Arnold Kling  

Teacher Pay and Quality

PRINT
Consumer-driven Health Care... Bundling...

Virginia Postrel describes recent research in the issue of teacher pay and teacher quality. One paper is by Sean P. Corcoran and others. Postrel summarizes the results as:


the chances of getting a really smart teacher have gone down substantially. In 1964, more than one out of five young female teachers came from the top 10 percent of their high school classes. By 2000, that number had dropped to just over one in 10.

The average has stayed about the same because schools aren't hiring as many teachers whose scores ranked at the very bottom of their high school classes. Teachers aren't exactly getting worse. They're getting more consistently mediocre.


Another paper, by Carolyn Hoxby and others, looks at whether the loss of high-aptitude women from the teaching profession is due to the "pull" of better opportunities elsewhere or the "push" of unionized wage compression in teaching. According to Postrel,

they find that wage compression explains a huge 80 percent of the change. If women from top colleges still earned a premium as teachers, a lot more would go into teaching.

Postrel concludes

In hiring teachers, we get what we pay for: average quality at average wages.

For Discussion. In the previous post, I pointed out that in health care we "get what we pay for," which is not exactly what we want. Why do so many Americans distrust market-based education and health care, if the result that we "get what we pay for" is contrary to what people want in those fields?


Comments and Sharing





COMMENTS (32 to date)
Sandy P. writes:

If they want to be treated as professionals, then remove tenure.

Let the market decide.

I also seem to recall some interesting pension info from a few years ago. You move before a multiple of 5, you lose out on that portion of the contribution.

Can only move on at 5/10/15 years. Things could have changed, tho.

Dave Sheridan writes:

In education, it's not that Americans don't trust market-based solutions -- we're not allowed to have them. Without meaningful educational choice, government has a virtual monopoly on the provision of primary and secondary education. Salary compression is one product of teachers' union contracts. Sure, some pay differentials are allowed for things other than time served and credential mill certificates, but not enough to attract top talent. Attempts to pay for performance, or for superior raw material, are fought tooth and nail. Districts wanting to pay top teachers more (without paying virtually all teachers more) have a tough time doing so. Since most customers can't exercise meaningful choice, the costs of mediocrity, which a market-based system would impose directly on schools failing to provide value for money, are not borne by education service providers.

This enforced mediocrity also, in my opinion, has stifled technology innovations that could both enhance teacher productivity and produce better student performance. There are few market-oriented motivators for the public education monopoly to experiment and innovate. Even where the motivation exists, a school district will have to contend with the seniority and tenure rules of their teachers' union contracts. Think about the technology revolution in private industry, and try this thought exercise. Go back thirty years, and select one or a few large companies at random. Now imagine that they were constrained to adapt to new technology in the following ways: 1) they could hire new people with the necessary tech skills, but could not lay off any existing workers in the process. 2) all new hires regardless of skill could be paid no more than those in existing entry-level pay grades. 3) existing workers could collectively decide whether any new innovation could be adopted or not. My first thought is that those companies would gradually shrink and die, and they would. See, I didn't impose the constraint that their customers could not change suppliers. Add that one and you have public education.

rvman writes:

We "get what we pay for" in both market and socialist systems. (Or, more precisely, we get less than we pay for in the latter.) People don't want to "get what they pay for". They want to get more than they pay for. Socialism creates the illusion(and for some, the reality) that they can, markets don't. So people support socialism.

Boonton writes:
In education, it's not that Americans don't trust market-based solutions -- we're not allowed to have them. Without meaningful educational choice, government has a virtual monopoly on the provision of primary and secondary education.

It's interesting that monopoly is tossed around so haphazzardly. There is no gov't monopoly on education. There are plenty of private schools as well as private tutors that compete directly against local public schools. People who complain about the lack of choice & market forces seem to forget that one key element of the market is that the consumer is the one giving up their own money for a good or service-not somebody else's money. This is the motivation to find the best value for the dollar.

