I blame Horace Mann.

Why We Lost The Republic
Tim Daughtry

Now, after years of patient effort, the teachers' unions have turned America's schools into a wholly owned subsidiary of the political left. Conservatives have complained when reports surfaced about students being taught to sing hymns of praise to Obama, or when conservative students were harassed in class, or when examples of blatant liberal bias in textbooks came to light, but somehow we allowed ourselves to write off public schools as a lost cause. Homeschooling and private schools gave some relief, but the idea of getting public schools to transmit a love of liberty and appreciation for free enterprise seemed hopeless.
As long as the left has controlled the schools, time has always been on their side. We lost the Republic in the classroom long before we lost it in the voting booth.

It's unreasonable to expect teachers in government schools to argue against the existence of their industry. "Public education" (i.e., tax subsidization of  schooling and policies that restrict those subsidies to schools operated by government employees)  originated in mid-seventeenth century Protestant evangelism and early nineteenth century anti-Catholic bigotry. We live with the consequences of a centuries-old mistake.

The terrifying thing about modern dictatorships is that they are something entirely unprecedented. Their end cannot be foreseen. In the past, every tyranny was sooner or later overthrown, or at least resisted because of "human nature," which as a matter of course desired liberty. But we cannot be at all certain that human nature is constant. It may be just as possible to produce a breed of men who do not wish for liberty as to produce a breed of hornless cows. The Inquisition failed, but then the Inquisition had not the resources of the modern state. The radio, press censorship, standardized education and the secret police have alterted everything. Mass suggestion is a science of the last twenty years, and we do not know how successful it will be.
George Orwell, Review of Russia under Soviet Rule by N. de Basily (George Orwell, Essays, Knopf, 2002).


Survivor Bias

Following links from Joanne Jacobs to Brian Caplan to Megan McArdle, we find this criticism of the "stay in school" answer to the question "How do I escape poverty?": ...
14. Not everyone likes school. I've always been struck by this passage of Orwell's in The Road to Wigan Pier:
The time was when I used to lament over quite imaginary pictures of lads of fourteen dragged protesting from their lessons and set to work at dismal jobs. It seemed to me dreadful that the doom of a 'job' should descend upon anyone at fourteen. Of course I know now that there is not one working-class boy in a thousand who does not pine for the day when he will leave school. He wants to be doing real work, not wasting his time on ridiculous rubbish like history and geography. To the working class, the notion of staying at school till you are nearly grown-up seems merely contemptible and unmanly. The idea of a great big boy of eighteen, who ought to be bringing a pound a week home to his parents, going to school in a ridiculous uniform and even being caned for not doing his lessons! Just fancy a working-class boy of eighteen allowing himself to be caned! He is a man when the other is still a baby. Ernest Pontifex, in Samuel Butler's Way of All Flesh, after he had had a few glimpses of real life, looked back on his public school and university education and found it a 'sickly, debilitating debauch'. There is much in middle-class life that looks sickly and debilitating when you see it from a working-class angle.

It's still true: the mania to get more and more people into college is the brain child of people who think that school is fun, and that anyone who doesn't go is being deprived of something like a trip to Disneyland packaged with a job guarantee.
Lots of people think school is rather miserable, and they wish to leave as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the "school is fun" crowd has made an education a virtual pre-requisite for a stable and well paying job in this century. If you don't like school, and aren't good at it, what do you do? Spend the rest of your life popping chicken tenders into the deep fry at Popeye's? Or deal drugs?
McArdle might also have observed that the people who get elected to office and those who compose education policy are good at school. School worked for them. A strong element of self-flattery contaminates school policy prescriptions. Legislators and policy wonks would discredit their own credentials if they doubted the value of school.

My sisters give me great books for Christmas. I had forgotten Orwell's criticism of school in The Road to Wigan Pier.   


Privatization motives

A writer for Education Week criticizes Louisiana school choice policies:
According to many would-be reformers of our education system, the free market will bring innovation to education, and when consumers are empowered with choice, the best products will rise to the top. We are getting a chance to see how this works in the real world in some parts of the country. The State of Louisiana is engaged in an active experiment that allows us to see the effects of this philosophy, when schools themselves are turned into "products" on the open market. Governor Bobby Jindal has embraced the preferred policies of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
Here are the actions we are seeing so far from this new direction.
The latest budget signed by Governor Jindal eliminates state funding for public libraries, cutting close to a million dollars out of their budgets.
This week a Federal judge ordered Superintendent John White to appear in a case brought by a local school district, to explain why vouchers are not guilty of shifting local public funding away from public schools and into private and parochial ones.
This latest conflict reveals the hidden agenda driven by the choice movement. The schools are being rapidly re-segregated, with the full benefit of public funds.

