Ignoring the Elephant

by Don Boudreaux on July 10, 2011

in Competition, Education, Other People's Money, Reality Is Not Optional

In today’s New York Times, education guru Diane Ravitch and seven letter-writers combine to compose 1,800 words on the parlous state of K-12 education.  In this geyser of platitudes mixed with opinions on testing, charter schools, and class size, never mentioned is the word “competition” or any of its variants.  Not once.  (“Choice” appears twice, irrelevantly: first in the phrase “college of their choice”; second in the term “multiple-choice tests.”)

Debating how to improve education, the writers focus only on the relative merits of testing, various funding formulas, and class size while ignoring the fact that each government school has a captive pool of students, and that government schools get their revenues not from paying customers but from taxed property owners.

This debate is as useful to the cause of education reform as would be a debate on how to rescue occupants of a burning building that focuses only on the relative merits of the various sorts of fire-retardant clothing that these occupants might be given while ignoring the possibility of breaking openings in the building to create escape routes.

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{ 140 comments }

Kyle July 10, 2011 at 10:11 am

I’m afraid that the letter-writers are less concerned with improving education, and more concerned with improving their collective coffers.

Pete July 10, 2011 at 12:59 pm

I don’t think that’s it. I think these letter-writers suffer from a fatal conceit-type mentality. Each one believes he or she is CORRECT. The problem is that they then believe that they are correct about every child in every educational environment. They might each have generally good ideas to help education, but each one also fails to understand that a “grand plan” for education isn’t the answer. We’ve had so many educational plans, all of them based on ideas that were generally good, that failed in large-scale implementation. These folks don’t want to admit that the market will help; not because they don’t believe in the power of the market, but because the market doesn’t allow their excellent plans to be implemented on a large scale. They see themselves as saviors, and school choice eliminates the need for a savior.

Kirby July 11, 2011 at 9:44 am

Like the fat women trying to get you to help starving kids in Africa while ignoring the facts that:
–Taking kids back to America from Africa would help them much more than a can of peas
–She is importing 12 pounds of food a day for herself

Frank33328 July 10, 2011 at 7:25 pm

To be fair, I believe that the possibility of education through a private system and of competition has ever occurred to the author and letter writers.

Matthew July 11, 2011 at 12:56 pm

I disagree. One of my favorite EconTalk episodes is the conversation with Ravitch, where I believe she is quite honest about her evolution in thought (she was a huge proponent for charters and choice in the past). She feels that there isn’t evidence that charters improve educational outcomes, sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. She is a historian, not an economist, not an education theory expert etc. This is how she reads the evidence. We can disagree with her reading of the evidence (I do), but I think it’s a little too cynical to say that she is giving this view to get richer.

Listening to her podcast, I appreciate her skepticism of academic departments of education, and her emphasis on good teachers, good principals etc. As Russ notes in the podcast, it’s easy to apply market language to this problem, but sometimes the terms and the actual situation do not line up. I like charters, but I don’t think applying them will result in us having a country of well-educated geniuses. I think that it will give us roughly the same outcomes, but for cheaper.

Jim July 11, 2011 at 1:14 pm

But there again Matthew, we see the fallacy in the argument.

Like ‘deregulation’ of the airline industry which still pretty much offers us a logistically flawed, over-priced solution, Ravitch looks at the charter school system and concludes that results are less than significant.

The real results from a market in education will only come when the regulation and standardization are removed from the system. Then gargantuan strides in quality and price of education will be made.

morganovich July 11, 2011 at 1:40 pm

matthew-

but because she is an historian and not an economist or a business person, she is still missing the key issue in the evidence.

many charter schools massively outperform the existing public schools. some do not. the ones that do should succeed, the one that don’t should be given over to new management (hopefully similar to the ones that do work)

that’s business. lots of businesses fail. but the industry moves ahead. claiming that business does not work because some fail misses the point entirely.

charter schools are just the same. the fact that many work means that they all can once you adopt best practices etc. you figure out what works through experimentation. the failures then emulate the winners (or get taken over by them).

what she is calling “mixed results” is just the first part of this process.

andrew July 22, 2011 at 1:50 pm

However, to extend your metaphor morganovich, some business fail due to their own volition and others fail due to factors attributed outside of their control…

SweetLiberty July 10, 2011 at 10:15 am

To Public school educrats, charter schools ARE the competition – at least the competition they are willing to acknowledge. By pointing out that “most are no better than regular public schools”, they are making their case that competition isn’t the answer to better education.

To make the alternate case, one would either need to demonstrate how most charter schools are indeed better than regular public schools, or that charter schools are NOT representative of real competition in education.

Mark July 10, 2011 at 10:22 am

She’s completely against choice – it’s not a surprise she’s completely ignored it.

http://www.amazon.com/Death-Great-American-School-System/dp/0465014917/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1267566896&sr=8-1/marginalrevol-20

Greg Webb July 10, 2011 at 10:33 am

Like all cronies of the political elite, Diane Ravitch opposes competition because then she would have to work to serve the needs and wants of consumers as opposed to the much easier job of sucking up to the politically powerful.

Kirby July 11, 2011 at 9:44 am

Like Jim Traggart

morganovich July 10, 2011 at 10:48 am

finland provides an excellent example of how to reform a school system.

they had some of the worst schools in europe and without spending another dollar, they jumped to the top of the league tables.

what they did was very simple: they empowered principals. they got rid of the national curriculum and gave each principal the responsibility to build one and the ability to hire and fire teachers as he chose. the speed with which this worked was stunning.

i think we go to this system, then, after a few years to let the experimentation to get going and the new system to settle in, open the whole thing up with vouchers which would accelerate this still further.

the problem with our current system is that it is completely stagnant and not centered on the kids at all. the kids are not treated like the customers at schools, the teacher’s unions are.

time to place consumer sovereignty where it belongs: with the kids.

imagine if supermarkets were run like schools. you’d have one in your neighborhood to which you had to go. you’d pay for it whether you used it or not. they would face no competition. imagine what selection, price, and customer service would be like. you’d feel like you were in minsk in 1985.

how could we possibly expect a different outcome from setting up schools the same way?

it amazes me that so many people have this incredible blind spot around schools and healthcare. they are “too important to be trusted to markets”. people point to their failings as proof of this. but this is the equivalent of attributing the recent success of china to central planning. (which is 180 degrees wrong) these system in the us fail because they are kept cloistered away from market forces. far from being too important to trust to markets, they are too important not to.

Methinks1776 July 10, 2011 at 11:38 am

Why not open our system to competition now?

It will be competition that pressure principals to improve their schools. What incentive do they have now? Competition is the source of change.

morganovich July 10, 2011 at 2:08 pm

methinks-
you could do it that way, but i think phasing in local control first has several advantages, especially if they know that school choice is coming in a few years.

the problem with going choice first is that so many schools suck and few have extra capacity. what do you do when there are 2 bad schools and one good one in a town and suddenly all the kids want to go to the good one?

you get rationing or lotteries.

to let schools cut the dead wood and start acting like schools for a few years first would make the transition more effective and less disruptive. there would be more (and more differentiated) choices right from the word go as opposed to the same schools and huge numbers of pissed of students and parents whose vouchers turned out to be no good because they could not spend them where they wanted to due to capacity constraints.

there has been an innovation desert for too long.

it’s like drinking a whole gallon of water after being severely dehydrated. your body just can’t take it yet.

you need to let the innovation loose first (which works, or certainly did in finland) and then once you have that improvement and a better, healthier base of schools, you can unleash competition and make it still better and more responsive.

Methinks1776 July 10, 2011 at 2:31 pm

the problem with going choice first is that so many schools suck and few have extra capacity.

How fast can capacity be added? Pretty fast. Do you really think that because you haven’t imagined creative alternatives to the current school set-up nobody else has or will? I assure you, creative solutions to the problems you think will be faced already exist.

The bad schools will have to compete or die. “Cutting dead wood” is as easy as handing out pink slips.

Giving the special interests in public schools years to slowly slither toward some improvement jeopardizes the education of a whole generation, IF it works. Likely, the unions will thwart progress through their political allies and delay competition indefinitely.

Nothing. Nothing works more swiftly and more efficiently than competition. Nothing.

Kirby July 10, 2011 at 7:34 pm

You’re forgetting all sorts of illegal activities including:
Drugs, coercion, blackmail, death threats, and bribery.

anthonyl July 12, 2011 at 11:13 am

Absolutely the best way to go is an immediate demonopolization of the school systems. This means ending all theft of money’s for public education. Those that seek an education can pay as much or as little as they wish from whatever business that offers such service. Send your kids or yourself to whatever school you can afford. This can cause no more problems than already exist and will basicaly solve every problem we currently have by making them all nonissues.

