Arnold Kling  

The Free-Market Agenda

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Calhoun's Defense of Poland's ... Public School Choice...

In this essay, I say that it should be


1. Increase the proportion of children who are schooled outside of the public school system.

2. Increase the proportion of health care spending that is paid for directly by consumers.

3. Limit the fraction of people's lives where they collect Social Security.


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COMMENTS (13 to date)
Bruce G Charlton writes:

Superb column - as they say in Scotland: Pure Dead Brilliant!

another bob writes:

My son is enrolled at a public charter school. He takes exactly one class there. He takes 2 from another nearby public high school, 1 more from a nearby community college, 1 from UC Berkeley, 1 online class and I pay directly for music and language tutoring and a sports program. More than 50% of the other juniors and seniors in his high school consume education in this 'ala carte' fashion.

In this way, some high schoolers (more than just the 10% attending private school) escape the supposed near monopoly the public school system has on education supply.

As this ala carte approach to schooling expands at least for high schoolers, one would assume the support for public schools would fall, and it may. But, talking to other parents, I find that their attitude about public schools is similar to their attitude about public transportation; something they want to avoid, but wish other people would use. This attitude is particularly prevalent among parents who send their children to private school.

mjh writes:

another bob, I'm not sure that this strategy will ever gain prominence. There's an awful lot of additional costs associated with it.

  • Coordinating the schedules of multiple organizations
  • Additional transportation between those organizations
  • I'm sure there are more... I just can't think of them.
  • My point is that I think that those additional costs will weigh heavily against people choosing this schooling style. The coordination piece could be handled by a company that specializes in this kind of thing. If that company were able to get all of the relavent participants to come to a single physical location, that'd be even better. But at that point, isn't that effectively just a different kind of private school?

    Randy writes:

    Re; #3

    I've said it before, I'll say it again; we're not staying young longer, we're living longer as old people. People will continue to quit working in their mid 60s. If they don't have retirement benefits, then they will collect disability. A much better approach, in my opinion, is to just reduce the benefit to the point that the society can afford. Encourage people to work some to make up the difference, but don't count on it.

    vg writes:

    Arnold, in the article you say

    "For example, in Montgomery County, Maryland, where I live, the local newspaper gave the following figures about the school Budget: total enrollment, 137,798; total employees, 21,840; total budget $1.98 billion; percent of budget devoted to employee compensation, 89%.

    Using those numbers, it is easy to calculate that the ratio of students to employees is 6.3, even though the typical class size is probably 4 times that amount. A clear inference is that most of the employees are not classroom teachers."

    But each student is taking more than one class, right? At 4 classes per student and average class size 24, it works out that all of these employees are teachers. Or am I missing something?

    another bob writes:

    mjh, you're right about the additional costs. in spite of those, i know 100 high schoolers who optimize their own specific circumstances and make this 'ala carte' approach work. this is exactly the kind of local/individual optimization that individuals can do but bureaucrats cannot. it's why free markets work better than command economies. ala carte isn't for everyone. but, that's the point.

    ala carte may only work for high schoolers who can figure out their own transportation, in urban settings with lots of nearby education providers. this may not work for primary school kids. but, ask yourself, how many parents buy more education experiences for their 10 year-olds; music lessons, gymnastics, art lessons, math tutoring, SCORE etc.

    i've begun to think that the principal service of schools (public or private) is day care which enables parents to join the labor force. it's a big benefit and has nothing to do with education.

    if so, then to criticize public schools because they fail to educate (the uneducatable?) is to miss the point.

    Arnold Kling writes:

    vg, you are missing something.

    1. Elementary school students are in one class.

    2. High school students take more than one class, but high school teachers teach more than one class. Either way, there are 25 students per actual in-class teacher.

    mjh writes:

    another bob, I am still unconvinced that "ala carte" schooling will ever come to prominance. Certainly there will be a group of people who take advantage of it, but I doubt that it will be common in the next 20 years. I think that the additional costs will relegate it to obscurity.

    I am, however, glad that this type of schooling is working for your son. Still, I'm not sure that it's fair to equate all convential schooling (whether private or public) to daycare. Conventional schooling has provided sufficient education for most Americans. I think it's a bit of a stretch to say that most of us received only daycare level education from conventional schooling. As I understand Arnold Kling's arguments, he's not concerned that public education is entirely ineffective at what it does, but that it's a rather high price tag for that level of effectiveness, and that we can do better. I suspect that the argument would be quite different if public and private schools did no more than provide daycare.

    blink writes:

    So the overarching goal, it seems, is to close the gap between choices and consequences – perhaps, even more generally, to increase personal responsibility. Education, health care, and social security make sense as focal points, given their magnitudes. Still, I have a soft spot ending the drug war and believe free trade deserves bonus points for symbolic value.

    Fundamentalist writes:

    1. Increase the proportion of children who are schooled outside of the public school system.

    I think the fallacy here is that the school system is the problem. Research I have seen indicates that the family from which the student comes is the problem or solution. Families that value education have children who do well in school, regardless of the school.

    Also, Tulsa, OK, near my town, has seen an explosion of private schools in the past 20 years which have siphoned off many of the best students. The public school is left with the worst performing students, those from families that don't value education. That's one reason for their poor performance.

    2. Increase the proportion of health care spending that is paid for directly by consumers.

    I agree, but we need to do something about supply, also. It costs nearly $1 million to educate a doctor. Is that not ridiculous?

    3. Limit the fraction of people's lives where they collect Social Security.

    I say implement mild, steady deflation so that savings increase faster than people expect and they won't be interested in government handouts.

    Cortney writes:

    Fundamentalist, i think you are wrong about students that go to public school. I understand where you are coming from when you say "parents that value education have children that do well in school." That doesn't necessarily mean that they will not get a good education if they go to a public school. I went to a public high school and i am now at a university, but i think i received proper education at my high school. I think that it is better for teenagers to go to a public school, because it gets them ready for the real world. In saying this i mean they deal with all kinds of people and not just people that are like them, as if they were to go to a private school or home schooled. And you can't say that all children who attend public schools have parents that don't value education. I don't know of anyone who has a parent that doesn't care about their education or their childrens' education.

    another bob writes:

    mjh, you are right on all counts, mostly. i'd quibble that 'ala carte' is a growing phenomenon where it's possible, that is, in urban-ish areas like mine. in the suburbs, education institutions are too few and far between. (though there's SCORE and Kaplan at every mall.) in urban areas, not everyone is sufficiently organized to take advantage of multiple education suppliers.

    the internet might help a bit. but, why hasn't there been more impact so far?

    one of arnold's interesting points is about the enormous expense of government schools. NCLB and other 'Great Leaps Forward' remind me of the Music Man. if you want to sell someone something, first convince them there's a crisis. then more tax money goes to centralized authorities and the decentralized schools have to hire people to fill out the paperwork to get the money, results don't improve. wash-rinse-repeat...vicious cycle.

    private schools are no cheaper. in fact, they sell more of the same.

    my 'answer' to the crisis is, there's no crisis. but, that doesn't sell.

    i considered sending my children to private school. when i compared the cost of private school with the cost of individually scheduling private tutors for all subjects in my home, private school was actually much more expensive. that's a bit of an apples to oranges comparison, but, does confirm there's a huge arbitrage opportunity.

    andi writes:

    I don't think public schools are a problem. If public schools were funded as well as private schools then maybe the teachers could better educate the students.
    The demand for health care is high but the poor either don't qualify or simply can't afford it. I think the government should provide health care to those in need.

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