28 November 2014

UK teacher unions as legal insurance

Richard Murphy of the University of Texas confirms something that a teacher told me in person just last year - teachers in the UK only join unions because it provides legal insurance in the event of getting sued. 
This paper identifies the threat of accusation as a new source of demand for union representation and how this has increased union density in specific labour markets. Society has become increasingly litigious and this may have many repercussions on labour markets, especially those where employees have unsupervised interactions with vulnerable groups. A rational response to such changes would be an increase in demand for insurance against these risks. I model union membership as a form of private legal insurance, where the decision to join is partly determined by the perceived threat of having an allegation made against the agent. This is examined by estimating the demand for union membership amongst UK teachers, which has been increasing over the last twenty years. I use media coverage of allegations relating to local teachers as an exogenous shock to the perceived threat. I find that unionisation rates increase with media coverage of relevant litigation at the regional and national levels. Ten relevant news stories in a region increases the probability of union membership by 5 percentage points. Additionally, the size of the effect is dependent on the relevance of the story to the teacher. This paper provides a reason why the demand for union membership in this and related sectors has increased, despite the possibility of freeriding as pay and working conditions are set centrally.
Are insurance companies missing an opportunity here? Or would they face adverse selection issues?

Learning goals

Nic Spaull makes the case for one simple learning goal for South Africa:
“Every child must read and write by the end of grade three.”
I think he is absolutely right. You hear often from international education types that we must resist the simplification of goals, and account for broader objectives such as citizenship etc, but the fact remains that the majority of children in Grade 3 in South Africa, and by implication most other developing countries, can't read (and understand) a simple 30 word story such as this one below.  

I actually heard in a meeting at ODI last year that "it would be a tragedy if the post-2015 education goals were reduced to simply all children being able to read and write and do sums." On the contrary I think it would be a tragedy if we let there be any more distraction from ensuring children have the most basic and fundamental skill of being able to read to learn. 

On the political economy of education systems, Nic also posts an interview with a teacher explaining how unions in South Africa control appointments within schools. 
“When you are selecting a Head of Department (HOD) for the school there are 2 parents from the SGB and 1 teacher, the principal is there but cannot vote. In the rural Eastern Cape many of the parents are not well educated. They know nothing about laws so it is just the principal and the teachers. SADTU can very easily influence the parents through the teacher. If SADTU does not get the person that they want they will say there was an irregularity in the interview process. I once encouraged the parents to appoint a good mathematics teacher for my school and they did, but they were not SADTU’s choice so they had the teacher removed. They re-advertised the post but without subject specification because there was no SADTU member who had maths or science. I am now stuck with someone who is babysitting mathematics and my results are terrible. My ANAs are very low in mathematics. And you cannot challenge it.” [“Why can’t you challenge SADTU?”] They will go for you. They will accuse you of sexual misconduct and there must be an enquiry. They will accuse you of financial mismanagement. They will go for small things to catch you. You know you need 3 quotations if you buy something and you must write it down so that if you only have two or forgot to write it down, they will catch you. Most principals will make a small mistake. But these are honest mistakes. But they will catch you.” “The Department is listening and and the union is managing. SADTU does not want to listen, they want to lead and they want to manage.”

15 November 2014

Why be a consultant (with Mokoro)?

"Martin Adams never set out to be a consultant, but found himself stuck in an office job and so decided to go freelance ‘in places where I wanted to be and with people I liked.’ For him, this is the most rewarding part of being a consultant. For Liz Daley, ‘consultancy enables you to be your own boss and work flexibly and independently. This is a great asset if you have other responsibilities that you are very committed to – like being a parent in my case. It gives you variety of assignments and clients, which is good for intellectual stimulation. But, the big downside, it can be very isolating. And there is constant uncertainty financially, worrying about where the next piece of work will come from.’ Catherine Dom likes the flexibility and independence that the consultancy life offers and has been fortunate to have developed long-term relationships with a number of countries and people in them. For Chris Tanner, initially ‘consultancy allowed me to get a vast depth of experience in several places far more quickly than a ‘proper job’ would have done. The strong point of being a consultant is on the technical side for sure.’ Now returning to consultancy after a long stint with FAO in Mozambique, it ‘allows me to use my experience and to work in a way that is flexible and still keep my feet under the table in Wales.’ Stephen Turner drifted into consultancy, finds it ‘stimulating and stressful, perhaps especially for a generalist like me’, but also depressing because you can work hard on a project and yet get zero feedback."
From Robin Palmer's reflections on his career. One part of my lack of blogging steam has been the takeover of twitter as a quicker way of sharing interesting snippets, but twitter is much less useful for me as a way of quickly finding the interesting clippings that I remember reading months ago and want to find again, so maybe expect more of this cutting and pasting. 

10 November 2014

We can be (British) heroes

A reminder, whilst we are celebrating the 'British Schindler' Sir Nicolas Winton, who saved 669 mainly Jewish children from Czechoslovakia in 1939, that actually saving so many lives is entirely achievable for the average person in the modern world. Toby Ord, founder of Giving What We Can, has estimated that you can save a life for around $250. So to save 669 lives would cost you a little over £100,000, or spread over a 45 year career, £2,300 a year. Nicolas Winton has a knighthood, a statue at Prague railway station, Czechoslovakia’s highest honour (the Order of the White Lion), and a small planet named after him.