Arnold Kling  

Teacher, teach thyself economics

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Columbia University Teachers College Professor Amy Stuart Wells writes,


policymakers should amend state laws to better support the high-achieving charter schools and close the rest. And I hope they will also remember the hard lesson learned from this reform: that free markets in education, like free markets generally, do not serve poor children well.

The economic argument for private schools, including charter schools, is that consumers will be able to close down those that fail. The test of the charter school system is not whether it produces bad schools, but whether the bad ones get winnowed out by the market.

It will be a great day when someone from a teacher's college writes an op-ed saying that government should support the high-achieving public schools and close down the rest, and when it is recognized that government schools generally do not serve poor children well.

For Discussion. Do bad charter schools tend to be shut down more frequently than bad public schools?


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COMMENTS (25 to date)
Boonton writes:

You may be better off reading the entire article. The author is not nearly as partisan as Arnold suggests:

I have seen some excellent charter schools, with well-trained educators and solid curriculums. They tend to be in more middle-class communities, where private resources augment the low level of public funding that charter schools receive. I have also seen charter schools run by people who collect the public funding while providing minimal services for low-income students who have few other options. And I have seen a lot of the charter schools that fall somewhere in between -- not stellar, not awful, but no better than the public schools nearby.

Free markets do not make 'the best' results. Free markets optimize the values of the participants inside of them. If the participants value savings the market will respond by reducing costs; including such things as hiring younger, less experienced teachers at lower pay and accepting higher turnover instead of paying a premium for teachers with a lot of experience.

The best example I can think of is fast food. Years ago 'fast food' was good. Even 'greasy spoon' places were good in their own right (BTW, for those in NJ there's a place called Dickie Dees in Newark that still makes Italian hot dog sandwiches). Now fast food is easier to find but its quality is probably worse. But so what? The market wanted food really fast even if quality had to take a hit and McDonalds, B'King etc. responded.

Is it obvious that a grade school education market will really focus on test scores and quality education? Or will it focus on easy A's, 'teaching to the test' and giving parents refunds by keeping costs below their vouchers?

BTW, the author is right to question charter schools in low income areas. A while ago a DC news reporter uncovered the dubious record of a Principal of a 'charter school' and the police had to arrest the principal for assault when she & her 'school guards' attacked the reporter.

Mr. Econotarian writes:

The problem is that charter schools are simply contractual extensions of a socialist monopoly price-set (at $0) school system.

Free market schools would mean that the truly interested consumers (generally parents) are paying for and making choices of a number of schools.

The biggest challenge schools face is the peer effects of students. Too many unmotivated students drag down motivated ones. Enough motivated ones will drag up the unmotivated ones. Schools will tend towards the average student motivation.

Unfortunately, schools whose parents, and thus children, do not expect high returns from the education will have fewer motivated students. Often these are poor schools.

There is no easy solution to this problem, except enhancing the motivation of all students.

I personally believe that if parents pay their own hard-earned cash for schooling, that they will find mechanisms to "enhance" their children's motivation.

Stephen Richards writes:

It is not clear that there will every be a true market in schools - How many schools are within 3 miles (easy kid bicycle range) or 10 miles?
Do they all have the capacity to take everyone kid in town, such that everyone could choose the best school one year and all get in, are there not penalties to be paid in consistant education when moving between schools such that it is inadvisable to switch every year. The price of housing is already strongly affected by school district.

I find it hard to see a market where it is very hard to just walk away from a school. To answer the question - very few schools of any kind are shut down - and population dynamics are the main reason.

Mark Horn writes:

Quoting Boonton:

Free markets do not make 'the best' results. Free markets optimize the values of the participants inside of them.

But optimizing the values of the participants inside of the market is exactly the definition of what 'the best' is.

In your example of fast food, you're applying your values in assessing what is "good". But McDonald's, Burger King, etc, are what most people want when they dine away from home: cheap, fast, predictable. If that's not what you want, you're not precluded from getting what you want. You just have to pay more for having wants that are more particular than most.

