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Health Care Reform Advocates: Take a Look at Public Schools

Want to destroy a profession? Socialize it.

by
Greg Forster

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November 12, 2009 - 12:00 am
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As D-Day for health care “reform” approaches, we’re hearing a lot of contradictory claims about how things are going in countries where they have socialized medicine. One side says Canadian, British, German, and even (in the more extreme cases) Cuban health care is wonderful. The other side says it’s a catastrophe. All these directly conflicting claims aren’t very helpful to those who might be in doubt about the truth.

Instead of seeking our evidence in far-flung corners of the world, why don’t we look at what’s happened to the one profession we’ve already socialized right here at home? The government school monopoly gives us a great opportunity to examine what happens to a profession when you dragoon it into government service.

Public Agenda, a social science research group whose political leanings are generally leftward, just released a major bombshell report on the state of the teaching profession. Short version: however bad you think it is, it’s worse.

The huge survey of public school teachers nationwide finds that a full 40% of the nation’s teachers fall into a category they call “disheartened.” It’s the largest of the three categories Public Agenda identified. Another 37% of teachers fall into the complacent “contented” category. The “idealists” — the teachers who form our cultural image of what a good teacher is like — make up a mere 23% of the profession.

America’s enormous phalanx of “disheartened” teachers tend to hate their jobs and — far more disturbingly — they even tend toward the attitude that teaching doesn’t matter. Only half of teachers in this category think teachers can impact the effort students put into their work, compared to three-quarters of idealists. Only two-thirds of disheartened teachers think that good teachers make a difference to student learning, compared to about nine out of ten idealists.

It’s hard to convey just how big this problem is. A little basic math (courtesy of the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence’s Dave Saba) tells us that this means a full 22 million students are being taught by “disheartened” teachers.

But let’s do just a little more basic math. Every year, the government assigns your child a new teacher — with no input from you, of course. Suppose (for the sake of illustration) every year you have a 40 percent chance of being taught by a disheartened teacher. The chances your child will go through 12 years of schooling and never be forced to have his future crippled by a disheartened teacher are 0.2%. The reality is, you’ll probably get not just one dud, but several.

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