Matthew Yglesias displays the strenuous casuistry loyal Democrats will employ to avoid the need for any confrontation with teachers' unions on the question Steve Jobs recently raised--firing lousy teachers. According to Yglesias the issue isn't firing bad teacher but attracting good ones:... the reason politicians rarely push for it is that the actual payoff is very, very low. The issue is that there isn't this vast pool of highly effective potential hires out there. The schools with serious teacher-quality problems tend to have them because the better teachers, by and large, don't want to work there and schools have problems filling all the slots with minimally qualified people. The real action (also disliked by teacher unions, if pissing off unions is your goal) is in the certification process, who counts as a qualified teacher, and what counts as an effective teacher (here's where the accountability comes in). If in the future that created a situation where there were tons of people looking to break into the teaching field then it might make sense to expend political capital on making it easier to fire people.
a) It's easier to hire good teachers if you can fire bad ones. Competent people want to work for competent organizations. Which offer would you be more likely to take: "Come work for our school district. We weed out the deadwood and we're doing a great job preparing our kids," Or "Come work for our district and spend your life beating your head against a bureaucratic wall." Yes, teachers should be paid more--but it's weird that an idealistic liberal would think good candidates are only motivated by money. (And if you could fire bad and mediocre teachers then school districts wouldn't have to spend a big chunk of any pay raise boosting the salaries of ... bad and mediocre teachers).
b) You obviously want to do both-- weed out bad old teachers and expand the pool of potential good new teachers by allowing certification of people who haven't met the mindless credential requirements fiercely defended by the unions.** Yglesias conveniently pretends you can only do the former after the latter--"if" in the "future," after a couple of more generations have sloughed through mediocre or criminally lousy schools, we've managed to amass a huge pool of "tons" of people trying to break into teaching, then it "might" make sense to take on the union protection of incompetents. "Might." That's good of him!
c) Of course, if Yglesias shies from a confrontation now--by kicking the can off to some distant "future," and then only maybe--he'll shy from the confrontation ten years from now. Paul Glastris, in a recent bloggingheads debate on Yglesias' post, unexpectedly blurted out the real reason Dems like him don't want to confront the unions, no matter how sound and obvious the policy reasons for doing so.
**--as a means of protecting their members from uncredentialed hires who would do a better job!
Kaus doesn't address the issue of indoctrination into leftist ideology which is an essential part of the poor thinking skills of students, but his point is valid. It would be better to avoid public control of education in the same way we avoid public control of news media and other forms of thought formation. But if you are going to have government run schools it is essential to have competition or else the schools become a tool of special interests.