by David Safier
Are school bus drivers "bureaucrats"? The Goldwater Institute insists they are, even though no reasonable person or respectable dictionary would agree. More on that later.
Tuesday, Goldwater Institute's Communications Director Lucy Caldwell contacted me about "clearing up some factual inaccuracies in a story you published last week." I had a perfectly cordial conversation with Ms. Caldwell, and we swapped a few emails. She asked me to correct what she said were two factual errors in my post, Fraud At A Goldwater Institute-Run STO.
I'm more than happy to correct any factual errors I make. I included a correction of one error on the post and stood by my statement on the second point, based on information on the G.I. website. Caldwell then let me know that the Institute's website is incorrect, meaning the second mistake was G.I.'s, not mine. But I included a correction for that as well. You can read all the details on the post, and while you're there, watch Ann-Eve Pedersen's excellent video about the fraud. Caldwell didn't question its accuracy.
But frankly, I'm amazed that the multi-million-dollars-a-year Goldwater Institute thinks a few inaccuracies in a minor blog post written by a retired high school English teacher deserve so much time and attention — a total five emails, a phone message and a phone call. Clearly, the Institute is holding me to a higher standard than it holds itself, since the folks at G.I. are not exactly sticklers for accuracy in their own work. Their M.O. is to begin with the conclusion they want, then work backwards to find facts, half truths and, if necessary, lies they can use to "prove" their preconceived notions.
I've encountered plenty of examples of fact-challenged information coming out of G.I., but my favorite is the "bus drivers are bureaucrats" whopper which I challenged when I was writing on Blog for Arizona. The more I pushed against that ridiculous assertion, the further G.I. went down the self-parody rabbit hole.
In 2010, then-G.I.-education-guy Matthew Ladner wrote that Arizona schools have ""an almost 1-to-1 teacher to bureaucrat ratio." It was an astoundingly absurd claim. To get there, Ladner had to lump together every school district employee who is not a teacher under the label, "bureaucrat." That would make bus drivers bureaucrats. Likewise cafeteria workers and custodians and everyone else who earns a salary by doing something other than directly teaching students.
Ladner was a frequent commenter on Blog for Arizona, so we knew each other. I wrote him a polite email about his "1-to-1 teacher to bureaucrat ratio" assertion which asked, basically, "Are you serious?" His response was, basically, "You bet I'm serious."
I wrote a number of posts pointing out the absurdity of Ladner's assertion, but he stuck by it, sending me a series of emails which read like zen koans written by Homer Simpson. Meanwhile, G.I. President and CEO Darcy Olsen thought his idea was so clever, she used it in interviews on the John C. Scott radio show and KUAT's Arizona Illustrated when it was Bill Buckmaster's program. Olsen said to Buckmaster:
"In the K-12 system there are just a little bit over 100,000 employees. Bill, only half of those are teachers. So you basically have one bureaucrat or official or administrator per teacher, and that's the wrong ratio. And that's one of the reasons our students are struggling so much to keep up with students in other states."
Olsen had a whopper twofer going on in that statement. Not only did she call every non-teaching employee a bureaucrat, but she claimed that's why Arizona students are behind students in other states. In fact, the ratio of teachers to non-teachers is a reasonably constant one-to-one in school districts across the country. Olsen's assertion was doubly deceitful, gratuitous "Arizona-government-school" bashing at its finest.
The Institute has a written guarantee which says if any of the facts it presents are proven to be inaccurate, it will note the error on its website and on the publication which included the error. So I wrote G.I. a letter explaining why the "bus drivers are bureaucrats" assertion is false and asked for a correction. I received a reply from Starlee Rhoades who was G.I.'s Communications Director at the time, saying the Institute was standing by the assertion.
"We believe the term bureaucrat accurately describes many of the employees in question and is a fair use of the term."
Rhoades' sentence is almost as duplicitous as Ladner's original assertion. She said "bureaucrat" describes "many of the employees." Not most. Not all. Many, which is as specific as saying it describes "a lot of the employees." Could be 20 percent. Could be 30 percent. She wasn't saying. I asked her to clarify what she meant by "many." I didn't receive a response.
At the Goldwater Institute's request, I dutifully corrected two errors in my earlier post, one of which was G.I.'s fault, not mine, because I try my best to be factually accurate. I also strive to avoid using clever half truths to make my point. It looks like the Goldwater Institute, with its multi million dollar yearly budget and all those six-figure-salaried employees, doesn't hold itself to anywhere near the same standard.