Tuesday, September 9, 2008

All in all, you’re just another brick in the wall

The yellow buses have been back out in force for the last few weeks. This inspires me to lob some questions at the reader:
Is the prevailing model for public schools the right one? What can change? What should change? Who should decide what top educational priorities are? Are private schools better? Is home-schooling better? What about unschooling? Should students pay tuition?

Image source: National Archives and Records Administration; ARC Identifier: 541288


Chris Crawford said...

OK, I'll take a stab at it:

1. Funding of all education should be at the state or national level, not the local level. It is unfair that kids in one area get educations inferior to those of kids in another area. And given the mobility of workers these days, it's a national economy anyway, so its needs are uniform.

2. Funding should be through a voucher system in which every student in the country gets the same amount of money in his voucher.

3. Schools should be privatized. A new body of corporate law must be written to handle the special issues faced by schools. A new school corporation must have at least 51% of its shares owned by credentialed teachers at the time of its initial incorporation. Existing school property will be sold at auction, with school corporations permitted to bid based on 20-year amortization of the bid.

4. The government's role shall be provide vouchers and maintain a master database of the educational achievements of all graduates of all schools. This database will present the distribution of educational levels achieved by its graduates, as well as the average taxes paid by each of its graduates (an indication of wealth) While data on individuals will not be available to the public, this aggregate performance of each school will be publicly available in the Internet and at the offices of each school.

That oughtta generate some lively discussion!

E. R. Dunhill said...

Chris C,
Thanks for jumping in. The first questions that come to mind are:
In your voucher system, can the school corporation charge more than the face value of the voucher? If so, what keeps schools from becoming economically segregated?
Do you see a need to prevent monopoly through regulation? Is there a danger in schools winding up like the US news media, wherein all of the television stations are owned by the same four companies, who also have their hands in print and web media?

Chris Crawford said...

Good questions. On the first, I don't see any need to prevent schools from charging more than the voucher amount. What should make this plan viable is the provision of enough money in the voucher itself to insure that every school can deliver good quality education without an additional charge. If a school wants to offer caviar in the school cafeteria, then they can charge more money.

The second question, though, does raise some nasty problems. On the one hand, you don't want to penalize excellence by putting a lid on growth. Nor do you want to protect lousy schools from going bankrupt. Our problem is that schools do have strong geographical advantages; the people who live within a mile of one school have powerful incentives to go to that school regardless of its quality. We need to cancel out that geographical effect to maximize the role of educational excellence in the decision-making process of the consumers.

Perhaps this requires a busing system that is financially external to the schools. Thus, the cost of getting your kid to the top-notch school across town is not a factor in your calculations. But there's still the time consumption of bus travel, and the question of who pays for it.

E. R. Dunhill said...

Regarding "What should make this plan viable is the provision of enough money in the voucher itself to insure that every school can deliver good quality education without an additional charge.":
Who decides what are the standards for quality, and how do we verify and enforce that these standards are met? Are these standards, like your funding structure, determined at the national or state-level?

Chris Crawford said...

I would expect the standards to be developed at the same level that the funding comes from. (I would prefer the national level because workers move freely among the states, but I'm not dogmatic on that point.)

And of course this raises all sorts of questions about how those standards should be set. I think they should be minimum standards that give plenty of latitude to individual schools to specialize in whatever manner they want. Obviously, the fundamental standard for primary school should be the ability to read and write and perform basic arithmetic operations. For secondary school, the standard needs some flexibility because kids at that level are already diverging into college-prep and vocational courses. I do think, however, that we can set basic standards for history and political science.

Sue said...

As an adult I've lived and worked in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Kentucky, and one thing that has been universal in all the communities in which I've lived is that the hiring of teachers in the public schools is based more on who you know than on what you know. This has lead me to believe that the hiring of teachers should be done through, at the very least, state level clearing houses, in which some geographic preferences by teachers can be honored (a teacher that hates the community in which they are posted is not going to be a good teacher no matter what their credentials and abilities), but in which factors like blood relations and political party affiliation (which are impossible to hide in close knit communities) play no part.
I also think that genuine continuing education (in something other than what ever pedagogical jargon is currently popular) should be required of teachers, as well as period, systematic review of teachers core knowledge base. The requirements of core knowledge for elementary school teachers, in things like methods of teaching reading, and mathematical skills should be substantially greater than they currently are in the states with which I am familiar. This business of making "I just love children" being the primary qualification for elementary school teachers has to stop -- the criteria should be "I just love learning and sharing knowledge."