Arnold Kling  

School Choice Pessimism

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Sol Stern writes,


If Hoxby and Peterson were right in asserting that markets were enough to fix our education woes, then the ed schools wouldn’t be the disasters that Hirsch, Ravitch, and others have exposed. Unlike the government-run K–12 schools, the country’s 1,500 ed schools represent an almost perfect system of choice, markets, and competition. Anyone interested in becoming a teacher is completely free to apply to any ed school that he or she wants...Yet the schools are uniformly awful, the products the same dreary progressive claptrap...

Instead of competition and diversity in the education schools, we confront what Hirsch calls the “thoughtworld” of teacher training, which operates like a Soviet-style regime suppressing alternative perspectives. Professors who dare to break with the ideological monopoly—who look to reading science or, say, embrace a core knowledge approach—won’t get tenure, or get hired in the first place. The teachers they train thus wind up indoctrinated with the same pedagogical dogma whether they attend New York University’s school of education or Humboldt State’s. Those who put their faith in the power of markets to improve schools must at least show how their theory can account for the stubborn persistence of the thoughtworld.


As a voucher proponent, I could argue that on the demand side, the market for teachers is dominated by public schools. You don't go to ed school to teach in private schools--you go there to get certified to teach in public schools. A voucher system would raise the demand for teachers in private schools, and this might provide an impetus for changes in ed schools.

But I am a pessimist that there is any panacea for education (Stern comes close to saying that top-down curriculum reform is a panacea). I think that it is very difficult to overcome individual learning disabilities, poor executive function (I think that is the term du jour for kids who can't handle deadlines and homework), and dysfunctional values in families and peer groups.

I favor vouchers because they transfer power from bureaucrats and unions to parents. Maybe that transfer of power will improve education a lot, maybe only a little. But I view public schools as one of the major institutional assaults on liberty.

I am aware of the risk that vouchers could provide politicians with an excuse to regulate private schools more closely. My goal in supporting vouchers is to weaken politicians, not strengthen them. I believe that if citizens want to keep politicians from over-regulating schools under a voucher system, we can do so. In the end, there is no way to preserve liberty unless citizens are vigilant in protecting it.


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COMMENTS (5 to date)
Rob Sperry writes:

Arnold,

Have you looked into Direct Instruction and Project Follow thgough? I know you mentioned it with respect to the book on number crunchers.

I think there are a lot of answers here in terms of what schools can do to be better. But it raises more questions on why schools so systematicaly avoid doing those things.

Troy Camplin writes:

I taught at a charter school for a while, and so long as the government forces things like the TAKS test or any other kind of standardized testing, there can be no essential differences among schools. As an English teacher I was told I could not teach poetry or novels because they wouldn't be covered on the TAKS test. Further, we were told how to teach students how to take the test so that they would have a better chance of passing the tests even if they didn't know anything. Combine this with the fact that Education Dept.'s teach absolutely nothing and, thus, attract nothing but the dumbest students, along with the overall trend in universities to teach processes rather than content, and there is little question why education is how it is, and why I too am pessimistic overall. The universities have lowered their overall standards, so why should schools teach anyone anything? They don't actually need to know anything to get into a university nowadays.

TGGP writes:

I'm also rather pessimistic about school-choice, although hopefully it will result in more pleasant environments to spend 7 hours a day. Ultimately, I think a lot of kids really aren't all that interested in being educated, and they'll eventually get to run their own lives without you being able to force them to learn. Policy makers don't like to think about the preferences of the people whose lives they are molding and ignore their agency. Karl Smith discusses the role of preference in learning here.

KDeRosa writes:

I think that it is very difficult to overcome individual learning disabilities, poor executive function (I think that is the term du jour for kids who can't handle deadlines and homework), and dysfunctional values in families and peer groups.

Learning disabilities are mostly symptomatic of poor teaching practices. It is better to think of them as teaching disabilities.

Poor executive functioning can also be overcome by, wait for it, limiting the leaerning environment to times where the teacher can provide supervision. It is folly to try to teach a child via assigning homework outside of the school environment when the teacher knows that the student is not or will not do the assigned homework.

Poor family values is overrated. The parents' job is to get the child to school on a regular basis. Everything else cn be accomplished in school in the six hours and 180 days the child is in school. Good values with respect to learning can also be imparted in school, overcoming a bad family environment. This, of course, assumes that there is learning going on in school. So, again, it comes back to teaching ability.

Bad Peer Values don't come into play into middle and high school. Most children who become academic failures have already fallen far behind in elementary school before peers become a significant factor.

And why no mention the biggest factor? Low IQ. You can accurately predict who will fail and who will succeedacademically by giving a simple ten minute g-loaded IQ test. Having a low IQ s fatal when the student is taught poorly. See here and here. Most of what passes for teaching in most schools is poor. Learning usually requires superior analytic ability (i.e., high IQ) because that which is being taught (at least at the k-12 level)is usually capable of being put into meaningful relationships but the instruction has either failed to display the relationships or has given an explanation that is hard to follow. In this case, the student must use his brain to learn the material. When the teaching is poor, only the smart will learn.

Dezakin writes:

You really think that shifting the voucher idea into the federal space will reduce the power of politicians and the beurocracy? It will vastly increase federal meddling!

Public schools aren't an assault on liberty, but they aren't education either, and neither are private schools. They only serve the role of socialization. When you want to put your kids in private school, its because you want to be selective about their peer group more than anything else.

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