Education in New York: Stop Trying, Stop Lying, Pursue Alternatives

Year after year, deal after deal, the United Federation of Teachers continues to jack up the cost of providing even a decent education for NYC’s children, by ordering its politicians to irrevocably allow them to work fewer years, fewer hours with children, and fewer days, with less accountability, and get paid more for it compared with the people who don’t matter.  No matter how high spending goes, no matter how high taxes go, no matter how much other needs are neglected, no matter what other services are cut, it is never enough.  Even after doubling to a level far above just about anywhere else, as shown in my prior post.

And since that works out so well for them (or at least some of them), and because they have developed such a sense of entitlement that they are completely incapable of enlightened self interest (the belief that in the long run self-interest requires accounting for the needs of other people too), it will never, ever, get any better.

After the 2008 25/55 pension deal for NYC teachers, the last straw and the deal that ended “school reform” in New York, I thought about what could be done for seven years.  

And the title of this post is the formula I came up with.   All you have to do is start with a blank state, without the UFT contract, its repeatedly retroactively enriched pensions (that might have been increased again last night at 3 am in secret but can never then be reduced), the bureaucratic mess coming down from the state under UFT/NYSUT orders, and the Department of EducationEarly Retirement, and you’ll see that for far less money than was spent in NYC in FY 2019 (and vastly less than today) it would be possible to have a class size of 12, with teachers who are paid more in total compensation than the average person who is paying for them.  Like the U.S. health care system, for which we are already paying as much as developed countries do for universal health care, if New York’s school system didn’t already exist no one would dare to suggest it.

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This is a follow up and partial repeat of things I have written before.

The events of the past two years have convinced me even more. Despite teachers being given top priority to get vaccines, and despite schools remaining open in other countries (such as those in Europe), NYC children were forced to try to learn on Zoom.  But an average or below average NYC school teacher on Zoom isn’t as good as one of the very best teachers on earth, pre-recorded, with pre-recorded exercises, work assignments and tests, on the very same screen.

Some parents who could afford it banded together and formed “pods” to teach a small number of children as a group, with the help of a professional. Other parents, who couldn’t afford to both pay taxes for public schools and then a second time for a teacher for their own pod, and were not highly educated themselves, asked why the City of New York would not provide one for them.  

Why not indeed?

Instead, when the NYC schools re-opened you had children in classes with no adult present, just a teacher somewhere else on a screen.  Nearly one-third of NYC teachers didn’t return to the classroom, and the UFT is working the system right now to ensure they will never have to.

So let’s re-imagine pre-K to grade 8 education from the ground up, in several steps.

What should education cost? 

Back in the 1990s, as part of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, a special master was tasked with determining how much additional funding NYC schools required.  (The answer was $1.9 billion, an additional funding total since exceeded several times over, even adjusted for inflation).  To figure out what a “sound basic education” cost they had two options.  

First, measure how much the most overfunded, gold-plated school districts in the rest of the state spent, and then assert that NYC needed that much.  

Or second, start from the cost of the actual inputs to education and see what they add up to.  How much, on average, are workers with similar backgrounds to teachers paid, in wages and benefits, adjusted for the fact that teachers work fewer days in a year?  What is the average class size?  How much per square foot does it cost private sector commercial real estate companies to maintain buildings?  How much do teaching materials, and other professional materials similar to teaching materials, cost?

They chose the first method. 

And insisted that as part of the same deal, the overfunded school districts in the rest of the state would also get more state aid.  Which meant that NYC was still behind.  So there was a demand for even more school aid for and spending in NYC.  But since it went to everyone once again, NYC was stillbehind the highest spending districts.  Etc.

In FY 1997 the Chappaqua School District, home to Governor Cuomo and the Clintons, had very good schools at $24,379 spent per student (adjusted for inflation into $2019), and NYC had schools that were so bad they violated the state constitution at $14,927 spent per student.  So NYC school employees were “cheated out of $billions.”   

