Happily paying for some other kids' education

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

Every once in a while, there's a comment here at BlueOregon that just crystallizes an argument. And we had just such a moment yesterday.

On Jon's post about the value of teachers, I did some back-of-the-envelope math and noted that even if we're talking about high-end $76k/yr teachers, that translates to something less than $20/day per student.

And then, the Cascade Policy Institute's Steve Buckstein chimed in -- with a perfect illustration of the difference between we progressives and conservatives (er, libertarians) like him.

Now, your child's education may be worth more than $13,000 per year to you, but you aren't paying most of the bill; your neighbors are through property taxes and state and federal income taxes.

Nevermind that Steve seems to think he knows what I'm paying in taxes; rather, focus on that second part.

Buckstein somehow seems to think that paying for schools as a community is a bad thing. That I should be footing the bill for my kid's education all on my own.

Now, I happen to be 39 years old. And my kid is four. He's starting kindergarten in a year. I've been happily paying taxes for a couple decades now to support our schools (and everything else.) And in a few short years, thirteen to be precise, I'll be 52 years old - and once again happily paying to educate someone else's kids.

Steve seems to think that education is a private benefit - maybe like a jar of jellybeans, or a vacation to Maui.

But education isn't a private benefit. It's a public good. Our economy, our society, our democracy is better off when kids are educated.

It's hard to think of a single thing in America that would be better off if K-12 education was reserved solely for those who could afford it.

It's really quite a stark view of the world. A cold-hearted and mindless kind of libertarianism that doesn't even make any sense. The purpose of public policy is to make our lives better, and it's hard to even imagine the argument that abandoning our commitment to public education makes our lives better.

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    I did not argue yesterday that everyone should pay for their own child's education.

    I argued that, given the fact that all taxpayers pay for public education, we should be concerned about getting the best results for our limited dollars.

    Virtual monopoly delivery of K-12 educational services by the state leads to the same bad results that virtual monopoly of any other good or service leads to - higher costs and lower quality.

    We can still all pay into the system, as we do now, but find ways to make those scarce dollars go further by allowing a more competitive delivery system. Nothing in this argument says poor people don't get an education; just the opposite; it's more likely that they will get a better education when we grant them the benefit of the doubt in choosing how and where their children get educated.

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        Jason, I'm not sure how you conclude that "mass education" is a natural monopoly. Costs of entry are relatively low, and getting lower with technology.

        It seems more like an un-natural monopoly to me, in that the monopoly is a function government raising the effective price of the competition outside the reach of all but the affluent.

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          Of course it's a natural monopoly! How many schools can you really build in a neighborhood? Or are you honestly expecting parents to move term-by-term as competing schools constantly add features and adjust prices to competition?

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            How many schools can you really build in a neighborhood? Not many when government zoning makes it difficult, but there are many small schools in buildings not originally built as such.

            And, online education is growing rapidly, both as a stand alone alternative and as adjunct to public and private school classrooms.

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    Second comment (normally I'm a happy lurker). Great post, Kari, and well said!

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    But it's terrible that I'm even making that kind of technical argument. Kari's post goes to the heart of the matter -- we're all in this together and we all support good schools because we all benefit, not just as individuals but as communities, whole greater than sum of individual parts. Or should do.

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    A huge portion of this whole problem is the inability of people, including our government leaders, to differentiate between how public education works. It is a complex problem with a range of teachers, schools, students, and communities represented. To say public education doesn't work well is ridiculous. Of what schools are you talking? To say public education works great is also ridiculous since some schools don't work well at all.

    Real improvement means working on each individual district, school, and classroom which needs a good deal of improvement. This is done by working within that district, that school, and that classroom to make them work better. And making sure they have the incentive and support to get better. It is not done by general testing, general accountability measures, or other facets of the so-called reform movement.

    But, if we approached the problems this way then how would our legislators, our governor, our non-profits, and our hedge fund manager so-called education expert reformers create a situation where they can gain political points or make a lot of money?

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      If you approach the problem that way everyone not attending that class or school is flying blind. How can you determine need and allocate resources without a comparative measure of performance?

      Generalization is clumsy and approximate, but it is also necessary. To say that it is invalid is essentially an argument for privatization.

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    As long as we are making comparisons, let's make them correctly. The countries that rank that best in educational outcomes all have universal "public" educational systems. Period. We can criticize American education but let's do it fairly. American students have the opportunity for redemption at any stage, even into young and older adult through our community college and university systems. European and Asian students are tracked, with their futures usually determined by the 8th grade based on test scores and grades.

    The ugly truth is that many in the GOP don't even believe in universal public education. Few are willing to talk about it publicly like Oregon politico Don McIntire who wanted to abolish publicly funded education entirely. Many in the GOP simply doesn't want to be taxed to pay for all children. They prefer a third world system where individual resources go to individual children educated in private schools.

    Fortunately most Americans aren't buying it, and know that a world class country cannot function with a citizenry that is illiterate and untrained. Most Americans want public community schools for their children and all children, where the local neighborhood school is also a local center for community life, sports and social events..

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      Yes, Bill, making comparisons correctly is important. The nations you say have "universal public education systems" do fund education with public dollars, but don't necessarily provide all education through government schools. A number of European nations, for example, have universal government funding, but that funding follows children to public, private and even religious schools of the parent's choice.

      So, it may not be the public provision of education that leads to those top results you mention.

      To find out, below is the conclusion of just one study, which I'm sure many BlueOregon fans will dismiss because of where it comes from. But if you can put that aside and consider the facts, you just might see that the way we both fund and provide public education in America is far from ideal.

      "Across time, countries, and outcome measures, private provision of education outshines public provision according to the overwhelming majority of econometric studies. Findings of a statistically significant advantage for private schooling outnumber findings of a significant advantage for public schooling by a ratio of roughly 8 to 1, and the statistically significant advantage for private schools outnumbers by a ratio of more than 3 to 1 the statistically insignificant findings."

      source: http://www.cato.org/pubs/articles/coulson_comparing_public_private_market_schools_jsc.pdf

      Note, the study doesn't conclude that private provision AND funding of schools necessarily leads to the best results, but that private provision does, even if those schools are funded with tax dollars.

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    Aren't these the same people who want parents to be able to use state-paid vouchers to send their kids to private schools? So they want me to pay for my kids public education and the state to pay for their kids private education. That's clever.

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