not everyone can afford a RollRoyce, and nor is a Honda Civic always a bad thing. It all depends on what you can afford, and who's paying. If someone else is paying for you, then money is no object, and quality is all: the Rolls Royce is the thing. If soeione else is paying and you're buying something for someone else, then too often you're just not going to care what they get or how much it costs. No amount of paperwork is going to change that, but the more paper you have, the easier it will be to defend your choice later.

    With central planning of quality, there is no conception of this aspect of this law of nature. 'Monitoring' quality becomes more important than producing it. And the time involved in doing so is not the concern of the central planners, since the time involved is not their own. There is a clear disincentive for them even to give a shit whether or not their mandated procedures are realistic or not -- from a position unconcerned with cost, you can never have too much quality: the 'Rolls Royce choice' is always the best choice, even if you just spend Rolls Royce dollars and get a Honda Civic anyway.

    So in answer to your question as to how you ensure quality without the means by which central planning tries and fails to ensure it, let me ask you again how you ensure quality in the shoes you buy, the car you purchase, the holiday you book, the dating website you join, the internet forum you spend your time at...

    The best and only way to ensure the quality of a good or service that is both appropriate to those paying for it, and affordable for them, is the tried and true method of the market. Let people paying the bills make their own choices in early childhood education, (as they were not so long ago for the most part, before the government attempted to take over the sector).

    If you really do want to know more, there's an interview on the Mises Blog that I pointed to some time ago:
    "Consumer Protection: A Case for the Free Market Updates

    "Robert Murphy interviewed by (audio file) on the question of the market vs. the government regulation on protecting consumers. "


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