In FY 2007 NYC spent $23,842 per student in $2019, or nearly as much as Chappaqua spent in FY 1997.  On teachers, NYC was spending far more per student in FY 2007 than Chappaqua had been back in FY 1997.  But by FY 2007 Chappaqua’s spending had increased to $26,913 per student. Which meant, according to the Alliance for Quality Education and the United Federation of Teachers, NYC’s children still deserved bad schools, because NYC was still spending less than Chappaqua.

In FY 2019 the NYC schools spent $31,578 per student, vastly more than Chappaqua in either FY 1997 or FY 2007.  Enrollment in the Chappaqua Central School District plunged from 4,213 in 2006 to 3,741 in 2018, but it apparently did not reduce its costs proportionately. Chappaqua’s spending per student soared to $38,750.  Which means NYC was stillbehind, and therefore NYC children still deserve schools that are so bad they violate the state constitution.   

And today, with even more money for the “underfunded” schools, and falling enrollment, NYC’s spending per student may have soared as high as Chappaqua three years ago – without any real requirement to provide NYC with anything in return.  But Chappaqua is probably also higher, meaning the NYC schools still owe the children of NYC nothing.

So it will ever be.

Now let’s use the second method, for pre-K to 8.

Based not on the excessive NYC spending level of FY 2019, but on the fair NYC spending level of FY 2007, which is about the same as the Chappaqua spending level of FY 1997, adjusted upward to recent ($2019) dollars.

And instead of the current, factory model of education, with children moving from station to station as if they were widgets on an assembly line.  We’ll have a cottage industry model, with teachers working in an extra room in their own homes right in their neighborhood.  They’ll also meet up with other teachers and children in the city’s parks, libraries, and other locations set up for that purpose.  

Education was, at one time, a cottage industry.  The rich hired tutors for their children, individually or in small groups. In the United States, one of the first societies to pursue universal education, parents taught their own children using the family bible. Or the community hired a teacher for all of its children, offering a one-room schoolhouse and place to live as part of the deal.

One can see echoes of this in local teachers and tutors, often working out of their homes, providing services the schools do not. The local piano or guitar teacher, for example. And in the family daycare system that has emerged to meet the needs of pre-school children, with the daycare providers working out of their own homes and serving children from the neighborhood. In New York City, according to licensing requirements,

https://www1.nyc.gov/nycbusiness/description/group-family-day-care-license

Group Family Day Care providers may care for 7 to 12 children, aged six weeks through 12 years. Group Family Day Care providers may obtain separate approval to care for an additional two school-aged children. When any child less than two years of age is present, the maximum allowable number of children in care is 10. In this situation, an additional two school-aged children may be permitted with separate approval.

Like lawyers, doctors and other professionals, family day care providers are licensed and have required training.  But it is up to them, and their reputation, to convince parents to trust them with their children.

I would say the group day care licensing and training system is the most actually progressive (based on what the word meant 100 years ago) thing New York government has done since I’ve been following it.  It allows a good, at-home living providing child care that is nonetheless relatively affordable compared with anything the City of New York does, and without any of the special interests that are sucking us dry getting a dime.

Today’s public school system, on the other hand, is built on the industrial model. Like products on an assembly line, children are moved as a group from station-to-station (grade to grade) manned by specialists, each backed by other specialists and support staff as well as equipment, organized into a large, hierarchical organization. These education factories once allowed a decent level of education at an affordable cost level – by processing the children 40 or 50 at a time — the class size 100 years ago. They also benefitted from a low-paid labor force with few other options – educated women by custom in the public schools, nuns and religious brothers by choice in the parochial schools.

There are two problems with the factory school system. More and more people want something better. And in New York it isn’t really affordable anymore either, and less affordable all the time, and not just because (including the cost of their retirement benefits and measured per hour) teachers now earn as much as (or more than) other workers.

The information below may be found in this spreadsheet.

The Cost of Instructional Staff

One “school” in our hypothetical cottage industry school network will start with a ratio of just 9.0 students per instructional employee.  That is more than the 8.3 actually recorded in NYC in FY 2007, let alone the 7.3 in FY 2019.  What class sizes did the United Federation of Teachers provide at that ratio?  It was 26.4.   

