Arnold Kling  

Education Reform

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I have a skeptical essay on the No Child Left Behind Act.

The No Child Left Behind Act reflects outmoded, paternalistic, industrial-age thinking on education. Its real name should be No Educrat Left Behind. What we need instead is bottom-up, consumer-driven reform that is aimed at reviving our capacity to educate ourselves.

For Discussion. What evidence do you see to support or contradict the contention that human capital is depreciating more rapidly now than in the past?

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COMMENTS (10 to date)
Mcwop writes:

Evidence that human capital is depreciating faster, can be found not too far from Montgomery County. In Baltimore City there is in a serious educational funding crisis to the tune of $58 million (grows every day).

The educrats have done everything possible to save themselves at the expense of the students. The goal of the educrats is to avoid job and pay cuts rather than any meaningful reform such as cutting administrative expenses (some of the highest in the state). Even Thornton (plan to divert non-city tax dollars to the city) cannot close the Baltimore deficit. In the meantime the Baltimore schools continue to be some of the worst in the country.

Baltimore Sun Coverage of Baltimore Situation

Boonton writes:

I'm curious as to why Arnold avoided explaining the cause for the problem? Since most of a public school budget comes from local taxes and local elections, what explains this inefficiency?

Federal involvement with local education remains minimal, despite Bush's NCLBA. Why are local communities unable to regulate their on schools? What does this say about Federalism?

Chris writes:

Evidence for: Recent high rates of total factor productivity growth, rewarding basic computational skills over doing things by hand. Those who hold the latter kind of human capital are seeing it depreciate very quickly compared with the relatively slow rates of this happening in the 1970s and 80s.

Evidence against: Historically human capital (manual skills in particular) declined quickly with age after about 40 or so. We don't really see so much of that any more; it's easier for many people to work very productively into the 50s and 60s. Technological progress has made working much less stressful, biologically speaking.

My opinion: It probably depreciates a little less than a half century ago since health has improved so much over the past 100 years for the 40+ set. But it depreciates more than, say, 20 years ago. People who romanticize manufacturing jobs should go out and get one. I find them terribly unpleasant myself. Then again, I like being a contrarian.

Boonton writes:

What exactly does it mean for human capital to 'depreciate'? Take a simple piece of capital, a garbage truck. It's easy to see how it loses value from the day it rolls out of the factory until it is finally sold for scrap.

How does being able to speak multiple languages, conduct logical operations, make business decisions, negotiate etc. 'depreciate'?

Eric Krieg writes:

The No Child Left Behind act is brilliant. It is the best piece of legislation to come out of Washington EVER.

How do I know this? Because I have measured the decibel level of the whine coming out of the educational establishment. It is over 120 dB according to my readings.

The teachers and the school administrators hate this law, and they are lobbying against it like I have never seen.

They fear accountability. That is exactly what NCLB imposes. More importantly, it forces schools to measure progress objectively, something they have never had to do before. Thus, we are now in a better position to judge school quality.

Lawrance George Lux writes:

The depreciation of human capital is a misnomer in real terms. The number of school children educated will begin to decrease soon, while educated people will continue to age--memory loss depleting skills. Does this mean human depreciation? No. The level of training of American and World labor has been increasing for years. This training has improved, both in integration and expansion, over the like period. Has the percentage of those receiving inferior training increased over the period? Doubtful. What is the concern? Some people just cannot accept the fact that a sizable segment of the population will never be able to integrate the same intensity of training as can the more gifted. lgl

Scott Gustafson writes:

From the article – “the depreciation rate of human capital is very high, meaning that old skills quickly lose their value and people need to learn new ones.”

I think this is less about physical depreciation and more about obsolescence.

A lot of skills that were taught in the past are no longer useful. This includes how to operate a slide rule, a typewriter, and any number of older programming languages. Even being able to do research in a library has been supplanted by using the internet.

Rob Sperry writes:

"2) We should test educational processes, not schools. Testing an educational process, such as a new textbook or new teaching method, means running a controlled experiment, along the lines of the way that the Food and Drug Administration requires testing of medications. In a scientific experiment, some students will receive the "treatment" while others will receive a "placebo." The results of these experiments can be made available to parents and to educators to help them make wise choices of educational methods."

This is brilliant! It has always struck me as totaly crazy that we still do education in a pre-scientific way. What is also crazy is that I think this is the first article I have ever seen written that sugests this radical idea.

Is there any movement or wider group calling for this?

Boonton writes:
A lot of skills that were taught in the past are no longer useful. This includes how to operate a slide rule, a typewriter, and any number of older programming languages. Even being able to do research in a library has been supplanted by using the internet.

I disagree. Typewriting was probably one of the most useful things I learned in HS. While I never used a manual typewriter again excellent keyboarding skills have served me well in this computer driven age.

Even the other skills you mentioned did not become useless so quickly. Even when they did, they served as a good foundation for newer, more useful skills. Older programming languages gave way to newer ones but knowledge of them certainly helped. I never used a slide rule myself so I can't speak to it but I imagine it also served its purpose even after it was made 'useless'.

These, though, are minor skills. You don't need 4 years of High School to learn how to use a slide rule or touch type. Learning higher mathematics, English (and its literature), maybe even a foreign language are all skills that have yet to be made 'useless'. I'm also unaware of how they 'depreciate' in any meaningful sense.

If skills or knowledge depreciates we would expect recent graduates to be paid more than old ones. Wouldn't we?

Sandy P writes:

We need to rely more on the slide rule and older ways of doing things.

We're relying too much on tech.

Engineers are not as "smart" as they used to be.

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