Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Neanderthal Neo-Marxists . . .

Hidebound Government Educrats

Most Commentariat members have been consciously or unconsciously influenced by Marxist ideas.  One is the hidebound idea that capitalists (business owners) exploit their employees.  They allegedly keep them in a state of perpetual dependence and servitude whilst they enjoy a passive income off the fruit of their labours.  The Marxist argument is that were profits eliminated, more money could be paid out to workers which would obliterate forever the exploitation of labour--or so the ideology and propaganda run.

When the government proposed to introduce privately run prisons in New Zealand, variants on this Marxist argument erupted from the bowels of the Commentariat.  Profits would drive down quality was the argument, because private providers would have to be paid a dividend, which would mean less money actually spent on prisons and prisoners.  The Marxist sub-text was that private prison guards would be exploited and should be paid more.

By and large Marxists have no idea about humanity and how human beings actually work.
  The Commentariat is similarly agnostic when it comes to human action and how markets function.  It never appeared to occur to critics of private prisons that prison guards operate in a relatively free labour market.  If privately run prisons were to offer lower wages than state employees it would be unlikely that they would attract staff.  Moreover, if they wanted superior, better qualified and trained staff they would likely have to pay more than what the state was offering.  When last we checked the one private prison operating in New Zealand was doing a pretty good job: even the prison reform guys were impressed. 

Similar Marxian protests and objections to Partnership (Charter) Schools have been levelled.  It is the same old tired Neanderthal reasoning.  Here is the latest broadside:
That does not come as a surprise to Auckland University associate professor and charter school critic Peter O'Connor, who says the business model is clear: Spend less than you get in state funding and pay the difference as dividends to owners. Essentially, New Zealand charter schools - comfortingly branded as "partnership schools" - will be funded on similar lines to state schools, so a for-profit owner would need to create profit by spending less per child following a pattern developed overseas.

"Every child brings a pot of money with them," he said. "Because of the deregulated environment, a profit can be made by driving down teacher costs by employing unregistered teachers. You drive down that cost by de-unionising the workforce, and employing on individual, not collective contracts."  Money can be saved on facilities too, O'Connor said.
So, the quality of education in Partnership Schools will be less: money will be sucked out of the state's per capita funding to pay profits.  That will mean less pay for teachers.  As in all Marxist thought the rigours and disciplines of competition are being ignored or deliberately overlooked.  If O'Connor is right we would expect that a state owned and operated supermarket would always have higher quality products, the lowest prices, and more highly paid workers than a privately owned supermarket, right?  The O'Connor argument must apply in every field where goods and services are produced.  Name one country where that is the case.  Just one.

It has never been seen in our lifetime.  Since this is the case, O'Connor is involved in special pleading.  "Education is not an economic service; normal rules do not apply; it is a special case, etc."  But O'Connor's problem is that he deploys pseudo-economic argument to buttress his case.  So special pleading is not permitted.  The sad reality is O'Connor makes no economic sense. His arguments are so far removed from actual human experience, they betray their ideologically hidebound nature. 

Firstly, let's consider the issue of driving down teacher costs by employing unregistered teachers.  Partnership schools will be under the discipline of a competitive market.  They will have to offer a higher quality, better educational outcome than the local state schools.  No-one will be compelled to send their children to a Partnership School (unlike the local state schools, where attendance is compulsory).  Partnership school represent an "opt-out" from government schools.  If parents choose to send their children to a partnership school it will be for two reasons: they must be dissatisfied with their local state schools educational service and they must expect a better quality of education from the partnership school. 

Since partnership schools will have to compete for pupils the only way they can attract and retain pupils and get ahead is to provide a higher quality educational service.  Higher quality will undoubtedly mean higher quality teachers.  We expect that in most cases employing unregistered teachers will mean higher wages because they school has gone in search of higher qualified teachers in areas of special professional knowledge and experience. 

Secondly, we believe that many registered teachers will give their right arms to teach in partnership schools.  The most common complaint we hear from state school teachers is that their time is increasingly taken up with compliance and reports required by the ossified, bureaucratised, hidebound government education system.  All they want, they say, is more time with their pupils--more classroom time actually to teach.  As time passes they find every year that they are doing less and less teaching and more and more time is taken up with compliance and form filling and report writing for "head office".  Therefore, we confidently expect that ambitious and committed teachers will flock to the career opportunities that will open up in partnership schools. 

This puts paid to the O'Connor argument that money equals quality.  More government money will mean higher educational quality, he implies.  No.  Arguments from economic determinism are of little use here.  Quality education comes from high quality teachers supported by engaged and committed parents.  In most government schools vast swathes of money are wasted on non-essential fripperies and distractive nice-to-haves (monumental, multi-million buildings dedicated to "performing arts", for example) and on jobs-for-life for under-performing teachers, and on administrative staff busy complying with government demands for box ticking and writing endless reports for the Ministry of Education.

Partnership schools will be freed from all that--or most of it--and be able to focus upon what really matters--education. 

What crypto-Marxist Professor O'Connor appears afraid of is the competitive efficiency that will result from partnership schools.  In order to exist they will have to do better than government schools.  They will have to be leaner on margins, meaner on themselves, and more engaged with parents and pupils.  They will have to exceed government schools in what they offer in order to survive. 

If O'Connor were more economically literate and enlightened, he would welcome the partnership school initiative because in the long run it will lead to better educational outcomes in the government school system.  Maybe that's what he fears the most. Crypto-Marxists and neo-Marxists will be less welcome.

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