Capitalizing on the pandemic for another score, the UFT has presumably cut further deals for even fewer students per dues paying member today.

IN NYC, special education children are about 15 percent of the total.  For special education, the UFT schools currently have class sizes of up to 12, or a second teacher added to a general education class.

https://www.schools.nyc.gov/learning/special-education/preschool-to-age-21/special-education-in-nyc

But in our hypothetical cottage industry school network, we will have a class size of 12 for most students, matching up with Group Family Day Care.  With 15 percent of the classes having an average class size of 6, for special education.  And one supervisor for every 18 teachers, who also helps to cover for the teachers who are ill, taking that opportunity to review their work.  And one paraprofessional per six teachers, to help out in certain circumstances, and on certain days.  

So 18 teachers, three paraprofessionals, and one supervisor would provide for 198 children in 15 classes of 12 and three classes of six. At a ratio of 9 children per instructional employee, or far more than NYC has now.

How much would these teachers get paid?  In 2019, according to the American Community Survey, the median earnings of New York Metro Area residents was $43,937 for those with some college or an associates degree, $68,433 for those with bachelors’ degrees, and $90,960 for those with graduate degrees.  (The averages for NYC residents alone were lower).  That includes everyone who works on Wall Street, everyone who works in IT, ever physician, every lawyer, every accountant, every supervisor, every vice president, every CEO, every business owner. 

The average worker works for 220 days per year, compared with 180 minus sick leave for most NYC teachers.  So let’s pay our average hypothetical teachers or supervisor at the graduate degree holder rate, adjusted for the fewer days worked.  That is $74,422 each, on average, with less for new hires, but more for those with more experience, more for who are supervisors, more for those working with more disadvantaged or disabled children, etc. 

In addition, if an individual wanted to work more hours or days, perhaps providing child care after school or over the summer, they would get more pay.   In the cottage industry network teachers would be allowed to make these arrangements with parents themselves – or not – depending on their need for money or time. Perhaps the government could subsidize the additional child care for less well off parents.

The paraprofessionals would get the associate degree rate, similarly adjusted.  That’s $35,948. They also could also work summers and after school providing child-care, if they wanted to.

It should be noted that including those who get paid more for after school and summer school, the mean pay for working members of the New York City Teachers Retirement System was $85,447 in 2018, according to the Comprehensive Annual Financial Reportof the fund (page 142).  This also includes some CUNY employees, principals, other administrators, and paraprofessionals as well as teachers.  Look on page 161, and you’ll see that the average member retires after working just 25 years.

https://www.trsnyc.org/memberportal/WebContent/publications/financialReports/cafr

In our new cottage industry network, however, that’s $1,414,398 in cash pay for the teachers and supervisor, plus $107,844 for the paraprofessionals, for 198 children from September to June.  Total of $1,522,242.

How about benefits?

Including public employees, with their relatively rich benefits, and wage and salary employees who don’t any get benefits, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that supplements to wages and salaries, both those government mandated (FICA taxes etc) and employer contributions to pension and insurance funds, equaled 19.8% of wages and salaries in New York City, and 22.7% for the United States.  (The rising share of private workers pushed into the “gig economy” get nothing).  But let’s build up a more generous package than the average wage and salary worker from scratch.

At 7.65% of payroll for FICA, that’s a total of $116,422 for the 198 children and 22 employees.  Federal unemployment insurance payments add $924, and the state unemployment rate for new organizations would be $10,499.  New York City doesn’t pay unemployment insurance today – it self-insures unemployment payments in case of layoffs — and this amount doesn’t show up as school spending.  State disability taxes add $686.  The family leave tax adds $41,090.  As an educational institution, the “cottage industry” schooling would be exempt from the MTA payroll tax.  These are legally mandated benefit costs.

Lets hand out more retirement benefits than virtually all private sector workers get, and provide a 9.0% employer 401K contribution, with a 3.0% employee contribution. The total is $136,968 for 22 employees and 198 students.  Since it is a 401K, the state legislature couldn’t suddenly order future city residents to pay double or triple that amount for past years of work.  Or at least they’d have to do it differently.  But if a cottage industry staff member decided to change jobs or move to a different place, those retirement savings would move with them – unlike the UFT pension.

