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.
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.