That being said, has anyone ever looked at the compensation systems private schools use for teachers? Do they pay the good teachers (here defined as those coming from the top 10% of their college class) more than their non-unionized counterparts?

Dave Sheridan writes:

Boonton -- You're right about private schools and their salary structures. (By the way, the availability to some of private schools and home schooling is why I used the term virtual monopoly and not outright monopoly.) Private schools are an effective market based solution. Each has a price, a mandate from its customers to provide the best education that money will buy, and the flexibility to allocate it among salaries, facilities, administration and teaching materials. If product quality isn't there, buyers go elsewhere. Vastly more parents could elect this market solution if they were given vouchers to do so.

Boonton writes:

Dave,

You dodged my questions. Are you saying that private schools tend to have a wider array of compensation for teachers' salaries? In other words, will I find a larger difference between the highest paid and lowest paid teacher in the typical private school than public? The impression of Catholic schools is that their salaries are among the lowest in education.

Other questions:

1. Unlike true market choices, vouchers are quite different in that the person spending them isn't giving up anything. You get a voucher for free so the need to spend it wisely is a lot less than if you were spending your own paycheck. So right off the bat we know the private schools created by going to 100% vouchers will be of lesser quality than the private schools that exist today. Why? Because the private schools today must convince parents to purchase their services out of their own pockets, not the taxpayers.

2. What would prevent private school teachers from unionizing? While unions are less dominate than they used to be they are by no means confined only to the gov't labor market.

3. Do we really have objective evidence that the schools are failing? If so, then why? Unlike services provided by the state or federal gov't, schools are quite decentralized. They are usually run by local gov'ts, or city gov'ts in highly urban areas. Why are voters incapable of demanding good local schools? Maybe the voters already have good local schools but are under the impression that their community is the exception?

Eric Krieg writes:

It's interesting that monopoly is tossed around so haphazzardly. There is no Microsoft monopoly on operating system software. There are plenty of OS's as well as software companies that compete directly against Microsoft. People who complain about the lack of choice & market forces seem to forget that one key element of the market is that the consumer is the one giving up their own money for a good or service-not somebody else's money. This is the motivation to find the best value for the dollar.

Absurd, right?

And Microsoft has a smaller share of the OS market than public schools have over education.

Eric Krieg writes:

>>The impression of Catholic schools is that their salaries are among the lowest in education.

Catholic schools are hardly the only schools providing private education. At the kind of schools that smart guys like John Kerry send their kids to, the teachers are very well compensated.

I don't send my son to my parish school because of how much they pay the teachers. I send him there because I value the discipline and the type of education that he gets there. In all honesty, the public school probably has better test scores, but there is more to education than test scores.

Tuition is $2500 per year, and it will go up about 5% next year. I'd love to get a voucher to cover that cost.

Eric Krieg writes:

>>So right off the bat we know the private schools created by going to 100% vouchers will be of lesser quality than the private schools that exist today.

There is more to the issue than just demand. There is supply as well.

Maybe private school standards are lower than they would be under vouchers, because private schools have overcapacity and can't necessarily turn away "bad" students.

But if there is a voucher, and demand for private schools increases to the point where excess capacity is eliminated, then perhaps standards would rise, because the schools could cherry pick a little bit more.

A voucher is no different than a Pell grant. Do you think that Harvard's standards are lower just because it accepts Pell grants?

Eric Krieg writes:

>>What would prevent private school teachers from unionizing?

Private sector unions are dying. Only 8% of the private sector workforce is unionized. The odds of private school teachers unionizing is very low.

Eric Krieg writes:

>>Do we really have objective evidence that the schools are failing?

Look at the data for the National Educational Assesment Progran (NEAP). Reading scores are flat since 1990, at the same time that education funding has doubled.

Name me any other product or service that has doubled in price since 1990 but has the same quality.

Eric Krieg writes:

Sorry, the acronym is NAEP, National Assesment of Educational Progress

http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/

Boonton writes:

Going after these issues in reverse order:

Look at the data for the National Educational Assesment Progran (NEAP). Reading scores are flat since 1990, at the same time that education funding has doubled.