In the current NYC pension system, the member contribution for recently-hired, Tier VI members of the UFT varies from 3.0% to 6.0%, with an (under) estimated employer contribution of 5.85%.   So that’s theoretically less than the cost I have proposed. But the actual taxpayer contribution to the New York City Teachers Retirement System has actually been around 40.0% of payroll, and should probably be around 60.0%, so deep is the hole created by past retroactive pension increases for Tiers I to IV. In fact, I would say that New York City ought to start anticipating and pre-funding additional pension increases and early retirement incentives right now.  The UFT could order its state legislators to enact them at any time, threatening to create an actual election in the district of any legislator who didn’t vote for it.

Health insurance?  For our cottage industry network, let’s exaggerate what it costs by assuming that every teacher chose something as costly as a family “gold” medical and dental plan on New York State’s Obamacare website, and that the employer paid (once again) three quarters of it.  That is $21,600 per employee, or $475,200 in total.  The cost of health insurance in general has become inflated, compared with developed countries, by high U.S. health care costs, as I showed here.

Even given that, however, at a group rate the actual cost of health insurance would probably be lower than this estimate.   So this is an exaggerated scenario.

All in all, that’s a benefit cost of $781,740 for 22 employees and 198 students, or 51.4% of payroll – far more than double what the average private sector worker gets.   For the paraprofessionals, it would average $29,104 in tax-free benefit income for $35,948 in cash pay. Surely the actual cost would lower, or at least no higher, than these assumptions.  And if it were, cash pay could be higher.

But even at that cost, and even with a class size of 12 for most students and 6 for those with special needs, that still adds up to just $11,634 per student for the total cost of instructional and “school administration” staff. Compared with the NYC level of $19,492 in FY 2019, for schools that were so bad they violated the state constitution, it was alleged.  

Even compared with the $14,414 per student of FY 2007 (in $2019 dollars), there would be an average of an additional $2,780 per student available.  For extra help after school or in the summer, in exchange for more cash pay, if required.  And to cover for teachers who don’t attract their full complement of 12 kids for general education and 6 for special education.

But only to an extent.  Like the rest of us, and like Group Family Daycare providers, in the cottage industry network if fewer parents were willing to use a teacher, and they only had seven students instead of the full 12, they would get less money.  The only effective check on human selfishness is what I call voluntaryness.  Do right by me or I won’t agree to be your customer, your employee, your investor, your contributor, your friend.  The lack of voluntaryness in one direction – all of us have to pay regardless of what is received in return – explains a great deal about the school system.  The cottage industry network would restore it.

We have just saved $5,078 per student on teachers and school administrators compared with NYC in FY 2019, or $5.1 billion per million students, while providing a very attractive and well paid career and a class size of six or twelve.

Other Costs

How about also compensating the teachers for renting extra space, along with insuring it and providing electricity, water, sewer, and internet service?  According to Douglas Elliman…

https://www.elliman.com/corporate-resources/market-reports

In the more gentrified areas of Brooklyn, the median cost of a two-bedroom apartment is $2,900, and the median cost of a three-bedroom apartment is $3,497.  So that is an extra $600 per month for an extra room, total of $7,200 per year.  

Of course that would be less in a less expensive area of the city, but perhaps teachers would deserve additional compensation for living in such areas. 

Then double it for the added cost electricity, insurance, water/sewer, and internet/wifi, and cleaning the space with the help of the children (part of their education).  

That’s $14,400 per year paid to each teacher, or $259,200 in total, or $1,309 per student.  Compared with the NYC DOE cost of $1,601 per student in FY 2007 ($2019) – and $2,391 in FY 2019.   Even at the FY 2007 rate, adjusted for inflation, it appears we just saved a whole bunch of money on space as well, just based on operating costs.  But for the Department of Early Retirement, there were also $2,726 in capital expenditures on new schools and existing school rehabilitation as well.  Perhaps some of these savings could be used for parks and library facilities for the teachers to take the children to.

