Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Re: Education

Since I commented that I totally disagreed with R. Native's post, here is my response. To keep it from getting to free-wheeling (read rantish), I am going to respond to specifics in Native's post.

I am thrilled that $150,000,000,000 in federal funds are slated to be disbursed for education. This is the single best investment that this country can make at this time. Public schools are what makes America what it is, and this money is desperately needed, all over the country.

I need to correct my earlier comment. I do agree with one statement, that education is the single best investment we can make as a country. But the suggestion that flooding the existing school system with more money is the answer is completely misguided.

Republicans are screeching that this is going to radically change the nature of federal involvment in education. Good. Why, besides being the default setting, should local and state governments have sole discretion on this issue? Why should we let Mississippi elect to have shitty schools? Because local people know best how to educate (or not) their children? Why should Kansas be able to mandate creationism be taught in science classes?

The arrogance of this paragraph is breathtaking. You are implicitly suggesting that a federal education department staffed by career bureacrats located in D.C. has more concern for a child's welfare than his own parents. But that is completely backwards. The people most concerned with the welfare, values, character, and success of any particular child are the child's parents. Next in rank would be the wider family. Then the local community. Then the county and then the state. The federal government is at the very end of the list. My suggestion would be that the closer the party is to the child, the more power and responsibility they should have in the child's education.

So what if people in Kansas want to teach creationism. How is that your problem or your children's problem? I certainly encourage you to talk to the good people of Kansas and explain to them the error of their ways, but in the end, the decision should be theirs and not yours. That is the nature of liberty.

Besides the principle, local autonomy allows for much more experimentation then you would find in a monolithic national system. The charters are a result of experimentation. I think it is safe to say that if we had a single national system, charters would never have been given a chance.

Again, I am reverting to East Coast liberal egg-head status, but I honestly think there should be national standards (oh, and that they be funded). The state testing for monitoring NCLB is wildly inconsistent. Not to pick on Mississippi again, but apparently their test is considerably less, ahem, demanding than most other states.

Again, your reasoning seems to assume that things would be better if the nimble and wise federal government would step in a save the incompetent states from their foibles. But what if the federal government is, in fact, even more incompetent than the state governments? And how could you tell since there would be no competition between school districts, so it would be impossible to tell what was working and what wasn't.

Why do kids in Montgomery County, MD have a different deal in education than those from DC, or Prince Georges? Talk about un-American. This most basic opportunity is a sham for most kids in inner cities or rural areas. I know some favor vouchers for private schools. I think this would effectively gut public education and produce an inevitable, protracted decline in our national education. Sure, some would likely benefit in the immediate term. The cost to society as a whole over the longer term would be incalcuable. Charter schools are great. Innovation is great. I am not advocating a NEA position where the status quo is fantastic and no one should be held accountable, but public schools are way too important to give up on.

Here we agree again - "This most basic opportunity is a sham for most kids in inner cities". Absolutely. Some inner city schools are a travesty. But some of these same schools have some of the highest per student spending. The correlation between spending and student achievement is terrible. America's educational problems are structural, not financial.

Since you support charter schools and innovation, may I suggest that rather than throwing money down the existing rabbit hole, you restructure the education system so that EVERY school is a charter school. Every student gets a voucher, every school is autonomous in most decision-making, and students apply to the schools that meet their interests. Good schools with good teachers would attract students and funding. Crappy schools would be closed. Teachers are regular employees judged purely on merit and paid competitively (so a good teacher might be recruited by a neighboring school). The principal is the effective CEO of the school and has wide decision-making power to structure the school as he see fits. These types of schools are already popping up all over the country.

I have never understood why people fight this kind of structure, which seems an obvious one to me. It is still a "public" school, since the state is financing the student's education. The difference is that the decision-making power on the student's education is moved from the school system to the parents and their children. How is that not sensible?

Again, I am ecstatic that the new administration has stated that education is a top priority and, incidentally, is putting its money where its mouth is

Despite whispers to the contrary from the administration, until I see hard evidence otherwise, I will continue to believe Obama and the Democrats are in the teacher's union's pocket. Your extra spending will mainly go to buttress collapsing teachers' pensions. And one-third of American high-schoolers will still drop out of school. Congrats on that.


friedmanite said...

That might be the single best post I've read on this blog. Nice work.

Check the correlation in the decline in school performance and the lessening of parental power to effect change in their children's schools. It used to be that a caring parent could go to the school board and actually make a difference. Now the power has been pulled to the state or national level. We've handcuffed parents in the process.

When picking between a government bureaucrat or a parent to decide what's best for a child, I'll stick with the parent.

Unleash the power of competition on schools and I think you'll see a huge jump in performance. I'd like to see a more detailed explanation from Restless Native on why competition in school's is a bad idea.

Restless Native said...

I am on the Blackberry, so I'll be brief, but wanted to chime in that I don't have a problem with true competition. I do have a serious problem with the disparity of educational opportunity in this country based on your address. I also don't have a problem with Gam's idea, as long as kids from the District aren't shut out of MontCo-like schools. If kids from Hialeah can come to the Gables, I am fine. The problem will be that schools will have a limit on how many kids they can take and my sense is that the disparity today will be perpetuated in his proposal by school-size limits. I also disagree that money is not part of the solution. The gov't needs spend less on my kids and Gam's cause we can spend more.

Let's figure out how to implement comeptition that genuinely levels the playing field as much as possible for poor kids.