The Proposal (Parent Performance Contracting)

What we call "the public school system" consists of buildings and people, and much more. The system features:

1) Compulsory attendance (truancy) statutes (age 6 to age 18, September to June, Monday through Friday, 0800 to 1430) applied to children.
2) Compulsory education (educational neglect) statutes, applied to parents.
3) Tax support of school.
4) "Public" (i.e., government) ownership of school facilities.
5) Constitutional provisions (in many US States) and laws or policies (in most US States) which restrict a parent's options for the use of the taxpayers' K-12 education subsidy to schools operated by State (government, generally) employees.
6) State-mandated or school district-mandated curricula.
7) Collective bargaining for State (government, generally) school employees.
8) Child labor laws.
9) Minimum wage laws.

Numerous lines of evidence indicate that overall system performance improves with enhanced parent control. Parent control is critical, as parent control places decisions in the hands of those who know children best and are most reliably concerned for their well-being. While charter schools, school vouchers, and education tax credits are steps in the right direction, I prefer a policy I call Parent Performance Contracting.

Parent Performance Contracting

1. Your legislature mandates that school districts --must-- hire parents, on personal service contracts, to provide for their children's education, if the parents apply for the contract.
2. A child is eligible if:
2.1 S/he is at or above age-level expectations on standardized tests of reading vocabulary, reading comprehension (any language) and math as of August 15, the start of the contract year, and
2.2 S/he has not been convicted of any felony or misdemeanor crime against persons or property in the previous calendar year.
3. Make payment equal to some fraction 1/2 < a/b < 1 of the district's regular-ed per pupil budget.
4. Make payment contingent on
4.1 Performance at or above age-level expectations on standardized tests of reading comprehension, reading vocabulary (any language) and Math and
4.2 Remaining conviction-free of crimes against persons or property.
5. Count students educated under this program as enrolled in the State (i.e., government)school which they would otherwise attend.
6. Administer the GED at any age.
7. Allow children who test out of school before age 18 to apply the taxpayers' K-12 education subsidy toward post-secondary tuition or toward a wage subsidy at qualified (e.g., has filed W-2 forms on at least 3 adult employees per sub-adult employee for at least the previous four years) private-sector employer.

Parents could then homeschool, hire tutors, extend daycare to age 18, or supplement the contract amount and send their children to an independent or parochial school.

Parent Performance Contracting (PPC) has several advantages over school vouchers and charter schools.
1. Districts already hire consultants on personal service contracts, so PPC requires no new administrative machinery.
2. PPC includes all currently available options (e.g., homeschooling, charter schools, independent schools).
3. PPC provides greater financial and performance accountability than do school vouchers.
4. PPC requires less intrusive oversight than tuition tax credits.
5. PPC poses less of a threat to the autonomy of independent schools than do school vouchers.
6. PPC is less respectful of current institutions, and so will more likely promote more rapid evolution of the education industry than will school vouchers or charter schools.
7. Since children educated under PPC remain enrolled in State (government, generally) schools, PPC elides the whole Church/State separation argument.
8. Since children educated under PPC remain enrolled in State (government, generally) schools, PPC is immune to the rhetorical attack that it "takes money from public education" or "from public schools".
9. PPC allows incremental implementation, which reduces the financial shock to the current system, and which allows continual assessment and modification.

It's progress when system defenders recognize systematic failure, even if they oppose workable reform options.

EdWahoo writes: " I think that it's going to take a holistic effort: a deep understanding on part of every actor (teacher, parent, administrator, legislator, bureaucrat, voter, community, etc.) that such change is utterly necessary. That at some fundamental levels, Our. System. Is. Broken. And then on top of that there is going to have to be a generalizable, scalable alternative that is unimpeachably superior to the status quo. Then, with some fervered willpower and a little luck... well, who knows, maybe you can conquer the curse of incremental change."

This is a formula for, not failure, but resignation. Too many insiders make a good living from the current system for this imagined unified will to coalesce. Radical change does not require such a consensus, however. It only takes a few success stories to produce a proof of concept.

Updated 2008-12-28-0525 Zulu: "Three adult employees"=>"three adult employees per sub-adult employee" and "five years"=>"four years" in condition #7.


tom said...

Have you heard of Daniel Quinn's take on the school system? Here's an essay from him that you might enjoy- http://www.ishmael.org/Education/Writings/unschooling.shtml
just another (but similar) perspective for you.

Headmistress, zookeeper said...

Found you through your comments at the Education Wonks. What radical ideas. I think I like you.=)

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...


Thanks for the note. Mr. Quinn's relaxed attitude toward instruction, if applied broadly by legislators, would yield a result different from the current system, and probably better. I am not so hopeful that basic reading (decoding the phonetic alphabet) and basic Math (memorization of addition and multiplicatio ntables of one-digit numbers) are natural activities, that children would absorb from their environment without deliberate instruction by someone. A loving parent is the best instructor, here.

