Over the past 25 years some types of Americans have become richer and richer, at the expense of others who have become poorer and poorer – to the point where average life expectancy is starting to fall. One might have imagined that at some point those who have been taking more and more would conclude that enough is enough, feel obligated to do more in return, and become concerned about the circumstances of others who are less well off. But that doesn’t seem to happen. Not among the richest generations in U.S. history, those born from 1930 to 1957, who continue to be completely focused on increasing their own share of the take. Not among the richest people, the top executives who sit on each other’s boards and vote each other higher and higher pay. And who anointed themselves “the makers” and everyone else “the takers” within two years of having been bailed out by the federal government, even as “the takers” saw their standard of living plunge, and then demanded another round of tax cuts that mostly benefit themselves.
And not among New York’s unionized public employees, particularly those working in its public schools, who have become the most politically powerful – and selfish – of all self-interest groups at the state and local level here. Power and selfishness seem to go together in part because no one dares to offend the powerful, by pointing out how much they have taken relative to everyone else, and the connection between others having less and them taking more. So they can continue to feel aggrieved, entitled, resentful, unobligated – and somehow demand even more without embarrassment. There seems to be no end to it. This post uses Census Bureau data to show how far it had gone, as of three years ago.
There is, or at least was until recently, an idea out there in America that every child deserves a great teacher. But that isn’t possible, because not every worker is great. According to FY 2012 Census Bureau data, U.S. public schools had a total 4,659,517 full time equivalent instructional employees for 48,212,483 students, a ratio of 10.3 to one. There may not be 4.7 million “great” workers in the entire country, depending on how strictly one defines greatness, let alone that many available just for public education. So you’ll have some great teachers, some good teachers, some average teachers, and some below average teachers. And thanks to low pay in some areas of the U.S., and union power in other areas, lots of bad teachers the schools can’t get rid of.
There is a way, however, that every child could have access to 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. 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 that is something the public education doesn’t provide either – despite that student to instructional employee ratio of 10.3 to 1.