Diane Ravitch agrees
The expansion of vouchers and charters will facilitate the re-segregation of the schools, he predicts.
Governor Jindal eliminated all funding for public libraries in his new budget.
Ravitch makes an instructive factual mistake here. Anthony Cody wrote that Governor Jindal eliminated "state" funding from public libraries, not "all" fumding. Ravitch apparently equates "state" and "government", while Anthony Cody explicitly does not. More important, Ravitch and Anthony Cody simply presume the benefits of a State (government, generally) role in the education industry. Ravitch openly imputes racist motives to a parent-commenter who defends school choice.

 Anthony Cody's blog requires subscription to Education Week. Ravitch does not. Perrhaps the comment below will appear on Ravitch's blog.
 Markets and federalism institutionalize humility on the part of government policy makers. If a policy dispute turns on a matter of taste, numerous local policy regimes or competitive markets allow for the expression of varied tastes while the contest for control over a State-monopoly provider of a good or service must inevitably create unhappy losers (who may comprise the vast majority; imagine the outcome of a nationwide vote on the one size and style of shoes all 14-year-olds must wear. Children are not standard). If a policy dispute turns on a matter of fact, where "What works?" is an empirical question, numerous local policy regimes and competitive markets in goods and services will provide more information than wil a State-monopoly enterprise. A State-monopoly provider of a good or service is like an experiment with one treatment and no controls, a retarded experimental design.

The arguments for State (government, generally) operation of schools do not withstand even cursory examination, and the arguments for subsidy are weak. In abstract, the education industry is a highly unlikely candidate for State (government, generally) operation. 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. Several lines of evidence support the following generalizations: (a) As institutions displace parents in education decisionmaking, overall system performance falls, and (b) Political control of school harms most the children of the least politically-adept parents ("Well, duh!" as my students would say). 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. Furthermore, the commonly drawn implication of the public goods argument, that society as a whole benefits from tax subsidization of public goods, contains a flaw: the State cannot subsidize education without a definition of "education". Operationally, State institutions define terms (such as "school" and "education) with rules, laws, and procedures. Corporate oversight is a public good and the State itself is a corporation. Oversight of State functions is a public good which the State itself cannot provide. State assumption of responsibility for the provision or subsidization of public goods transforms the free rider problem at the root of public goods analysis but does not eliminate it.

Across much of the US, State constitutions, laws, and district policies restrict parents' options for the use of the taxpayers' K-12 education subsidy to schools operated by dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel. This policy originated in Protestant evangelism and anti-Catholic bigotry. The taxpayers' $500 billion+ per year K-12 education subsidy has become an employment program for dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel, a source of padded construction and consulting 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' $12,000 per pupil-year age 6-18 education subsidy toward post-secondary tuition or toward a wage subsidy at any qualified private-sector employer?

Please read James Tooley's __The Beautiful Tree__.



Bureaucratic Bloat

Hawaii gets first mention in this survey of bureaucratic bloat in government K-12 schools.
According to the study, virtually all 50 states saw “bloat” or an excessive increase in the size of non-teaching personnel compared to student population. Among the states with the most disproportionate increases were:
  • Hawaii. Student enrollment increased 2.7 percent while administrators and other non-teaching staff increased 68.9 percent from FY 1992 to FY 2009.
  • Ohio. Student enrollment increased 1.9 percent compared to a 44.4 percent increase in administrators and other non-teaching personnel during the same period.
  • Minnesota. Student enrollment increased 8.1 percent compared to an increase in administrators and non-teaching personnel of 68.2 percent.
  • New Hampshire. Student enrollment increased 11.7 percent while administrators and non-teaching personnel increased 80.2 percent.


Invest in Education: Get a Job

In Switzerland, even though university education is free, the vast majority of students opt for a vocational training instead. Take Jonathan Bove. This spring, after he completed his three-year business training at an insurance company, the 19-year-old was hired by a telecommunications firm; his job as a customer care representative offers a starting salary of $52,000 a year, a generous annual bonus, and a four-week paid vacation – no small potatoes for the teenager who is still living at home and has no plans to move out.
Note that "after ...his three-year business training...the 19-year-old was hired...(at) $52,000 a year..." On-the-job training since age 16. It's not only college that this young man skipped. What, aside from the HSTA/HGEA/UPW cartel, blocks this path for Hawaii's young people? Parent Performance Contracting would expand the range of education options available to children and parents and reduce the taxpayers' exposure to open-ended retirement benefits for public-sector employees.