My definition of 'the best' is that most people get what they want. Any other definition of 'the best' would have to apply the values of a few people to all. In other words, a few people get what they want while most don't. Which is exactly what we see in public education.

Is it obvious that a grade school education market will really focus on test scores and quality education? Or will it focus on easy A's, 'teaching to the test' and giving parents refunds by keeping costs below their vouchers?
A couple of comments:
  • That doesn't seem functionally different than what we have now where students are graduated without regard to their actual performance. This may very well be the worst case scenario for grade school education markets, but it's the best case scenario for government funded education. The only places where public schools are thriving and providing excellent education are in the communities where private money boosts the performance expectations of the schools. In other words, good schools are produced through private money.
  • If markets were applied to schools, I doubt very seriously that "testing" as it currently exists would be the standard by which success is determined. Success would be determined by placement into a good college. Good colleges would be determined by the earning level of their graduates.
  • Food is more vital than education. Private money, ownership and markets are the mechanisms by which the vast majority of people in this country are fed. Why should we not allow the mechanisms that provide food to everyone (including the poor) to provide education to everyone (including the poor)?

    McDonald's, Burger King, et al, while maybe not meeting your expectations haven't started feeding people horse manure. If people really want meaningless A's and 'teaching to the test' then that's what they'll get. If people don't want that (and I suspect that they don't) then that's not what will be provided. A school that doesn't provide its customers what they want will lose customers to the school that meets customer expectations.

    Dewey Munson writes:

    Following these econ blogs to learn Economics is getting discouraging. Foe instance the following:

    Success would be determined by placement into a good college.

    My earlier research into BLS stats indicated that prox 40% of jobs were blue collar hourly.

    I would think that more formally educated eonomists would promote the structure of education to match the requirements of an economy. To make college entrance a goal of education without provision for filling the other requirements of an economy is short-sighted.

    Imagine an economy of CEO's!

    The market would give 1 mil to the mechanic who could get the CEO's car out of the driveway.

    Contemplate this:
    There is a value to the economy in the performance of a necessary job. It seems to me that a significant task of an Economist is to somehow elevate a job's importance separate from the fact that it can be performed by many people.

    Now....

    Good colleges would be determined by the earning level of their graduates.

    Not worthy of an Economist.

    It would take a generation to judge this year's education and even then some of the "Yalies" would pull out tattered handkerchiefs.

    And so. Economists above all should recognize the almost infinite needs of an economy and as such should be at the forefront of designing education curricula to match the economy's needs.

    Guess what? A competent auto mechanic well-versed in his/her trade might be valedictorian!

    Boonton writes:
    That doesn't seem functionally different than what we have now where students are graduated without regard to their actual performance. This may very well be the worst case scenario for grade school education markets, but it's the best case scenario for government funded education. The only places where public schools are thriving and providing excellent education are in the communities where private money boosts the performance expectations of the schools. In other words, good schools are produced through private money.

    I think you're missing a few issues.

    1. In a 'market' the participants have to back up what they say their values are by putting their money where their mouth is. In the example of food, many people will tell you fast food is junk but given the choice between spending $7 for dinner or $17 they will opt for the former enough to make McDonalds profitable.

    1. a. In the case of the typical reform being advocated, the people spending the money will not be the people whose money is being spent. It is often overlooked that the person who pays for education is the taxpayer which is not the same thing as the parent. Parents should have nearly unlimited freedom to spend their own money on education but the taxpayers deserve some say.

    If markets were applied to schools, I doubt very seriously that "testing" as it currently exists would be the standard by which success is determined. Success would be determined by placement into a good college. Good colleges would be determined by the earning level of their graduates.

    Yet as we move away from the public grade schools and get closer and closer to college we see just the opposite. Remember that colleges are more of a market than even voucher advocates advocate. The US is moving more and more towards a model where the student/parents not only choose the college but pay for it with their own money via student loans.

    What is happening in this market? Colleges demand the SAT/ACT test as an 'objective' and easy to manage indicator of student quality. High Schools adjust to teach towards this model with private tutors/schools focusing almost exclusively on the test. We've all heard stories of grade inflation in colleges (after all, the student is paying them $20K a year! Who are they to give him a C- and not the B he needs to get his employer to give him tuition reimbursement!)