Ok, what makes this important? Any evidence that the US labor force is suffering from poor reading skills? If reading skills have been flat since 1990 then we should start seeing some effect 14 y ears later as those students enter the labor market? If such effects are undetectable it may be that this metric tells us very little. This is the problem with using non-market measures of 'quality'....even when you are supposedly advocating a market oriented policy.

Boonton writes:
A voucher is no different than a Pell grant. Do you think that Harvard's standards are lower just because it accepts Pell grants?

No but the average quality of colleges probably did fall as Pell Grants became more available. In a free market the person who buys the product pays for it. With vouchers, conservatives often seem to forget that it's the taxpayers who are paying for the product. This is not to say I'm totally against them. I think they would be ideal for nationalized health care but I don't see the case for using them in education accross the board.

don't send my son to my parish school because of how much they pay the teachers. I send him there because I value the discipline and the type of education that he gets there. In all honesty, the public school probably has better test scores, but there is more to education than test scores.

Which goes back to my original question, are we sure that teacher salaries really shouldn't be more 'average' than varried? Some professions have a wide range of salaries. The best paid lawyer makes many, many times more than the average or worst paid lawyer. In contrast, the best Blockbuster clerk probably makes only a little bit more than the average or worst one.

Tuition is $2500 per year, and it will go up about 5% next year. I'd love to get a voucher to cover that cost.

Of course you would love it but why should the taxpayers love severing all control with how their money is spent? Also with Catholic schools I would ask is $2500 per student per year the true cost or the subsidized one? I wonder how much does the Churge use general revenues to keep tuition artifically low? To what degree does donated free labor (either from clergy or volunteers) further permit tuition to be that low? Add in there selection bias since the Catholic school can opt to education the kids with dedicated parents & without major problems.

It doesn't really follow that just because 1% of the kids can be educated on $2500 per year therefore 80% can. Like a hospital where the average bill is $7500, you can find patients whose cost is only $500 as well as ones whose costs are $100K.

Boonton writes:

Alternative Explanation:

The article published in the NY Times is interesting but I wonder if market forces really explain the difference. Why would this be when 40 years ago most schools were public schools as they are today.

Perhaps an alternative explanation would be as follows: Say female teachers were preferred by the public schools 40 years ago. If the schools needed a lot of teachers (and I assume they did to teach the baby boomers), then what would happen if they needed more teachers than female college grads?

A likely result would seem to be that females at the top of their class would command a premium. Not because they were necessarily better teachers but because they were valuable enough to overcome society's bias towards women in professions other than teaching. If a school wanted to fill its classrooms with female teachers, it would have to pay these top grads a premium.

Of course, a tight labor market for teachers also makes unionization all the easier (where will you find scabs to bust the union?).

Eric Krieg writes:

>>Also with Catholic schools I would ask is $2500 per student per year the true cost or the subsidized one? I wonder how much does the Churge use general revenues to keep tuition artifically low?

Yes they do. The parish kicks in 20%. So figure true cost of $3000.

And for point of comparison, I pay $1200 in property taxes for elementary and middle schools, and $800 for the high school.

Eric Krieg writes:

>>Any evidence that the US labor force is suffering from poor reading skills?

Hell yes! At least part of the outsourcing boom is because of the limited skills and education of American workers. Indians aren't just cheaper, they are often better educated, as anyone who has had to take a calculus class with them (and get curved against them) will tell you.

And I haven't even come into contact with Indian Institute of Tehcnology or IIS grads. The ones who come here for undergrad are the "dumb" ones who couldn't get into IIT or IIS.

Funny story: I am in Rotary with the Superintendant of our local high school district. This woman is the CEO of a 5 high school system, responsible for the education of maybe 15,000 kids.

So I was my usual self, rightwinger that I am, complaining about something that was going on at the local high school.

