Education reform has taken many forms over the years, starting (in recent history) with the original reforms in Prussia oriented toward a regimented caste-like industrial worker-farm system, spreading to America with its industrial-education complex, and eventually culminating in the current contorted and corrupt system of intertwined governmental, political, corporate, and (incidentally) educatee interests, most parasitic and incidental to the enormous trough of money that is modern Schooling (schooling as distinct from Education).
This system has spread and enlarged itself neatly within Hayek’s paradigm for expanding governmental reach as well as being predicted by any reasonable model of bureaucratic behavior. It has engulfed formative-years schooling through attendance and curriculum mandates, teacher licensure and unions, and endless initiatives only tangentially related to actual education. It has expanded through post-secondary education as well, aided by grade inflation and credentialism unintentionally (we hope) inflicted on the US by misguided politically correct notions of jurisprudence.
So today we have an entrenched and ever-enlarging system with negative (or at the very least, rapidly diminishing) returns.
How can this be really reformed?
Most reforms center around superficial measures:
- “Teacher accountability”
- Alternate school structures: Virtual, charter, private, etc
- Technology. iPads. DVDs. Etc.
- Curriculum. Common core comes to mind.
- etc. No Child Left Behind was a sort of omnibus collection of the above.
Peter Thiel, for instance, with his 20-under-20 initiative, is actively encouraging and offering an alternative to college for truly talented youngsters. Yet even that does not address in any real or meaningful way school reform. None of the above listed measures do anything to address the system; they merely address implementation details.
I humbly suggest that real reform would take the following forms which would address structural components to our current education mess and not merely superficial symptoms of the rot:
- Eliminate the mandatory or forced schooling requirement. Let people learn or let their families teach them. Don’t force them to incur 12 years of experience opportunity cost during their formative years. Offer but don’t mandate it. Better yet, sell all the current public school system to private equity funds, use the proceeds and savings to offer annual funds/vouchers to parents who send their kids to those schools, pending verification of attendance. Or best yet, just get out of education altogether.
- Eliminate or greatly curtail child labor restrictions. Allow people to get meaningful and valuable life experience before age 18. Offer an alternative to sitting in Mrs Weebly’s 5th grade classroom for 9 months.
- Repeal / roll back Griggs vs Duke Power Company to puncture the credential bubble, excise all the hidden employment cost of using education as a screening mechanism, and get rid of all the post-secondary hangers-on in the college business… and oh yeah, allow companies to make their own hiring decisions.
- Get the government out of school loans, out of the messy and immoral business of putting citizens in debt to pursue goals of questionable value at an impressionable and inexperienced age, and out of market distortions.
- Eliminate the bureaucratic sinkhole of the Department of Education. The idea that the central gov’t is responsible at all for education is a corruption of its responsibilities, which chiefly include enforcing freedoms, contracts, and providing for national defense.
- Dissolve teachers unions. This argument is not necessarily education-specific and applies generally to public-sector unions. Why should public servants get to bargain against the taxpayer in a setting riddled with agency problems? Teachers have absolutely 0 incentive and 0 agency – as a group – to actually improve a school. It’s like unionized workers in a shop; management and the workers are oriented against each other, and not toward improving the business for the customer.
Any one of these would be a major victory for education and general liberty, which is why they will never happen. The entrenched status quo is currently too strong to allow them to happen. A massive economic event would be needed to remove the government from education, which, though conceivably on the horizon, cannot be necessarily planned or implemented deliberately. Private industrial forces could make it happen, but it would be a difficult, long-term project against many well-aligned (& self-serving) powerful interests.