Food for Thought

Let's read this and comment later.
Updates to come.
(2012-10-23) By several measures, the US standard of living improved enormously in the 19th century, when far fewer people completed high school, much less college. International differences in economic freedom contribute more to differential growth than do international differences in years of school attendance or differences in per pupil financial support contribute to differential growth. Minimum wage laws, child labor laws, compulsory school attendance policies and policies which restrict parents' options for the use of the taxpayers' pre-college education subsidy to schools operated by State (government, generally) employees reduce parents' ability to allocate the human capital embodied in their children. Thus, this is no surprise:...
...Rigorous studies confirm that students in countries that for historical reasons have a larger share of students in private schools perform at higher levels on international assessments while spending less on primary and secondary education. Such evidence suggests that competition can spur school productivity. In addition, the achievement gap between socioeconomically disadvantaged and advantaged students is reduced in countries in which private schools receive more government funds.


Finally, Accreditation in Question

Accreditation agencies play a critical role in the maintenance of the current ponderous structure of the US K-PhD school industry. These agencies deserve far more scrutiny than they normally receive, given the cost of the current system. US taxpayers spend over $700 billion per year to operate this system. In the school year 2008-2009, NCES reported $593 billion K-12 and $267 billion post-secondary, according to the US Department of Education. This figure does not include the opportunity cost to students of the time that they spend in school. It does not include lost lifetime income to poorly-educated students or losses due to crime committed by drop-outs with few decent career options. It does not include the cost to society of the lost innovation that a competitive market in education services would generate. Finally, someone pays attention.
That accreditation is a barrier to entry--enforcing inappropriate input and process requirements--is bad. That a consequence of this is the suppression of innovation is unforgivable. Figuring out how to educate more students with less money is perhaps the most important national goal right now, and it requires innovation, but accreditation sabotages the necessary innovation. It is time to redesign the accreditation system.
Thanks, Instapundit.


Be Somebody or Do Something

Star Parker on Republicans and school choice. Here. Why compete for political office if all you do when you win is turn your back on suffering? Many politicians, apparently, would rather be somebody than do something.


Freedom for Parents, Elsewhere

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser recently reported that NAEP Science scores put the Hawaii DOE in the national cellar, as usual. Meanwhile, Arizona's legal environment moves toward greater parent control over schooling and more financial accountability for schools, as the Friedman Foundation reports here:
Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law yesterday the expansion of an Arizona school choice program, explicitly making children of active military members eligible to participate - a first nationwide. The expansion of the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program also makes students in failing public schools or school districts and those adopted out of the state foster care system eligible starting in the 2013-14 school year. Currently, Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) are available only to Arizona children with special needs. The program allows parents to withdraw their children from public district or charter schools and receive 90 percent of their state funding deposited into an account. Children’s ESA funds can go toward private school tuition, online courses, tutoring services, textbooks, and even future college expenses. Qualifying families do not have to meet income requirements.
It's not Parent Performance Contracting, but we're closing on it. The most effective institutional accountability mechanism that humans have yet devised is a policy that lets unhappy customers take their business elsewhere. "You cut, I choose" is the formula for fair sharing of resources. In public policy, where insider interest groups like public employee organizations have a strong incentive to run up the bill, policies that empower customers with the power to apply their share of the budget to institutions other than those which insiders control create escape options for customers and incentives for insiders to limit demands on taxpayers. Hawaii's legislature remains indifferent to the welfare of children and taxpayers. Update: Here. To quote one of the Scottish nobles after Mel Gibson's Wallace torpedos negotiations with the English commander at Stirling: "That was rather less civil than he was used to".


Ban Chores!

Child labor laws will not end with a ban on farm chores, but if busybodies get their way, they pass through that point on the way to a ban on household chores like washing dishes. Becker (Human Capital) defines "school" as an institution which has education as its principal product. This requires a prior understanding of "education". It also suggests that many institutions that people commonly call "schools" are not schools; failing "schools" primarily produce make-work for dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel and padded construction contracts for politically-connected insiders.
Inevitably, for each child, somebody or some body decides what education that child shall receive. That decision includes the choice of venue (e.g., home, school, farm, or factory). Compulsory attendance statutes, minimum wage laws, and child labor laws put on-the-job training off limits to many children. Compulsory schooling is one particularly expensive and long-lived instance of "industrial policy", the idea that government planners know best where to invest society's resources. Twelve years of State-enforced uselessness benefits no one but school employees.

Update: Over at Cato, Andrew Coulson expresses a related view.


Happy Birthday, Gordon Tullock

Don Bordeaux, of Cafe Hayek, reminds us that Gordon Tullock arrived among us on this day (1922-Feb.-13) ninety years ago.


Head Start Flop

From The American Interest (via Instapundit), an overdue federal assessment of the Lyndon Johnson-era Head Start program. It does not work.