Methinks1776 July 10, 2011 at 2:33 pm

The Finnish solution may work better than the current disaster passing for public education in the U.S., Morganovich, but I think competition will work better and faster.

RC July 10, 2011 at 4:06 pm

Methinks,

I never really understood this glorification of the Finnish school system. Just because Finnish children do well on one test (OECD’s PISA test) doesn’t automatically mean that the Finnish system is so wonderful. Would they perform well on ten or even five different tests, that would be something – one test, not so much.

Besides, is doing well on tests the most important thing? Knowledge is important, of course; but I would argue that the primary task of education is to make children responisble citizens and skilled workers in the future. Overloading the curriculum is a very stupid thing, it just (temporarily) fills pupils with knowledge that they will probably never make use of in their lives. Is knowledge of the capital of Namibia (no offense intended), the exact date of a historical event or advanced algebra really that important?

Regards,
RC

Ron H. July 10, 2011 at 5:07 pm

but I would argue that the primary task of education is to make children responisble citizens and skilled workers in the future.

I wonder what the students and their parents would say the primary purpose of education is? Do you really think you know what’s best for them? I dare not ask what you think the solutions to current problems with education should be. Does it involve spending more money, perhaps?

RC July 10, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Ron H.,

I was giving my, SUBJECTIVE opinion. If I was an owner of a private school that’s what I would prepare the kids to. I oppose a government cirriculum and believe in competition. So chill.

Rgards,
RC

morganovich July 10, 2011 at 5:58 pm

“I assure you, creative solutions to the problems you think will be faced already exist.:”

and in turn, i assure you, they would take years to get up and running.

you need space, a full staff, insurance, etc. you also likely need some sort of reputation.

i really think you are underestimating just how much disruption would be caused by the sudden shift.

i agree with you that competition and free school choice would work better in the long run than anything else.

i’m not, as you seem to imply, arguing that the finnish system is a better idea.

what i am saying is that it would make the transition much less abrupt and disruptive, and likely much more effective.

can you seriously believe that just shifting the whole system to vouchers would suddenly make the NYC school system work? there would be new entrants to be sure, and huge lines for them as well as the existing good schools. there would be lots of kids that just could not get a place they want.

letting the schools have a few years in the middle to adapt would make the choices better when they cam and largely disarm the “this is going to be too disruptive” group who, despite their hysteria, have some valid near term points.

markets adapt well and drive innovation, but finding that equilibrium in the short run can be pretty nasty for some participants, especially if the initial state is far removed from the new equilibrium.

giving the schools the real ability to clean their own houses would help soften that blow, while still getting to the same place.

Methinks1776 July 10, 2011 at 7:45 pm

Morganovich,

A sudden shift in what? Nobody is closing down schools. If parents are pissed off because they can’t get into the school of their choice, then that’s no different than it is now.

can you seriously believe that just shifting the whole system to vouchers would suddenly make the NYC school system work?

Ah, noooo! But it would be the spark that forces them to get their act together. Nobody, I think, is expecting overnight change.

there would be lots of kids that just could not get a place they want.

This is different from now in what way? Especially in NYC.

letting the schools have a few years in the middle to adapt would make the choices better when they cam and largely disarm the “this is going to be too disruptive” group who, despite their hysteria, have some valid near term points.

Adapt to what? How will they know the demands they must adapt to until they are forced to compete? Disruptive to what? Parents will apply to certain schools and either get in or not. If they don’t, they’ll send their kids to whatever school will take them. It’s not like the kids won’t be able to go to school.

but finding that equilibrium in the short run can be pretty nasty for some participants,

Can’t be any nastier than it is now for the people with bright kids in the South Bronx. Have voucher programs caused untold mahem in the areas they’ve been tried (obviously not talking about the NEA)? If they haven’t, why would you think that rolling them out everywhere would suddenly cause unacceptable disruptions?

I’m sorry, but I think that allowing schools to adjust to an environment they cannot predict will simply lead to the NEA and other interest groups spending all their energy delaying the transition to competition.

Economiser July 11, 2011 at 10:21 am

Morganovich,

You’re greatly underestimating the speed at which these changes could, and would, take effect. Just look at how dynamic the market is in other areas. The “daily deal” industry is now worth billions of dollars and employs thousands of people, but it barely existed 3 years ago. Smartphones are similar – the first iPhone was released in 2007, and now there’s a whole ecosystem surrounding smartphones, accessories, and applications.

If school competition ever became a reality, schools of all sorts would be popping up all over before you know it.

Economic Freedom July 11, 2011 at 8:18 pm

@ RC:

I would argue that the primary task of education is to make children responisble citizens and skilled workers in the future.

So in your view, the task of primary education is training of the child’s behavior, as opposed to sharpening of his intellect in order to prepare him for a life of independent thought.

You’re in good company. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Castro would agree with you.

anthonyl July 12, 2011 at 11:23 am

“but I would argue that the primary task of education is to make children responisble citizens and skilled workers in the future.”

Every body has their own opinion about what an education should be. Of course a state owned and operated system would want that system to inculcate children with the ideas that preserve the state! They do it today. We come out of the system with some pretty messed up ideas about how the world works. It has taken me decades out of the system to get a real education.

SMV July 10, 2011 at 6:46 pm

If schools truly joined the competitive market and three where available but two sucked why would you get rationing or lottery?

The price that parents would be willing to pay for the good school would be high. This would encourage investment in new schools quickly and more effectively than any head start for public schools.

I believe it would also drive schools to adapt new technology. Use the intranet to make many teachers obsolete. Given that education is primarily knowledge transfer, the internet should be driving costs down and specialization up. Why not have every student in your chain of schools watch amazing lectures on line.

Dan J July 10, 2011 at 7:06 pm

Ah, but it is possible to find a school teaching things many might find ‘not useful’. The students who are products of these schools would still get advanced in society due to other privileges enumerated by govt, a.k.a affirmative action.
Example : Tucson and La Raza
An embellishment would be to compare them to a madrassa and anger filled rhetoric against the nation that they reside within.
But, not that far from it.

morganovich July 10, 2011 at 8:14 pm

methinks-

then why did the schools in finland improve so dramatically?

your whole argument is counter to the observed facts.

giving the schools autonomy caused enormous improvement even without market forces. it’s not that principals don’t know how to run a school or that there are not enough good teachers, it’s that the system prevents them from doing so. left to their own devices, they’d much rather do it right if they could get rid of the insane rules and the deadwood tenured staff.

further, if they know it’s going to a voucher market in 4 years, they will scramble to be competitive because they know they are going to die if they don’t.

college students are not in the free market either, but they know they will be, so they work hard.

creating vouchers before you have a decent number of schools to compete for will cause immense frustration, like having a soviet ration ticket for an empty store.

you have to realize: for such a system to work, you need buy in. that will rapidly dissipate if parents and kids get vouchers and cannot use them for anything they want. telling them “in 5 years, the free market will have straightened this out” is unlikely to mollify voting parents. any system like this is going to be incredibly contentious from day one. if you fuel the opposition with frustration and failure from the start, they will have a good shot at strangling it in it’s infancy.

i see you point about “what’s different that now” in terms of overall education, but you are missing the point about what really is different.

if you tell people “here comes the change” then don’t deliver, they will be far angrier than they were in the first place.

to get a system like this working and out of reach if those who would kill it, you need it to provide benefits from day one.

the point here is faced with market forces, we’d have a huge number of schools fail. failing schools will cause serious problems and dislocations in many students educations. if we can reduce that disruption by letting he schools come up to race speed before dumping them onto the track, why would we not want to do that?

morganovich July 10, 2011 at 8:17 pm

“Have voucher programs caused untold mahem in the areas they’ve been tried (obviously not talking about the NEA)? If they haven’t, why would you think that rolling them out everywhere would suddenly cause unacceptable disruptions?”

simple, because they were small. is 2% of you kids get vouchers, they system can accommodate it. if 100% do, it cannot. it’s a function of a vouchers/spaces ratio.

Methinks1776 July 11, 2011 at 9:00 am

Morganovich,

Improving schools – or anything, for that matter – from a very low level is easy. Doubling 1 to 2 is not hard. Optimizing is a different question. We won’t know which schools will be the best in the future, so we have no idea which schools should add capacity. Allowing schools to compete will allow bad schools to immediately improve.

creating vouchers before you have a decent number of schools to compete for will cause immense frustration, like having a soviet ration ticket for an empty store.