    "That doesn't seem functionally different than what we have now where students are graduated without regard to their actual performance. This may very well be the worst case scenario for grade school education markets, but it's the best case scenario for government funded education. The only places where public schools are thriving and providing excellent education are in the communities where private money boosts the performance expectations of the schools. In other words, good schools are produced through private money."

    I don't think this is the case. 'Good schools' seem attached to good communities. There are plenty of lower middle class, rural and other communities where private schools are not enough to pose a serious threat to the public school system in terms of competition. Yet many of the examples of 'bad schools' are in urban settings where public transportation & high population density means that the public schools should feel more, not less, competition with private schools.

    Here is where you should drop your theory a little and read what the author had to say. She observed that charter schools in many dysfunctional communities did poorly. Why should that be shocking? If you have a community suffering from high crime, high elements of dysfunction (poverty, drugs, unemployment etc.) then why would you expect the schools to be great?

    Since I mentioned food in this discussion, I do not live in a bad community but I've seen more than my share of the 'bad parts' of Paterson NJ and Newark. You know what? The food there is pretty bad for the most part as well as the schools. Compare any supermarket there (when you can find them) to a Shop Rite in a 'better community'. The problem isn't that the gov't runs the supermarkets in those towns.

    Jim Glass writes:

    "It will be a great day when someone from a teacher's college writes an op-ed saying that government should support the high-achieving public schools and close down the rest".

    Amen.

    Michael writes:

    I can't sit on the sidelines and allow this to continue ...

    1. In a 'market' the participants have to back up what they say their values are by putting their money where their mouth is. In the example of food, many people will tell you fast food is junk but given the choice between spending $7 for dinner or $17 they will opt for the former enough to make McDonalds profitable.

    Come on now. In a 'market' as you say, people aren't faced with just two choices - that's precisely the beauty of markets. You make it sound like people are FORCED to go to McDonalds and as a result the 'market' is forcing people to line Ray Kroc's pockets.

    . a. In the case of the typical reform being advocated, the people spending the money will not be the people whose money is being spent. It is often overlooked that the person who pays for education is the taxpayer which is not the same thing as the parent. Parents should have nearly unlimited freedom to spend their own money on education but the taxpayers deserve some say.

    I don't think this is an overlooked fact at all - in fact it's one of the most widely understood things that goes on in the U.S. Many school district residents (e.g. NYS) have taxpayers VOTE on budgets. People are acutely aware of how school taxes affect their pocketbooks and this is not just evidenced by voting behavior, but certainly by Tiebout behavior and by efforts to "exempt" various demographic groups from paying school taxes at all (e.g. NY's STAR program).

    And yes, parents should have unlimited freedom to spend their own money on education - and this should include the thousands of dollars being lost in the public school system that they currently derive little benefit from.

    Yet as we move away from the public grade schools and get closer and closer to college we see just the opposite. Remember that colleges are more of a market than even voucher advocates advocate. The US is moving more and more towards a model where the student/parents not only choose the college but pay for it with their own money via student loans.

    Sir, you seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of how the higher education system works in the U.S. I don't believe a real market is one where state governments spend over $130 billion each year of taxpayer money and where the federal government spends another $130 billion in taxpayer money to subsidize an enterprise. The more that colleges try to behave like market-oriented firms, the louder the cries for government money are and the greater the uproar at the commercialization and commodification of higher education. Even if you are a full-pay student at an expensive public college (say, University of Vermont for example whose tuition is nearly $10,000 per year), that $10,000 is well below the cost of educating a student at UVM. Furthermore, to the extent that mobility of college graduates has increased and the private returns to college (relative to HS graduates) have remained high AND given the general belief that the public benefits to higher education investments are substantially lower than the public benefits to investments are the elementary and secondary levels, why shouldn't families cover the cost of a college education?

    Now, onto a more interesting point you make - SAT scores and grade inflation.

