Two Cents More

Why is the government in the education business at all? Prompted by Parry Graham...
For those exceptional children and circumstances, I agree that a greater amount of flexibility would likely be beneficial. However, you appear to be arguing that this approach should be extended to all children and parents, replacing the existing structure of formalized K-12 public schooling.
...we return to this question.

The argument does not proceed from exceptional cases to a generalization. I use exceptional cases as stark illustrations of the generalization.

Back up several steps.

The government of a locality is the largest dealer in interpersonal violence in that locality (definition). Place industries on a continuum. What part of the continuum from "very likely candidate for State operation" to "very unlikely candidate for State operation" does the education industry occupy? In abstract, the education industry is a very unlikely candidate for State (government, generally) operation.

Why does the State intervene in the education industry at all? This "why?" question has three interpretations: 1) The welfare-economic "why?". What does society gain from a State role in the education industry? 2) The historical "why?". What events coincided with the State's entry into the education business? 3) The political science "why?". What do those politicians who support the State's presence in the education industry gain from their support?

1) See below.
2) Anti-Catholic bigotry.
3) Dedicated lobbying by current recipients of the taxpayers' $500 billion+ per year K-12 education subsidy.

1) We consider the welfare-economic argument for a State role in the education industry here.

The case for subsidy is weak. Given the case for State subsidization of the education industry, the case for State operation of schools for the general population is weaker still.

Please read the introductory section (p 88) in West, E.G.,
Education Vouchers in Principle and Practice: A Survey
The World Bank Research Observer, V12, #1, Feb., 1997.

The education industry is not a natural monopoly. Beyond a very low level, there are no economies of scale at the delivery end of the education business as it currently operates. "Natural monopoly" and "economies of scale" are the usual welfare-economic arguments for State operation of an industry. Even when an industry qualifies as a natural monopoly or exhibits significant economies of scale the case for State operation of an industry is not decisive, and the education industry is not a natural monopoly and, beyond a very low level, does not exhibit significant economies of scale at the delivery end as it currently operates.

Education only marginally qualifies as a public good as economists use the term and the public goods argument implies subsidy and regulation, at most, not State operation of an industry. The State cannot subsidize education without a definition of "education" but then students, parents, and real classroom teachers are bound by the State's definition. You will have a hard time finding a definition specific enough to guide a bureaucrat whose job it is to assess whether State funds are well spent and yet general enough to encompass all that normal people would call "education". In consequence, policy makers compose restricted definitions which force wildly varying children into a narrow mold. The results are tragic.

Further, State assumption of responsibility for the provision (even through subsidization) of public goods does not eliminate the "free rider" problem at the root of "public goods" analysis. The State is a corporation. Corporate oversight is a public good. Oversight of State functions is a public good which the State itself cannot provide.

I see a semi-plausible case for State operation of schools for some limited subset of the sub-adult population. Compulsory attendance statutes mean little unless some schools must accept students rejected everywhere else. Call these default-option schools "the public schools". Taxpayers do not benefit from policies which give a narrow cartel (the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel) a long-term exclusive position in receipt of the budget dedicated to the operation of these schools. Taxpayers would benefit from a policy which periodically put contracts for the operation of these schools out to bid. Let the NEA compete with the HGEA, the AFT, Edison, The University of Phoenix, and the Catholic Church for these contracts.

Government is not some all-seeing, benevolent God. People do not become more intelligent, more altruistic, better-informed, or more capable (except in their enhanced access to the tools of violence) when they enter the State's employ. Children are not standard. Remote State actors, wielding the blunt instrument of State violence, have little usefully to contribute to the education industry.


Comment at Ken's Place

Ken DeRossa started a little argument. Here's my two cents' worth.

What's the alternative to a market in education services? Perhaps it's better to suppose a range of options on a multidimensional continuum and ask: "What actions can policymakers, teachers, taxpayers, parents, and/or students take to improve the performance of the US (formal) K-PhD. education system?" The answer will depend on the powers available to the person who answers.

The government of a locality is the largest dealer in interpersonal violence in that locality (definition). Every law on the books is a threat by the State (government, generally) to kidnap (arrest), assault (subdue), and forcibly inoculate with HIV (imprison) someone, under specified circumstances. People do not become more intelligent, more compassionate, better-informed, or more capable (except by their enhanced access to violence) when they enter the State's employ. The tools available to State actors are violence and threats of violence, and subsidy, extracted at gunpoint from taxpayers.

