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POLITICS: PennAve

Big Ideas: On Aereo, college tuition and teacher tenure

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Education,Supreme Court,PennAve,Joseph Lawler,Economy,Technology,College Tuition,Teachers,Teachers Unions,Magazine

Stuart Brotman for the Brookings Institution: The [Supreme Court's] 6-3 opinion found that the Aereo system of broadcast television signals retransmitted online via a system of micro-antennas was a violation of copyright law. Aereo used these signals without paying any copyright fees, claiming that it did not trigger the “public performance” requirement for copyright liability because it transmits to individual paid subscribers one-by-one rather than en masse. …

The larger outstanding issue thus is what message the Aereo decision provides for technological innovation writ large. There was considerable anxiety that a decision against Aereo could freeze innovation and deprive consumers of exciting new products. Nothing in the narrowly tailored opinion, however, suggests that any other service faces a litigation threat from copyright owners. …

Future innovation should devote more time and money to developing business models that have a rational economic basis, and less attention on developing technical architectures that are designed to cut out compensation for content providers entirely. The court essentially has blown the whistle on a business built on reselling no-cost goods for a premium, and pocketing all the money from those who signed up. If that dissuades others from going down a similar road, it is likely to promote rather than hinder innovation.

 

ATTACKING COLLEGE'S RISING COSTS

Mark Huelsman for Demos Policyshop: Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, released the opening salvo in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, the law that governs the vast majority of the federal government's role in higher education. …

Nestled in Part H in the Democrats’ laundry list of ideas is an idea that has by far the most potential to solve one of the most vexing problems in higher ed: the rising cost of college. ... Harkin’s bill would create a “State-Federal College Affordability Partnership to increase state investment in public higher education and lower the costs of tuition for students.”

Frankly, if Congress gets this right, that’s a lot of the ballgame. ...

A massive part of the rise in costs at public schools has been state disinvestment. It’s a main reason that the federal government has taken on a larger role in financing college. It’s a main reason that tuition growth at public schools is outpacing that of private nonprofit schools. And it’s a main reason that college is no longer the debt-free proposition it once was for most students just a generation ago. As states have been derelict in their obligation to fund higher education … much of the undergraduate debt burden has fallen on students.

What a federal-state partnership has the power to do is eschew the traditional remedy of dealing with college costs — sporadically increasing grant aid, offering a few more generous loan terms, helping with repayment — by attacking the cost drivers in the first place.

 

THE PLUSES OF TEACHER TENURE

Lawrence Mishel for the Economic Policy Institute: [In June] a California judge struck down California's teacher tenure law in a landmark case, Vergara v. California. Proponents claim that eliminating tenure will mean fewer ineffective teachers at low-performing schools. But teacher tenure in the K-12 context does not mean a lifetime guarantee of a job. It means that teachers have basic rights -- most importantly, the right to due process if the district wants to fire them. ...

There have been many good commentaries on why the Vergara ruling will do little to help students. Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell nails the essential point, writing, “Making it easier to fire bad teachers isn’t going to magically cause the educational achievement gap to disappear. You need to be able to attract and retain more good teachers, too.”

New York University professor (and EPI board member) Pedro Noguera ... agrees that there are disparities in teacher qualifications and quality between schools serving high- versus low-income students, but tenure does not contribute to these differences. The fact is that schools serving low-income students have less funding and fewer resources than schools in more affluent areas. That means they aren’t able to pay teachers as much. It means class sizes are larger, nurses and counselors are fewer, libraries are worse. These and many other factors make it harder for low-income schools to attract and retain good teachers. The due-process protections afforded by tenure, at the very least, ensure that teachers who do stay in high-poverty schools can speak out against these inequities and be advocates for a more just system for their students.

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