My column in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on the Walker recall is here. Along the same lines, I recommend a piece in National Review by Reihan Salam and Tino Sandandaji. ( I would warn those liberal readers tempted to dismiss NR as a place where people preach to the choir to be careful and actually read the magazine.)
Salam and Sandandaji start with an interesting observation. Supporters of teachers' unions and the traditional views of the educational establishment ("money solves all probelems"), such as Paul Krugman, were quick to point out that students in unionized Wisconsin do better on standardized tests that students in non-unionized Texas.
They proceed to blow up the implications of that claim with the following observations:
White students in nonunionized Texas do better than white students in unionized Wisconsin.
Black students in nonunionized Texas do better than black students in unionized Wisconsin.
Hispanic students in nonunionized Texas do better than Hispanic students in unionized Wisconsin.
How can this be?
The answer is simple. Texas has a much higher proportion of black and Hispanic students than Wisconsin. Across the country, white and Asian students (as a group) outperform black and Hispanic students (as a group). So states with lower percentages of the underperforming groups will outperform states with higher percentages such as Texas, notwithstanding the fact that Texas may be doing a better job of educating each group.
This leads to a clarification, a warning and a challenge.
The clarification is that there is nothing "racist" about this observation. It is an incontrovertible fact and does not require that one buy into any sort of theory about innate racial differences. Different ethnic groups have had different experiences resulting in differing levels of social capital. (And, of course, group differences tell us nothing about any particular individuals.)
The warning is that America in the future will look a lot more like Texas. If Texas is doing a better job of educating minority kids (better being distinct from adequate) then we ought to take a look at what Texas is doing.
Finally, the challenge gets us to Scott Walker and collective bargaining reform. The preferred solution of the Educational Establishment is to "fully fund" public education. More money (and more teachers) will solve all. But as Salam and Sanadaji point out, spending on public education - in real terms - has gone through the roof (a 250% increase since 1970) while reading and math scores have remained flat and high school graduation rates have slightly declined. Much of the that money has gone into better pay for teachers and more teachers without impact, (In fact, the authors suggest that hiring more teachers has reduced teacher quality.)
How can we have spent more money with so little too show for it. A major part of the problem is teacher unions who quite naturally (that's what they are there for) privilege the interests of their members over the interests of students. Their objective is consistently to shift money to their members in a way that does not increase the burdens placed on their members. Thus, the consistent call for more money tied to length of service and not performance.
In conferring collective bargaining power in teacher unions, the state creates a cartel. Solving our educational challenges may require eliminating or weakening the cartel.