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Saturday, October 2, 2010

The vicious cycle in public education

Whenever the Left sees a problem they see a responsibility for government to solve the problem or take over the service. And when they do this, they kill choice and frequently they kill the chances for the private sector and the public themselves to solve their own problems. The Left never recognizes the unintended consequences of their involvement and usually claims that only more intervention will fix the problems caused by their earlier interventions.

Long ago, the US established a system where local communities provided (K-12) education. And then the states stepped in and started messing with the structure and finally the federal government stepped in to “help”. Politicians had the best of intentions but their dominance stifled competition and resulted in fewer choices, higher costs and poorer education for our young.

We have always had private schools providing K-12 education as well. But if your kids went to a private school you paid for it in addition to paying your taxes rather than getting a “free” education” for your kids at the local public school. But it is incredibly tough to compete against the big, bad and free public education system (and especially the powerful unions) so only the really dedicated have tried to compete and many times these choices are driven by parents aspiration for a religious element in their kid’s traditional education.

Recently we have seen an increase in home-schooling, where parents take it on themselves to provide a better education for their kids because they are so disappointed in their other few options. But what you haven’t seen much of (other than via charter schools) is real innovation in our education universe. Our classrooms are functioning very much the way they did 50 years ago with the major exception that many parents have not taught their children their ABCs or how to count by the time their children show up for the first day at school.

And when we overlay the impact of teachers unions over the last several decades, public schools have gotten ever more expensive and virtually incapable of adapting. If there were more private sector alternatives (especially funded via a voucher system) then the expensive poor-performing schools would shut down and get replaced over time by the more productive and mostly private schools. Teachers’ unions would not have such monopoly power in negotiating their contracts.

But here is the vicious cyle. The worse the performance of our public institutions the more State and Federal politicians want to take control, the more they want to spend and the less they actually innovate. We need strong private competition to get more done with less. If the teachers’ unions can make it in the private sector fine but I doubt it.

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