Saturday, February 1, 2020

This Gives Me Hope

There are few ideas I've repeated more often than a first step to downsizing the is to shut down the Federal Department of Education (here's an example from the second year of the blog).  There are many important, simple truths about the Feds involvement that show why.  First and foremost is the easily shown fact that education results are independent of what gets spent on education.  It's another truism that the Federal DoE is a relatively new department, formed in 1979 under Jimmy Carter and standardized test scores are unchanged since its inception.  A common saying is that the Federal DoE hasn't educated one, single, student.

As you know, cutting a dime of Federal Spending is damned near impossible.  The people who benefit from that spending scream like they're being dissected alive.

From a Friday article in FEE, I learn about how Vermont is handling towns that aren't big enough to have public schools.   There are 93 towns in Vermont too small and sparsely populated for a traditional public school.  In a rare display of sense, the state legislature decided to send the tax money that would be spent on public school to the parents in those towns and let them decide how to spend the money.  These “tuition towns” end up setting the example for how to get education done right.  To begin with, the schools are cheaper than Vermont public schools.
So how much money are we talking about? As far as income distribution, Vermont looks a lot like the national average. The per-student expenditure of $18,290 is high by national standards (only New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and DC spent more). But independent, tuition-driven schools spend $5,000 less, on average, than public schools in the area, which is near the national average. [Bold added: SiG]
A variety of schools has arisen to compete for these tuition dollars. A spectrum from centuries-old academies to innovative, adaptive, and experimental programs competes for students from tuition towns, just as for the children of independently wealthy families.

Eligibility for tuition vouchers actually increased home values in towns that closed their public schools. Outsiders were eager to move to these areas, and the closure of public schools actually made at least some people already living nearby significantly wealthier as their home values rose, according to real estate assessments.
The secret sauce is the Free Market.  Those schools catering to the Tuition Towns are under economic pressure to impress the parents; to prove they're the best place to send their children.  In doing so, the schools prove they're a better place to spend the Vermont Taxpayers' money than the Vermont department of education establishment. 

A common argument public schools (and their unions) make is that because they have to take everyone, they can't turn out as good results as those private schools.  A short example is worthwhile.
The Compass School, nestled on the New Hampshire border, enrolls 80-100 high school students from three states and a mix of demographics. Forty percent of students qualify for subsidized lunch (the school system’s proxy for poverty), and 30 percent have special learning needs.

Nearly any public school in the country with Compass’ student population (considered mid-poverty) would be aspiring to a 75 percent graduation rate and a 60 percent college-readiness rate. Compass has a virtually 100 percent graduation rate, and 90 percent of graduates are accepted to college. And still, Compass achieves these results with $5,500 less funding-per-pupil than the average Vermont government-run public high school.
That blows the old public school pitch out the window.

While I know that shutting down the public schools overnight is too difficult to sell or do, this presents a really good example of how the mess could be reformed.  Home schooling is still probably the best alternative, but at least as far as this goes, this compromise sounds pretty good.


  1. The Free Market speaks!

    The public listens, but dotgov is deaf to anything other than their own speech.

  2. As the old maxim goes: I didn't get educated until I got out of school.

  3. School District Size
    I reject the premise that any level of government should be involved in the education of anyone. From birth to death, government has NO role in education. It is the parents or the individual’s responsibility to decide what they learn and pay for it out of their own resources.

    That stipulated, I recently had an idea for the structure of public education.

    Each Congressional District* should also be a School District.

    *A First! Citizen Wants MORE Congressmen - Jan 31, 2020
    I like the idea of increasing the number of Representatives. (I’d suggest doubling since that would require a new meeting space for the House of Representatives and maybe they could locate it in rural South Dakota.) As it is, each person gets a smaller and smaller fraction of power as the number of people in a Congressional District increases.

    Currently, the STATE of South Carolina has 85 school districts and the COUNTY of Los Angeles has one. Both serve about 750,000 students. Do you see a problem? I’ll provide just one statistic to get your thought process started. Each of those 85 districts has a superintendent earning around $100,000. The LA County ONE earns $350,000. Do the math if you can.
    Coincidentally a Congressional District currently has about 750,000 “residents”. (We could discuss additional demographics. Citizen/Non-citizen, age, skin color, etc., but I’ll pass on that.) I’ll toss out that about 250,000 of those residents are (?)K-12 aged. (? Some people believe government should start with K2, as in 2-year olds have a right to tax-payer funded day-care which at that age is about all you can offer.)

    A school district with 250,000 students sounds like a “local” education system in which parents could be actively involved. Since Congressional Districts are already “fairly” (that’s sarcasm) drawn to “fairly” represent the local demographics, I can’t see why anyone would be opposed to them being used for school districts as well.

    Since, according to every education “expert”, “education is local and should be directed by parents”, we would then abolish all governmental education agencies – the Federal Department of Education and all State agencies. There would be NO government agency “above”, in any sense, the LOCAL district. If local districts wanted to develop standards or share costs, that would be up to the PARENTS in those districts to decide.

    This is my first pass at presenting this idea. What do y’all think?

    1. Seems counterintuitive to make government bigger (increasing the number or representatives) to make it smaller but what you're saying makes sense. Just remember, you're always fighting the many agents of Pournelle's Iron Law trying to make the organizations bigger and immune to control.

      How would one abolish all other governmental education agencies? Seems the state governments would fight to maintain their control and graft pipeline going.

      Take the SC/LA school stats you mention. The way I read that, El Lay has a better organization than South Carolina - they get more bang per buck spent on education. The El Lay Edumacation Czar has a bigger job than then any of the 85 in SC with more students, more teachers, and more everything, so his job is probably worth more like the $350K. If SC residents don't like their economics, they can vote to change it, otherwise it's NoMFB (None of My Business). I'd also bet a cuppa Starbucks that very few SC voters even know it.

      Just some random thoughts, but I'll point out the biggest problem with most legislation is that nobody seems to ask, "and then what happens?" to think about unintended consequences.

  4. Public schools initially were in good part designed to prevent/overcome population fragmentation. That was probably a reasonable goal considering the "blotchy" settlement of people frtom different countries,ethnicities.

    The "poverty" indicators for these schools are garbage. Data on crime, race, ethnicity, and language spoken at home are needed. "White" rural "poverty" and social problems are not the same as urban problems. What works in traditional rural areas may be worthless in the inner cities. Different populations with very different problems.

    1. Assimilation NOT accommodation should be of government schools.

      Statistics are a waste of money. We didn't need statistics in the SUCCESSFUL 50s and 60s.