    1. For all of the lamentations about how bad the SAT is, do you know what the #1 predictor of college success is, even after controlling for all sorts of student background and environmental characteristics? That's right, it's the SAT(ACT) score, followed closely by a student's rank in class. The latter of which really is independent of grade inflation at any level, isn't it.

    Now, with grade inflation in college, you might have an argument that grade inflation is a concern because of the increasing popularity of state merit scholarship awards, but I think the causes of grade inflation in the academy over the past 30 years are only indirectly related to the tuition that students pay (I have yet to uncover any conditional relationship in the data I have access to). At many schools, you will find grade inflation as a lagging indicator of falling departmental or college enrollments ... and deflation as a leading indicator of increasing enrollments. Just take a look at the average GPA at any college in your area in the humanities versus the hard sciences (including economics).


    BTW, the author is right to question charter schools in low income areas. A while ago a DC news reporter uncovered the dubious record of a Principal of a 'charter school' and the police had to arrest the principal for assault when she & her 'school guards' attacked the reporter.

    I don't think anyone here is arguing that there are some dubious charter schools out there - in fact I think many are happy that they do exist, that they are uncovered and that they are closed down - precisely the kind of creative destruction that will lead us to a better long run outcome. And, it doesn't make any sense for you to highlight ridiculous behavior of folks at charter schools - I grew up in NYC and I could tell a story on a daily basis about how awful our schools were then (and I'm sure worse now), but I don't think that it adds to this discussion.

    NOW, finally to Arnold's question, (why do we all choose to ignore them?) - I have not uncovered any formal literature on charter school closings, but I do have a fairly extensive amount of work on my desk from folks that analyze charter school openings and various educational outcomes from them. Take a look at some of the work by Caroline Hoxby (Harvard), Thomas Dee (Swarthmore) and Eric Bettinger (CWRU) to get started if you are interested in this area.

    Happy New Year!

    John Thacker writes:

    Boonton-- Fast food is worse now? I'll see your NJ greasy spoon from the past and raise you fast food sushi, teriyaki, Lebanese food, Indian food, Vietnamese, Chinese, and everything else that is available at fast food speeds in Durham, NC that wasn't before.

    I'm also willing to stack even the burger joints' salads against the health offerings of your NJ diners.

    You don't really convince me by using an example which I couldn't disagree with more.

    John Thacker writes:

    Furthermore, Booton, even in the inner city preparing your own food is a lot cheaper than fast food-- what it primarily takes is time.

    All the fast food options I named before have plenty of meals less than $7, too.

    David Bennett writes:


    This is a vast issue, I suspect public, private and charter distort the nature of the debate. A few thoughts.

    - Though I rarely encounter a teacher who doesn't complain about the adminstration of their school, I have never heard of a teachers union organizing in the community, winning an election and dramatically reorganizing the schools. Winning the election isn't the problem, they don't think outside of the status quo.

    Do private and charter schools? I think for the most part not significantly.


    - One goal is to save money. So create standards and independant tests. Smart students can be out of highschool with todays standards by 14. We can even pay them. The tests can be far more extensive than what we have today because after passing basic computer entered questions we can afford to buy several dozen hours of interviews and paper reading at $50 an hour. Use college students for the secondary stage and we can have weeks long interactive process where kids really go through the material they are supposed to know.

    Use less extensive tests to gauge progress and let the kids stay out of schools if they make them. Again a portion of the saved money to kids and parents.

    - Use apprenticeship. Create the vocational courses, get them in relevant industries part time at 14 or 15. Some income and real work will keep some kids in the system.


    Schools as they now exist are misery for many. They are designed to produce workers for a factory system. Sit in rows, be silent, accomplish tasks the way you are told. The lack of creativity and real problem solving embodied in this is seen in the fact that teachers can't organize, win elections (and they would win most elections, veryone dislikes "bureaucrats") and build their own.