Beyond that, I largely agree that a more relaxed attitude toward instruction would yield a better result than the current system.


Thanks for the kind words.
(Everyone else: I can teach her nothing important. She already knows. Check out her site).

Anonymous said...

So glad to have found your site! Your comments re: school violance at Education Wonks were eye-opening, and I look forward to reading more of your posts.

Here in MA, the state government is going through a lengthy process of "redesigning" the school aid formula. It's unfortunate. The existing formula already has determined a per pupil amount, based on many socio-economic factors. The logical step, it seems to me, would be to assign those dollars to the student, not the system.

With regards to your PPC proposal, I would recommend bumping up the contract date from Aug. 15 to June 1. This would allow a month prior to the start of the fiscal year (is the July-Jun FY standard in government?) for the necessary processing and allocation of funds to be processed.

The technology for this sort of system exists. One need not look any further than the health insurance industry that processes enrollments and issues benefits cards in a 2-month window every year. The government can similarly process large amounts of data in a concentrated time period -- just look at the post office or the IRS.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...


Thanks for the kind words and the suggestions.

Sounds like you have more experience in
aoounting-related issues
and are better-informed (wouldn't be hard) than I. Timing is an important issue, as you suggest. Timing of PPC contract acceptance and payout dates would require consideration of the effects on the rest of the school district, and it certainly would help to know how many parents planned to take their children out of the system when budgeting regular schools. The DOE Accounting Branch might have a good idea what timing would be most convenient.

The goal is to give parents options, not to make life difficult for school administrators or accountants.

mmazenko said...

In discussions with students, parents, and neighbors I have occasionally tossed out the idea of eliminating public education and making each family responsible for its own kids. The feedback I've received is that it would never fly. The outrage was intense when I suggested - as some Missouri legislators have done - that high school sports should be turned over to the community. The problem I see with eliminating the system is that it expects all parents will do what is right for their kids, and that their choices will be right for the community. Sadly, far too many parents make incredibly poor choices or no choices in parenting. Have you seen Super-Nanny?

One of the reasons that experimental voucher programs in places like Milwaukee have been less than stellar in results is because far two many parents make uniformed choices or choices for reasons unrelated to their child's success. Many parents will choose the school that is closest - to home or their work - without bothering to check the details. Parents have an expectation that all schools should be equal, and that's not an unreasonable claim. Therefore, the danger has always been that the motivated parents move their kids to better schools, and the rest are left to struggle even more. Thus, opponents of vouchers do have a valid - though not perfect claim - that society should work toward improving all schools equally, especially by bringing substandard ones up.

I'm intrigued by your claims about foreign schools, and I will follow up on them. There is much we can learn from other systems, rather than continuing with our current status quo. Again, the problem with parents who inadequately raise their children - and there are many - is they create far more serious social problems that we must then deal with. Dare I say that society/the economy has become far too complex to argue that democracy survived in the early days of post-revolutionary society.

I am impressed by your ideas, but I think I'm too pragmatic to say they don't need extensive vetting.

steven said...

Michael, don't you think that it is just as unreasonable to expect that the government will do what is right for all kids as it is to expect that all parents will do what is right for their kids? And why should parents sacrifice what is right for their own children for what is right for the community?

steven said...

Malcolm, I didn't realize that this was such an old posting before I wrote my comment. I had linked from a current posting. Sorry. But I like your blog, and I'll return.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

I'm sure there's some way to attach dates to comments, but I do not know it off-hand. Michael's comment is a couple of years old.

Some parents will neglect or abuse their children. Some State-school employees will neglect or abuse children. Some employees of independent schools will neglect or abuse children. From a policy-maker's point of view, the choice is not between black and white, but between shades of grey, and between processes that offer different possibilities for evolutionary improvement.

mmazenko said...


In a situation where a single family is neglecting its child, there is a greater chance that from a group of educators, one or more, may have that child's interest at heart. There is, I guess, less likelihood that all the members of a large group would collectively work against the child's interest. Though I may simply have more faith in educators than you - but that has been my experience.

I would agree that a parent shouldn't sacrifice what is right for his child for the benefit of the community. I would hope they would be the same thing, which is why I acknowledge voucher/charter critics have a "not perfect" claim. As a parent, I want and endorse the choice to choose the best option for my child - and my child is in a charter/magnet school. As I've noted though, equality of opportunity would mean no parent needs to choose "out of his neighborhood school," especially when he isn't choosing out of his neighborhood.

Engineer-Poet said...

I believe the option you want is under "Settings / Timestamp Format".  It has irked me for years that Blogger has defaulted to time-of-day only, with no way for a reader to discover how old a comment may be.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

Thanks. My friends are still trying to drag me into the twentieth century (cell phone, DVD player, flush toilet, etc.).