She told me that I needed to get into the schools and find out what was really happening there, because I didn't have any "perspective". She basically told me I was ignorant about schools.

I replied that I would go to her school to get "perspective" if she would take a calculus class down at the Illinois Institute of Technology with a bunch of Indian nationals, so she could get some "perspective" on outsourcing!

Boonton writes:

Not sure you can compare that easily Eric. Your property taxes are probably progressive so you may or may not be paying what your public school costs to teach a kid. You'd have to take the school budget and divide by the # of kids to arrive at that figure.

Boonton writes:

Outsourcing boom? It was either Brad de Long or Marginal Revolution that looked at Insourcing (when foreign based companies outsource work to the US). Both outsourcing and insourcing are growing but the gap between the two is shrinking...meaning that foreigners are hiring American workers faster than US companies are hiring foreign workers.

That would cut down the weight of your evidence that outsourcing is the result of a failing education system.

Scott M. Harris writes:

As someone who was active in getting the first statewide voucher system law passed (Florida), this issue is near to my heart. I’ve discovered that many people who believe in free markets oppose vouchers for one of two reasons. The first is segregation. I don’t mean by race, class, or income, but rather by parental interest and knowledge. Some reasonable people fear that wise parents, parents who take an active interest in their children’s education, will create clusters of excellence: they will move their children to good schools and then actively work to make those good schools even better. Good schools will become better and the rest will be left behind.

The real problem here is not one of segregation but rather one of parents lacking the interest and knowledge to help schools educate their children. Under a voucher system, good schools are likely to become better faster than poor schools. However, trees do not grow to the sky. In the long run, the worst schools will improve faster than the best.

The second objection is a cultural one. Would a voucher system create classes of "bad" American citizens? This issue is an old one. The reason we have public financing of primary and secondary education in most parts of the United States was because the nineteenth century Protestant majority saw public financing as a means of discouraging the emergence of a separate Catholic culture. For most Americans, this is no longer an issue. However, many thoughtful people worry that a voucher system would lead to a proliferation of publicly financed Islamic fundamentalist, white supremacist, and La Raza schools.

A Dutch friend of mine tells me that Holland, a country that has long had publicly financed private education, is struggling with whether to prevent public funds from going to Islamic fundamentalist schools. Much of the Islamic world is going through wrenching transitions from traditional cultures to the emerging world culture. Many are looking to a romantic vision of the past (which never existed). A few are looking ahead to the possibility of a more enlightened future. Most are confused.

The United States is also going through a wrenching cultural transition, the transition from a modern, industrial age culture to a postmodern, information age culture. Some Americans are looking to a romantic vision of the past (which never existed). Some are looking ahead to the possibility of a more enlightened future. Many are confused.

Given our cultural confusion, would a voucher system be a good thing? My guess is that in the short term those who are looking ahead to an enlightened future and those looking backwards to any one of a variety of romantic visions of the past would cluster. Gradually, more and more people would join those looking forward. Vouchers are likely to speed the transition process. Is this a good thing? It is if you believe in a more enlightened future.

Scott M. Harris writes:

I should add that Florida's school choice program is quite limited. The main part applies only to the very worst schools, schools that have received failing test scores for more than one year. Very few students have actually received vouchers. However, the threat of being shut down has forced the worst schools to reform. For more on how this limited school choice system has worked out, read the Manhattan Institute studies on it. You can find them and much other useful material on the Friedman Foundation web site.

The bottom line is vouchers force public schools to become more competitive. Further evidence of this is what happened to public higher education after passage of the GI Bill.

I look forward to the time when it is politically possible for a great compromise: (1) state financing of vouchers and (2) continued local control of public schools. This compromise introduces market discipline and more equitable financing of education while maintaining local control over public schools.

Boonton writes:
I look forward to the time when it is politically possible for a great compromise: (1) state financing of vouchers and (2) continued local control of public schools. This compromise introduces market discipline and more equitable financing of education while maintaining local control over public schools.

