Arnold Kling  

Globalized Education?

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James Miller writes,


My employer, Smith College, should hire a few score smart Indians to grade for their faculty and in return Smith should expect its professors to spend more time in the classroom.

High schools should similarly outsource their grading to Indians. Because U.S. teachers find grading so mind-numbingly boring, outsourcing grading would make teaching a far more attractive profession, thereby allowing high schools to recruit better teachers without necessarily having to increase salaries.


I think that outsourcing grading is a better solution than giving multiple-choice tests and using scanning machines. The feedback that teachers and students receive from such tests is pretty noisy.

On the other hand, I have a friend who tells me that many college-trained Indians, apart from graduates of the Indian Institute of Technology, are in fact very poorly educated.

In fact, higher education continues to be an American export. However, we certainly could make it more efficient by outsourcing grading functions. In fact, I think that the most efficient approach would be to educate foreigners where they live (rather than bringing them to the U.S.) using online education, supported by foreign labor to help with grading.

For Discussion. Anyone want to help me export my AP Statistics course to India?


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COMMENTS (14 to date)
Lancelot Finn writes:

The reason the education system under-performs relative to the rest of the economy is that it's a public sector monopoly.

If outsourcing grading to India is a good idea, the market would figure that out. Schools that outsourced grading would attract better teachers and save money, and thus be able to out-compete schools that didn't. If not, not; and schools that tried it would lose ground to competitors. Then the losers would imitate the winners, and outsourcing would spread if and only if it proved to be efficient. But with the government running the show, the incentives are all wrong.

As long as the school system remains a government monopoly, all we can do with nifty ideas of how to improve it is stash them for future use.

See this fictional news column from 2025 on "what vouchers could do for America."

spencer writes:

Schools are not a public sector monopoly.
Numerous completely private schools exist
and there are no significant barriers to entry.

The fact that all public school sudent do not shift to private schools strongly implies that private schools do not offer that much better value.

Brad Hutchings writes:

Why does the grading have to be outsourced to India? If you had a web-based grading market, where students submit papers or assignments, graders sign up to grade courses they are qualified to grade, and grading tasks are assigned somehow, pretty much anyone could participate... home workers in Oklahoma, college professors in India, etc.

Drew Rawlings writes:

Private schools are not as widely used you are already paying for a public school through taxes. At least in my district, public schools spend plenty of money. The private school I went to spent less, and got better results.

spencer writes:

Your argument does not demonstrate your original statement that public schools are monopolies.

monkyboy writes:

In defense of Indian higher education, the best econ professor I had, back when computers were the size of battleships, was a fresh off the boat Indian who taught statistics. He made what could have been a very dry subject incredibly interesting by tying stats to real world applications.

Thanks, Dr. Rao!

the captain writes:

My most recent microeconomics class was taught by a small man from india. I think he was probably the best economics teacher i've had yet. He was definitely better than my last economics professor, who praised paul krugman's opinions and had us write essays on why there is no such thing as a free market.

another libertarian bob writes:

Public schools are to school vouchers as collective farms are to food stamps.

Sai writes:

Your comment about the low standards in schools other than the IITs is mostly true. Like in every other country, we have our share of good schools (and there are many more than just the IITs), but the number of horrible colleges is overwhelming. There are about 240 colleges in the state of AP alone, doling out degrees to people willing to pay for one. There is little or no regulation and every corrupt politician starts a college as a money making scheme. These colleges are affiliated to universities, which take no effort in ensuring quality.
Employers look for more reliable certification making it a very lucrative market. NIIT was among the early ones to jump in and is going really strong. I wouldn't be surprised to see similar certification programs for proficiency in english, math, even US history, if that is what you need to appease doubters.
We should perhaps speculate about how long it will be before americans enroll in these indian programs to take advantage of the low cost.

Tom West writes:

If outsourcing grading to India is a good idea, the market would figure that out. Schools that outsourced grading would attract better teachers and save money, and thus be able to out-compete schools that didn't.

The problem with laissez-faire education is that it is sort of like expecting the most sucessful restaurant to be the most nutritious. What we want for our schools (high educational standards,not massively exclusive) is not necessarily what would make them the most profitable or the most popular.

Outsourcing grading (for example) might save money, thus increasing profits or allowing for higher teacher salaries. The educational impact might be (barring catastrophic problems) a decrease in overall educational quality. Does that make outsourcing successful or not? Real businesses constantly consider trading quality for profit.

The real problem is that for a business, there really is only one metric: profit. For a school, the metric is education, and that's hard enough given the vagueness of what is meant by education.

And as for online education: I don't think it will ever be much of a success. Long experience has shown me that the only way to educate the average student (as opposed to the bright, well-motivated student who could learn from a good library) is to have a human being talking in front of them. My hypothesis is that unless a human being is visibly putting in the effort to teach them, the vast majority won't put in the effort to learn.

Jim Erlandson writes:
... U.S. teachers find grading so mind-numbingly boring ...
Base student grades on results of the standard tests that teachers also seem to dislike. They won't need to create, give or grade their own test and can spend 100% of class time teaching. Problem solved.
Jim Glass writes:

Teaching is in fact being outsourced to India and elsehwere.

At least tutoring for public school students as required under the No Students Left Behind Act is.

And the teachers' unions don't like it.

Competition, you know ...

Michael H. writes:

Hi Arnold
Many of the Indians who come to the West for their college and graduate education actually return to India and many more would return if there were more opportunities for them in India. Outsourcing education would allow them to work in the U.S. and spend their money in India. I call this Earning in Dollars, Spending in Rupees. It represents the best of both worlds for Indians.

Lancelot Finn writes:

The problem with laissez-faire education is that it is sort of like expecting the most sucessful restaurant to be the most nutritious.

A revealing comment.

There's no good reason that restaurants should be nutritious, except to the extent that customers want them that way. If we would all rather eat lots of greaseburgers and die at 60 than eat salads and rye bread and die at 90, that's up to us.

Well, modify that: there may be externalities from good eating and long life. If I become grotesquely obese, I cause displeasure to everyone who sees me. If I have a heart attack at 45, my wife and children may suffer. On the other hand, if my junk-food habit makes me die at 65 and never collect Social Security, I relieve the state of a fiscal burden. So the externalities could pull both ways.

In the case of schools, what people want out of a school may be something different than "better educational standards." Parents and students may choose schools where students are happier, or schools that instill faith and develop character, over schools that maximize academic achievement.

That's just fine. It's good, actually.

One problem with socialism is that it gets the incentives wrong, but another is that it is unable to find the right measures. The Soviet Union, at the time of its collapse, was the world's greatest producer of pig iron and a number of other raw industrial materials. In those terms, it was a success. But those were the wrong measures.

Likewise with schools. I think Americans might do well to trade some academic achievement for more amiability, character, happiness, and comfort with their religious identities. Anyway, parents and students are better judges of that than the state.

Government-run schools are a bad idea for the same reason (among others) that it would be a bad idea for the government to take over the restaurant business in order to make its food more nutritious.

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