A Jonathan Alter-cation: Teacher pay-for-performance? How about the same for pundits?

November 19, 2009

Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter likes charter schools, and often enough writes about them and his frustration that public schools and their teachers won’t roll over and play dead while charter schools steal money from them (my characterization, not Alter’s).

At Public School Insights, Claus von Zastrow suggested that maybe pundits like Alter ought to be subject to having their pay docked when they screw up, too.  Then he went further, and specifically criticized a recent Alter column, point for point.

A few comments down, who should show up to make his case, but Jonathan Alter.

Go watch, and learn.  Among other things, the discussion is much more civil than we usually see on blogs.  It’s a lesson for Christians and creationists especially.

It’s not much of a conflict of interest, but I have dealt with Alter before, in his previous job at The New Republic (back when it was not so much a bastion of neo-conservatism).  Alter did a major profile of Sen. Orrin Hatch.  Alter strove not to be flattering, and the biggest problem was the Vint Lawrence illustration, showing Hatch draped in the American flag as a cloak.  As I recall from those now-dusty decades, the profile wasn’t exactly correlated with the illustration on any issue.  Over the years, Alter’s been closer to correct more often than he’s been wrong, in my view — his views on charter schools being in that area where I think he errs.

Public schools have never suffered from a surplus of money.  Charter school advocates should not be allowed to steal income from public schools directly.  To shore up GM, we don’t allow GM to take a share of profit from Ford for every GM car sold.  Nor do we allow Ford to take a share of GM’s income.  Competition in education is a foolish pursuit most often, but we don’t need a competitive model that bleeds education on either end, as Alter’s advocacy favors.

In hard economic terms, free market, gloves-off, bare-fisted capitalistic competition has never been shown to work in education.  I never could figure out Milton Friedman’s advocacy for such competition since there is no case ever to be made that competition makes better schools, nor that privately-run schools work better for educating an entire nation than public schools.  I think all relevant evidence runs the other way.

Pay for performance, but links for free:

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