Thursday, April 6, 2017

Education Conversation Continued

I wrote on education on Monday, and there was a thought-provoking comment I’d like to respond to.

Hey! I've got a couple genuine questions for you, knowing that you've spent much of your life focused on education. As long as parents have the ability to homeschool their children, how does public education usurp power from the people? Is the main issue with spending tax dollars on education or are there other ways you feel power is being taken? And 2.) while it's admirable that the general population was relatively well educated in the early 1800s, what of the slave population during the same time period? What of the many immigrants and non-English speakers who have come since? And what of the increasing number of households who need two incomes to provide for their families, and even then still can't get by? These are issues that have increased dramatically, and they are issues public education *attempts* to address. Totally imperfectly to be sure. But I can't see how a free market or philanthropy alone would do any better. As of 2011, one in five kids live in poverty--what is the incentive to supervise/educate/feed these kids, relying on philanthropy alone? It would be wonderful if parents were able to take full responsibility, but that is not the reality for most households. Help me to see what should be done.
These are good questions, and worth taking some time to respond to, in the ongoing conversation about education.
photo source

To begin, I agree with Lease that the problem looks overwhelming. And I agree that, with things as they are now, suddenly switching to a system of “pay for your own kids’ education” plus “we’ll use philanthropy to pay for the education of the poor kids” is an idea that brings on a panic attack. I’m not advocating for anything sudden, or anything that will leave a generation of kids without what they need.

I do believe in educating every child, including those whose families can’t provide. But I think right now there is a generation not getting what they need—because of the public schools.

Texas is big enough to generalize from. So let’s use some numbers from a piece I wrote in January:

[T]here are about 5.2 million K-12 students in Texas. That means 10% of kids in the US are going to school in Texas.
More fun facts: there are 130,000 students on wait lists for charter schools—which are proliferating in Texas, but can’t meet the need. Meanwhile there are 100,000 empty seats in private schools….
Also, there are 900,000 (17% of that 5.2 million) attending 1,032 failing schools in Texas. That means the school didn’t meet the minimal yearly progress (a pretty low bar) for three years in a row.
If you’re worried about 1 in 5 students being below the poverty line, a bigger worry ought to be that nearly 1 in 5 students is stuck in a school that does not educate them, but they are trapped there by the public school system with no way out—with the exception of a lottery for the lucky few who might get into a charter school.

Failing schools are most likely to be located where the poorest students live: inner cities and rural areas.

And remember, to be just above failing is a very low bar. That means huge numbers of children are trapped in public schools that do not offer them an adequate education—let alone an education tailored to help that child reach his/her potential.

Every time the school choice movement begins to get the word out, for even tiny, incremental changes, there is a huge outcry claiming this takes money away from the kids. This is during a period during which real money per student has increased manifold with no measurable increase in education outcomes.

This is, again, from my January piece, about my highly rated school district that failed my children:

·         Student enrollment has grown 30%, with a population explosion.
·         Teacher ranks have grown 50%, which is well above that population growth.
·         Non-teaching staff has grown 102%.
If you really care about educating children, why would you spend so much education money on something other than educating children?

Let me repeat the Spherical Model axiom:

Whenever government attempts something beyond the proper role of government (protection of life, liberty, and property), it causes unintended consequences—usually exactly opposite to the stated goals of the interference.
To apply that to education, if the stated goal is to provide an education for every child, the unintended consequence of government institutionalized education is less education, especially for poor children.

This is assuming that a quality education leading to an educated next generation is actually the goal; I suspect that the real, unstated goal of government institutionalized education is control of the populace and the inculcation of radical post-modernist ideas. I wrote about John Dewey, a founding father of modern public education here.

So, in answer to Lease’s first question, there is a problem with taking my tax dollars for public education while failing to provide my children with the education they need. And there’s also a problem with the government’s attempts to control the minds of children. There are attacks by CPS, as though homeschooling your own children is equivalent to neglecting them. There are attempts to control what is taught, attempts to “approve” of curriculum, attempts to enforce dissemination of certain messages and exclusion of other messages.