    So build a system which gets many people out of the existing system, if there is a need for socialization require that a high school degree include 3 or 400 hours of volunteer work with evaluations. The "perr to peer" association currently offered isn't pleasant for many (witness all those who identified with Columbine murderers) and we all know the skills that make people big shots in high school must often be unlearned for effective work in the world.

    superdestroyer writes:

    I am surpirsed to not read from any of the previous posts about non-monetary barriers to private eduation or even charters. Imagine if all parents are given vouchers for private schools or access to charters. Immediately the demand for established prep schools with good reputations or established high performing charters spikes. However, the supply does not go up at all (just like Harvard or UMich does not add seats even though the number of high graduates that apply to Harvard keeps going up).

    All solutions I read on conserviatives on schools do nothing but increase demand for established schools while not increasing supply of established schools with good reputations.

    The only thing the market can provide are seat in unproven schools with no reputation.

    Michael writes:

    Mr. Superdestroyer,

    The empirical literature on school choice says a LOT about the supply response to various plicy changes - take a look at any number of the computable general equilibrium models in papers by Maria Ferreyra (Carnegie Mellon), Epple, Sieg and Romano (also at CM) and Tom Nechyba (Duke). The supply responses they find are a lot more nuanced that you make them out to be.

    In almost all cases they are finding that a universal voucher program (for example)would certainly increase the demand for seats at top suburban schools (as you correctly point out). However, you are ignoring the general equilibrium effects of all of these programs including residential choice and movements back into cities and nearby suburbs. In most cases, a poorly performing school would lose many of its students who (with their families) will take their vouchers and head to the 'burbs. However, there are a good number of people that would move back into the cities because the cost of real estate would fall relative to the suburbs and have a positive effect on quality and enrollments. I can't do the analysis justice in this short paragraph, but I urge you to study these papers.


    The only thing the market can provide are seat in unproven schools with no reputation.

    I do not understand what you mean by this. Schools not shackled by government controls and entrenched teacher unions would be able to hire good teachers, use merit pay, hire and fire staff and faculty, etc. And, "the market" does not provide anything. Perhaps the government provides things and it leads people to incorrectly think that markets provide things. "The market" is a mechanism, it is not an agent.


    David, interesting ideas! I love thinking outside the box. I casually recommended some similar ideas to our local district here and they nearly ran me out of town! My opinion of why the opposition to these sorts of ideas is that encouraging creativity, independent and critical thinking and creating alternative programs as you suggest is that people around here don't want to work that hard and / or are intellectually lazy.

    Making great changes requires extermely hard-work and a stubborn adherence to a vision despite the many obstancles that will cross your path during the way. I simply don't think enough people in education are cut from this cloth. Again, this is only my opinion - I've been wrong once or twice before :)

    Happy New Year.

    Boonton writes:
    Come on now. In a 'market' as you say, people aren't faced with just two choices - that's precisely the beauty of markets. You make it sound like people are FORCED to go to McDonalds and as a result the 'market' is forcing people to line Ray Kroc's pockets.

    I've said nothing of the sort. It is simply an illustration that markets do not always produce 'the best', they simply optimize the values of their participants. The market, in the case of fast food, optimized for producing food quickly and cheaply rather than producing quality.

    I'm not saying that's a bad thing, in fact I think its a good thing since sometimes you just want to eat & its good that you can get a bite to eat real cheap. The point is simply that markets cannot be counted on to produce results you consider good, simply optimize what their participants want. If you're going to keep be snicky about using food as an example then let's use pop music or the success of Brittany Spears.

    Sir, you seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of how the higher education system works in the U.S. I don't believe a real market is one where state governments spend over $130 billion each year of taxpayer money and where the federal government spends another $130 billion in taxpayer money to subsidize an enterprise. The more that colleges try to behave like market-oriented firms, the louder the cries for government money are and the greater the uproar at the commercialization and commodification of higher education.

    Nonetheless, the higher education system as a whole is much more market oriented than the primary education system. Colleges, whether state run or private, are not guaranteed students unlike most public schools that have almost a 'natural monopoly' over a geographic region because most parents do not want their kids traveling very far to go to primary school. College customers, for the most part, have to take into account the cost of college. Few students nowadays have a free ride....a full scholarship. Most have to get their parents to pay for a large piece of tuition and take on debt for the balance. This means a college that costs ten times as much as another one cannot be confident that no one will care. I'll accept your info on the SAT but remember I was refuting the assertion that making primary schools more like a market would result in less teaching to the test and grade inflation.

