Education in Context

Reading Thomas’s comments to my “What Profiteth a Community” post, I thought, at first, that we’d solved one area of disagreement. Consider:

Isn’t there a real chicken-and-egg problem here? Justin’s right that, if we don’t have decent jobs in RI, our well-educated children will flee for greener pastures. On the other hand, what potential employers want to start a business in a place where the available workforce is poorly educated? Will managers want to move to a state where the choices for their kids are poor public schools or expensive private ones? I think not. My view is that the solution to RI’s economic problems requires addressing educational achievement.

And yet, he’s stated previously that he doesn’t see anything amiss if “our wealthier communities subsidize our less wealthy communities.” It seems to me that, on the whole, managers and other employees of the sort who determine where to open businesses would be inclined to move to the suburbs, not the city. Therefore, redirecting money from the wealthier ‘burbs to the poorer cities only exacerbates the problem of economic development in Rhode Island. If we’re looking at incentives for entrepreneurial people to enter the state, it makes little sense to bleed the communities in which they are likely to live.
But if not for the dwindling wealthy, from where would the revenue come to answer Thomas’s suggestion that, to improve education results, “we might have to spend some money”? He notes that adjustments for cost of living drop Rhode Island teachers’ salaries from near the top in the nation to the bottom third (ignoring benefits), but the median private sector income in Rhode Island is below the national average. What’s our national ranking on an adjusted basis?
If the education establishment has faith in its ability to improve, then it should tighten its own belt while it proves it. We simply can’t afford to increase the gap — already exceeding the national average — between teachers’ pay and citizens’ pay. The absolute best that doing so can reasonably be expected to accomplish is to improve the quality of the graduates whom we export.
Thomas writes:

Mssrs, Carcieri and Fox’s approach, as well as that of the late Mr. Crowley has been, “let’s cut the budget and force the schools to be more efficient”. That’s a unrealistic plan, because there’s no mechanism to make sure that the cuts happen where they should. My guess is that the kids will lose before anything else goes.

The reason the kids will lose is because they (and their parents) are trapped. That is why — even without exhaustive studies searching for regions to emulate — the development of a school choice program is strategically and morally attractive. The capability of withdrawing their children, and the related funds, from a particular school gives families leverage, relevance. From that angle, the following seems oddly contrived, with nearly deliberate disassociation from every other profession in the marketplace:

… what is the incentive for public school teachers to compete? My sense is that their rewards are not tied in any way to retaining students. Providence middle schools have a class size cap of 26. I don’t know any teacher who would not be happier with 20 students. That’s not laziness, either. You can be a more effective teacher with 20. 15 would be even better. Why would the teacher want more students? Competition increases performance only where there is an incentive to compete.

This is only coherent from within a system that treats teachers’ jobs as inviolable. Were a poorly performing school with, say, 100 children and four teachers in third grade to lose just 10 of those students to better schools, the decreasing funds would pressure administrators to look toward firing a teacher and giving the remaining three 30 students each. In contrast, provided it has sufficient physical capacity, were the same school to gain 10 students, it might consider hiring a fifth teacher and dropping each class’s size to 22.
Indeed, the perversion of systems of tangible and straightforward incentive is a distilled argument against attempting to manage, secure, and control a particular industry from without. At some level, the certified genius operating the switches has to treat people as static automatons that cannot but fail to behave like the actual people whom they represent, as when Thomas insists that comparisons of public and private schools should “control for self-selection and the educational attainment of parents who are able to afford the best private schools.”
The latter factor could be the merely incidental correlation of previous education with financial resources, making the former factor — the self-selection — the decisive one. School choice makes it a simpler matter for all mothers and fathers to self-select as parents who care about their children’s educations, and if the children are enabled to move toward the front of the statewide class, they will know that a lack of effort can send them right back from whence they’d escaped.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
6 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Frank
Frank
13 years ago