The mistake you make is that you assume bad schools will remain bad and good schools will remain good. In a competitive environment, that is rarely the case. Soviet shelves were empty because the demands of the market were irrelevant – just like U.S. public education. Now, stores compete and the shelves are full. In a competitive environment, ALL schools will improve from where they are now.

You also assume a large number of schools will fail. Why? They’re failing now. Giving them a competitive environment, private administration will allow them to make changes right away. If the administrators, as you say, already know how to run the schools well, then unshackling them should make them instantly more competitive. Not all students will be able to get into currently good schools, so they will be forced to sample the changes in the schools that are currently bad and that should improve.

if you tell people “here comes the change” then don’t deliver, they will be far angrier than they were in the first place.

What do you mean? People will have a choice of schools. That’s change. Schools will have to become more open to parent input. That’s change. More experimentation will inevitably arise. That’s change. Parents will have the choice to pull their kids out of schools they don’t like. Oh, I already said that. I guess that can’t be overstated. It’s all going to change. Why on earth do you think it won’t? If by “change” you mean that our level of education will suddenly rise to a very high level right away, I don’t think anyone expects that at all.

You won’t suddenly implement choice. People will have warning – it won’t happen literally the next day.

Schools coming up to “race speed” is ridiculous. They won’t know what “race speed” is until they begin to compete.

And may I remind you that a competitive environment always involves some dislocation and discomfort. What if the good school you go to suddenly falls behind and you have to go to a different one? Dislocation and discomfort are the fuel of competition. If you want ease and predictability, stick with the current system. If you want to excel, be uncomfortable.

anthonyl July 12, 2011 at 11:30 am

This is what happens today. State institutions teach statism to create statists that go on to run the state in a statist manner that… no different than a madrassa that teaches you to hate certain ideas an embrace others. It isn’t the educational institutions responsibility to fight crime.

Ron H. July 10, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Why not both competition AND local control now? How much worse could it be?

Both are great ideas, and I don’t believe they are mutually exclusive

morganovich July 10, 2011 at 6:01 pm

ron-

they are not mutually exclusive. in fact you need the latter for the former to work. school choice if the schools all have to be the same is much less useful.

methinks is misunderstanding my argument. i think that granting local control is a good interstitial step to help ease the transition to full competition and student choice.

give the schools 4 years to sort themselves out through local autonomy (and freedom from union restrictions on hiring – all schools should be right to work) then open the whole system up to student choice.

morganovich July 10, 2011 at 6:04 pm

ron-

you need them both together. what good is school choice is all the schools are forced to be the same by national rules? it helps, but not nearly as much as it would if they could each make their own decisions.

methinks is misunderstanding my argument. i think that local autonomy is a good interstitial step on the road to full blown school choice. it would help ease the transition and prevent massive disruption.

give them 4 years of autonomy to get their houses in order, then open up free choice. (oh, and break all union locks on hiring – all schools must be right to work)

morganovich July 10, 2011 at 6:10 pm

sorry for the dupe, did not think the first one took.

morganovich July 10, 2011 at 8:21 pm

“A sudden shift in what? Nobody is closing down schools.”

be careful with that assumption. sure they will. if there are 4 schools in a region and one really sucks, the kids will want out.

let’s say that half find places at the other 3.

the last one will fail. it will not have enough funding left to support its infrastructure. so what happens to those kids?

this is precisely why it would be incredibly useful to have a few years for the good schools to build capacity.

Methinks1776 July 10, 2011 at 11:03 pm

I suppose you assume the bad school is incapable of change then? Why?

Ron H. July 10, 2011 at 9:07 pm

morganovich,

you need them both together. what good is school choice is all the schools are forced to be the same by national rules? it helps, but not nearly as much as it would if they could each make their own decisions.

I think that’s what I suggested.

(oh, and break all union locks on hiring – all schools must be right to work)

Good luck with that one, but that’s what’s needed, for sure.

Ron H. July 10, 2011 at 9:10 pm

I’ll just never get used to this hierarchical threading.

morganovich July 11, 2011 at 10:47 am

“Soviet shelves were empty because the demands of the market were irrelevant – just like U.S. public education. Now, stores compete and the shelves are full. In a competitive environment, ALL schools will improve from where they are now”

i think it is you who are making the mistake methinks. there was horrendous disruption in between, and it’s much easier to fill shelves with goods that provide additional school capacity.

if you just ope it up day one, almost noone has anywhere to go. schools will be exactly as they were the day before. a move to a new equilibrium is not instant and this one would have real human (and political) costs.

you are completely ignoring how disruptive and frustrating an immediate transition would be and the political blowback that would create.

“If the administrators, as you say, already know how to run the schools well, then unshackling them should make them instantly more competitive”

that’s just naive. instantly? change takes time. bring in a new CEO to a company, and it can take years to see the results. surely you know this. i think you are just being deliberately difficult on this point.

you are asking the schools to run the boston marathon, but not giving them any time at all to train then doubting that many won;t finish.

you need time to both build new systems and capacity. the change is NOT instant and could not possibly be.

you seem determined to have vouchers blow up on the launchpad because no one was ready to deal with it.

“People will have a choice of schools. That’s change”

no, they won’t. they will have the freedom to shop in empty stores. the good schools are full already. maybe 5% of kids could move, the rest will be frustrated. the really bad schools may empty out to the point where they cannot operate and wind up actually reducing capacity.

your plan is like launching netfilx online with only one server and then saying “hey you have more choice” when in fact, only a couple of people will find it useful and the rest will find it impossible to use. online, it just makes you walk away from the product, but in an arena as politicized as school choice, the blowback will kill the program.

i think you are missing the needs of an actual implementation in pure theory. in the long run, choice is clearly the best way to go, but to actually get there in the real world, you’re going to need a path that works.

morganovich July 11, 2011 at 1:23 pm

economiser-

you are comparing apples to oranges.

it’s easy to launch a new net service or a new consumer product.

this is a service that affects 10′s of millions. you cannot just change it overnight. you have to take care of legacy customers.

both you and methinks are committing the classic ivory tower economist error: forgetting your assumptions.

economic theory generally assumes costless (and instant) entry, which is not the case here. you are also assuming ready substitutes.

if a motorola puts nokia out of business, you just buy another phone. if ps102 puts ps 101 out of business by taking half it’s students and making it unable to support its infrastructure, where are the kids supposed to go? ps102 is full. there may be no other options in the area. sure, in a year or 2, some might spring up, but a year or 2 is a LONG TIME for a kid to be schoolless.

Methinks1776 July 11, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Morganovich, there are ostensibly enough schools already since I’ve not seen screaming headlines to the contrary.

For the Finish “solution” to work, the administrators would already need to know how to fix their individual schools’ problems given enough autonomy, right?

So, what’s the problem?

anthonyl July 12, 2011 at 11:46 am

What is a legacy customer? One that can only be taught in a state run school? When I was growing up I didn’t mind the disruption to my education that happened every year called summer vacation. Yeah!

anthonyl July 12, 2011 at 11:48 am

Yes! Decisions will have to be made.

morganovich July 11, 2011 at 1:31 pm

also:

think about it this way – lots of good schools do not want an influx of students. they just flat out will not take them. i live in park city. our schools are notorious for this. vouchers won’t change that. they like their system as it is. you can give a kid in heber a voucher, but he still won’t have any choice until some new schools pop up.

it takes time for the free market to respond to opportunities. in case like this, it will take years. you’d need to give schools years of notice to get ready for a full vouchers system anyway, why not free them up to begin adapting in the interim?

Methinks1776 July 11, 2011 at 2:00 pm

why not free them up to begin adapting in the interim?

I have a better idea. Switch the administration of schools from government to private and give them autonomy. Allow people to choose schools (you keep bringing up vouchers, but that may not be the best way) and if schools can’t add enough capacity right away, students will have to wait.

You want them to wait anyway. What’s the difference – except that the NEA won’t have years to delay and derail the process?

anthonyl July 12, 2011 at 11:56 am

Vouchers won’t work because they are not a market system. The time it takes for change will doom more generations to the poor education the state provides. Education is a valuable service just like an apple at the grocery store.

anthonyl July 12, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Methinks- this isn’t about saving teachers and administrators from disruption. Is it?

It does take time for the market to adapt but it does so quickly and decisively and always in the correct direction! Individual companies may make a wrong turn but they are quickly corrected out of the market.

Ron H. July 12, 2011 at 2:12 pm

anthonyl,

Vouchers will work better than the current system, as they attach the tax money currently spent on students directly to the student, rather than to the student’s residence address.

