Sunday, October 30, 2011

Closing the Crime-Gap

Matt Yglesias puts his foot in his mouth when he suggests that progressives wouldn't complain if we talked about corrupt, abusive, "bad" cops the way neo-liberal education reformers talk about bad teachers.
What I have in mind, of course, is perennial internecine fighting over K-12 education policy in the United States. This is obviously a complicated subject. But my experience is that a lot of people on the left, rather than arguing the merits of the issue, seem to take it as self-evidently un-progressive to try to improve the performance of a public agency in part by doing things that the people who work at the agency don’t like. When it comes to big city police departments, I think a much healthier attitude exists. Not one that says cops shouldn’t have rights in the workplace or that “cops are bad,” but one that recognizes a substantial tension between the liberal desire to have police departments work well and the police officers’ desire for high levels of job security and low levels of accountability. 
The analogy is terrible for countless reasons.  Firstly, the "Bad" teacher, as the term has come to suggest, generally isn't corrupt or abusive.  In the main though, the analogy tries to compare police abuse with teacher efficacy, assuming that both represent the efficacy of their respective institutional missions.  The criticisms of neo-liberal education reform are not that we shouldn't hold abusive teachers accountable, but rather that the assumption that the achievement gap in America is driven by bad teaching is wrong - just as it would be wrong to assume that different crime rates in different neighborhoods are caused by bad policing. 

As far as I know, no one is in favor of protecting abusive teachers.  Rather, protection is sought for institutions such as tenure and unions, both of which provide a foundation for grassroots, bottom-up teaching practices and sustenance of professional community and solidarity, something very important in a field in which so much is sacrificed for the common good.

But the analogy of teaching and policing is actually quite illustrative, in ways that Yglesias obviously missed.

If we talked about crime like we talked about education,
  • we'd blame America's high crime rate on bad policing and their unions. 
  • we'd spend roughly the same resources on wealthy neighborhood policing as we do on poor neighborhoods. 
  • we'd then say to people who point out that socioeconomics drives crime are just "making excuses", and call it the "soft bigotry of low expectations". 
  • we'd begin shutting down police departments in favor of private contractors. 
  • we'd seriously consider giving people vouchers to spend on private security.
  • we'd talk about closing the crime-gap through better police training, punitive evaluations and performance pay
just for fun: In my last post, I whipped up a little graphic detailing the correlation between neighborhood income, property values and school performance. 
How much do you want to bet it also correlates with crime?
Yearly average crime rate (per 100,000)
Santa Monica:       282
Downey:               318
Huntington Park:   513

Well, what do you know?

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