Richard Fernandez (Belmont Club) wrote: "... a cynic might argue that a good rule of thumb for judging movements is to conclude that the more high minded a cause pretends to be, the more sordid are its actual motives." A similar thought occurs to me when candidates for our State legislature and State-wide Board of Education speak of children as "our most important resource", when they promise "accountability" in the government school system, when they invite voters to envision transforming the State-wide school district such that every school is in the nation's top 50% of schools, or when they talk of placing highly-qualified teachers in every classroom. Before we consider the gap between lofty assertions and sordid practice, let us consider some specific rhetorical devices.
A. Who says children are "our" resources? Darrow Aiona, a candidate for one of the Oahu at-large BOE seats, for one. "Our" implies collective ownership, and so collective decision-making. This assumprion predisposes the choice of governance methods against control by individual parents. Children occupy an anomalous legal status: somewhere between "people" and "property". Under US law, children do not have the rights of adults (e.g., to vote, consent to sex, enlist in the armed forces, buy firearms, consume alcohol, etc.). In this sense, therefore, children are not legally "people". Adults may transfer legal control of children (adoption). In a market economy, the device of private property combines legal control (including the power to transfer legal control) over physical objects with the incentive to use those objects for benign purposes. The benign purpose is promoted by the proscription on coercion in private exchange. When uncoerced individuals exchange goods and services to which they have title, both sides to the exchange benefit (otherwise, why would they act?). Owners have a strong incentive to maintain and enhance the value of material to which they have title. Similarly, absent a State assumption of control over children, parents have a strong incentive to enhance the value of their children. I argue axiomatically, here:
1. Most parents love their children and want their children to outlive them.
2. If you live among people, there are basically three ways to make a living: (2.1) you can beg, (2.2) you can steal, (2.3) you can trade goods and services for other people's goods and services.
3. Most parents accept proposition #2 and prefer option (2.3) for their children.
4. Therefore, most parents want their children educated to make their way in the world after they (the parents) are gone.
Collective title (e.g., Amtrack, the State school system) and the consequent control exercised through a bureaucracy does not similarly link owners' incentives and owners' control. Additionally, the bureaucracy has proprietary interests in job security and career advancement.
The two different decision mechanisms yield vastly different results. Consider a simple case: 100 people individually buying shoes, versus 100 people using some collective ("democratic") process to select the one size of shoe they should wear. Whatever size of shoe wins the contest, someone's feet will hurt. Collective control over "our" children's education suffers all the defects of socialist production, plus added harm to children, the human "resource".
B. Former Superintendent of Education Paul LeMahieu made "standards" and "accountability" the twin pillars of his allaged reform platform. Neither pillar can bear the weight. Leave standards aside for now and consider "accountability".
"Accountability" rhetoric intensifies as overall system performance falls. this suggests that voters attribute to the term "accountability" a punitive implication. The person "accountable" for a disaster suffers. In reality, no bureaucrat suffers for poor system performance and insiders change the subject to parents' deficiencies whenever some outsider suggests that any insider should lose his job for system performance.
Whatever people intend by the term, "accountability" refers to some feedback mechanism through which the consequence of decisions influence future decisions. Policies which give to unhappy customers the power to take their business elsewhere provide the most effective accountability mechanism humans have yet devised. Internal accountability mechanisms fail for a reason political scientists call "regulatory capture"; insiders have a stronger incentive to distort accountability mechanisms than individual voters have to inform themselves and organize to maintain the mechanism.
For Paul LeMahieu, "accountability" meant enhanced centralization of control. The Board of Education gave him a unanimous vote of confidence scant weeks before he resigned in disgrace, after Tina Mclaughlin testified under oath at a joint House/Senate hearing that Kaniu Kinimaka-Stocksdale (allegedly LeMahieu's mistress) claimed the inside track on a $200,000 non-bid personal service contract as security against a loan she (Kinimaka-Stockdale) requested of Tina McLaughlin. LeMahieu had previously abused his authority, to discipline an administrator who protested LeMahieu's efforts to steer a special-ed personal service contract awarded through PREL to Kinimaka-Stockdale. Evidently this earlier malfeasance did not trouble our Board.
C. At the Pearl City candidates' forum, Carol Mon Lee, the other non-incumbent in my race, invited the audience to envision raising all Hawaii schools into the top 50% of schools nationally. Envision placing in the top 50% of finishers at the Indianapolis 500 in a stock Caterpillar D-9. This isn't visionary, it's delusional. The lady apparently does not recognize any connection between institutional structure and system performance.
D. Several candidates mouth the platitude of "a highly qualified teacher in every classroom", while none indicates an understanding of what this entails. This mantra morphs into advocacy of pay raises, without any consideration of the incentive that higher pay creates for incompetent current teachers to remain in the system and for incompetent prospective replacements to apply. If "highly qualified teacher" is some sort of innovation, what does that say about the current selection mechanism and about the teachers already in place? The Legislature deprived the Board of Education of authority over teacher credential requirements.
E. Representative Cynthia Thielen has no opposition in her race for the seat she currently occupies. I sent her a copy of the questionnaire I describe here, with a supplement: this quote from her webpage.
It is absolutely essential that we improve the quality of public education. It is an essential service that provides equal opportunity for all children in Hawaii to reach their full potential. Quality public education is especially important to our State economy since Hawaii is an isolated island state. We rely upon the abilities of our own residents to build and maintain a diversified, sustainable, growing economy to support our state.I asked:
By "public education" do you mean "government-operated schools"?She did not respond. Successful politicians have a blather generator, which allows them extemporaneously to fill the air with polysyllabic drivel.
Hawaii's government-operated schools yield one of the most inequal results in the US (as measured by the difference between the 90th percentile and the 10th percentile, NAEP 8th grade Math scores). Why do you assert "...public education...provides equal opportunity for all children..." when it clearly does not?
Why do you assert: "Quality public education is especially important to our State economy since Hawaii is an isolated island state"? What is the connection between State (government, generally) operation of school and insularity? 90% of students in Hong Kong and Ireland take tax subsidies to schools other than those operated by government employees. 40% of Singapore schools accept tax-subsidized tuition payments. These are all island polities.
So much for lofty assertions. Let's consider the sordid practice. If I am correct, the following are true:...
1) It does not take 12 years at $13,000.00 per student-year to teach a normal child to read and compute.
2) Since normal children will work much harder for the love and approval of parents than they will for strangers, homeschoolers have a large advantage over experts in early childhood education. Institutionalization is counter-indicated.
3) Most vocational training occurs more effectively on the job than in a classroom.
4) State (government, generally) supply of History or Civics instruction is a threat to democracy, just as State operation of newspapers would be (is, in totalitarian countries).
I argued earlier that the usual welfare-economic case for State subsidy of education relies on large and questionable assumptions, and the case for State operation of schools relies on even larger wild assumptions. For these reasons, I see two sordid motives behind the lofty rhetoric of "public education": the transfer of wealth from taxpayers to system insiders (children serve as window-dressing, like mannequins in a Christmas storefront display) and State-worshipful indoctrination.