    Schools as they now exist are misery for many. They are designed to produce workers for a factory system. Sit in rows, be silent, accomplish tasks the way you are told. The lack of creativity and real problem solving embodied in this is seen in the fact that teachers can't organize, win elections (and they would win most elections, veryone dislikes "bureaucrats") and build their own.

    Where's the evidence of this? I've asked a thousand times before and no one has ever provided an answer, where is the evidence that US schools are bad? Really? Since the bulk of US citizens were educated in public schools were is the evidence that the quality of the US workforce has been going down? There isn't any as we have seen producitivity rising.

    Lawrance George Lux writes:

    Do bad charter schools tend to be shut down more frequently than bad public schools?

    People attempt to split the educational effort in this Country, confusing the Issue, and it diverts attention from where it should be placed. The is concentration of the effort expended to educate the Young.

    All Public funding, whether to public schools or vouchers to private schools, should be dependent upon national Test scores. SAT testing techniques should be extended to all levels of education, and Public Funds dispersed by the number of correct answers given by the entire Student body--Parents expected to make up shortfalls in spending(they will enjoy firing Teachers). lgl

    Michael writes:
    Schools as they now exist are misery for many. They are designed to produce workers for a factory system. Sit in rows, be silent, accomplish tasks the way you are told. The lack of creativity and real problem solving embodied in this is seen in the fact that teachers can't organize, win elections (and they would win most elections, veryone dislikes "bureaucrats") and build their own. Where's the evidence of this? I've asked a thousand times before and no one has ever provided an answer, where is the evidence that US schools are bad? Really? Since the bulk of US citizens were educated in public schools were is the evidence that the quality of the US workforce has been going down? There isn't any as we have seen producitivity rising.

    I promise to provide you with plenty of this evidence after I am done preparing for my classes this January.

    I still don't understand the point you are trying to make about the markets unable to be counted on to produce things YOU consider good. I read your point as "I think it stinks that I can't opt out of the market system and move to one where my preferences are more accurately reflected in the distribution of goods and services ..." ... I make this claim all the time more generally of course and I do not think framing it as a "market problem" serves anyone any good. There is absolutely no system that can ensure that everything you desire (and view as "good") is what gets produced by a third party.

    I think this was mentioned above, but isn't the concept of "best" and "quality" a subjective one? It doesn't matter whether our analogy is food, or Brittney Spears (sp?) or whatever - if there is a critical mass of people that want what you view as "good pop music" a music company would try very hard to provide you with that music provided the revenues it could receive from licensing and record sales would exceed its long run average total costs. If this cost condition were not met (absent external economies), then the music company would be crazy to sell you "good" music.

    Of course, this fact alone would not mean that good music would be unavailable to you - you could certainly learn to perform it yourself, or figure out a way to make it less costly to produce or figure out a way to enhance the quality so that the cost condition can be met, etc...

    I really have to go. Cheers.

    Mark Horn writes:

    Quoting Dewey Munson

    Not worthy of an Economist.

    I've never claimed to be an economist. In fact, I've claimed exactly the opposite on several occasions. I'm here learning economics and putting forth my thoughts in order for them to be constructively criticized so that I might improve my understanding of economics.

    Additionally, that was simply one possible suggestion. It wasn't meant to be the only one. If I left that impression, that was an error on my part.

    Mark Horn writes:

    I need to ask/answer some additional comments from Dewey Munson:


    Economists above all should recognize the almost infinite needs of an economy and as such should be at the forefront of designing education curricula to match the economy's needs.

    If the economy has almost infinite needs, then how can we ever design something that will match those needs without almost infinite resources? Part of the reason that I like markets is that they're not designed. And yet they work at meeting the most prevelant needs of everyone. Bread is cheaper than fois gras because almost everyone needs the former. Demand created a market. The market optimized itself. No design necessary.

    And I don't think any economy matches infinite needs. I may have a specific need for a specific repair on my car that I can afford, but the economy only provides that repair at a higher price than I can afford. The economy hasn't failed. It's just optimized for the majority who don't have my need.