Compromise? This is the current status quo unless what you mean by state financing is that the State pay for the vouchers as opposed to local property taxes? In that case what do you mean by local control? Would the local mayor or town council have some type of veto power over how vouchers are used?

Boonton writes:
The United States is also going through a wrenching cultural transition, the transition from a modern, industrial age culture to a postmodern, information age culture. Some Americans are looking to a romantic vision of the past (which never existed). Some are looking ahead to the possibility of a more enlightened future. Many are confused.

My uneasiness about vouchers is how radical the 'solution' is to a problem that is not clearly a problem.

1. The fact that most schools are locally controlled by elected school boards serves two interests well. The first is conservatism with a small 'c'. Education fads cannot easily sweep the entire system. Whether it be creationism, 'new math', phonics, whole-language etc. the idea has to win converts one by one. This means the fad has to have a lot of staying power if it is going to really sweep the entire system. The second is experimentation. Since there are so many systems different ideas can be tried out in communities that are comfortable with them. Hence, 'Heather has two Mommies' may be tried in the most liberal of NYC communities but not conservative ones (in reality, even the NYC system rejected 'Heather has two Mommies' but you won't hear right-wing critics mention that).

2. The fact that public schools appear to have worked for nearly 100 years. There's little solid evidence, IMO, that the US is suffering from too many poorly educated adults. Much of the evidence is not based on objective criteria but tests designed by the education system. IMO, these are like the 'beauty clinicians' who work in the cosmetic sections of department stores. Of course, they 'discover' that most people are somehow lacking needed beauty products. Is this really so different than many standardized tests showing the US is 'behind' Germany, France, Japan etc.?

3. The fact that most of the failing schools are in failing communities. Communities where crime is high, dysfunctional families, dysfunctional public services....even things like trash collection. If the whole community is broken, is it the public school systems fault if the kids from that community score the lowest?

4. The failure of voucher advocates to explain why local gov't is unable to provide good education. From the Conservative philosophy, you would think they would love public schools. Public schools are mostly run locally and state and Federal involvement is minimal (I believe the bulk of Fed. involvement is providing funding for special education). Conservatives have maintained that gov't works best when it is as close to the people as possible. Hence local gov't is to be preferred to state gov't, and both are better than Federal gov't. Vouchers, ironically, are a step in the opposite direction. To really work they would remove local gov't and put education in the hands entirely of the state gov't or even Federal.

There are more but I think this will do for now.

Stupid American writes:
Hell yes! At least part of the outsourcing boom is because of the limited skills and education of American workers. Indians aren't just cheaper, they are often better educated, as anyone who has had to take a calculus class with them (and get curved against them) will tell you.

And I haven't even come into contact with Indian Institute of Tehcnology or IIS grads. The ones who come here for undergrad are the "dumb" ones who couldn't get into IIT or IIS.

Funny story: I am in Rotary with the Superintendant of our local high school district. This woman is the CEO of a 5 high school system, responsible for the education of maybe 15,000 kids.

So I was my usual self, rightwinger that I am, complaining about something that was going on at the local high school.

She told me that I needed to get into the schools and find out what was really happening there, because I didn't have any "perspective". She basically told me I was ignorant about schools.

I replied that I would go to her school to get "perspective" if she would take a calculus class down at the Illinois Institute of Technology with a bunch of Indian nationals, so she could get some "perspective" on outsourcing!


The United States has produced ten Fields Medal winners(more than any other country), whereas India has produced zero.
Scott M. Harris writes:

Boonton -

States would give vouchers to the parents of all students in the state. Parents would be free to use the vouchers to send their children to either privately or publicly managed schools. Local school boards would inherit existing public school properties, buildings, management, and staff. They would be free to manage them as they see fit. They could continue to hire their own managers. Alternatively, they could hire a private company to manage their schools. They would be free to sell off surplus facilities to private schools, other state agencies, etc. They would even be free to sell off all of their facilities to private schools and disband.

