Thursday, June 28, 2012

Restructuring Educational Opportunities in America and Work Time in Europe

Europeans "enjoy" far too much non-work time in the form of holidays, short work weeks, abundant sick days, lengthy vacations and so forth. July is pretty much a zero work month for many of them and has long been that way.

On our side of the ledger, Americans urgently need to improve both the quality and cost effectiveness of our educational system greatly. This will require that our system be restructured radically and thoroughly.

Putting these two thoughts together -- the European work mindset and the need for American educational restructuring -- is the topic herein. We'll solve ours, but they'll have a much harder time on their end. It's a matter of two different cultures.

First, an example from Europe. National Lampoon's European Vacation captures the European productivity, output and time on task problem nicely:

"Europeans who catch a sniffle this summer . . . may be owed another paid vacation to make up for it, following a decision last week by the European Court of Justice.

Under the ruling, workers who get sick on holiday are entitled to paid time off equal to the amount of time they didn't feel well during the original holiday. The question originated in Spain, where trade unions sued for the vacation do-over allowance some years ago. The European court has now upheld the right throughout the EU, noting that the "entitlement to paid annual leave must be regarded as a particularly important principle of EU social law, a principle expressly enshrined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights," and thus "cannot be interpreted restrictively."

Little danger of that. Vacation do-over rights only add to the EU minimum of 20 paid days of vacation per year—not including national holidays and EU-mandated weekends, breaks and additional time off for night-workers.

National regulations are often even more generous. In France workers can get 10 days of paid leave on top of the national 25-day minimum, if they work for up to 39 hours per week rather than the statutory 35-hour maximum. Gainful Spanish employment includes 15 days off for an employee's marriage and honeymoon, and two days off for any births, hospitalizations or deaths in his immediate or once-removed family.

Per a 2009 Court of Justice ruling, European workers also have a right to the paid time off they accrue on sick leave—meaning they can celebrate the end of a long recuperation by immediately going on holiday. No word on how that ruling, considered alongside last week's vacation give-back, would wind up looking in, say, Belgium, where a doctor's note (psychiatrists count) can get an employee up to 80% of his salary indefinitely.

The court's ruling comes when official unemployment in Spain is 25%, and half of young Spaniards can't find a job. All of these entitlements and allowances raise the cost of employment, and so reduce the job opportunities for everyone. It does no good to have the right to re-do a vacation if you can't find a job in the first place."

Now let's look at the U.S. Our educational system has tremendous opportunities for improvement related to school and student productivity, output and time on task gains. But first we have to make some critical choices about changing the status quo. So let's start there.

Class Struggle says this in part:

"Much has been written about the choice we face just 19 weeks from now, when we will select the next president. But while we discuss the almost polar opposite views of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on spending, regulation, taxes and health care, we shouldn't lose sight of another very important issue: education.

While the candidates have some areas of agreement, their beliefs about education are still quite different, and the impact on our nation's youth of a second Obama term versus a first Romney term would be significant. Not surprisingly, given their differences on most other issues, Mr. Obama's approach more closely follows the status quo, pro-teachers-union track, while Mr. Romney's more closely follows the reform, pro-student track. Mr. Romney's plan includes vouchers that would give disadvantaged children, particularly those in failed schools, and their parents the option of moving to a school of their choice.

In the past, decisions on where children went to school would usually depend primarily upon their ZIP code. Giving parents choices is important, perhaps now more than ever, because we can see it working in many places where it has been tried. . . .

Ms. Burke notes the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program, where vouchers are provided to low-income children. Those who used a voucher to attend a private school had a 91% graduation rate compared with a 55% rate for students at the district's public schools.

"There is far more evidence in support of school choice than there is evidence in support of a further centralized education agenda," Ms. Burke notes. She cites Mr. Romney's statement that "a choice for every parent means a chance for every child."

Greg Forster of the Foundation for Educational Choice put together a good education analysis in the spring of 2011 titled "A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Vouchers."Of 19 empirical studies of voucher programs, nine` show that "vouchers improve student outcomes, six that all students benefit, and three that some benefit and some are not affected," Mr. Forster notes. Only one study "shows no visible impact," and "none of the studies finds a negative impact."

What's more, competition works. Eighteen of the 19 studies found that "vouchers improved public schools" as well as helping students in private ones, and the remaining study found no impact, so that no study found a negative impact on public schools either."

And while we're at it, let's not leave out our U.S. colleges.

How About a Three-Year B.A.? makes the common sense recommendation that colleges stay in session all year.

In other words, why take summers off, and why not use the time and facilities to provide a better educational experience and outcome at a much reduced overall cost? And why not do the same thing with our K-12 schools, too?

My Take

Europeans are culturally conditioned not to work too hard or too long. It's in their memes.

They are part of a long and well established welfare society, even though they can't pay for it now. Nevertheless, European courts still endorse such ridiculous things as providing extra vacation time should a person become ill while on vacation. Although not hopeless, the European cultural situation is dire in terms of world competitiveness. That means lower living standards throughout Europe, which in large part will be the natural result of their socialistic welfare state approach.

In the U.S., on the other hand, we have no such deeply embedded cultural issues. Our issues with education, for example, are more related to the influence of heretofore powerful teachers unions and school administrators.

Simply giving parents and children more opportunities to choose for themselves would immediately enrich the educational experience and outcomes in our schools. And it would do so at a much lower overall cost as well.

Summing Up

If we don't work, we don't produce.

If we don't produce, we have nothing to trade with others who have produced.

If we don't allow individual choice about what we will or won't produce, such as education, we won't produce highly educated citizens.

And if we don't do that, we may end up like our holiday taking, work avoiding, virtually bankrupt European friends.

Let's not do that.

Thanks. Bob.

No comments:

Post a Comment