In the US today, academics design school policy. These academics excelled at school. They have spent their entire lives in school. They imagine that the academic is the highest form of life on Earth and that everyone wants to be a college professor. The curriculum they prescribe and the goals to which they invite students to aspire are foreign to many normal children. Training an artistically or mechanically inclined child for an academic career using a transcript as the incentive is like teaching a cat to swim using carrots as the reward.

Compulsory, unpaid labor is slavery; black or white, male or female, young or old. Compulsion kills motivation. US schools fail because they give to many children no reason to do what schools require. Einstein opposed compulsory attendance at school. Gandhi opposed compulsory attendance at school.

The State-monopoly US school system originated in anti-Catholic bigotry and has become an employment program for dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel, a source of padded construction and supply contracts for politically-connected insiders, and a venue for State-worshipful indoctrination. If this is not so, why cannot any student take, at any time, an exit exam (the GED will do) and apply the taxpayers' age 6-18 K-12 education subsidy toward post-secondary tuition at any VA-approved post-secondary institution or toward a wage subsidy at any qualified (say, has filed W-2 forms on at least three adult employees for at least the previous four years) employer?

The NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel's schools (the "public" schools) operate for the convenience of administrators, not for the benefit of students. Consider the concept of "a year of Math" or "a year of English Literature". This makes as much sense as "a pound of friendship" or "a meter of exercise". Think on it: measurement of course content in units of time reflects what some administrator imagines a "normal" child can acquire in some amount of time. This indicates systematic indifference to individual differences in ability. That indifference characterizes the cartel's one-size-fits-all methods of operation. And THAT kills motivation.

The education industry is not a natural monopoly. Beyond a very low level there are no economies of scale at the delivery end of the education business. Education only marginally qualifies as a public good as economists use the term and the "public goods" argument implies subsidy and regulation, at most, not State (government, generally) operation of an industry.

Amended (2008-12-21:1741 Zulu) by a one-word substitution ("reflects"=>"indicates") and insertion of "That indifference...operation".


Close to Home (Part II)

High performance education systems will generally exhibit motivated students, well-scripted curricula, and competent instructors. We can play with the concept of "system" here and falsify the assertion that any of these ingredients is necessary. For example, we might collect numerous cases where important discoveries happened by chance, to people who were not seeking them, and call this collection of cases a "system". Quite a lot of learning occurs without any composed curricula or instruction. For example, many people improve their competence at their hobbies or recreations through experience alone. We consider designed educational systems below.

Motivation, curricula, and instruction matter, and interact. Institutional care affects this interaction by displacing parents as instructors with non-parent instructors and by diminishing student and parent control over the selection of curricula. Whether institutional care outperforms informal care or unsupervised play will depend on the relative impact of family arrangements versus institutions on student motivation, curricula, and instructor competence, and on the measure of student performance (e.g., standardized test scores, juvenile crime rates, college acceptance rates, adult lifetime income) used to assess system performance.

Advocates for early childhood education and later formal schooling have an institutional interest in over-estimating the contribution which expertise makes to system performance. While any given system with competent instructors will outperform the same system with incompetent instructors, the following apply to a prediction of the success of policies which displace parents by remote "experts":
1) "Competence" includes the ability to motivate students.
2) The natural bond between parents and children makes parents naturally superior to strangers in this respect
3) In many subject areas, whatever subject-area expertise parents lack exists in books.
4) Compulsion kills motivation.
5) Institutions which derive their their revenues from State (government, generally) sources and bill taxpayers based on student time (per hour or per year) have strong incentives to impede student progress. Effective self-paced curricula would demonstrate the irrelevance of instructors for many students in many subject areas.

Close to home (Part I)

Jenny D looks at early childhood education.

On what theory does it make sense to take children from parents? Early institutionalization of children lowers overall system performance on several measures.

States which compel attendance at age 7 exhibit higher 4th and 8th grade NAEP Reading and Math scores than States which compel attendance at age 6.

Some years ago a visiting Professor of Education from Canada told me that people at some Canadian university studied the relation between the age of compulsory attendance and school performance. According to this professor (whose name I do not recall), the investigators could not find the upper limit (the point when the performance advantage shifts from parents to institutions) and quit looking when the political implications became overwhelming.

On what theory does transferring control of children from parents to strangers yield a social benefit? Consider three scenarios:

1)If the strangers are also parents and the child to caregiver ratio is one to one, we play musical chairs with children and the theory implies that children will work harder for strangers than for their own parents and that parents will more effectively instruct strangers' children than their own.