They introduce choice to the equation so that parents and students can decide for themselves what school gets their business, just as they now decide where to shop for groceries.

The inevitable competition for student’s money can only be a good thing, driving costs down, and quality up.

anthonyl July 12, 2011 at 11:41 am

I don’t think you understand how this would work. All schools as they currently are would shut down and people would start school businesses that would either expand or fail. The expansion of many successful businesses would fill any demand for education. The only disruption would be to teachers or administrators that can’t get hired.

Krishnan July 10, 2011 at 10:50 am

The “Berlin Wall” remains – Universities/K-12 have always worked to wall themselves off against external forces for real change – the entrenched bureaucracy works hard to keep taking more resources while education quality suffers – about competition? In some states, the “4 year” colleges consider the “2 year”/community colleges as “competition” – and some of the “4 year” colleges consider adjoining states as “competition” (it is true, to a very limited extent – but it not real competition)

My prediction is that the “Berlin Wall” will fall when internet resources get better and it gets possible for anyone to get an “education” – those that self educate will then demand that the high priests allow them to take whatever exams they need to take to earn that piece of paper – OR employers/others will discover that since the piece of paper we call “diploma” has lost it’s value, they will test potential employees for what they KNOW as opposed to the piece of paper from Podunk University

Most administrators and others in the Higher Education (and K-12) system have their heads buried in the sand – refuse to see the crisis we have – and beat the drum about how “everyone should have a college education” and send kids out with pieces of paper that are often useless – and students leave without significant change in their ability to solve problems or even think about problems

RC July 10, 2011 at 11:08 am

Well put, Don.

I am more and more amazed (and saddened) why so many left-wing “intellectuals” want to doom 90% of children around the world to an education system that is removed from the forces of competition. Do these people really think that incentives do not matter?

On the other hand, most of these “intellectuals” can afford private schooling for their own children. Maybe that’s the point of government schooling: trap the overwhelming majority of kids so that they will fall behind our own children. After all, our children are better.

Krishnan July 10, 2011 at 11:31 am

So many people keep voting for candidates that support the unions while they send their own kids to school – Does not such condescension and elitism affect them? I agree that those that seek to increase funding for public schools or keep the status quo know that things will never change and their kids will have an upper hand in life – Like the minimum wage – Talk it up as a way to help the poor, needy, the unskilled – while doing the exact opposite for the poor, needy, the unskilled

RC July 10, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Ignorance of the “common man” (the voter) is another problem; but this problem will not be solved as long as mob rule will triumph over meritocracy.

Seth July 10, 2011 at 11:19 am

I agree. I traded emails with Ravitch a year or so ago over an excerpt from her book that appeared in the WSJ. She was critical of things like NCLB, charter schools and test-based accountability and provided good examples for why these things hadn’t worked.

But, her answer seemed to be to let the so-called experts keep trying to get it right. She wanted teams of “experts” to come into failing schools to fix them. She was critical of test scores, but used them evaluate the effectiveness of choice programs.

She was skeptical of letting parents have the reins. She wrote me:

“I note that many parents vote with their feet to stay in lousy schools and even fight to keep them open”

Methinks1776 July 10, 2011 at 11:41 am

I love it. The dominance of “experts” trumps the needs of the kids.

“I note that many parents vote with their feet to stay in lousy schools and even fight to keep them open”

Doesn’t mean they should be robbed of their option. Even if options are not exercised, they are valuable.

jjoxman July 10, 2011 at 1:13 pm

My response would be that those parents who are seemingly “voting with their feet” probably do not have the economic capacity to change districts to better schools. Failing schools would most likely be in poor neighborhoods. How likely is it that a poor working family can afford the housing and property taxes required to live in a “good school” neighborhood? Not very, I guess.

Methinks1776 July 10, 2011 at 2:25 pm

A few points:

They may have the ability to send their kids to a neigbouring school district even if they can’t afford to live there.

The loss of students in the current district puts pressure on the schools (and, waddaya know, the teachers’ union) to shape up and improve. So, even if the bad schools never reach the heights of the best schools, they’ll be better than they were. Gotta love competition.

Finally, even if the bad school remains just as bad and the parents choose not to send their offspring to another school, if the government’s robbing of them of that choice makes them poorer by one option. Who gets that option? Not, I – a childless person forced to pay for these children’s schooling. It’s the Unions. The same unions who fight school choice for parents and children. I am still waiting to hear an argument that defends robbing the poorest among us to enrich the teachers’ union (not from you, obviously, JJoxman).

Mike P.F. July 10, 2011 at 4:22 pm

“They may have the ability to send their kids to a neigbouring school district even if they can’t afford to live there.”

Based on personal experience, when there was busing like that wealthier families just sent their kids to private schools. Those schools which were considered better immediately became war zones.

anthonyl July 12, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Decisions will have to be made.

Seth July 10, 2011 at 1:15 pm

I tried to make that point to her and she didn’t get it. If the test scores (which she her self criticized as a valid measure) didn’t show significant improvements, then choice wasn’t worth it.

I can imagine a test that you could subject to restaurants that might measure things like food quality, speed of service, menu variety and so forth.

I can also imagine the scores from most restaurants would likely be indistinguishable (thanks in large part to competition and failure). But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t very good reasons why individuals choose to eat at one restaurant over all the others. I think Ravitch might be prone to say, well there’s not much different in the scores, so why have all the restaurants? Let’s just have one really good restaurant.

Methinks1776 July 10, 2011 at 2:41 pm

I tried to make that point to her and she didn’t get it.

Colour me shocked.

So, are tests a good measure or aren’t they? If they’re not, then differences in test scores are irrelevant, no? Her sloppy thinking suggests she is herself a victim of the dumbing down of our puhblick skoool sistuhm.

Suppose she thought tests were relevant. Suppose the tests showed no difference. Does that justify the state robbing parents’ and kids of choice?

I think Ravitch might be prone to say, well there’s not much different in the scores, so why have all the restaurants? Let’s just have one really good restaurant.

Yeah. I agree – and there you have it. Surprisingly, education, like restaurants, is to a larger extent than some people might imagine, a matter of individual preference. In Ravitch’s world, who chooses the restaurant? Why, the elites with their “superior” palates, of course. Why should schooling for the serfs be any different?

Greg Webb July 10, 2011 at 4:15 pm

That is why liberalism, with its self-appointed elites, is the new feudalism. The few elites decide what is best for the many who are otherwise called serfs.

Methinks1776 July 10, 2011 at 7:47 pm

Cannot agree MORE, Greg.

Sean July 10, 2011 at 12:54 pm

They are voting with their feet concerning more issues than just the school their child attends, including the nearness of relatives and friends, the chances of employment elsewhere, and much else. I hate paying taxes, but I stay in the U.S. (vote with my feet) because of other concerns, assuming other places exist with lower taxation. By her logic, since I don’t leave, I must love being taxed.

Seth July 10, 2011 at 1:08 pm

“They are voting with their feet concerning more issues than just the school their child attends…”

I agree. She doesn’t seem to understand that the subjective value others perceive in education is different from her own.

Gary July 10, 2011 at 11:30 am

And she write this craziness: “High-stakes testing incentivizes narrowing of the curriculum, gaming the system, teaching to bad tests and cheating.”
Testing is the problem, see? I’m sure she would gladly refrain from obtaining blood work, x-rays, MRIs and other tests used to identify and correct problems.

Publicly-funded The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA does not give grades to college students. “We have such a groovy relationship with our teachers.”
http://www.college-admission-essay.com/evergreenstateadmission.html

Ron H. July 10, 2011 at 9:34 pm

Oh! That’s a gem. Just where I want to send my kids, so they can spend 4 yrs learning nothing but “environmental sensitivity”.

What do students find wrong with the school?

““Everyone here is a pothead, and pretty spaced-out all the time.”

“There isn’t really anything to do in Olympia. Just a lot of trees really.”

Priceless.

Mike July 10, 2011 at 11:36 am

I’m with Krishnan.

The internet has already made education more or less free. Everybody with a connection has access to the most amazing material at litle to no cost. There are business opportunities for guidance, testing/measurement and credentialing.

The established players are fighting a rear guard action against the changes that are all but inevitable. Take a look at what the US Department of Education is doing in regards to online course work: they now require every institution to be in compliance with the laws of all states in which they have online students. If found out of compliance they threaten to cut off Title IV money (federal financial aid). Already at my little school in Texas we will no longer serve students in Minnesota and Wisconsin because annual school licensing fees are more than tuition payments from the small number of students we might have from those states.

