Tag Archives: Education

Email Doug Stephens. On his government email. “In a confidential way…”

Utah could break the back of the teachers’ union,” a friend told me over lunch. “They could do it tomorrow, if [legislators] wanted to. All they would have to do is look into the corruption, fraud and waste in the school .”

Well, now. That’s a bold statement. And it’s exactly the over-the-top type thing that a couple of guys say over lunch when it doesn’t matter and no one is listening (and no one has to back anything up with facts, those pesky little things).

On the other hand, what is it with unions, especially teachers’ union? If the (unions, generally) are really so fantastic, why do judges feel the need to prohibit unions from throwing feces?

I can’t help but wonder at the underlying threat of violence that seems to follow them.

Back to Utah and over-the-top statements and backbreaking and such.

A few months back (meaning last year), the Ogden School District decided it had had enough of unions breaking its back. Specifically, the Ogden Education Union (“OEA”), the local version of the Utah Education Association. The recession is still on, people are still having babies, and the number of students signing up for school is growing.

It gave Ogden teachers a choice: sign the contract we send you, or hasta la vista. Oh, and we’ll give you a 3% raise, almost double the Utah Consumer Price Index (CPI) and a third greater than the national CPI. In other words, inflation has only increased the cost of stuff by 1.7%, but we’ll pay you 3% more.

All you gotta do is sign the contract.

The OEA balked. It told the teachers to stick it to the man, and force the school district to negotiate with the union on the teachers behalf. Don’t sign those contracts with the 3% salary increase…

All but one teacher signed. See, they’re teachers. They can do the math. They know a good deal when they see one.

The upshot?

While several other school districts are passing new tax increases this year, including Alpine and Davis, the Ogden School District has not raised taxes. They were also able to give raises to their teachers without collective bargaining – imagine. They have not cut the school year, or reduced staff.

But unions aren’t interested in the general welfare of their clients–the children and parents and teachers of the district–they’re interested in themselves.

And so, on August 15, Doug Stephens, President of the OEA, sent an email to all those recently rehired teachers with the 3% salary increases. He wanted just one thing: money. (Well, not exactly. He also asked teachers to sign up for another year of ineffective collective bargaining, to join a protest, to exert peer pressure on “fellow teachers who are not O.E.A. members,” and to read a really bad poetry analysis, and but that’s beside the point…or is it?)

Courtesy of Holly “on the Hill” Richardson:

Our political battles will take large amounts of O.E.A/U.E.A.- P.A.C. dollars. We are asking each member to give at least $30.00 to our P.A.C. fund this year. That is less than $5.00 a month between now and when school ends in May 2012. All the money we raise this year in our P.A.C. will stay with us. To be able to give a candidate, that we select, for a school board race, thousands of dollars and hundreds of volunteers to help in a campaign is unbeatable in a local election.

That’s right. In other words, Doug is say that “We couldn’t help you last year, we’re in a state that loathes us, and we’re losing ground…all while you’re getting a raise higher than the rest of the population and ahead of inflation. But please: by all means, keep sending us your money!”

Seriously. Teachers would get a better return in the stock market than sending $30 to the OEA this year. Heck, they might get a better return in a lemonade stand.

To return to my friend’s comment over lunch: perhaps Utah legislators could break the back of the UEA and its mini-me local unions just by looking into the fraud and waste that goes on in the school system. I don’t know. I haven’t looked into if there is that much.

The reality is, however, that it may not matter. Utahns care about their kids and they care about their schools, and they are willing to pay what they can to prove it. In a baby rich, cash poor state like Utah, that Ogden was able to provide a 3% raise in the midst of a recession is proof positive.

But don’t tell that to Doug Stephens. Unless you want to. His email address, if you want to communicate with him “in a confidential way,” as he asked in his email, is dstephens1@weber.edu . (What is he doing giving out a government email for union promotion in what is clearly political work, anyway?)

(H/T to Holly Richardson for Ogden School District vs the union at hollyonthehill.wordpress.com)

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Blog o’ the day: The Grammarphobia Blog

Every so often, we all run across one of those odd questions about our English language. You know, like what does the prefix “un” do to a word–intensify or negate? Or is it “sports’ report” or “sport’s report?” Maybe while at the water cooler you’ve asked your coworkers why duck sauce doesn’t have any duck in it.

If you’ve ever parsed words, phrases, or syntax, then The Grammarphobia Blog will be a fun treat for you. The product of Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman, who are both journalists, their format is to take questions from readers, do the research, and report back in an entertaining and interesting review of topic.

For example:

Q: A friend of mine (and I mean it) insists that “they/them/their” can be used in place of “he/she/him/her,” etc. For instance: “Has anyone lost their pit bull?” This sounds wrong to me. Can you help me persuade my friend that it’s wrong?

A: It sounds wrong to us too, though we’d be more concerned about that lost pit bull than about the questionable grammar.

Followed by a quick review of etymology, rules and usage in modern English. Here’s an excerpt from the answer to the above question.

Granted, “they/them/their” are third-person plural pronouns. But many, many people use them in a singular sense, especially in reference to unspecified or indefinite people (as in “If someone calls, tell them I’m out”).