Of course, unlike UFT teachers, our cottage industry teachers would actually have to live in NYC, pay NYC taxes, and have their own children receive the quality of education NYC provides.  The UFT would surely say that would be an unfair burden – for their members.

The Department of Early Retirement spent $560 per child on food services in FY 2007, adjusted for inflation into $2019.  So lets match that, but have the teacher, parents, and children do the cooking, with the former using the occasion to teach the latter.  Part of the education. 

Student transportation?  That was $1,161 per student for the Department of Early retirement in FY 2007 ($2019), and $1,475 in FY 2019, even though most students walk to school.  Mayor DeBlasio has paid back his political supporters by ensuring NYC will be paying the school bus companies and their pensions for decades, even with no school bus transportation. 

In our cottage industry example, nearly all the children would also be walking to school at the teachers’ house or apartment, perhaps within a block or two.  But let’s assume two $2.75 subway or bus rides per student on 60 of the 180 days, to visit libraries, museums, parks and the like – and learn to get around by walking or on mass transit.  That’s still just $330 per year.  To provide special education children with the same opportunities, perhaps the nation-leading cost of $28 per NYC Transit paratransit ride could be used as a basis.   That would still leave the total cost for 198 students at $119,880, or an average of $605 per student.  Little more than half the FY 2007 cost the city actually paid.

Next, what about instructional costs other than personnel – for teaching materials and equipment?  Therein lies the key to this exercise.

The Potential Of Electronic Education (Ed Tech)

In the factory school model, a teacher stands in front of a class and talks, writes on a blackboard, and provides and corrects work assignments and tests.  Obviously some teachers are better at this than others.  Some lectures and assignments are not very good at all.  And some are not corrected and handed back until weeks later, too late to identify what a child still doesn’t know, and re-teach it.  

While the computer gaming industry challenges children with a variety of tasks with instant feedback, moreover, the education industry is still largely limited to true-false and a, b, c or d.  Because that is easier.

And obviously some students will be bored because they learn particular things quickly, while others will fall behind.  In the school reform era, an era the UFT and NYSUT successfully defeated, teachers were told to provide the required level of instruction for each student separately.  But that isn’t going to be possible for a class size of 26 – or 35, what the Department of Early Retirement provided with just 7.3 students per instructional staff member.  UFT teachers aim for the middle of the class, and hope for the best.

Expecting every teacher to be a great teacher, and none to be average or below average, and for every student to be taught in a different way at a different pace, isn’t reasonable or possible for the factory school model.

There is a way, however, that every child could have access to truly great teachers. Over the internet.  Just as information technology allows the best entertainers and game designers to serve millions of people at a time at a very low incremental per-person cost, so that same technology could allow millions of children access to the best instruction, exercises and practice, homework and tests.  In a format that was available on demand at any time.  With different teaching styles that might work for different students.  And the possibility of each child working at their own pace, rather than being held back by or trying to keep up with the average for a class, and with lots of extra practice for skills they and yet to master. 

The teachers and assignments on that screen could be best anywhere on earth, compensated in advance for those lectures and assignments, along with those who converted them into electronic format, and subsequently available for free. With instant feedback, and repetition for knowledge not yet memorized and skills not yet mastered. 

The education software could even be designed to incentivize learning, by allowing children who complete a learning task to move on to things they actually want to do – socialize and play games online.  It is incredible to see how attracted even the most distractible children are to electronic entertainment and socializing, and how many skills they are willing and able to master in order to use it. 

Imagine, for example, that the Catholic schools were to adopt the cottage industry format I have described (though at lower spending levels, because parents can’t afford to pay both soaring taxes for schools and that much tuition).  One reward for mastering a task could be to be connected with another Catholic school child of similar age somewhere else on the planet, and see and (initially using Google Translate and the equivalent) talk with them.  How motivating would that be?  It would be like the old pen pals on steroids.

There is a nascent “ed-tech” industry seeking to make big bucks providing education in electronic format.  

https://edtechmagazine.com

Education, however, has always been a non-profit sector, and the “ed-tech” entrepreneurs are failing to take advantage of the vast knowledge of all the teachers that are already out there.