I just can’t buy into the idea that a prospective employer would not come to RI because of our underperforming public education system based on the rationale that they would not do so because there is an unskilled and/or under educated workforce here. First of all, RI is very small. There is no place in the state that is more than 20 minutes from either CT or MA. If the RI workforce were really that deficient, there are other sources of labor right near by. We just happen to be surrounded by two of the highest performing public education systems in the country. And then there is Boston, one of the most highly educated work forces in the world, only I hour away. As we all know, many in RI already make the work commute to or from Boston. Secondly what work force educational level are we talking about here? Secondary? Post secondary? Graduate level? If we are talking about an “highly educated workforce”, that sort of seems to imply post secondary level education. In that case we graduate thousands each and every year from RIs universities and colleges. Thousands more RI natives are graduating at out of state universities around the country and potentially returning home. I don’t see anyone making an effective argument anywhere in the Northeast (due to the presence of large numbers of colleges and universities alone) that there is not an educated workforce to draw from. Primarily because of the smallness of our state and it’s New England location, I just do not see a strong connection between RIs potential for economic development and our relatively weak elementary and secondary public education system. You brought out a very interesting point, Justin, with respect to where prospective employers and their “highly skilled/educated employees” would live and… Read more »

Greg
Greg
13 years ago

“We just happen to be surrounded by two of the highest performing public education systems in the country. And then there is Boston, one of the most highly educated work forces in the world, only I hour away.”
Exactly. So why wouldn’t they locate there instead of here where you have to kiss Alves’ arse to get a tax break?

Frank
Frank
13 years ago

Good point Greg. There are many relevant reasons not to do business in RI. We should focus on those and not create ones that don’t exist.

Thomas
Thomas
13 years ago

Justin, Once again, I’m flattered that you thought my comments merited a post. Here are some thoughts in response. As to my statement that I approve of “our wealthier communities subsidize our less wealthy communities” I want to note that I later qualified the latter statement. I’d have wealthier INDIVIDUALS subsidize less-well-off individuals and communities. Property taxes are a bad way to fund most public goods. ONE of the bad things about them is that a poor or retired person on a fixed income gets hit the same as a wealthy person. Another is that it makes the amount of school funding, and thus the money available for each child’s education, dependent on the property wealth of the community where his/her parents reside. RI pays for 60% of its public education through property taxes…that’s 3rd highest in the nation. I would shift the burden to income taxes and cut property taxes accordingly. Do that, and it matters less where you live, from the point of view of educational opportunity AND taxation. Then, the $200K executive who moves to EG will pay the same for education in Providence/Woonsocket/Central Falls/Pawtucket as if she moves to Providence itself. Maybe then we can stop talking about one community “subsidizing” another as if EG and Providence were different worlds, which they are not. By the way, I admit this is speculative, but I’ll be a lot of those execs are making their money in Providence-based businesses. (what percentage of GTECH, Lifespan, Fidelity, etc execs. live in Providence vs the ‘burbs?) I think it’s quite possible that, at present, Providence’s economic engine is subsidizing E.G. and Barrington. As an aside, you and I may have different perspectives on who wants to live where. Over the last several years, have watched many (professional and management) friends and… Read more »

Thomas
Thomas
13 years ago

Frank says, ” I just can’t buy into the idea that a prospective employer would not come to RI because of our underperforming public education system based on the rationale that they would not do so because there is an unskilled and/or under educated workforce here.” Maybe I can covince you to buy into this idea. How about this? A newly released survey from the Council on Competitiveness and New Economy Strategies asked leading corporate executives to share their views on the changing nature of innovation…… When asked to identify factors that would disqualify a region for new corporate investments, the list sounds pretty similar. A talent shortfall, poor communications infrastructure, *poor K-12 education*, and low quality of life were cited as impediments to outside investment. http://www.publicforuminstitute.org/nde/news/2005/enews-05-11-07.htm Or this: “Education level of labor force. According to the cross-section model. the proportion of high school graduates in a state has a highly significant and large positive effect on small business starts. A one point increase in the proportion of high school graduates in a state is estimated to increase starts by 3.5 percent.” Small Business Start-Ups in the United States: Estimates of the Effects of Characteristics of States Timothy J. Bartik Southern Economic Journal, Vol. 55, No. 4. (Apr., 1989), pp. 1004-1018. That’s just from skimming. As to the idea that it doesn’t matter in RI, even if it matters elsewhere, because RI is so small, *I* just can’t buy a potential start-up or relocating business saying “well, all of the employees in the 250 square miles around my proposed plant are illiterate, but that’s OK because we’ll hire out of CT or MA. All else equal, why not put your plant where your workers are? Regarding corruption, yes, clean it up. Take out the entire Dem. Leadership in the GA… Read more »

John
John
13 years ago

Thomas,
So, what is your diagnosis for the cause of RI’s average private sector compensation level (not sure if this is measured on wages and salary only, or also includes benefits) being so low, after COL adjustments?

Show your support for Anchor Rising with a 25-cent-per-day subscription.