Scott M. Harris writes:

Boonton

1. A voucher system would increase, not decrease experimentation and local control. You assume that state governments would control schools that receive vouchers. I assume that parents would control schools that receive vouchers the same way that customers control what the local Wal-Mart sells.

2. I agree that the public school system is exceedingly conservative. As former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has pointed out on many occasions, it has a school year and school day that fit a farm economy. As Bard College President Leon Botstein has observed, our public secondary school system was not designed for adolescents. For over a century the onset of puberty has dropped six months per decade. A century ago, high school seniors were like today's high school freshmen. Botstein claims the current system does little more than warehouse kids the last two years of high school. He asks why we don't run our primary and secondary schools eight hours a day, ten months a year and graduate kids from high school two years earlier? Today the only parents with that much control are those who teach their children at home.

Our public education system has barely managed to move from the agricultural age to the industrial age. We need an education system suitable for the information age. In the information age, producing efficiently is no longer enough. To survive, companies must produce ever more efficiently. Employees must not only produce “product” but also production technology. As someone who once designed production systems for a living, I can tell you that any company organized to produce ever more efficiently can usefully employ far better educated workers than those that our public education system currently delivers.

The current disconnect between "outsourcing good jobs" and failing public education comes from an industrial age mindset that hasn't grasped the difference between trained workers and educated workers. Industrial age production organization requires people who know how to act efficiently. Information age production organization rquires people who know how to produce ever more efficiently. They know how to produce wisely.

3. By information age standards, public school systems are failing in most communities.

4. If the right direction is toward greater decentralization of decision-making, vouchers are a step in the right direction. Again you presume that control resides with the government agency that issues the vouchers and not with the parents who decide where to send their children.

If by “conservative” you mean someone who wants to maintain the status quo, the most “conservative” people are teachers unions, the politicians that they support, and suburban parents who believe that their children’s schools are doing a good job. From this perspective, the problem with current voucher programs, as limited as they are, is that they are very popular with those who have seen how they work. In Milwaukee, which has a long running program for children of low income families, there is political pressure to expand the program to middle class families within the city and to expand it to low income families throughout the state. The unions are scared to death that somewhere a full blown voucher system will get established and the current system will collapse as rapidly as the Soviet Union. I guess that that makes Brezhnev, Andropov, et al, conservatives. Come to think of it, they were. And they had good reason to be.

One of the most enlightening statistics associated with this debate is the fact that teachers in big city school districts are twice as likely to send their children to private schools as their neighbors. Another enlightening statistic is number of Congress members who don’t support a DC voucher program and who sent their children to public schools. Care to guess?

Eric Krieg writes:

>>The United States has produced ten Fields Medal winners(more than any other country), whereas India has produced zero.

"Produced" is the operative word. It is in the past tense. There are just too many highly educated Indians, trained as engineers, scientists, doctors, and programmers for it to be otherwise.

You can make snippy little comments all you want, but like I said, until you take a calculus class with a bunch of Indians, you don't know what you're talking about.

John writes:

The Fields Medal winners are a distraction. American college and post grad education are by far the best in the world. And universities are heavily private at the top. Moreover, the force of unions is weak. (To take one example, the Ivies routinely flout the AAUP rules on tenure by awarding non tenured Associate Professorships after 7 years). And universities do a good job of absorbing the excellent students who have gotten decent secondary education elsewhere.

I love the US university system, but I would love to send my children to high school abroad if I could only stand their living away from me.

I daresay if Catholic and private schools were not included in the mix, that most university profs would prefer their children educated in many foreign public schools. Especially if they could not make it into the few exclusive suburban pub schools that do so well.

Boonton writes:
1. A voucher system would increase, not decrease experimentation and local control. You assume that state governments would control schools that receive vouchers. I assume that parents would control schools that receive vouchers the same way that customers control what the local Wal-Mart sells.

"local control" means the local community. Clearly vouchers would not be run by the local gov't, they would be run by the state or federal gov't. By these standards Social Security is a 'local' program because individual retirees decide how to spend their SSI checks.