Imagine instead that a non-profit organization, perhaps with some government or foundation funding, were to put the instruction, exercises, homework, tests and advice of 100 great teachers with different styles per grade, all converted into a new media format, online for all to use. A non-profit organization that was the equivalent of a public library. There are, in fact, some such organizations already forming and expanding.

https://www.khanacademy.org/

https://support.khanacademy.org/hc/en-us/articles/202483180-What-is-the-history-of-Khan-Academy-

All that would be missing is the possibility of a trained teacher working with an individual child on something they were having trouble with.  But in our cottage industry model, with a class size of 12, while 11 of those children receiving computer-based instruction the teacher could be working individually with one student at a time. One-on-one instruction, for less than NYC spends right now.  

In fact, with electronic education carrying the burden of day-to-day teaching, there is no reason why the in-person teacher would have to become a specialist in just one grade level.  They could instead take the same set of children, with some replacements as some move out and others move in, for the entire 10 years from pre-K to eighth grade.  They could even teach children in different grades at the same time – including their own, or the children of a nearby teacher friend they swapped with.

The career for such a teacher could start with five years at a traditional school, to reach the point where they are qualified to go off on their own, and then two or three sets of children for 10 years each. Followed by some years as a supervisor for some.  In any event such teachers would have extensive flexibility – not a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow but next to nothing for those who change jobs, careers or locations.

Getting back to the dollars, the Department of Early Retirement spent $1,583 per student on non-personnel instructional costs in FY 2007 (in $2019), and $2,567 in FY 2019.  For our cottage industry model education, assume there is only $1,580 per student. That would be $312,840 for 198 students and 18 teachers.  

Laptops have gone up in price, but still cost just $1,000 retail – with no volume discount.  If they were to last just two years, on average, before the kids broke them, that is still just $500 per kid per year, or $99,000 for 198 children.  It would probably be less.

Software and subscriptions?  Perhaps another $500 per student, or $99,000 for 198 students.  

Add another $250 per student for paper, art supplies, books, games, toys, etc.  Another $49,500 per 198 students.

That still adds to just $247,500 and leaves $65,340 unspent.  That could be used for even more innovation. 

For example, what would be the education equivalent of a food truck? I once read that at the Museum of Natural History, there is a room with a collection of most of the elements of the periodic table in drawers, arranged so that someone could look at them and see the commonalities and differences between them.  I was reading an article about someone whose father worked at the museum, and was able to go to this room as a child and see all the elements organized.  How many children could have that experience?

Doesn’t that raise this question?  Why isn’t there a chemistry bus circulating around the city, with (perhaps middle school) children going in a front door, looking at the elements and being shown how some combine and separate, and exiting a rear door?  How about a biology bus?  A physics bus? Just asking.  If the answer is money, then the answer is a lie.  Like universal health care, here in New York we have already paid for it, but somehow not received it.

My children used to like going to Painted Pot to do pottery when they were younger, something that my wife and I could afford but many parents cannot. 

There are now storefronts were adults can to learn to paint canvasses while drinking wine.  Could there be a budget for the cottage industry teacher to bring children to establishments like these?  If the price of retail space falls, there will be even more scope for innovation.   Even retired electricians, carpenters and plumbers who like kids (and have received safety training), operating businesses in storefronts to teach electricity, geometry and hydraulics to middle schoolers. Perhaps as part of franchises that show the former trades workers who to do it.

In the cottage industry model, unlike the factory model, teachers would be with children all day long.  Six hours per day, or more (for more pay) if they also choose to provide after school services.  Whereas the goal of the UFT/NYSUT is to keep reducing the number of hours, days and years teachers spend with children, so that more dues paying members are required for the same class size.  Which is why more and more teachers are hired, and more money spent, but class size is not reduced.

In seeking to justify Schedule 6, a contract deal during the Dinkins Administration that reduced the time UFT teachers spend with children to something like the least in the country, a teacher once told me that one way of the other, teachers need to spend much of the day taking a break, and doing preparation and other non-children work.  If that wasn’t included in their schedule, they were going to get that break some other way.  “Watch this video.”  “Open your books and do the first ten problems on page 15.”

