Do conservatives believe in the free market? Yes. Do they understand how markets work? Sometimes I wonder. Judging from the news coming out of Wisconsin and Michigan, they seem to think that the key to improving public education is to make teaching as unappealing a job as possible. I don’t doubt that they can cut costs by breaking teachers’ unions, and that they can take away teachers’ job security, and that they can micromanage the classroom from the top down to the point where teachers are simply script-readers. (Example here.) But one stubborn fact remains: they can’t make people become teachers. Because teaching is bought and sold on a market. If you cut compensation and job security and make working conditions miserable, talented people will simply choose to do something else, and we will end up with teachers who are worse at what they do.
I think that doesn’t bother these “reformers” because, deep down, they don’t think of teaching as skilled labor. Their natural authoritarian bent leads them to think in terms of top-down models, where all the hard thinking gets done by high-level administrators, who then give teachers their marching orders. How hard is it to read from a script? No reason to treat that as a profession. It doesn’t matter if talented people go elsewhere, because teaching doesn’t take talent. So we can cut compensation without lowering quality at all!
These aren’t Free Market Conservatives; they’re Free Lunch Conservatives. They just can’t admit one of the basic principles of the free market: you only get what you pay for.
Of course, the reformers are just treating teachers the way they treat kids. It’s all about dictating, never about negotiating. Giving people autonomy is just a sign of weakness. The little people shouldn’t expect to have input into how they are treated; their job is just to obey. That the little people might react to this approach -- teachers by leaving the profession, kids by rebelling against the entire enterprise of learning -- is simply wished away, or used as an excuse for an even firmer crackdown.