Education Reform

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I'm going to identify myself as a libertarian on this forum, not because I exclusively hold libertarian ideas, but because I find that taking a contrary position invites people to really challenge my viewpoints and makes for a more interesting discussion.

And in this particular policy issue, I think my position is much closer to libertarians and conservatives than it is to progressives. Frankly, I think one of the only areas the republican party can win over people like me is in technology - besides represenatives like Zoe Lofgren, the democrats seem to be slightly behind the times and less potential to "get it" than republicans.

Anyway, on to it...

The public school system is failing many of our kids. Current policies have problems that are borne out in measurable, quantifiable outcomes. Standardized tests actually harm students and teachers, and especially harm the prospects of lower income students. Not everyone can afford the "quality trained teachers" that rich kids' schools can hire and retain.

Meanwhile kids' ADHD diagnoses are skyrocketing, and are correlated to standardized testing laws passed by our federal government. Many kids in NYC for example are under pressure to perform well on a standardized test to get into a better high school, and ultimately have a better future. This is *not* the way to distribute wealth to everyone. On the contrary, those who can afford a good tutor get in, and this is now spreading to middle schools.

I think this particular thing has *huge* implications on our society, unlike the minimum wage and other libertarian trivia. Better educated citizens have better job prospects, are less prone to crime and incarceration, produce more wealth, are healthier, etc. Internet technology has the capability to spread the wealth nearly for free compared to other systems, and this is where knowledge really translates to real world wealth. If we leave a monolithic government in charge of change, we can debate back and forth all we want, but 10 years from now our education system will still be stuck where it is today, just as it has been for the last 10.

Money will not solve the problem with the existing system. Here is an example of that, see what happened with the money. In a country with such widespread child poverty as in the US, it is a mistake to keep throwing billions of dollars at monolithic, centralized systems that are slow to change. The policy hasn't produced measurable improvements relative to other countries, and many of our brightest minds come from H1B visas. The reason for that is entrenched interests and crony capitalism. Take all those private companies making the standardized tests and books, and update them with technology. But in order to do that, we need vectors for innovation. We need charter schools and vouchers. The government's job is to solve collective action problems -- it can provide universal health insurance, it can provide money for education, but when it RUNS education, there is a monopoly and good ideas cannot be tested. I am consistent: I argue for basic universal government health *insurance* not healthcare, and I argue for basic government education *vouchers* not public schools.

Here are the details of my actual policy proposal:

Among them:

Replace textbooks with multimedia on parentally-controlled tablets. When it comes to poverty, technology is the great equalizer. A great teacher hired in a great school can only reach 30 people. What's more likely to help poor kids?

Homework should be done in school, with individual attention. Content absorption should be done via things you can rewind, and pause to go to the bathroom. There is even tons of data about how more homework makes kids do worse on standardized tests.

The libertarian part is simply to point out that this reform, one of many possible ones, will not take place because it is too radical. My mother has been a school teacher for over 15 years. She's also served as a vice principal and has seen all the bureacracy. Very few public school principals are willing to rock the boat even a bit. She also took the steps to open a charter school, and I can tell you from personal experience being involved in that process, that charter schools and vouchers have much more potential for innovation and spreading good ideas than a top-down public school system.

The other reason this won't be easy is that many families these days have either a single parent, or both parents who work. Not many like to talk about it, but in the US, school is being used as a daycare center to lock up the kids and look after them while the parents work. This can be characterized without exaggeration as the state raising the kids because the parents have to work. And frankly, the way it is raising them should be held responsible for how they turn out! This leaves great responsibility vested in the central planners' hands. And we can see the results.

GregMozart's picture
Jun. 19, 2014 9:57 am


In order to understand the problems of education, a person needs to have the expertise to be familiar with research into relevant areas. There are studies which have found differences in how parents talk to their childern on the basis of social class, and it is believed that these differences in child rearing affect the development and eventual progress of children when they get to school. There are some who dispute that pre-kindergarten classes have any effect on future educational outcomes, but many academics believe that these programs, if carried out properly, have been shown to create a higher probability that students will do well in school. Robert Reich recently pointed out that the U.S. is the only advanced, industrialized country that has worse funding for schools serving low-income students, particularly in inner city neighborhoods, compared to schools in more affluent areas. The measurements of performance and graduation rates are usually worse in schools in working class and poor neighborhoods than in better-off neighborhoods. Madison, WI and the whole state of Wisconsin has the greatest degree of inequality among blacks and whites when it comes to educational achievement as well as employment. Dane County has instituted a program to send social workers to the homes of black families with children to help them learn how to better support their childrens' development. Money alone may not be sufficient, but it couldn't hurt. New Jersey from what I have heard is the only state that tries to equalize funding for all school districts no matter what the income level of the residents of the local areas. When property taxes are relied on as the primary source of state funding, there will be differences in funding among districts. In California, a judge struck down the law which gives teachers tenure, and job protection, after only 18 months I think it is on the job. I live in a state where there are a large number of blue collar workers and people who do not have much or any college education. I have to wonder if teachers and school counselors did everything possible to inform young people and their parents about the different possibilities that would be available to them, educationally and career-wise. At the same time, it is unrealistic to say that everyone should go to college. Educators are well aware that people learn differently. Some people would learn better in a program that allows them to work with their hands, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. In Madison, there is a construction training program. In another state, there are apprenticeship programs which combine paid employment, which includes mentoring, with tuition-paid attendance in a two-year, associate;s degree program at local community colleges that offer technical vocational courses.

Robindell's picture
Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

This is all good information, but at the end of the day much of it just supports my point: if only the affluent can afford tutors for standardized tests, good teachers in classrooms, etc. then we have to move away from a system that places such emphasis on these things for success. We aren't going to get millions of brilliant teachers overnight, and nor do we have to. If we flip the classroom, replace textbooks with multimedia, and lead the move to the 21st century by actually making use of tablets, the internet, etc. then MORE disadvantaged kids can get a good education, not just the ones whose teachers happen to be adept at getting them to learn. And instead of yearly standardized tests by the city or the federal government, there should be DAILY measurable results, which can be continually tweaked and improved by for-profit companies. Look at my policy proposal, and let me know what you think.

GregMozart's picture
Jun. 19, 2014 9:57 am

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