My response is that if the things the children have to do while the teacher takes a break are vastly better than they were in the early 1990s, this wouldn’t be a problem.  Especially with 12 kids in the teachers’ own homes, and around their neighborhood.

There are three other non-instructional categories, as delineated by the Census Bureau:  pupil support, instructional staff support, and general administration. NYC spending has never been that high in that category, and in any event with so few children to be responsible for, the teachers and supervisor – assisted by IT – could do much more if it themselves.  “Instructional staff support” could be a bar tab at a local watering hole where the teachers got together, in place of courses the UFT is paid to provide.  But we’ll match the FY 2007 per student level – inflated into FY 2019 dollars. 

Adding it up, we are up to $882,200 in non-personnel costs or $5,764 per student.  Another big savings compared with FY 2019, let alone today.

Who Gets to Be the Teacher?

A cottage industry school network and electronic education would transform the job of the teacher, and the qualifications and capabilities required to fill it.

In the early days of public education most people were illiterate and innumerate.  At the time, being able to read, write and do arithmetic was a scarce skill that qualified one to be a teacher.  In other words, knowledge of the subject matter was the key qualification.

Once near universal literacy and basic math ability was attained, however, the schools were merely teaching things to children that (in theory) every adult was supposed to already know.  At least through Grade 8, or perhaps the first two years of high school.  Based on knowledge of subject matter alone, most people were qualified to become teachers.

So the qualification was changed from knowing the information to be taught, to knowing how to teach it.  This corresponded with the growth of graduate school requirements for educators, and state certification.   It was absolutely the right thing to do at the time, to provide the best possible education for all children.  

One side effect, however, was a significant reduction in the number of Black teachers as the schools desegregated.  Although they may have better understood Black children, and been more concerned with their welfare, many Black teachers couldn’t pass the certification exams, or take more years out of the workforce to gain a graduate degree.

Today, the potential of information technology means that the knowledge of how to teach certain subjects to children of certain ages isn’t a scarce skill either.  The instruction available online for use on laptops will take care of that, leaving in-person teachers to become curators, organizers and orchestrators of education, and tutors.

At that point, the critical qualification will be knowledge about child development, and the critical skill will be identifying how each individual child can learn, and obstacles to such learning, and motivating them to learn as much as they can.  

One of my critics on an education media site would always say that teachers are not social workers – specialists are required for that.  The job of the teacher is to lecture and give tests, and that alone, he said.  He had been a high school math teacher, so perhaps that will remain the case for others like him. But in general, in the future it isn’t that teachers will have to know about reading and arithmetic, or even about teaching reading and arithmetic.  They will have to understand, care about, and be able to work with children, even challenging children.

Certification requirements and training ought to reflect this.  So should the background of the teachers recruited.

The good news is that the availability of instructions, assignments and tests from the top 0.0001% of teachers, assisted by the best media creators and game designers, on earth in, electronic format should make upgrades to teaching possible.  For example, I’m struck by how many smart graduates of parochial schools are lawyers.  Electronic education should allow their math and science instruction to improve to the top level.

The same would be true, right off the bat, for our hypothetical cottage industry education network.

Involving the Parents

The only possible problem with the cottage industry education network is that there would generally only be one school employee on hand with children.  That could raise concerns about unseen child abuse, or false accusations of child abuse.  These don’t seem to have been a problem in NYC’s Group Family Day Care program.  But it is a risk that the man whose job it is to screw things up, kill any hope of improvement in NYC education, and generate a sense of resignation that we have to pay more and more and expect nothing in return, is sure to point out. 

But I have a solution.  Parents and guardians would be told that if they want their children to be served by the cottage industry school network, someone from their household would have to spend the day at the teacher’s place one day out of twelve, or 15 days per school year.  To avoid an excess burden on parents of special education children, that one of the paraprofessionals would cover the days the parents do not.

