Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Governments Shouldn’t Even Certify Schools, Much Less Run Them

In his famous 1955 essay, “The Role of Government in Education,” the venerated economist, Milton Friedman, proposed replacing our government-run system of schooling with a school choice voucher.  Although, Friedman argued, the public interest in an educated citizenry meant that the government had a compelling interest in funding education, it did not necessarily follow that the government should also operate the schools. 

Most critics of Friedman argued against his conclusion, preferring a centrally-planned school system to a market-based school system, but agreed with his argument that the government had a compelling interest in defining, mandating, and funding a minimum level of education. 

However, I don’t believe that government control of determining and funding this minimum level of education is economically favorable. Specifically, there are substantial costs for children and society as a whole tied to the attempt to reach a socially optimal level of education by force.

The Externality Problem

The argument for public financing of education (which we should refer to as schooling; something that is much different from what an education can be) is that there may be positive externalities associated with educated citizens. 

In other words, without subsidization of schooling, individuals may consume schooling at an amount less than the social optimum. This may be true, but how can anyone determine what this “socially optimal” level is?  In attempting to reach this imaginary level, we may do more harm than good.  We may very well push consumption over this level and waste resources, especially since we compel all children to do so. 

More importantly, by forcing all children to consume schooling, we are denying them the ability to consume other types of education. Though some children may benefit from 13 years of primary and secondary schooling, they may benefit more from a different combination of schooling and other educational activities.

The positive (or negative) externality argument can be made for any type of good or service.  For example, I can argue that the automobile creates benefits that are experienced by the consumer and the rest of society. Society benefits from the automobile when I use the product since I can more-easily network with other individuals and spend my income on their goods. 

If I can move from place to place at a lower cost, I can spread my experiences and knowledge more easily. The rest of society benefits from that. Therefore, subsidize automobiles. But that same product damages the environment through pollution. Therefore, tax automobiles. 

Similar arguments can be made about any other product. Instead, we should accept the existence of externalities and consider the possibility that market failures may be more optimal than government failures. If any financing is to be publicly provided, it should be limited to the least-advantaged families. However, we should also realize that the education for the children from these families could also be financed voluntarily through charitable donations.

What is Minimum?

A forced “minimum level of education for all children” may sound good at first. Of course, children all deserve to have at least some minimum level of education. But how can we all agree on what that minimum level of education is? Since all children are diverse, some may require an additional focus on mathematics and behavior, while others may need to focus on reading and citizenship. 

Since all children are unique, we have an endless number of combinations of needs that bureaucrats must currently attempt to determine. Even with our best efforts put forth, we are guaranteed to come up with an extensive list of goals for this minimum level of education. In an attempt to make everyone happy, we provide all students the same type of comprehensive schooling. As a result, most children get a little bit of what they need (and a lot of what they don’t) at a monumental cost.

Friedman states that the government could certify schools that meet “minimum standards” as they do with restaurants for minimum sanitary standards. Since this process is a barrier to market entry, it restricts the supply of schools, further increasing the price of schooling. The procedure itself also costs money and guarantees that the government will have a monopoly. 

Since families are unique, even government employees with the best intentions will make approval decisions that are not optimal for all families. Instead, multiple private certification companies could determine the quality of schools. Ideally, we could then have families decide what schools best meet their unique criteria.

Even limited government intervention in the education system is not socially desirable. Though the limited intervention through finance and certification is well-intentioned, we should recognize the consequences of such policies. We should also recognize that the potential market failures may be more desirable than the current government failures in education.


Charter debate playing out in small races with big money

While the partisans in Massachusetts’ bitter charter debate are sinking millions of dollars into a high-profile ballot fight over whether to build more of the schools, they’re also spending sizable sums on bids to shape the state Legislature.

Democrats for Education Reform, which favors charter schools, and the Massachusetts Teachers Association, which opposes them, have set aside $200,000 each to influence a handful of this week’s Democratic primary races — sizable sums in often low-dollar contests.

Neither side is new to political spending. But their substantial outlays this election cycle underscore how much remains at stake even after voters decide the critical question, this November, of whether to lift the state cap on charter schools and allow for the creation of 12 new or expanded schools per year.

If voters approve the cap lift, the Legislature that convenes in January could alter the specifics of the law. Lawmakers also regularly consider other proposals critical to the operation of charters — measures addressing funding, teacher evaluation, and prickly questions about how charters discipline their students.

State Senator Patricia Jehlen, a Somerville Democrat and sharp critic of charter schools, is often near the center of these legislative fights. And her Democratic primary has become a major battleground for the outside groups.

Democrats for Education Reform has spent about $100,000 to oust her, according to the latest campaign finance filings. And last week, she challenged the director of the group’s Massachusetts chapter, Liam Kerr, to a debate.

“I said to myself, who is my real opponent here?” she said, sitting just a few feet from Kerr at the debate. “Who is spending more money than my opponent? I think my opposition is Democrats for Ed Reform, which is funded by dark money from New York — hedge fund managers.”

Kerr had some pointed questions of his own: mainly about the tens of thousands of dollars that the Massachusetts Teachers Association union has spent backing Jehlen. “Did you call on the MTA to stop?” he asked at one point.