Krishnan July 10, 2011 at 2:49 pm

The change that will be needed will be even harder to bring about than the fall of the Berlin Wall … The array of self serving politicians and others against any change that would allow people to get educated (if they want to) is just too big – there is almost no connection between the “price” (tuition/etc) and the “product” (education/learning)

I cannot stand the self serving statements of many schools that claim that the tuition/etc charged to students does not cover what their education costs – as if people would not pay what it REALLY COSTS to get an education/learning – What the establishment is afraid of is that costs have been artificially inflated to cover costs of almost everything but the cost of “education” – where the rubber meets the road – instruction, supplies, infrastructure to advance such

I am still optimistic that people will wake up and ask “Why did I pay the thousands of dollars for my kids to go to Podunk/Whatever university and they leave pretty much the way they entered it? What is it that the 4 (or 5) year education was supposed to accomplish? And why did it not? What is going on in campuses?”

Mike July 11, 2011 at 12:50 am

[I]as if people would not pay what it REALLY COSTS to get an education[/I]

Krishnan that is a beautiful insight

vidyohs July 10, 2011 at 11:43 am

I agree that competition could be a huge step forward in seeing quality education being offered; however, I still am not convinced it would do much more on the average than ensure schools would be competing for the same high percentage of kids who could care less.

There is much more, a whole lot more, to the problem of educating children in America than just lack of competition. I firmly believe that you can lead a kid to a lesson, but you can’t make him like it much less learn, especially since he has come to believe that his I-phone will give him all the answers he needs simply through Google, and listen to that old fogey 30 year old teacher, give me a break, she is so way out of date and old.

The kids getting piss poor educations today are doing so not because it can’t be found in their schools, it is because they couldn’t care less. It interrupts their cool.

The paradox that is blatantly obvious is that those same so-called piss poor schools still have some students graduate with a good education, and if you look you will find that those who did were the ones who made the effort to get it.

RC July 10, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Vidyohs,

You wrote:

“I still am not convinced it would do much more on the average than ensure schools would be competing for the same high percentage of kids who could care less.”

Are you sure that a school in a competitive environment would want such kids? If a school will admit careless students, these students will damage its reputation, which will have a fatal long-term impact for its prospects. Similarly, a school will ultimately suffer if it admits thugs. Remember, if a school is privately owned, then it can select its own pupils (unless there is state interference) or exclude its own pupils if they fail to meet the standards.

Regards,
RC

vidyohs July 10, 2011 at 12:49 pm

RC, I do believe you failed to see that that was exactly the point I was making.

I can’t believe that a good competitive school offering outstanding educational opportunities will make one iota of difference in the over-all education levels of the nation, except to the kids that care. And, the kids that care can and will find an education no matter what obstacles you put in front of them.

Kids that don’t care, just don’t care, and until for some reason they change their mind and develop the desire to learn then an outstanding school is still a waste of time to them.

All we can say is that the competitive school offering outstanding educational opportunities just might also motivate the kid(s) that doesn’t care, to actually make more effort. Anything is possible.

Once you determine something is possible, the next thing to think about is “is it probable?”, two different levels of qualification on the subject.

Are competitive schools certain to improve the educational level of America? Probably. To an amazing degree? Not probable.

The next question, in my mind, is why do such a high percentage of kids think education is not of great importance to their future ability to subsist in some level of comfort?

Answer that question, then eliminate the causes of that attitude, and bingo, education levels will skyrocket even if kids have to get it from a library on their own.

People that want things typically find a way to get them, people who don’t want things can find a plethora of ways to avoid those things.

Krishnan July 10, 2011 at 1:05 pm

There is much I agree with what you say – but a good mentor/educator can make a huge difference in many who may not have thought about wanting something – the problem is that we do not have many such mentors/educators and we need more – a lot more

vidyohs July 10, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Actually, there was no need to use the word but in your first sentence because I never suggested otherwise. Take the word but out and we are on exactly the same page. What you did was provide part of the answer to the question I asked. There is more to the answer, and yes you answered a good part of it.

Scott Murphy July 10, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Ravitch has legitimate critiques of testing. Mostly that state legislators game the tests. Her criticism of testing is mostly based around that. Also, there are plenty of highly functional school systems that are centralized and unionized. Acting like choice is the big hurdle ignores the reality that many places have functional school systems that have no choice. Are there examples where privatized schools are responsible for the education of an entire region (not just a small part)? I’m not familiar with any but would be curious about them if they existed!

Methinks1776 July 10, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Are there examples where privatized schools are responsible for the education of an entire region (not just a small part)?

Are there large where parents are willing to or can afford to pay twice for education? I’m not familiar with any.

Where there are concentrations of vast wealth, such as Greenwich, CT and Newport, CA, the public schools are much better and a large percentage of the students are educated in private schools. You will find the preponderance of private school education by socio-economic class, not by region. And what does that tell you? The moment one can afford it, one sends one’s child to private school.

If public school systems are capable of the great performance you claim, then they should not be frightened of competition. If pockets of superior public schools exist, why should people who have the misfortune to live in places where they don’t not have the choice to move their kids to the better schools? What is the logic of forcing a terrible school on the tax-paying public?

The issue of choice does not center on a claim that 100% of public schools are dysfunctional or that 100% of NEA members are total idiots. It centers on parents’ right to choose the school their children attend, full stop. Parents, who are forced to pay for education, are robbed of the choice of schools. On what basis do you or Ravitch justify robbing parents and students of their option?

vidyohs July 10, 2011 at 3:49 pm

I can insert here that many schools, thanks to the unions, act just like little governments.

Our government is not by the people, of the people, and for the people, it is for the politician and the rent seekers. Any benefit we the people get from government is purely accidental and incidental.

Our government acts very much like a huge boulder in the stream of life, blocking the swift efficient flow of water, when if it were strictly constitutional it could act like a sluice and focus the swift efficient flow of activities.

The schools I mentioned are much the same. They are not for the student, they are for the perpetual employment and benefit of the union members and any benefit a student may receive is purely accidental and incidental.

The unions are just like government in being that boulder blocking of swift efficient teaching.

The government school system is a mess, a damned expensive mess, that comes no where near hitting any reasonable mark.

Methinks1776 July 10, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Are there large where

Poor editing. Should read: Are there whole regions where….

Scott Murphy July 10, 2011 at 2:18 pm

I understand that it is very popular to talk about taxes as robbing on this site. I see the utility when making arguments. Perhaps it isn’t justified.

The moral issue of paying for schools with tax dollars is something separate from their performance. One of Ravitch’s biggest claims is that it is the economic conditions of a community that have the biggest impact on student results. One of her points (and one that I have sympathy for) is as long as inner cities have institutional poverty, schools will be bad. If they are private, they will be bad private schools, public the same (performance wise).

It has to be noted that many countries who vastly outperform us educationally have highly centralized school systems. I don’t think this is what we should do but it should make people think that perhaps something else is the problem.

Methinks1776 July 10, 2011 at 2:50 pm

I understand that it is very popular to talk about taxes as robbing on this site.

You did not understand what I said.

I never once said a word about taxes being robbery.

I asked you to justify robbing parents of their choice (Option) of where to send their kids to school. I don’t care whether the parents exercise that option or not – that’s up to them. An option is a choice, not an obligation – something Ravitch and you completely miss. I’m not discussing whether the bad schools will still be theoretically worse than the good schools (that seems as insightful as declaring that the sun is likely to set in the West today).

What I asked is how you – or anyone – justify robbing individual parents and children of their option to send their children to the school of their choice?

Scott Murphy July 10, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Your right, I misread your comment.

I would suggest schools and school funding should be very local. I don’t think if the members of a community want to require that if you live in that community you have to pay taxes to support the school of that community is a bad thing. That is what public schools used to be before larger governmental institutions got involved.

I think more local control of public schools would maybe be a better approach.

I worry that the charter schools will just become something akin to defense contractors or big banks.

Ravitch is arguing caution in the remaking of our educational system. When the leftists wanted to re-make the system in the 60′s a lot of these problems were created in the first place. I think that is the main thrust of her current thought.

Methinks1776 July 10, 2011 at 7:54 pm

You cannot possibly be this obtuse, Scott Murphy.

I’m not at all interested in how schools are funded. That is a completely separate discussion and has absolutely nothing at all to do with anything I wrote.

Why will you not answer the very simple question I asked?

again:

What I asked is how you – or anyone – justify robbing individual parents and children of their option to send their children to the school of their choice?

vidyohs July 10, 2011 at 6:47 pm

“Scott Murphy July 10, 2011 at 2:18 pm

I understand that it is very popular to talk about taxes as robbing on this site. I see the utility when making arguments. Perhaps it isn’t justified.”

