Saturday, December 11, 2010

Thoughts on Education

This evening I responded to an email discussion about the failure of public education in the United States. If you think public education is not an abject failure, you need to look at the graph above from Cato. The clear lesson from that graph is that educational outcomes are unaffected by spending. Here are my slightly edited comments from that email discussion where I examine the history of why our education system is as dysfunctional as it is:
I think that the reason that we "turn our kids over to an institution" (schools) is that historically educational institutions had a high degree of quality. That past quality has translated into current pedigree and so we wind up with graduates who are credentialed, but not educated.

The historic quality of education was derived from the fact that educators of yore were at the top of the yet-to-be-named knowledge worker pyramid. Today, they're basically at the bottom--no one fails out of an early education degree and decides to go into engineering. What's happened is that there are a lot more job opportunities for the smartest people so they go work for Google or whatever while the marginal college students tack on the courses necessary to become a teacher as a fall back position. Or, worse, they go into public policy or some other apprenticeship for bureaucrats/education administrators.

A hundred years ago that education bureaucracy didn't really exist. A few people noticed that every time education issues were voted on, more money went to schools. Now, there are battalions of administrators studying everything in their school district except their own efficacy. The first rule of every bureaucracy is to spend your budget. The second rule of every bureaucracy is to fail. They're effective bureaucrats.

And the response of parents (homeschooling or private school) has now become common. They've basically exited the system. In a perfect Hayekian world, a new educational order would emerge. I believe what homeschoolers are unintentionally doing is implementing, testing, and refining that new educational order. At some point, there will be a better and free alternative to public education and shortly there after, public education ceases to be a line item in government budgets.
Well, that's how I think the education bubble will pop. In practice, what will happen is that a town or city facing a huge budget hole will notice a free alternative and implement it while firing their teachers and education administrators. That process will repeat, if the free alternative adequately meets the educational needs of the community, so maybe the bubble has a slow leak instead of just popping.


Ruth said...

Wow. I went to the Cato post. I feel like I've been lied to by all my teacher friends. What's going on here? Why is that when you talk to teachers, there's never enough teachers?

There must be a physiological effect that allows people to view their own world different than it really is. I think my teacher friends are sincere in their desire to be good teachers, and feeling overwhelmed by the number of students they have.

Does the breakdown of the family have anything to do with this? Are teachers being asked to take on some parental responsibilities that make them feel like they need less kids in their classes (and therefore more teachers in the building?)

Just kinda rambling here!

dsm said...

First, I don't think teachers are the problem. Obviously, a few are, but the vast majority of teachers are doing good work. They're an inspiration to their students just as Leerie was in his time. I wonder how many people read that Robert Louis Stevenson poem and think: "What in the world!?! There used to be a guy that would walk around with a ladder and candle every evening and light the gas lamp on each person's porch. And a young boy longed to be so employed when he was older!"

As for why "people view their own world different than it really is" that's probably confirmation bias at work. Teachers have been told that smaller class size is good for educational outcomes. The initial studies showed that it was effective. The problem is that then school districts needed a lot more teachers. Do you think all the best teachers were just sitting at home waiting for the smaller class size rush? Nope, the best teachers were already employed. So a district with fifty teachers that decided to halve its class size would have to hire fifty more teachers--presumably fifty teachers that were passed over when the first fifty were hired.

In short, if small class size matters, why does South Korea with an average class size around 30 students consistently outperform the US?

Unknown said...

A lot of the extra money isn't going for extra teachers, but for extra administrators, bureaucrats, social workers, psychologists, school-based clinics, etc, which only serve to distract teachers from the task of education -- not to mention confuse the heck out of kids by undermining family values.

Van Harvey said...

I started to post a comment, but it quickly grew too big for the comment box, and so I turned it into a post here.

But what I began to say, was that while it’s true that for unmarried women or empty nester’s, a teacher’s position was the best career option open for them at the time, and that has definitely changed, I really don’t think that’s a key factor in the problem of education today; the position isn’t that intellectually demanding, and meaning no disrespect to teachers, it never was and never need be - any person of good average intelligence and character should be able to handle the job.

I think the problem is more to be found in the materials used in the classroom and the supposed purpose of ‘getting an education’, which has changed, and all of it for the worse.

The experiments made in 'animal psychology' and training lab rats have far more to do with what and how our students are being taught today, than anything having to do with what was once thought to be the purpose of Education.

That's where change needs to be made, simply refining what passes for education today, is little different from refining arsenic... the better we get at it, the worse the results will be.

bclay said...

Your numbers are a farce. Textbooks used to cost $20. They are now $70 plus and last half as long. Transportation costs have skyrocketed. Can you heat your house for what you did a few years ago? Then add the cost of technology for teaching those skills. The cost of national testing isn't free. These are factored in education budgets. How many tabs for meetings in your state capital and plush lunches are figured in this budget. How many kids are forced to take advanced math courses when they have no desire to do so. They want to learn to fix my lawn mower and my car. That class is no longer offered. That is a college course. None of the above expenses have anything to do with teachers. Not much has to do with a child's education either.

Maggie Kress said...

I have often wondered what is different between when I attended school until todays times. I finally found the answer. The DOE was formed after I was out of school. During my schoold years, I was taught the basics, reading, writing and arithmatic. We were also taught how to be moral individuals that God gave us. It was not bad to mention God, Christ or anything connected to the Bible. Some bible verses were read and prayers were said. We had no government guidelines that are taught today such as Political Correctness. We were just kids with kid problems but overall pretty happy.

Since the DOE was formed, we have a generation that now has families. As you see everything has gone downhill, not only the values of the kids but how the partents were taught and they are just doing what they were taught and the DOE was in charge. God has been removed from all schools, You better not think of saying anything connected to God or Christianity because someone will be offended. Kids are confused and do not know what or how to think. They are just being told by the schools and their parents that were taught that way in their schools.

The only thing good about DOE is that schools got so bad that HomeSchool started. These students that are being taught without the DOE are better informed and score higher grades.

I am not saying that all in this generation has lost all their values but when they find out what is being said or taught in public schools, they are saying no way and pulling their kids out.

This should prove that DOE has served no purpose and has been a detriment from the beginning. We should take a good look at this govenment organization and ask ourselves, Is This All There IS? I say NO. Let us reevauate and put the right people in charge of our kids and that is the parents and God. The DOE has not proven me anything and it has had enough time to do so. That will be one less govenment organization spending useless money for things that are not needed. Let us get back to the basics and God and we will see a change in America and the new generations.

This discovery gives me direction for new and better changes for America. If the people are in charge of the education our kids are taught, then we can give them moral teaching which includes God, Constitution, Declaration of Indepense and Bill of Rights. Also who are Founding Fathers are and what they contribute to America to make it the greatest nation in the world.

Come back America. Use your voice and let them know this is what the people want.

God Bless
Maggie Kress