2. I agree that the public school system is exceedingly conservative. As former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has pointed out on many occasions, it has a school year and school day that fit a farm economy.

You confuse conservative with 'old'. At the moment, local communities are free to change their school year. Even places that didn't have a farm economy for centuries like NYC keep the summer vacation. Perhaps what was once justified by a farm economy is now justified for other reasons that is reflected in the choices made by these local communities.

Our public education system has barely managed to move from the agricultural age to the industrial age. We need an education system suitable for the information age. In the information age, producing efficiently is no longer enough. To survive, companies must produce ever more efficiently.

Ahhh yes, the new age has arrived. What was it? Sep. 15th 2002 when we transitioned from 'producing efficiently' to 'producing ever more efficiently'....

Boonton writes:
The current disconnect between "outsourcing good jobs" and failing public education comes from an industrial age mindset that hasn't grasped the difference between trained workers and educated workers. Industrial age production organization requires people who know how to act efficiently. Information age production organization rquires people who know how to produce ever more efficiently. They know how to produce wisely.

3. By information age standards, public school systems are failing in most communities.

This nicely illustrates the lack of education among so many of our education reformers. Is the author aware of 'insourcing'? That is when a foreign country like France or Germany 'outsources' their jobs to the US. 'Insourcing' has been growing faster than outsourcing has in the US. How can this be if the US's workforce is suffering from an outdated 'industrial age' education? There's a lot of new age words in Scott's post but very few real facts. What exactly is 'info age production'? What skills are needed for this new production? What portion of the workforce are 'info age producers' and so on.

If by “conservative” you mean someone who wants to maintain the status quo, the most “conservative” people are teachers unions, the politicians that they support, and suburban parents who believe that their children’s schools are doing a good job. From

That is not what I mean by conservative. What I mean by conservative is that the more radical a proposed change, the greater the demands that must be made to justify it and to safeguard against unintended consquences. Simply telling us that we must scrap a system that appears to have worked for over 100 years needs a bit more than 'its a new age now'. The world changed more between 1930 and 1950 than it did between 1970 and 1990.

One of the most enlightening statistics associated with this debate is the fact that teachers in big city school districts are twice as likely to send their children to private schools as their neighbors. Another enlightening statistic is number of Congress members who don’t support a DC voucher program and who sent their children to public schools. Care to guess?

So what? Congressmen have always sent their kids to exclusive schools. That some major cities like DC have bad public school systems tells us little about public schools in the US. Only a small portion of the US population lives in urban cities and not all cities have bad schools. DC's city gov't has a reputation for being pretty bad in every area from police protection to snow plowing. This says a lot about DC's gov't but little about the entire nation.

Scott M. Harris writes:
"local control" means the local community.

Control by parents is more decentralized ("local") than control by the local community. The whole point of a voucher system is to give parents control of their children's education.

By these standards Social Security is a 'local' program because individual retirees decide how to spend their SSI checks.

You make my point. If we financed education like we do the Social Security system, the federal government would send parents with school age children a check rather than a voucher. A voucher system is more like the food stamp program than it is like the Social Security program.

If we financed Social Security like we currently finance primary and secondary school education, retired people would live in government run retirement homes. Those who could afford food would have to buy their food from government run cafeterias located in their retirement homes. Those who could not afford to buy food would be provided food by the same cafeterias. The government would also be responsible for running the bingo games, shuffleboard matches, and, for those with a note from their children, golf tournaments.

You confuse conservative with 'old'. At the moment, local communities are free to change their school year.

Most states set the length of the school year. In 1992, the only exceptions were Colorado, Nebraska, and Oregon. By 1998, this list had expanded to include Delaware and Minnesota. I very much doubt that another twenty switched between 1998 and today.

Even places that didn't have a farm economy for centuries like NYC keep the summer vacation.