Furthermore, this usage, while now considered a misusage, has some history on its side. We’ve written about this several times in the past, including in the New York Times Magazine.

It’s a great little blog, updated regularly, and always an interesting, educational, and entertaining read. Check it out, add it to your blog reader, and start learning a little more about your mother tongue.

Gotta read this book!

I wandered through the Barnes and Noble during my lunch hour, today. I felt like a child in a candy store…

Among the many books that caught my eye, one resonated more than the others: “The Sorcerers and their Apprentices: How the Digital Magicians of the MIT Media Lab Are Creating the Innovative Technologies That Will Transform Our Lives.”

Check this, from a review in the WSJ that I found when I got back to the office:

Part of the Media Lab mystique is that no one owns the intellectual property that its sorcerers and apprentices generate. Rather, the inventions and innovations that come of its “antidisciplinary” approach to problem-solving are put into the public domain for anyone to take up and run with. Lately the Media Lab teams have turned their attention to health-care delivery systems, personal-finance tools, robots that will provide help and companionship for the elderly, and a wearable device that can turn any surface—a tabletop or a human hand—into a computer touch-screen.

Forget iPads and tablets–how about a watch that turns my desk into a computer touch-screen?

That, my friends, is cool stuff. And it’s another reason why we should be focusing more of our educational energies on beefing up on math and the sciences, not what demographic group most contributed to history.


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Do you really need all that education?

And now for something completely different, let’s ask ourselves the question: DO YOU REALLY NEED ALL THAT EDUCATION?

Arnold Kling doesn’t necessarily think so. Rather, education just separates the “wheat from the chaff. ”

There’s a great debate going on between a some economists over at Econlog.com.  Their question? Does more education endows more benefit, or is it just “signaling” to employers to select the smarter, harder working workers. It’s called “signal theory” and Bryan Caplan explains it like this:

If you haven’t heard, the signaling theory says that to a significant extent, education does not increase workers’ productivity. Instead, the fact that you obtain an education shows that you were more productive all along, which makes employers want to hire you.

Here’s a simple thought experiment to illustrate the distinction. Which would do more for your career: A Princeton education, but no diploma, or a Princeton diploma, but no education?

Does that mean we all take standardized tests in seventh grade and call it good? Enter the workforce at our level of IQ or productivity?  Not necessarily (though there are those who would say that standardized tests already do that):

Even firm believers in the signaling model like myself grant that schools teach some useful skills. But more importantly, this objection only works against specific kinds of signaling. Yes, if all that school signals is IQ, then a test is a cheap substitute. But what if school signals conscientiousness and/orconformism? Think about it this way: Would you want to hire a high school drop-out with a 150 IQ? Probably not, because you’d immediately think “This guy had the brains to do anything. Why didn’t he finish high school? What’s wrong with him?!”

But what about college? That graduate degree?  Necessary. Because it’s part of what differentiates the dumb from the smart, the lazy from the industrious. Academia may be so many hoops to jump through, result in a lot of social waste, but still provide the utility of helping employers find the best workers. It’s a conundrum, but not a contradiction.

You can believe that IQ matters quite a lot for earnings, but still think that education teaches nothing but bona fide job market skills. If this is so, then comparing the earnings of college graduates to high school graduates overstates the private benefit of education. Why? College graduates were smarter to begin with, so they would have earned more money than the typical high school graduate even if they didn’t go to college. Labor economists call this “ability bias.”

Similarly, you can believe that a lot of education is mere signaling, without thinking that IQ by itself puts money in your pocket. Suppose that the world is rigidly credentialist, so that no one will even consider a person without a degree for anything beyond a low-skilled job. If this is so, then comparing the earnings of college graduates to high school graduates overstates the social benefit of education. Why? Because part of the effect of education is just to make yourself look better compared to other people without increasing production.

As a high school drop out with less than a full five years of k-12 public education under my belt, I tend to lean towards the theory that much of public education is time wasted. Even as a high school dropout, I managed to earn a bachelors and a law degree. Neither degree came from Ivy League institutions, but nor were they bottom feeders, either. Quite the contrary. All without the full thirteen years of public education.

I don’t say this to toot my horn, but rather to note that it may not be necessary to attend the full gamut of public education to succeed. On the contrary, it is innate ability (aka IQ) and work ethic that is a greater indicator of success.

That said, I love learning, and I would never have turned down my years of study at Brigham Young or at the University of Utah’s College of Law for anything. Both were very enriching experiences, albeit a bit expensive, and I found them to be personally valuable.

High school, though, I could have done without. Even the year and a half I did attend. Waste. Of. Time.

Check out Bryan Caplan’s posts on the topic here and here.

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Become an “expert” in about five books (plus or minus)

If you’re interested in becoming an “expert” in a flash, or at least boning up on a topic, then nothing beats reading a few well written books. The only trouble is finding the time and finding the right books.

Find the time and the books, though, and  it is one of the cheapest, and most accessible, ways to an education. A true leveler. Suddenly, you can pontificate with the loudest out there, yell at the T.V. with impunity, and tell Chris Matthews where he’s wrong (a clue: on just about everything that involves a thrill up his leg). Continue reading