Freedom in Education

I would just like to start by thanking those who have come back over the weeks to read what I have written on my blog.  This past week the blog hit the 1,000 view mark!  It is super exciting, and again I thank you.

Last week I discussed how the private sector functions more efficiently than the public sector. In the private sector it is “put up or shut up.”  If you can’t compete then you’re out of business.  In the public sector you just ask the government for more money or to subsidize you, and there is  no threat of going out of business.  I closed by saying how that sounds like education in our country, and I’ll show you why.

Did you ever go to preschool?  I did, as have many others.  One of the things that the federal government wants to push is universal preschool.  While campaigning in 2008 then-Senator Obama said that, “we need to enroll more children, and we need to start at an even earlier age.”  Here in America we call universal preschool “Head Start,” but does it really give students a head start?  According to a study by the Department of Health and Human Services, not really.  They found that any advantage that students gained from Head Start was essentially gone by first-grade.  In fact, “Head Start has little to no impact on cognitive, social-emotional, health, or parenting practices of its participants.”

With a price tag of $8 billion per year, I think we are safe to say that the only “head start” we have received is a head start into more debt.  So if children aren’t receiving any real benefit from the Head Start program, why is it still around?  Big government bureaucracy.  Unfortunately the big government bureaucracy is also wasting money past preschool.


Take a look at the first chart above.  The cost of an education (per pupil, k-12) that the federal government spends has increased nearly 350% since 1970; yet the test scores are only slightly up in math and reading, but down in science!  The second chart below shows how graduation rates in the United States have remained basically flat despite a very steady rise in spending.  Spending more and more money is not the solution.  Getting big government bureaucracies out of education is.

graduation rates

Here is what should be done:

  1. Give principals and superintendents the ability to fire teachers and other administrators that aren’t up to par.  In a private sector job, if you aren’t performing to expectations then you can be fired, so then why not in schools? Teachers unions have made it so that tenure exists in public education, which makes teachers nearly immune from being fired.  And when they are able to fire a teacher, there are seemingly endless rules and regulations for the principal or superintendent to follow.

  1. Allow voucher systems.  A school voucher system allows for parents to apply the money that would have been spent on educating their child in a public school, to a private or charter school.  These schools often perform very well, if not better, than public schools. One example comes from Oakland, CA where a man named Ben Chavis ran a charter school that had higher test scores despite less spending from the government.

  1. Scrap current teacher-salary matrices.  Pay teachers based on merit and performance, not by how long they have been working.  Very few things will motivate employees to improve performance better than a hit in salary.  Sounds harsh, and free-market opponents hate it, but how committed are we to bettering education?

Operating the US education system in a less big government sort of way would greatly improve the quality of the education that children receive.  If education bureaucrats really are trying to help the children, then they must put their political agendas aside and actually bring about some real changes.  Spending more money obviously hasn’t worked, so it’s time to try something new.

Thanks for reading!


5 thoughts on “Freedom in Education

  1. Just a few comments Jimmy. I agree with some of your points, but disagree with others. If It seems like I ramble and go off tangents, I probably do, but I just write the ideas as they come. 🙂

    One of the unintended consequences that I feel like arise from your arguments is people will ultimately be seen as “goods.” When people make comparisons of education to the “market,” I feel like that leads to mis-conclusions. Education is completely different than the business world, and test scores cannot been seen as profits. The subject matter here is people, and people in today’s world are uncontrollable variables.

    Let me make one thing clear before I go on. I generally tend to disagree with both the liberal and conservative views in education. I believe politicians are not the individuals qualified to make decisions on the way children should be taught, for they have no experience for making such decisions. It is my opinion that teachers should be the ones doing that.

    It is also a personal belief, that while teachers do indeed have a great deal of influence in the success of students, the primary source of the child’s failure and success lies within the students themselves and their parents. No teacher can control what goes on at home, and so if a student is raised in a way that is doomed for failure, teachers can do very little. Failure in the family is first and foremost the demise to education. I have had plenty of inadequate teachers, and despite their inabilities I have gained much from their classes. Not thanks to them, but for the work I put into it. Responsibility to families and students first.

    The State of Utah, at least from what I know, (and I admit that I don’t know much) is actually headed largely in the direction that you want them to go. In fact, in the past few years, some “ranking lists” of teachers have been published. Furthers changes are in process.

    The problem with this? My point above. What about the teacher who ends up with five autistic kids in her class? This situation happens all over the country, and of course that teacher’s scores are doomed, as well as the teacher who has the rebellious child who just puts “C” for every answer, or the teacher with the child that decides not to take the test at all. How can you control that? You can’t. So while test scores may be an adequate (but in my opnion not ideal) way for seeing how successful the student is, they are only a fraction of the story for how successful teachers are. We have to redefine success.

    I think I will stop there. This discussion is a deep one, and is usually a very passionate one for many people, including myself. Most of my family is in education in some way or another, so it is close to home. I hope I don’t come across accusatory, you’re my brother and it would be ridiculous for me to do that. I just felt like on this one I wanted to share my ideas. I really enjoy reading your thoughts! Take care man.

    • You know I always appreciate comments bro, so no worries. With the teacher pay deal, not all of it, like you pointed out should be determined by test scores only. There are a few ways around that such as improvement of scores on a yearly basis or improvement of an individual’s test scores throughout the year. There are definitely ways that can be worked out to account for the fact that teachers will have challenged learners in classes.

      I very much agree that the demise of the family is a major player, and unfortunately there’s nothing that big government/unions will do to fix that. I do believe that with a free-market style approach the best teachers will surface. Those teachers will be able to better influence not only the students, but also be able to communicate with parents (whether or not those parents decide to get involved or not is obviously a topic in and of itself).

      I do not believe that people will be seen as goods in a negative context as implied. Even though this example is also a topic for another day, look at health care. The more government has got its hands into it, the worse it has become. If the market is left free, then people will receive the best care for the best price. So it can be with education too.

      I probably should have said this in the blog, but basically the federal government should get out of the education business. I believe that it should be left to the individual states.

    • Again about test scores, you are right. I reference the terrible “No Child Left Behind” Act from the Bush years not too long ago.

    • I think the inherent problem is that there is not a viable way to measure success in education as long as it remains a public institution.

      Regardless of any prior problems with the word “profit” the profit/loss system is the only efficient way to measure whether any institution is adding more value to society than it is using. As entrepreneurs bid up the prices of their materials (LMS’s, buildings, classroom materials, teacher salaries) the market place must support a higher price for the end product for the business (in this case a school) or it will cease to exist.

      With public institutions, there is no measuring stick other than some bureaucrats politically determined budget to determine whether the economic activities taken by schools are necessary and productive.

      We do not know the proper ways to measure student and teacher success, the same we couldn’t predict where shopping malls would appear in Cuba – because there has not been a free market present to use the profit/loss system and trial and error to find the solution. If education operated in a free market different entrepreneurs would use different methods, those that were not successful would fold those that were would remain in the market.

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