Charter schools are controversial because they are often not unionized and have a freer hand with budgets and curriculum. Critics contend that they drain resources from traditional public schools, while supporters say they provide a vital lifeline for children in poor neighborhoods.

Democrats for Education Reform and the teachers association both say they have other education issues they care about, from standardized testing to funding for preschool.

“We’re not a charter-only organization,” Kerr said in an interview. “There’s a lot of different ways to stand up for kids.”

It’s clear, though, that charter schools are an animating concern in the proxy war the sides are fighting in the Democratic primaries, a war that spreads from Cape Cod to Roxbury.

In lower-profile House races, the spending can be quite small; in some cases, the teachers union isn’t spending anything at all — it’s just knocking on doors, without expenditures on mailings or signs.

But even a modest outlay can loom large in a small-scale race. In late August, Democrats for Education Reform reported that it had spent about $9,600 on a mailer for Chynah Tyler, a candidate to succeed retiring state Representative Gloria Fox in Roxbury.

Tyler’s own campaign had spent about $10,700 as of a week before, the last time she was required to report. One of her opponents, Monica Cannon, had spent about $7,600 by that point. The teachers’ union has spent almost twice as much supporting her.

The biggest spending, though, is in the Senate race pitting Jehlen, the Somerville Democrat, against Cambridge City Councilor Leland Cheung.

That battle has grown testy.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association has spent about $115,000 to date, according to campaign finance filings, including thousands on a website attacking Cheung for backing charter schools and associating with Democrats for Education Reform, which the union calls “a national front for the ultraconservative effort to privatize public education.”

Democrats for Education Reform has been supported by hedge fund executives and large foundations. But Kerr says said the group is pushing the “Obama education agenda.” And he blasted the teachers’ union for going negative in the campaign.

The combined $215,000 the two advocacy groups have spent on the Jehlen-Cheung race so far is more than the roughly $150,000 the candidates themselves had spent by late August, the last time they were required to disclose their campaign spending.

It’s enough to make the outside spending a campaign issue in and of itself. Jehlen points out that Cheung was on record opposing charter expansion just a couple of years ago and suggests he came out in favor of the ballot initiative to accommodate Democrats for Education Reform.

Cheung denies that he was trying to curry favor with the group, saying he backs the specific proposal before voters in November because it offers a preference to charter school proposals in the lowest-performing districts.

He also criticizes Jehlen and her fellow legislators for providing inadequate funding for all public schools, charter and traditional alike. “People need to be talking about the Legislature’s failure to invest in education,” he said.

Before long, the outside groups will know whether their efforts made a difference. The primary is Thursday. In November, voters will weigh in on lifting the cap on charter schools.

Then it’s a new legislative session, battles over education policy, and come election time in 2018, if the past is any guide, the sides will be trading campaign mailings — and rhetorical jabs — once again


Australia: Increased spending in education is failing to lift student results, a new report has found

A familiar story.  The U.S. and U.K. experience is the same.  What is needed is a return to the time when kids DID learn a lot from their education: Strict discipline, chalk and talk methods and teaching phonics.  It worked in the past; It can work again.  Only Leftist theories stand in the way of it

DESPITE substantial increases in education funding, student performance at Australia’s schools has stagnated or worsened, a new report has found.

A draft inquiry by the Productivity Commission into the nation’s education sector released today said reforms including performance benchmarking had failed to achieve “the desired gains in education outcomes”.

And recommends overhauling Australia’s privacy laws to allow for better sharing of student data between states and territories.

The report, commissioned by Treasurer Scott Morrison, also found student performance had “stalled or, in some cases, declined” and recommended focusing on teacher quality to improve results.
There has been a recommendation to overhaul Australia’s privacy laws to allow for better sharing of student data between states and territories. Picture: Supplied.

There has been a recommendation to overhaul Australia’s privacy laws to allow for better sharing of student data between states and territories. Picture: Supplied.Source:ThinkStock

“Research has found that only a small share (typically about 20 per cent) of variation in individual student outcomes is explained by differences between schools,” it said.

“The majority (about 80 per cent) is explained by differences between students within schools.

“Furthermore, there is a substantial body of evidence suggesting that teachers have the greatest impact on student performance outside of students’ own characteristics, and that directing attention to higher quality teaching can have large positive effects on outcomes across the board.

“All of this suggests that looking within the classroom, particularly at teaching practices, can be more effective at providing insights into how to improve education outcomes across schools and students.”

As well as calling for an “Education Agreement” between the Federal Government and states and territories to ensure good governance over data collection, the Commission also recommends changing Australia’s privacy laws.

It claims schools were being overly burdened by data collection.

“Differences in federal and jurisdictional privacy acts, as well as education Acts impose excessive limits on the ability of education data custodians to release data that contains personal information,” the report said.

“These differences can prohibit entire data collections from being accessed or prohibit disclosure of component cohorts of the same dataset.

The report said the Turnbull Government should amend the Privacy Act to “extend the arrangements relating to the collection, use or disclosure of personal information without consent in the area of health and medical research to cover public interest research more generally.”

“Greater uniformity of privacy laws would go some way toward reducing the regulatory complexity that contributes to the risk averse behaviour of data custodians.”

The report also partially backed the introduction of student ID numbers, claiming there had been “limited progress towards this goal” since it was identified by the Government in 2009.

And called for the funding of a new longitudinal study of Australian children.


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