The parents wouldn’t be required to do any work, unless there was some sort of emergency that required the teacher to pay attention to one child only.  They would just have to be around.  If able to work from home, they could work on a laptop in the teachers’ kitchens.  If they were service workers, the 15 days could be weekdays off associated with weekend days they have to work.  If they were married, that would be only 7.5 days each.  Or a grandparent could cover for those days.

On the day a given parent was present, a teacher could pay particular attention to their child, and spend some time working with the parent and child together.  It would be like a parent teacher conference every 12 school days, and could thus increase parental involvement in their children’s education.

My view is that the schools do, at most, half the job of educating children.  If a child’s parents are unable or unwilling to do their half, it becomes far more difficult for education to succeed.  No doubt there are many such parents in New York, and this makes the job of New York City teachers difficult.  But just because a job is difficult doesn’t mean you have a right to not try to do it, if you being paid for it.  

If the new, post ed-tech qualification for being a teacher is an understanding of child development, then those teachers ought to have more skill in that regard that virtually all parents.  In the cottage industry network, as captain of the education ship, the teachers would be leading the parents as well as the children.

One might say this is cheating, and that the extra time spent by parents would be a “tax” that is not counted in school spending.  But parents ought to be devoting that much time to their children in any event.  And besides, it may be that any child abuse fears could be abated by having parents there for half the days, rather than all the days, reducing the time spent to one school day in 24.  It would still be better than the complete elimination of the child care portion of education foisted on parents during the COVID-19 pandemic.  And some of the hours and schedule flexibility for workers during the pandemic is likely to become permanent.

In Summary

New York’s public elementary and secondary education system is like a garden hose with a bunch of holes.  In the public debate those who operate it keep pointing to the trickle of water coming out, and demanding more and more water.  Then quietly in private with no public debate and no coverage in the media, they add more holes.  “School reform” was defeated.  It’s time to get a new hose.

Is the cap on the number of charter schools, or their students. Perhaps charter schools could start offering cottage industry networks as an extension of their existing buildings, offering that as an option for parents and teachers. Instead of fighting with the UFT over co-location, how about no location? Or the entire city as a location, but with a school building as a “mothership” for a network.

In New York the same principle applies more generally.  After school activities used to spike pensions? Redirect those and school sports to the parks department.  The last two years of high school could be assigned to community colleges, for AP courses or vocational training.  It even applies to other city agencies, like the police.  Given what the average officer costs, others – perhaps even city residents – should deal with mental health crises, and hand out tickets for civil violations.

At some point institutions become so dysfunctional that they can only be replaced, not improved.  In feudal New York, where all past deals, favors, and accommodations are set in stone, we are at that point.

1 thought on “Education in New York: Stop Trying, Stop Lying, Pursue Alternatives

  1. larrylittlefield Post author

    I’ll bet they don’t see that many aspects of government work the same was as exploitive private sector monopolies. Remove voluntariness, stoke entitlement, and that’s what you get.

    https://www.reuters.com/business/bidens-executive-order-promote-competition-us-economy-includes-over-70-2021-07-09/

    “President Joe Biden will sign an executive order on Friday that includes 72 initiatives he wants over a dozen agencies to undertake to promote competition throughout the U.S. economy, according to a fact sheet released by the White House.”

    “The order goes after corporate monopolies across a broad swath of industries and specifically directs antitrust agencies to focus their enforcement efforts in the labor, healthcare, technology and agriculture sectors.”

    “Inadequate competition holds back economic growth and innovation,” the White House fact sheet said. The rate of new business formation has fallen by almost 50% since the 1970s as large businesses make it harder for Americans with good ideas to break into markets, the White House said citing research from the Economic Innovation Group.

    So, how much of the $billions is aid to business went to new businesses, rather than existing businesses? Businesses that don’t exist yet don’t make campaign contributions.

    “It directs the FTC to issue rules to address competition concerns from Big Tech companies and limit “killer acquisitions” where large internet platforms acquire potential competitors.”

    You mean like the UFT trying to take over the charter school sector, and saddle new teachers there with the pension system that benefits those already in Florida?

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