I have no problem with saying that any involuntary tax is theft. It isn’t utilitarian in making an argument, it is a fact, and saying it is always justified, more people should say it loud and long.

Any annual tax on the ownership of anything is theft.

Ron H. July 10, 2011 at 9:40 pm

“I have no problem with saying that any involuntary tax is theft. It isn’t utilitarian in making an argument, it is a fact, and saying it is always justified, more people should say it loud and long.”

*like*

Taxation is theft! Taxation is theft!

Ron H. July 10, 2011 at 10:42 pm

Scott,

One of Ravitch’s biggest claims is that it is the economic conditions of a community that have the biggest impact on student results. One of her points (and one that I have sympathy for) is as long as inner cities have institutional poverty, schools will be bad. If they are private, they will be bad private schools, public the same (performance wise).

The oft repeated claim that “If we only throw more money at public schools, they will improve.” is the constant cry of statists throughout the world.

If you agree that school performance is directly related to the amount of money spent per student, you might find this book /a> enlightening.

It seems that some of the poorest people, in some of the poorest countries in the world, manage to support private schools for their children, as they find the public schools inadequate, or inaccessible. I would appear that funding has little relationship with performance.

Ron H. July 10, 2011 at 10:43 pm

Sorry about no ending anchor tag.

Seth July 10, 2011 at 1:04 pm

“Ravitch has legitimate critiques of testing.”

Agreed. But she then uses those test results to evaluate the effectiveness of choice-based programs.

Scott Murphy July 10, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Fair enough. The metric problem and the choice problem aren’t the same. She also critiques No Child with the testing info and there I think what she has to say is very on point.

morganovich July 10, 2011 at 2:16 pm

scott-

take a look at the harlem childrens project.

charter schools there are (for half the money) massively outperforming their competition. they took some of the worst schools in NYC and made them competitive in a few short years and for half the cash.

predictably, the teachers unions will do ANYTHING to disparage those results, but they really are undeniable. one of my friends children goes to one of these schools and she swears it is a night and day difference and the scores back her up.

the unions are desperate to prevent any innovation at all because it will show just how much improvement is possible and for how little money. look at the way they shut down the incredibly successful (and cost effective) voucher program in DC.

they are in trouble now in wisconsin as well as it’s becoming clear just how out of line costs were.

it’s been a tremendously successful effort to stonewall and it’s worked for a generation, but enough new thinking is starting to seep through and the evidence is piling up.

it’s going to get harder and harder to buy enough politicians to keep this game going.

Scott Murphy July 10, 2011 at 2:31 pm

What a great example! I love that HCZ involves the entire community in educating kids instead of just saying the problem is bad teachers.

I think getting local communities (not just parents) involved in the school systems would go a long way to making them better. No idea how to do that though.

Dan J July 10, 2011 at 7:16 pm
Dan J July 10, 2011 at 7:16 pm
Ombibulous July 10, 2011 at 12:38 pm

“We want one class of persons to have a liberal education and we want another very much larger class, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.” - Woodrow Wilson
address to The New York City High School Teachers Association.

What is needed is deschooling. If schools were voluntary and not compulsory. Public School kids would be more like soldiers whose parents sent them to boot camp instead of the current PTSD dullards released from a concentration camp.

Property owners are really serfs of their school district. These education castles demand tribute of all citizens and make sure minors wear their yellow stars else they cage them as truants and deliquents or make them wards of the state. Your promised property rights in your own children is just another broken treaty.

These dumbing down gulags make the children confused. They bombard with an incoherent ensemble of information your kids needs to memorize to stay in school.
Other than tests and trials the programming is similar to television in that it fills all of the “free” time of children. Kids see and hear something, only to forget it again.
They learn to accept their class affiliation.
They become indifferent.
They become emotionally dependent.
They attain a kind of self-confidence that requires constant confirmation by experts (provisional self-esteem).
They learn fear and compliance and see that they cannot hide, because they are always supervised.

King George only taxed Americans at 1%. What burden do you carry today for getting to elect the lesser of two evil masters?

Seth July 10, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Instead of harping on education and trying to have her preferences supersede those of parents, I would encourage folks like Ravitch to make a difference by starting their own schools so they can build models of excellence that can be replicated.

On another note, I have recently noticed an increasing number for-fee learning shops like Sylvan Learning Centers and Mathnasium. I also seem to know a good number of people who are home schooling. Perhaps private solutions to help fill the gaps caused by one-size-fits-all, third party paid, “public choice” education.

Krishnan July 10, 2011 at 2:59 pm

I imagine “schools” like those will grow in number – Many states do allow for students to take the “GED” and avoid the High Schools with their problems

Imagine this though – A student goes to some 4 year college and says “OK, I will take all of the exams you have your students in this subject area take and grade me on them – and if I pass them, award me the degree they would earn if they passed” (Like a “bar exam” – but for specific subject areas)

(Oh, can anyone take the “bar exam” without having attended 3 years of some Law School? if not, why not?)

Jeff Boyd July 10, 2011 at 1:52 pm

“This debate is as useful to the cause of education reform as would be a debate on how to rescue occupants of a burning building that focuses only on the relative merits of the various sorts of fire-retardant clothing that these occupants might be given while ignoring the possibility of breaking openings in the building to create escape routes.”

Do love the last paragraph of the article. It shows how important it is to frame the debate in an appropriate fashion. Sorry, but the education establishment seems to have won the fight in the first round with a knockout. Perhaps that will change in the future but for now it just isn’t even close.

It is a bit rude for me to say it but I would call on Professor Boudreaux and other like minded professors to renounce their tenure. It might be downright counterproductive but perhaps it would be a start toward changing the framework of the debate.

Observer_Guy1 July 10, 2011 at 1:53 pm

Why are we surprised at all this negative talk about public education? Isn’t this central planning at its best? State legislatures across the country are constantly tinkering with education, passing all manner of laws to do this thing and that.

What if individual autonomous schools, springing up here and there, were allowed to develop their own curriculum and cater to specialized (or general) needs of their customer base? (like a business would!)

morganovich July 10, 2011 at 2:20 pm

“What if individual autonomous schools, springing up here and there, were allowed to develop their own curriculum and cater to specialized (or general) needs of their customer base? (like a business would!)”

they have been. it’s called the private school system. they run rings around the public ones. it’s just that you have to double pay (taxes for PS then fees for private).

i think what you are really saying is “what if public schools were given autonomy forced to compete for students who came with tax money to pay tuition.”

i agree. that would change everyhting. not only would existing schools need to get better, but you would have take overs by private managers, new school creation, and all manner of the innovative behavior that has made our university system the best in the world.

Methinks1776 July 10, 2011 at 2:52 pm

Also, home schooling.

vikingvista July 10, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Public schools should be privatized. But also, compulsory education should be ended. There should be a total separation of education and state.

RC July 10, 2011 at 4:28 pm

VikingVista,

I understand that when you say “compulsory education should be ended” you also mean that private education that parents force on their children?

Regards,
RC

vikingvista July 10, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Parents of course have enormous leverage over their young children and they should be free to employ it. But government-type gun-to-your-head coercion I oppose in all cases.

Ron H. July 10, 2011 at 5:49 pm

The job of a parent is to guide and nurture their children, and to
make choices for them, in what they believe is their best interest, in order to make them self sufficient and successful adults.

Children, unlike lizards, are not yet capable of making their own way in life, and can’t survive without help, hence the need for parents. Parents forcing choices on children isn’t at all the same as forcing choices on other adults, who should be allowed to make their own decisions.

vikingvista July 10, 2011 at 9:09 pm

What the government does to people, and what parents most commonly do to their children, is not and should not be the same thing. That is, the type of violence that is the substance of government action is not justified in the case of parenting, or in any other case. The nature of children does not create any exceptions. Holding a crying baby, fencing off your stairs, locking up YOUR toys, or not serving your child dessert does not violate anyone’s natural rights.

Ron H. July 10, 2011 at 10:48 pm

I take your reply to mean you agree with me. :)

RC July 11, 2011 at 1:31 am

VikingVista,

Speaking of children… You probably know that Rothbard argued (in The Ethics of Liberty) that a parent should not be forced to provide for his child, which could mean death of starvation for the child. He argued that otherwise the parent would be deprived of his/her natural rights.

I wonder what’s your stance on this, since this is clearly one of Rothbard’s most controversial statements. Isn’t it so that the parent is responsible for the child’s condition, so if the child dies, the parent is de facto a criminal?