#1 The area covered by NYC, including most of Manhattan, was largely agricultural 150 years ago. #2. Until very recently, the unions and their political allies effectively controlled NYC school boards. The chance of increasing the length of the school year was nil when the unions controlled the school boards. I suspect that the only way that Mayor Bloomberg could is by breaking the unions.

This nicely illustrates the lack of education among so many of our education reformers. Is the author aware of 'insourcing'?

Sometime during the course of my clearly inadequate formal education I learned the meaning of 'non sequitur.'

There's a lot of new age words in Scott's post but very few real facts. What exactly is 'info age production'? What skills are needed for this new production? What portion of the workforce are 'info age producers' and so on.

I suggest you read the preface and first chapter of my book, Wealth in the Information Age, The Economics of Practical Wisdom, which is available on The Recursionist Fund web site. (Click on my name.) Note the distinction between the industrial age (MRP production system / marginalist) economic order quantity (EOQ) model and the information age (Toyota production system / recursionist) rapid tool setting model in the first chapter. If you still don’t understand the importance of distinguishing between marginalist excellence (efficiency) and managerial excellence (efficiency and effectiveness), I suggest you read the appendix on the Toyota production system.

That is not what I mean by conservative. What I mean by conservative is that the more radical a proposed change, the greater the demands that must be made to justify it and to safeguard against unintended consquences.

Your definition of ‘conservative’ sounds to me like someone who wants to maintain the status quo, which is how I defined it.

Simply telling us that we must scrap a system that appears to have worked for over 100 years needs a bit more than 'its a new age now'.

Your use of “appears to have worked” is telling. To whom does it appear to work? By what criteria do these people judge it to have worked? More to the point, is it working as well as it ought to?

From what you say about change (see below), I suspect that you subscribe to the modern belief that normative ("ought") statements can never be valid. If you have thought about normative statements at all, I suspect that you do not understand that normative statements that tell us to follow our natures (teleonomic programming) are positive as well as normative in that it is our nature (teleonomic programming) to follow our natures (teleonomic programming). We are programmed to seek to live good lives. In short, we owe it to ourselves (ought) to live good lives. Our greatest challenge is to discover how best to do so.

Like Albert Schweitzer, I believe that all that is ethical (good) goes back to a single principle of morality, namely the maintenance of life at its highest level, and the furtherance of life. Further, I believe that useful knowledge is the only inexhaustible resource: using knowledge does not deplete it. The surest and most just path to a good life involves substituting knowledge for non-knowledge resources whenever and wherever we can.

Like Aristotle, I believe that the only personal quality that should not be subject to moderation is curiosity. We can never have enough knowledge useful in living good lives.

If you believe that this is ‘new age’ then I understand completely why you believe our educational system is adequate.

The world changed more between 1930 and 1950 than it did between 1970 and 1990.

To someone who believes in progress toward a good life for all, it is very hard to miss that you said ‘change’ rather than ‘progress.’ I’m sure that had Kennedy and Khrushchev plunged us into thermonuclear war in 1963, the world would have changed more in two months than in any two decade period in human history.

I’d like to know your metric or metrics for judging "change." Death by war, famine, and plague? Changes in political boundaries? The so-called misery index of unemployment and inflation, both of which are crude measures of the turbulent flow of economic resources?

To be fair, I’ll suggest three metrics for measuring progress toward a good life for all: (1) the change in expected human life span at birth, (2) the number of hours it takes the average worker to earn enough to buy the necessities of life, and (3) the number of species that became extinct divided by the total number of species. By these measures, I suspect that we progressed more during the seventies and eighties than during the thirties and forties. (As a liberal progressive, someone who is liberal in means and progressive in ends, I value the defeat of totalitarian communism as much as the defeat of fascism.)

Scott M. Harris writes:

PS My statement about farming in what is now NYC was based on the dislocation of 1600 Irish pig farmers and German gardners to establish what is now Central Park (1853). There is no doubt that the vast majority of Manhattan island was agricultural when the first John Jacob Astor started to speculate in Manhattan farm land (1810). That was less than two hundred years ago.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top