Reforming Public Education

This is the first is what is undoubtedly a long series. It attempts to answer the question: how could you reform broken American institutions in a way that doesn’t become reminiscent of Paris in the summer of 1793? For the sake of simplicity, I imagine a capable monarch who is able to see reforms through over the course of decades and change systems incrementally.

National Maritime Museum, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection

If you pay taxes, you are spending roughly as much on government education as you are on the military. It pains me to say it, but we’re getting a better ROI from the DoD (don’t worry, I’ll have plenty to say about them in the future). Why is this? I’ll give you a few reasons, certainly not exhaustive, but a sufficient indictment of the whole system.

  • Teachers cannot teach in a way that they believe is the most effective way for them to educate the students in their classes.
  • There exists an incestuous monetary relationship between teacher’s unions and government officials, paid for with taxes.
  • Schools produce graduates who not only fail to learn academics, and fail to learn useful skills, but are also not socialized to living in America.
  • A university system that reduces math and critical thinking skills of students
  • Professors who are reduced to their ability to suck from the federal grant teat.

We’ve basically got not one, but two broken education systems in this country. K-12 and the university system. How do we fix these, over time, in a meaningful way.

Starting Next Fall

  • Federal Department of Education gives all funding to schools and states in the exact same amounts as the previous year, but with no stipulations on how the money is spent. States and local governments can change as little or as much as they want to from what they do today, but there’s no reason they couldn’t just keep going on like they are. This allows the lowest hanging gains to be found without disrupting anyone’s paycheck (yet)
  • Federal loans will only be available to students to the top 50% of students in their state. Over the course of 10 years, only higher and higher achieving students will qualify for federal loans, until no students qualify. At first, this shouldn’t have a big effect on people’s ability to get loans, but every year it will be just a bit tougher, until they are gone for good.
  • All federal requirements on colleges if they want their students to qualify for student loans are lifted, but only institutions which had students with loans in the previous year can have students with loans in a subsequent year.
  • The total amount of grant money to universities will be frozen at a fixed dollar figure. The free-for-all stops, and inflation starts taking its toll.

Five Years From Now

  • Only the top quarter of students qualify for federal college loans
  • Federal funding to states for K-12 schools starts shifting to an ever-increasing voucher, at 10% of total funds per-year increase. This puts a squeeze on public schools to have to compete more and more every year with private schools. At this point, the states may just start renting out and selling their buildings.
  • Grant money starts to be phased out, with 10% of the initial value lost per year. Professors lose jobs and switch towards being more teaching oriented as a result

Ten Years from Now

  • Half of federal K-12 education money goes to parents in vouchers. At this point, the federal government starts giving that 10% chunk every year as straight cash on a per-child basis to the child’s parents.
  • Federal college loans have been extinguished. Many colleges have closed, and professors laid off, creating a nice pool of highly qualified individuals to teach at the private schools springing up across the country. Smart businesses realize that bright young people without college degrees can do just as well as college graduates and stop treating a BA like the entry pass to white collar work.
  • Federal grant money is an ever-shrinking source of income for colleges and professors who have labs find themselves with more freedom to be more rigorous, reproduce other’s results, and generally do higher quality work without a pressure to justify continued grants.

Fifteen Years from Now

  • All federal education money goes to parents, half in checks, half in vouchers. At this point, the checks keep growing at the expense of vouchers. Public schools at this point should face stiff competition from all sorts of competing factors and either have reformed, closed down, started copying the federal government plan or raised taxes to perpetuate the system. Ultimately, selling the buildings, and copying the federal government will be the most obvious and cost effective way of dealing with the upended landscape. With more and more voters leaving the public school system thanks to the federal vouchers and credits, the desire to maintain a public school system at the state level will begin to evaporate.
  • The federal government has left the university system entirely.

Twenty Years from Now

  • The only relation the federal government has with education is to give parents money for having kids. Begin means-testing on the per-child credit to phase it out within 10 years

Thirty Years from Now

  • The federal government is out of the business of educating students. Even on this scale, its less than two full journeys through the system. By the time someone who enters Kindergarten next fall graduates college, college will be completely separate from the federal government.
  • Someone entering Kindergarten in the fall following the above student graduating college will never see federal funding go to their school without their consent. Before that child is done with grade school, they will have unrestricted choices in their education. By the time they graduate high school, no federal funding will go to education.
  • Considering how long it took to get into the situation we are in today, we should be grateful it won’t take nearly so long to get out of it.

Looking back, how does this new situation solve the problems I identified at the beginning of the article?

  • Teachers are free to teach at schools which grant them flexibility. They can easily form their own schools.
  • The incestuous relationship will be destroyed because a major stream of money will dry up, and it will be in the teacher’s union’s interest to adapt to the new paradigm. The twenty years of voucherized federal dollars will establish competitors to the corrupt system.
  • With college not easily affordable and available, schools will have to prove they are worth attending.
  • The federal teat will dry up and disappear.

I don’t pretend like the kind of political structure necessary to make these things happen exists or is likely to exist. I just want to show that, if those forms did exist, the potential for the transformation of a set of institutions as bad as the US education system is there, without massive disruption at any point in the process.


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