Here, btw, is a paper that argues that the parent in fact does have an obligation:

http://libertarianpapers.org/2010/16-wisniewski-block-on-abortion/

Regards,
RC

vikingvista July 11, 2011 at 9:50 am

Wisniewski’s position, which really would only apply to the unusual circumstance of a mother who initially chose to get pregnant for the purpose of having a child, but later changed her mind, doesn’t work. Initiating a causal chain clearly doesn’t impose responsibility for just anything (e.g. manufactured objects, or flowers). To say that it does for a fetus or neonate is to impart properties that the baby has never had–namely those properties that give relevance to rights. This is not to say we don’t nearly all of us *value* the fetus immensely higher than objects or flowers. It is merely a recognition of the cold hard truth of objective natural rights. Some may value the Mona Lisa more than life itself, but the Mona Lisa has never had the capacity for rights.

Rothbard’s position is more rational, and of course has important facets beyond the accurate position you succinctly articulated. One facet is the distinction between legal (meaning cause for violence against the parent) and moral (meaning cause for shunning the parent). Another is that other people’s value for a baby creates a situation where an unwanted baby is likely, through a “free baby market”, to wind up under the care of loving parents. Another is the natural expression of rights as they develop in a child, without the need for arbitrary age cut-offs.

Rothbard’s idea of nonaggression against a baby doesn’t work, however. Clearly an adult would have a desire for retaliation against parents who left him in a deficient or traumatized state. And our value for other people’s children causes us to be disgusted at the abuse of babies (even for some, such as myself, in the case of circumcision). But Rothbard’s notion of trustee ownership is one of morals (or rights among concerned adults) and not rights of babies, which simply do not exist. We can make reasonable assumptions about what a willful adult desired before he went to sleep or became unconscious–and choose to abide by those desires (respect his rights) or not. But a fetus or child, as a matter of fact, has never desired or been willful of anything.

Rights and values are not the same thing, and must be distinguished. Too often in debates about early stages of humans, for obvious reasons, they are conflated. This does damage in getting people to identify the facts of objective natural rights. It leads people to base rights in mysticism or arbitrary stipulation, which is both counter to objective reality, and ultimately lacking in persuasive power.

vikingvista July 11, 2011 at 10:26 am

Errata: “But a fetus or BABY, as a matter of fact, has never desired or been willful of anything.”

RC July 11, 2011 at 11:57 am

VikingVista,

Thank you very much for the reply, it cleared things up for me. However, I have one more question: you mentioned that there are objective, natural rights that a fetus or a baby do not have. Could you briefly explain the basis for such rights?

To be honest, the libertarians I encountered (mostly on Youtube) either subscribe to Hoppe’s argumentation ethics or are moral subjectivists, so I’m curious of your position. Since you mention objective natural rights, by that you imply that there is a objective morality?

Regards,
RC

vikingvista July 11, 2011 at 1:37 pm

The best way to understand it is to ask yourself, if there is an objective notion of rights, what must it be? And consider the observations that must have led to the concept of rights we inherit today.

Crusoe is wandering in the wilderness of his island, encountering and valuing numerous things–sand, wind, waves, coconuts, monkeys, etc., but “rights” only have relevance to one thing that he encounters–Friday. Friday’s unique characteristic, that Crusoe observes, is his ability to grasp Crusoe’s values and control his behavior accordingly. Crusoe notices that among all the things he can affect in his environment, it is only with Friday that he has an option other than brute force.

Rights are that option. And for each person faced with that observation, it is a personal choice whether to exercise that option or not. None of this is subjective.

What is subjective, are those things one values, and subsequently wishes others to not diminish. You cannot account for values, but you can value contradictions or things that do not exist. Stripping the latter from one’s value set is the process of making ones subjective values conform to objective reality. If there is a rational notion of “objective morality”, that is where it comes from.

It is the capacity for communication and ability to willfully respond that is the objective nature of rights. Between two particular people, the notion of rights is very broad and subject to the particular desires of those two individuals. Logic is necessary to identify a self-consistent minimal but narrower set of rights applicable to all entities with those objective properties.

Libertarians write a lot about the ability to contract. It is based on these objective observations that, as far as I am aware of, have only been observed in human beings.

BTW, Hoppe’s argumentation ethics is true. It is useful for people to understand it, because it is true, and it prevents errors in reasoning. Unfortunately, like apodictic truths (or Rand’s axiomatic concepts) few people learn or integrate this essential aspect of reality. And when one’s argument contradicts them, one’s argument is necessarily false.

Mike P.F. July 10, 2011 at 4:18 pm

But there are competitive private choices to public education. Many families can’t afford them.

Krishnan July 10, 2011 at 4:39 pm

They cannot today, because of the way public education is financed and run – Dismantling that current system seems impossible even though there are movements to do that – Imagine if people have a choice – there is competition amongst “education providers” – where the consumers can see how each “vendor” operates …

We also know that if we do break up this current, government created monopoly that is public education – and if private schools prop up and do a good job – sooner of later, these new private schools will hire lobbyists in DC to prevent others from entering “their market” and do whatever they can to restrict competition … As Milton Friedman remarked – the greatest threat to capitalism are crony capitalists (something like that!) – they will do whatever they can to stifle competition

jorod July 10, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Reform is impossible. It must be destroyed.

vikingvista July 10, 2011 at 7:57 pm

There is always much talk about reforming, rather than revoking, monopolies. Such people don’t understand the problem.

Kendall July 10, 2011 at 6:56 pm

If you are going to have an accurate comparison between a public school and a non-public school, the non-public school would have to take a random selection of students from the public school population to ensure the non-public school gets students whose parents (and/or the student) don’t care about quality education. Removing mandatory school attendance would cause average test schools to rise at public schools.

Ron H. July 10, 2011 at 9:26 pm

Kendall

If you are going to have an accurate comparison between a public school and a non-public school, the non-public school would have to take a random selection of students from the public school population to ensure the non-public school gets students whose parents (and/or the student) don’t care about quality education.

Isn’t avoiding just that random selection and students who don’t care, the whole point of a non-public school?

Removing mandatory school attendance would cause average test schools to rise at public schools.

True, but without mandatory attendance, there would likely be even less support for mandatory taxes to pay for public schools.

Kendall July 11, 2011 at 11:29 pm

Ron,
I agree avoiding students who don’t care is one of the advantages of a non-public school but if people are going to use them as an example of how public schools should/could perform the comparisions may be invalid due to different student populations. I suspect most people paying property taxes directly (not indirectly through their rent) would still support paying taxes for their local schools if you lowered or eliminated the mandatory attendance age. They might even be more inclined to support public schools if the environment improved due to subtracting those who didn’t want to be there.

Dan J July 10, 2011 at 7:20 pm
Kendall July 10, 2011 at 8:14 pm

What is the opinion on this blog about mandatory school attendance? Should schooling be required and if so until what age?

Griff July 10, 2011 at 8:53 pm

If only public schools were the least bit competitive. I have so many personal anecdotes about public school and I am sure they are not the exception.

Not only do you pay taxes for school, you typically pay a premium for your home if it is in a good school district. Nevertheless, local government can change district lines at any time and either significantly improve or degrade the price of your home. In our region you can see home prices vary by as much as 25% for similar size/quality of home but differing school district.

School should not be compulsory. As a child, I was often bored at school though I performed well. There was a sense of enforced mediocrity and a slowing of the pace such that even the worst performing student could pass. My mother used to allow me to stay home whenever I chose, as long as I was not avoiding a test (she rather liked my company as I was industrious and liked to help her around the home). However, by fourth grade, the school system created a new rule in which 30 days of absence would result in a failing grade. Back to drawing pictures and sleeping on my desk.

I work hard and save to send my two children to the best private school and can afford. All the while, paying taxes to a broken system and no significant tax breaks.

The teachers in my children’s private primary and elementary school seem as bright and knowledgeable as some of the best of my public high school teachers. I also find it interesting that the teacher’s children (at least the older teachers) attend rather prestigious universities and pursue advanced degrees. Obviously, the teachers see a great deal of value in education.

Public schools are a monopoly but cannot maintain consistency or allow choice within the same city. My high school did not offer pre-Calculus/Calculus or any AP courses. However, there was another school i the same city that did. My parents asked if I could attend and stated that they would provide all transportation. The city would not allow it.

My public school education (in a very substandard high school) left me very ill prepared for my college BS experience. It wasn’t until I worked for a while as a true knowledge worker after my BS degree that I gained the discipline to work at length on thoughtful/mind-based tasks. The result was a < 3.0 GPA in my BS but a 3.7 and 3.9 in two separate graduate degree programs.