    Guess what? A competent auto mechanic well-versed in his/her trade might be valedictorian!

    Why is this presumed to be a bad thing? If the competent auto mechanic is getting paid 10x the average salary, why not make him/her valedictorian? If the goal of education is to enable gainful employment, why not use the income level of graduates as the metric for a educational system?

    Boonton writes:
    I still don't understand the point you are trying to make about the markets unable to be counted on to produce things YOU consider good.

    Not quite, when I read something like 'Public school students' scores on test X fell by Y points' coupled with a plea for vouchers I assume the author is telling us that a more market oriented system would result in an increase in scores on test X.

    People spend a lot of their own money on education. Some of it is in formal ways such as private school tuition and some of it is informally such as buying books or Internet access to read sites such as this one. People have a lot of different goals in doing this. For some of those goals we can objectively measure how well the money was spent (for example, if the goal is higher income we can compare wages pre and post the purchase of education) and some of the goals cannot be measured so easily (such as simple appreciation of a subject or learning more about a hobby).

    I generally trust the market to allocate those goals against the supply of education. If the 'For Dummies' books do a good job they will sell well, if not they won't. I don't care if people buy the books hoping to get a better job, score better on a test, or just advance a hobby. Not my business, so to speak.

    However the game changes when taxpayer money is involved. Even with vouchers we are still talking about taxpayer money, aren't we? What are the taxpayers buying when they purchase education and why should we believe a market where other people besides the taxpayers doing the buying will produce what the taxpayers want?

    Of course, this fact alone would not mean that good music would be unavailable to you - you could certainly learn to perform it yourself, or figure out a way to make it less costly to produce or figure out a way to enhance the quality so that the cost condition can be met, etc...

    Let's use music as an example. Serious students of music will probably be annoyed with your suggestion that music is just about taste...that the choice between Brittany Spears and Mozart is no different than the choice between mustart or ketchup. They will argue that some music is of objectively greater value than other types of music.

    Like education, not all music is funded from private sources. Many sources of 'quality music' receive direct or indirect government funding. Anything from the direct building of performance halls to the indirect advertising of a concert broadcaste on PBS.

    Suppose those who think America has been suffering from declining music argue that the solution to the problem is to eliminate the role of 'public music' and institute 'music vouchers'. The money gov't spends on 'quality music' would instead be converted into a voucher that each person could spend on CD's, tapes or concert tickets. The advocates of this program tell you that this will result in even more quality music since the vouchers will increase demand for classical music allowing more to be produced.

    My proposed discussion topic; Do you agree or not with 'music vouchers' and why?

    Boonton writes:
    If the goal of education is to enable gainful employment, why not use the income level of graduates as the metric for a educational system?

    Considering that the US employment rate is almost always above 90% and often over 95% and considering that income has been increasing since WWII it would seem this metric would indicate that the US has a successful education system!

    Mark Horn writes:

    Quoting Boonton:


    Serious students of music will probably be annoyed with your suggestion that music is just about taste...that the choice between Brittany Spears and Mozart is no different than the choice between mustart or ketchup.

    I'm not particularly fond of Miss Spears' music, however, if you beleive that there is some objective measure of how Mozart is "better", please provide it. If it's "objectively better", we should all be able to evaluate the objective data against the an objective criteria and independantly determine that it's true. In other words, you should be able to prove to someone who prefers Brittney Spears to Mozart that they're wrong in that preference.

    I'm hard pressed to see how a preference for Mozart can be seen as objectively better than a preference for pop music. But I'm open to being convinced.


    Do you agree or not with 'music vouchers' and why?

    When proprotions of publically funded music to privately funded music come close to matching the funding of education, then I will be entirely for music vouchers. In the mean time, music vouchers are not necessary because the VAST majority of music already comes from private funding and already enables choice.

    And even for the amount of public music funding, I'm not convinced that it's necessary. Public funding of music requries the majority to subsidize the minority preferences. I think it's wrong to forcibly extract money from anyone (whether through taxes or through robbery) in order to fund someone else's preferences. I can put up with it because the overall cost to me is minimal. But that's not true with public education.