2) If caregivers are also parents and the child to caregiver ratio is greater than one-to-one, we are to believe that (over some low range) larger child to caregiver ratios yield better performance than lower ratios. Is that plausible?
3) If caregivers are non-parents, we are to believe that non-parents out-perform parents. Do you believe any of this?

Please read Dahlmia and Snell
"Protect Our Kids From Preschool"
Wall Street Journal, 22-Aug.-2008

Steve Biddulph
"A child-care lesson from Canada"
Sydney Morning Herald, 19-Jam.-2008
A large Canadian policy experiment provides a lesson that might save us much grief in Australia. In 2000 the province of Quebec, populous and progressive, took the bold step of providing universal day care right down to newborn babies, at a cost to parents of $5 a day. It was a well-intentioned attempt to come to terms with a large increase in the number of families where both parents were working, which had almost doubled in 30 years.
Three economists, Michael Baker, Jonathan Gruber and Kevin Milligan, seized the chance to evaluate what happened in real time. They had the rest of Canada as a control group, and a large study in place tracking children across the country to provide detailed data on their development. What they found was astonishingly clear cut in a field usually littered with carefully worded reservations and ideologically filtered reporting. The scheme was a disaster.
Evaluated in economic terms, it did not pay for itself; the tax gains from increased workforce participation (the workforce grew by 7.7 per cent) did not make up for the cost of the exercise. Also the system crowded out informal and family forms of care, so that many people simply switched the kind of care they used to take advantage of the massive subsidies.
But the human cost was the most significant. There were marked declines in child wellbeing; on measures of hyperactivity, inattention, aggressiveness, motor skills, social skills and child illness, children were significantly worse off than their peers who remained at home.
The family suffered, too: parent-child relationships deteriorated on all measured dimensions. There was a significant increase in depression rates among mothers and a deterioration in couple relationships among affected parents. None of these changes was minor. The hyperactivity increases were in a range of 17 to 44 per cent; the skills decline was between 8 and 21 per cent; childhood illnesses rose by 400 per cent. The study is littered with adjectives researchers are usually careful to avoid: strong, marked, negative, robust, striking. Yet it did echo, though more strongly, similar findings in the United States, Britain and Europe.
The Quebec policy did so many things right. It mandated many improvements, increasing from one-third to two-thirds the proportion of carers with tertiary qualifications. It supplanted private profit-making centres or took them over, a measure known to increase care quality. It also included and trained in-home carers, or family day carers, as we call them. Yet still the outcomes were dire....
The evidence points to only one possible solution: paid parental leave. When Sweden introduced this 15 years ago, babies and under-twos almost disappeared from its day-care system. This was despite it being acknowledged as the best system in the world, costing 2 per cent of gross domestic product...
In Britain, the policy of the former prime minister, Tony Blair, of building vast numbers of centres has proved an expensive mistake: a younger generation of parents is choosing to stay home and one-fifth of British nursery places stand empty. Under pressure from parents and child development experts, Britain has now introduced paid parental leave...
In the end, paid parental leave is the most equitable way and the best value for money. It is certainly the best for babies. Love, after all, can't be bought.
See "Universal Childcare, Maternal Labor Supply, and Family Well-Being"
(University of Toronto - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER))
(Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER))
KEVIN MILLIGAN (University of British Columbia - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER))
November 2005 NBER Working Paper No. W11832
The growing labor force participation of women with small children in both the U.S. and Canada has led to calls for increased public financing for childcare. The optimality of public financing depends on a host of factors, such as the “crowd-out” of existing childcare arrangements, the impact on female labor supply, and the effects on child well-being. The introduction of universal, highly-subsidized childcare in Quebec in the late 1990s provides an opportunity to address these issues. We carefully analyze the impacts of Quebec’s “$5 per day childcare” program on childcare utilization, labor supply, and child (and parent) outcomes in two parent families. We find strong evidence of a shift into new childcare use, although approximately one third of the newly reported use appears to come from women who previously worked and had informal arrangements. The labor supply impact is highly significant, and our measured elasticity of 0.236 is slightly smaller than previous credible estimates. Finally, we uncover striking evidence that children are worse off in a variety of behavioral and health dimensions, ranging from aggression to motor-social skills to illness. Our analysis also suggests that the new childcare program led to more hostile, less consistent parenting, worse parental health, and lower-quality parental relationships.
See also
San Francisco Chronicle 2005-Nov.-01
The UC Berkeley-Stanford study found that all children who attended preschool at least 15 hours a week displayed more negative social behaviors such as trouble cooperating or acting up, when compared with their peers. The discrepancies were most pronounced among children from higher-income families.
Children from lower-income families lagged behind their peers who didn't attend preschool an average of 7 percentage points on the measure of social behavioral growth. But children from higher-income families lagged 9 percentage points behind their peers. These wealthier children did even worse when they attended preschool for 30 hours or more: They trailed their peers by 15 percentage points...
"It is time to come to grips with what all too many have denied for all too long, namely, that all disconcerting news about adverse effects cannot be attributed to low-quality care, which has been more or less the mantra of the field of child development and the child-care advocacy community for decades," Belsky said.
See Belsky, et. al.
"Are there long term effects of early child care?"
See Wight
Childcare for All? No Thanks
...Professor Edward Zigler, credited as “the father of Headstart” a widespread American preschool program admits “there is a large body of evidence that there is little to be gained by exposing middle class children to early education … (and) evidence that indicates early schooling is inappropriate for many four-year-olds, and that it may be harmful to their development”.