I believe some of the issues we see in the workplace. The enforced mediocrity, where everyone gets about the same grade (this even trickled into a graduate program I attended) and there is no significant reward for exceeding expectations, either from the school or peers is creating a workforce that just tries to perform at least as well as the worst guy. School grade levels have become the equivalent of time in service raises for union employees and state/federal employees.

My wife is a product of private school. The one advantage I have found with my public school education compared to her private school education is that I am more comfortable dealing with all manner of people. In some sense, I believe she has experienced a "sheltered life." I considered this when I chose private school for my own children and ultimately decided that the benefits of a good education far outweigh the effects of having a "sheltered life."

Dan J July 11, 2011 at 1:38 am

Indeed, classrooms were held up on advancing until the child who had the most difficulty processing the information could catch up. Sounds like they are just trying to help the student, but the rest of the class needs to be allowed to advance their learning. Even, in high school the classes were to conform to the student who had the most difficulty. Yes, they need assistance, but not to the detriment of the rest of the class.
Grades were based more on effort (completion of homework) rather than knowledge of material (test grades).
Tests were 25% of grade. Homework, in class work, participation (group projects) made up the rest and not necessarily in equal distribution. Simply completing the assignments could obtain a passing grade.

Kirby July 11, 2011 at 9:56 am

I felt that way all through elementary school (We only learned division, all else I already knew)

In middle school, I learned a lot, but it was still mediocre.\

Later on, it balanced out, but all through elementary and middle school I felt booooored. However, I never did the homework (amazingly, tests were only 20-40% of our grade- HW was about 40) so I got only B’s.

Ron H. July 11, 2011 at 12:33 pm

So, at your school 60% was a B?

Jean K July 11, 2011 at 4:57 am

Most legislators of and commentators about education don’t even begin to consider the availability of the internet,as an educational opportunity. Our world has changed drastically. For the consumer, the difficulty is finding the correct information about which expenditures of time and money will result in an improved life. Public schools fret about such matters as the drop out rate without realizing that young people might just be tired of small desks and boring, over-repeated material. Some of those students, unfortunately, think they don’t like learning.

Kendall July 11, 2011 at 9:30 am

My math classes (7-12th) have always had tests be at least 75% of the grade. I have had classes where the homework could only help them and I did have a brilliant student who only needed to do part of the homework and made an A on the tests. Most of my students need to do the homework to learn the material. I agree we need to find a way for motivated, talented students to be able to move on and still help the weaker students learn. The logistics of doing that is difficult.

Dan H July 11, 2011 at 10:18 am

Education is my passion. Once I retire, that’s what I want to do. I want to teach high school AP Economics and Honors Philosophy at my Alma Mater. I have subtitute taught a few times for fun, and I have gotten praise from many students, faculty, and parents. I have been asked to teach full time.

But I won’t. There’s not enough money to be made. I can be better rewarded for my talents elsewhere.

Now if you told me that education would be privatized, I would secure funding and open my own school tomorrow. I would love to be a “CEO” of a school. And you better believe my students would achieve more than they ever thought possible. I already have a business model for how my school would function. It seeks to cut costs by heavily utilizing technology, and then shift resources to focus on the most crucial core cirricula, math and science.

Give me any student. Black or white. Poor or rich, from good parents or from terrible parents, I don’t care. I’ve tutored every type of kid you could imagine. Rich girls, poor inner city blacks, and even an autistic child. Teaching is what I’m good at, especially with high school aged students. Unfortunately, there is no market for my talents.

Jim July 11, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Please consider that comparisons between the Finnish system (best) and American education is akin to comparing memory writers with typewriters; one is better, but they both generally operate within the same paradigm, and they compare not at all to the computer.

Vouchers will not substantially ‘fix’ education. Only a market can do that, absent a bunch of rules and regulations on the delivery and outcome of the product.

Jim July 11, 2011 at 1:35 pm

For example, I contend that forcing naturally inquisitive and creative children to sit behind a desk for 12 years is the most debilitating and unnatural, and inhuman approach to an ‘actualized’ adult as ever imagined.

It is a testament to human resilience that we do not all grow up to be passive-aggressive, emotionally stunted adults incapable of critical thought, acting on our environment, or generally viewing our choices through any prism of moral alternatives.

vikingvista July 11, 2011 at 11:34 pm

I agree entirely. It creates precisely the kind of sheepish population accepting of oppression that the state requires. With few exceptions, state mandates each and every child to spend their formative years in government concentration camps. It really is atrocious.

Justin P July 11, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Ravitch says pretty much the same thing in her Econtalk podcast.

Darin Johnson July 11, 2011 at 1:37 pm

The words “cost,” “spending,” and “dollar” appear nowhere in the article. Will no one consider the possibility that the best way to improve the productivity of education is simply to spend less on it?

For those of us with a more pessimistic view of students’ pliability, the answer is simple. Quit trying to improve outcomes and instead focus on eliminating spending whose incremental benefit is less than its cost.

Go Galt July 11, 2011 at 7:04 pm

With all due respect, a lack of competition is not what ails American education. The problem with American education is the low human capital of an increasing percentage of the student population and an educational culture that is anti-intellectual and anti-meritocratic. On international tests — the ones that reformers on both the left and the right point to as evidence of our educational failings — American white and asian students perform better than most of their peers. US test scores are dragged down by the crappy performance of black and hispanic students — and their performance never will improve significantly due to basic IQ constraints. Them’s the facts, whether you like ‘em or not. The only good reason to expand school choice is to provide greater freedom for white, asian, and the very best NAM students to go to schools that are nor tuined by too many black and hispanic students. Now, let’s talk about our insane immigration policy that keeps importing more and more low-performing blacks and hispanics into our country. You “libertarians” need to open your eyes to reality.

MacroforBrady August 4, 2011 at 10:29 pm

I beg to differ with the misconception that a black or hispanic students performance will never improve significantly due to IQ constraints. An IQ is a score derived from standardized test. There are other factors that have to be taken onto consideration like teachers/Instructors teaching methods, social roles, society, and educational influences. We shouldn’t assume that “the crappy performance of blacks and hispanic” as was mentioned, is the reason for dragging the scores down to be the main reason for low scoring.
On another note, the budget cuts on education doesn’t help to improve the low human capital we currently have to help educate the growing student population. Moreover, government should see the increased population of students getting an education requiring the knowledge from Human Capital. After all what is the Census for!
As far as immigration policy, it isn’t just hispanics and African Americans… The Immigrations policy consist of any policy of a state that deals with the transit of persons across its borders into the country.
As a libertarian this sounds more of a discrimination than reality!!!

mai le August 4, 2011 at 11:40 pm

In my opinion the reality to this is that government doesn’t do enough for human expansion. It isn’t only about IQ, International testing, policies or immigration. In this time of recession cuts aren’t being done where needed. The government first gives extra funding for education, then decides to cut education cost and raise tuitions. School budgets are placed where they then cut teachers other wise AKA Important human capital for education. In which I totally don’t agree because that is totally capital they shouldn’t be messing with. (Don’t get it but whatever). I guess our governments must have a different plan to make this economy fluctuate without education.
It is because of these cut cost that we lack teachings to the growing population of students of all colors and races. We should be enforcing education and school programs to help our so called immigrants of all descents become more knowledgable. You never know which of them will then be helping us.

Ken August 5, 2011 at 12:08 am

“I guess our governments must have a different plan to make this economy fluctuate without education.”

Absurd. The idea that people wouldn’t get educated if the government didn’t supply it is pure fantasy. Eliminating government run education will leave more money in the pockets of parents to purchase better education for their children.

Regards,
Ken

Dan J August 5, 2011 at 2:40 am

Yes, more money for the DC system and it will be fixed! With what? At home teachers? One teacher per pupil? Live in teachers?
Our education system has been so successful that kids graduate from high school still thinking that socialism or communism can be successful.
Yes, much blame falls on parents and student alike. But, if little will change at increased funding, which is exorbitant now with not enuf positive results to justify increasing the expenditure, why is there an assumption that more money extracted from taxpayers will have a dramatic change.
Some districts have been resorting to lowering standards to increase their statistical improvements. Certainly, there is no valid argument, save protecting the sacred cow, for disallowing competition in absence of a magical bean to sprout a a change that will significantly increase educational successes and allow for raising the bar for standards.
I wonder how Jefferson and Adams became educated. So finely educated as to Craft wonderful documents with few flaws. Have you read the letters between Adams and Jefferson or those between Adams and his wife? I only wish I could be so articulate.

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