    Considering that the US employment rate is almost always above 90% and often over 95% and considering that income has been increasing since WWII it would seem this metric would indicate that the US has a successful education system!

    Why is 90% or 95% sufficient definition of success? In the private world, many businesses consider anything less than 99.99966% to be failure.

    Boonton writes:
    I'm not particularly fond of Miss Spears' music, however, if you beleive that there is some objective measure of how Mozart is "better", please provide it. If it's "objectively better", we should all be able to evaluate the objective data against the an objective criteria and independantly determine that it's true. In other words, you should be able to prove to someone who prefers Brittney Spears to Mozart that they're wrong in that preference.

    Sadly I have to pass on this challenge. Not because I don't believe it is true but because I am not well educated in music at all. Like fine wine, I am aware that there are people who are more knowledgeable on the subject and their positions are based on more than simply 'I like X better'.

    When proprotions of publically funded music to privately funded music come close to matching the funding of education, then I will be entirely for music vouchers. In the mean time, music vouchers are not necessary because the VAST majority of music already comes from private funding and already enables choice.

    So does the vast majority of education, that is if you include informal education as well as formal. But why should the proportion matter? If public funding of 'classical' music was 3% of total music production why wouldn't it be more efficient to spend the money in the form of 'music vouchers' rather than 'socialized' music production in the form of Symphany Halls and such?

    Why is 90% or 95% sufficient definition of success? In the private world, many businesses consider anything less than 99.99966% to be failure.

    No they don't. But I somehow doubt any conceivable improvement in the quality of our educational system could result in an economy with an unemployment rate of 0.00036%.

    Michael writes:

    Semantics...

    Considering that the US employment rate is almost always above 90% and often over 95% and considering that income has been increasing since WWII it would seem this metric would indicate that the US has a successful education system!

    The US employment rate never has, nor ever will, approach anywhere near 90%. The most recent figure for November of 2004 is 62.6% (see http://data.bls.gov/PDQ/servlet/SurveyOutputServlet). The economists use of "employment rate" is very specific - it's the number of people that are employed divided by the total adult non-institutionalized civilian population - it is NOT simply 100% - unemp_rate.

    On another note, I think that BOTH vouchers for schooling and vouchers for music are a bad idea.

    Michael writes:

    Mark,
    Well put post, so I will not add much more to it than the following:

    I can put up with it because the overall cost to me is minimal. But that's not true with public education.

    At the MARGIN you can put up with it, but if aggregate your acceptance of a small fee to fund music to ALL of the little things we are getting "Nickel and Dimed" for (how's that for an ironic quote?), I don't think you'd be as happy to live with it.

    Here are some examples: did you know that you, as a federal taxpayer (albeit in very small amounts) have funded ME in the past 60 days for a $55 dinner at a great steakhouse, for my small town to put in a parking garage to "revitalize" Main street, to have my nearby University do more "kitchen research", to plant trees on my property that I have every intention of managing for my children and granchildren for THEIR PERSONAL profit, to have a PhD ecologist/biologist come out to my property and show me how to plant various trees and shrubs that will be conducive to attracting and protecting bird habitiat, ... I can go on ...

    Mark Horn writes:

    Quoting Boonton:

    No they don't.

    Ignoring the fact that your argument is the logical equivalent of "nuh-uh", the 99.99966% number wasn't picked out of thin air. It represents 3.4 errors per million oppurtunities. This is the standard of success set forth by Six Sigma, which is employed by GE, Motorola and others.
    So does the vast majority of education, that is if you include informal education as well as formal.
    And why should I do that? We're talking about formal education.
    But why should the proportion matter?
    I was being imprecise. It's not just the proportion. It's also the absolute value. I can measure in dollar amounts that are significant to me how much I have to pay for publically funded education. The dollar amounts that I pay for publically funded music amounts to next to nothing. So I can tolerate it, even though I don't like it.

    And I also agree with Michael when he says that we're getting nickled & dimed to death. All of those nickels and dimes add up to a dollar amount that's significant to me.

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