If preschool were truly beneficial in terms of giving children a head start, those places with some form of compulsory preschool should do demonstrably better academically. The evidence does not bear this out.

For example, the two states of America which have compulsory preschool, Georgia and Oklahoma, have the lowest results for fourth grade reading tests in the country.
...the longitudinal studies often quoted to argue an academic advantage provided by preschool for lower socio-economic groups, actually also show that this “advantage” disappears by grade three.

But what about the much-touted social benefits of preschool programs? Here again, there is research to refute this. A 2005 Stanford University study reported: “We find that attendance in preschool centers, even for short periods of time each week, hinder the rate at which young children develop social skills and display the motivation to engage in classroom tasks, as reported by their [prep] teachers.”

In 1986, Tizzard and Hughes compared the language environments at home and in preschools in the UK. Their method involved tape-recording the conversations of four-year-old girls at preschool in the morning and again at home with their mothers in the afternoon. They reported:

"We became increasingly aware of how rich this [home] environment was for all the children (working-class and middle-class). The conversations between the children and their mothers ranged freely over a variety of topics.
At home the children discussed topics like work, the family, birth, growing up, and death; they talked with their mothers about things they had done together in the past, and their plans for the future; they puzzled over such diverse topics as the shape of roofs and chairs, the nature of Father Christmas, and whether the Queen wears curlers in bed.
When we came to analyse the conversations between these same children and their [preschool] teachers, we could not avoid being disappointed.
The richness, depth and variety which characterised the home conversations were sadly missing. So too was the sense of intellectual struggle, and of the real attempts to communicate being made by both sides.

The questioning, puzzling child which we were so taken with at home was gone: in her place was a child who, when talking to staff, seemed subdued, and whose conversations with adults were mainly restricted to answering questions rather than asking them, or taking part in minimal exchanges about the whereabouts of other children and play materials.

In all this research, it is difficult to sort out to what extent there is a difference between compulsory preschool programs and optional preschool but it seems that there is enough evidence both to question the push towards compulsory preschool and to throw doubt on the theory that preschool is beneficial for all.

Children at home with their families are not disadvantaged. Indeed they are very likely better off. So if your child does not wish to go to kindergarten, or you do not wish to send them, rest assured that you are not depriving them.

Relationships are the most important part of life. For small children especially, the time spent in the secure home environment is invaluable. Contrary to popular opinion, forcing children to separate from their parents before they are ready to is not necessary...


What Happened to Federalism?

Leave aside the infantile power fantasies of commissar wannabe Louis Gerstner.

What happened to federalism?

The President of the US exercises legitimate authority over three K-12 school systems, the Department of Interior BIA schools, the US DOD schools (for dependents of military employees overseas), and the US State Department's Embassy schools (for State Department employees oveseas). The President needs no more authority than he already has.

All the President has to do to inject competition into the US K-12 education industry is...

1) Require that the BIA schools, the Embassy schools, and the DOD schools develop a sequence of exams which satisfy course requirements at each grade level.
2) Require that they license independent companies and schools to administer these exams to anyone who applies.
3) Require that these schools grant credit to anyone who passes these tests, at any age, at any time of year.
4) Require that all US agencies recognize diplomas earned through the exam process.

Let competition between Sylvan Learning Centers, the Kumon Institute, and the University of Phoenix drive the cost of a K-12 education down to the cost of books and proctoring exams.

