The right-wing con

Loved this from Drum today:

What I mean is that since at least the late 70s, the cold, hard nugget at the heart of the conservative movement’s electoral strategy is an attempt to win working-class votes for a party that’s dedicated to the interests of corporations and the wealthy. [emphases mine]

Let me be clear: I don’t mean that conservatives expend a lot of energy appealing to conservative social values. There’s nothing dishonest about that. Plenty of people are willing to vote their social consciences over their pocketbook interests, and every big political party has to find a way to win votes from people who agree with them only partly. It would be political malpractice not to appeal to different audiences with whatever arguments are most likely to win them over.

No, the problem is that this isn’t enough. Emphasizing social issues to the working class and economic issues to the rich just won’t get the job done. Conservatives know that they also have to directly appeal to working-class pocketbook issues, and that’s a circle that can never be squared honestly. It just can’t. The modern conservative movement is fundamentally dedicated to the economic interests of the upper classes.

This means that the success of the entire movement is intimately tied to a huge, relentlessly repeated lie. Tax cuts boost the economy and are good for the working class. Light regulation of Wall Street frees up money and is good for the working class. Right-to-work laws provide job opportunities for the working class. Social Security is a scam that won’t be around by the time the working class retires. “Dangerous” chemicals are just a left-wing myth designed to strangle the economy and hurt the working class. Allowing more oil drilling and more coal mining provides lots of jobs for the working class. Etc. Every policy designed to benefit the rich has to be deliberately twisted into a fraud for public consumption.

This is inexorably corrosive. It’s impossible to base an entire movement on a working-class scam and not create the conditions for other working-class scammers to ply their trade. As long as this is the case, scammers are simply the price modern conservatives have to pay for the way they conduct politics.

Photo of the day

In honor of HBO’s terrific Chernobyl miniseries (watch it when you get the chance!) Atlantic presents a gallery of Chernobyl images from 1986:

The remains of the No. 4 reactor, photographed from the roof of reactor No. 3 

Igor Kostin / Sygma via Getty

How much should we pay teachers

Really nice look at the issue from Planet Money.  Whereas a decade ago there was a lot of bipartian agreement that we should pay the best teachers more, now there’s a lot more skepticism from Democrats.  Largely, because determining the “best teachers” by standardized test scores is highly fraught.  So, Democrats largely want to pay all teachers more.  I’m pretty sympathetic with that approach as the top-performing nations don’t pay their teachers differentially based on student test scores, but across the board make teaching a far more desirable profession– and in large part by paying them a lot more relative to other white collar jobs.  Planet Money:

How does teacher pay stack up domestically? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average K-12 teacher makes above $62,000, which is $10,000 more per year than the average of all occupations ($51,960). The benefits are usually better than average, too.

But maybe those aren’t the right comparisons. When we ask, “How much should a teacher be paid?” what we’re really asking is “How do we get great teachers to choose to be a teacher and not, say, a lawyer ($144,230) or an engineer ($99,230) or something else?” Teaching generally requires a college degree, sometimes more. That comes with debt. And there’s a growing pay gap between teachers and other similarly educated professionals. Last year that gap hit a record... [emphasis mine]

The economists we spoke to generally believed that we should tie teacher pay to classroom performance and not simply implement across-the-board pay increases like a $60,000 minimum salary. This is the consensus position for economists. And there was a time, about a decade ago, when it looked to be the consensus of leading Democrats and Republicans as well. Not anymore. The proposals floated by Democrats on the campaign trail don’t mention pay-for-performance.

The schoolyard fight over teacher pay

A decade ago, it was increasingly accepted that one of the ways to improve our educational system was to tie teacher pay to performance and make it easier to fire bad teachers. The die-hard reformer and union antagonist Michelle Rhee, then the chancellor of the D.C. public schools, was appearing on the cover of Time magazine. The documentary “Waiting For ‘Superman‘” was making waves. The Obama administration was challenging teachers unions to drop their opposition to merit pay and using its Race To The Top program to encourage states to adopt innovative ed policies loved and championed by economists. Not now.

“There’s definitely been a turn against a set of ideas in education that we’ve been championing as effective,” says economist John Friedman.

One problem with tying teacher pay to student performance is that performance is hard to measure…

Weingarten, who has worked closely with Sen. Sanders, likes the idea of a $60,000 minimum teacher salary. “Making a middle class salary matters,” she says. “It starts people thinking, ‘I can go into teaching and pay my student loans. I can go into teaching and raise a family.’ ”

recent working paper finds that during recessions, when private-sector jobs shrivel up, more talented candidates get into the teaching profession and make a significant improvement in student test scores. While it might not be the most targeted way to improve education, raising the floor of teacher pay could do the same thing in good times.

I actually think there is some value to standardized testing, but it needs to be used far more carefully and cautiously then all the economists want to.  There’s lots of lessons (my oft-repeated round-up here) from other countries and “pay teachers differentially based on student test scores” is definitely not one of them.  Pay teachers as high-compensated professionals definitely is.

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