The President exercises legitimate authority over five post-secondary institutions, the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, the US Military Academy at West Point, New York, the Air Force Academy in Boulder, Colorado, the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, and the Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, New York. The Federal government needs no more authority over US colleges or taxpayers' wallets than it already has, to transform the US post-secondary education industry.

All the President has to do to make college affordable is...

1) Require that the service academies develop a sequence of exams which satisfy course requirements for some limited set of undergraduate majors.
2) Require that these schools license independent companies and schools to administer these exams to anyone who applies.
3) Require that these schools grant credit to anyone who passes these tests, at any age, at any time of year.
4) Require that all US agencies recognize degrees earned through the exam process.

Let competition between Sylvan Learning Centers, the Kumon Institute, and the University of Phoenix drive the cost of a college degree down to the cost of books and proctoring exams.

US taxpayers spend over $500 billion per year to operate the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel's K-12 schools (the "public" schools). This is a fraction of the total cost. A larger cost is the opportunity cost to students of the time they labor, unpaid, as window-dressing in the massive make-work program we call "public education". It does not take 12 years to teach a normal child to read and compute. Most vocational training occurs more effectively on the job than in a classroom. State provision of History and Civics instruction is a threat to democracy, just as State operation of newspapers would be (is, in totalitarian countries). The opportunity cost of school falls most heavily on children of poor and minority parents.

A further cost of the US State-monopoly school system is the opportunity cost to society of the lost innovation which a competitive market in education services would generate.

If school is not an employment program for dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel, what is the objection to credit by exam? If it is fraud for a mechanic to charge for the repair of a functional motor and if it is fraud for a physician to charge for the treatment of a healthy patient, then it is fraud for a school district to bill taxpayers for the instruction of a student who does not need our help.


Control Freaks

In The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell speculated that socialism may originate in a hypertrophied sense of order. Elsewhere ("Inside the Whale", "Raffles and Mrs. Blandish"), he suggested that a preference for authoritarian politics originates in vicarious sadism. In either case, some people find the fantasy of commanding millions of lives and billions of dollars irresistibly attractive. Today (2008-Dec.-01), we have an example from the Wall Street Journal, where Louis Gerstner recommends policies which will degrade the performance of the US pre-college school system.

He recommends:...
1) Set high academic standards for all of our kids, supported by a rigorous curriculum.
2) Greatly improve the quality of teaching in our classrooms, supported by substantially higher compensation for our best teachers.
3) Measure student and teacher performance on a systematic basis, supported by tests and assessments.
4) Increase "time on task" for all students; this means more time in school each day, and a longer school year.

This will make things worse.
1) Humans are not standard.
(a) A "standard" is a unit of measurement. Academic standards are to academic growth what measuring rods are to physical growth. Platinum yardsticks will not make children taller. Academic standards will not make children smarter.
(b) What "rigorous curriculum" should "all kids" pursue? Einstein opposed compulsory attendance at school. He argued that compulsory schooling kills motivation. Einstein was right.
2) "Merit pay" is an invitation to a protracted and losing argument. See Myron Lieberman's discussion of the issue in The Educational Morass. Unions object and administrators do not want the additional work nor the dissension it would cause. Who determines which teachers qualify for merit pay? Which subjects? Uniform pay scales produce over-paid teachers in over-supplied subjects (History, English, Biology) and under-paid teachers in shortage areas (Math from Alg. II onwards, Chemistry, Physics, Electronics Shop, some foreign languages).
3) We can assess student performance in Math and Physics. In English or foreign languages we have tests which reliably measure vocabulary and grammar, but that's about it. Literature? History? Art? Forget it.
4) Compulsory, unpaid labor is slavery. Compulsion kills motivation. More compulsion will further degrade overall system performance.

It does not take 12 years to teach a normal child to read and compute. Most vocational training occurs more effectively on the job than in a classroom. State provision of History and Civics instruction is a threat to democracy, just as State operation of newspapers would be (is, in totalitarian countries).

"What works?" is an empirical question which only an experiment (a competitive market) can answer.

The US State-monopoly school system delivers wretched performance at high cost because it is a State-monopoly system. The education industry is not a natural monopoly. Beyond a very low level there are no economies of scale at the delivery end of the education industry as it currently operates. Education only marginally qualifies as a public good as economists use the term and the "public goods" argument implies subsidy and regulation, at most, not State operation of an industry.