In Texas we have a lot of homeschool freedom—but we have that because of constant vigilance to prevent the (relatively conservative) legislature from encroaching on parental rights to see to the care and upbringing of their own children.
Daughter Social Sphere, citizen lobbying at the
state capitol, one of our homeschool adventures

I do believe the only antidote must consist of free market plus philanthropy. But Lease asks, with the overwhelming numbers of children whose families can’t afford to educate them, how can free market and philanthropy possibly fill that need?

As things are now, maybe they can’t. But I’m not in favor of keeping things as they are. The market for educational options needs to grow. We need more choices, better quality, and lower prices—which are the usual and expected results of innovation in the free market.

And we also need some family changes. In order for a society to support the exceptions to families providing for themselves, there needs to be a critical mass of families with married mother and father taking care of their own children. I’m guessing a critical mass is somewhere north of 75%. If nearly all children are born to married parents, and no more than 25% are then raised by single parents, poverty is greatly reduced. We know the way to avoid poverty in America:

1.      Don’t have sex before age 20.
2.      Don’t have sex until after marriage.
3.      Stay married
4.      Obtain at least a high school diploma.
That’s a pretty low bar. But we’re not meeting it. Only a few of us are teaching it.

Economic and social spheres interrelate. If we don’t value and preserve marriage and family, then we get the calamities we see in inner cities today. If we don’t have schools—and families—getting this message through, we’re stuck in a downward spiral, and I have no answer other than changing direction.

Meanwhile, here are some direction-changing ideas worth acting on:

Idea 1: Get rid of the US Department of Education—and have the money that has been sent there be given back to the states for use on education. My concern here is that, simply getting rid of the Department of Education wouldn’t be combined with a cut in US taxes (or spending), and the money counted on now for education would simply disappear into the abyss of national debt. That must not happen.

Idea 2: Have all education money attach to the child. If the goal is to educate every child, then it is obvious that is not equivalent to funding public schools. No family should be forced to pay taxes for public schools and then also pay for their child’s education when the public schools do not provide for their needs. That’s true for poor families as well as the families able to make the huge sacrifices to educate their children no matter the odds.

Idea 3: Allow the parents to use the money attached to their child’s education as they see fit: for public school, for private school (including parochial), for private tutoring, for private lessons, for alternative therapies (equine therapy, for example), for online courses, for homeschool curriculum, or any combination thereof.

Step 4: Encourage businesses, through tax credits, to offer scholarships to supplement or replace the per child allotment for certain students based on need and/or merit. This is being put forward by both my state representative and my state senator in the current Texas legislative session.

Step 5: Encourage any and every form of educational choice: charter schools, ESAs, use of public school buildings for private education business uses, and ideas we haven’t thought of yet.
Everywhere it has been tried, allowing parents to control the money for their child’s education costs less than the per child cost of public education, with better outcomes. Allowing that money to stay with the child—for future years and even for higher education—encourages wise use of the money for the particular child. And simultaneously it encourages market answers to educational needs.

Already, in large part because of the growth of homeschooling, we’re seeing online educational resources proliferate. Many of these are free or low cost.

For example, I wanted to use a particular math program for homeschooling my daughter that my boys had used in a gifted school in another state. I contacted my boys’ teachers and asked what the program was. I happened to ask why, if the program was so good, it wasn’t used for all students, but only the gifted classes. The answer was that it was too expensive. I bought the teacher’s edition, everything I needed, grades 3-6, for around $350. It was one of our bigger curriculum purchases. It was intended for an entire classroom; I used it for one child. There were a few consumable pages, but otherwise you’re looking at under $100 per year per classroom. I can’t figure out why a typical classroom, spending $1100 per year per child, couldn’t afford that. By the way, the program is now available online for free.

At some point we can look at the internet as a higher education alternative to astronomically expensive college tuition. MIT has free courses online. Many universities have online courses at lower per credit hour costs than on-campus tuition. YouTube is mostly free. There’s a lot out there. What we need is a way to free ourselves from the cost of entry into society that an ever-less-valuable university degree program provides.

Meanwhile, in some third-world countries, very poor people are successfully building private schools to get the education the government schools are failing to provide. We’re told it can’t be done, but it’s happening.

I don’t know that I’ve fully answered all of Lease’s questions. I didn’t touch on the history of slaves not being educated (wish it hadn’t happened, and that no one had been deprived of their life, liberty, and property). Or immigrants (my grandfather immigrated in 1906, at age 16, speaking no English, and went on to be successful in various businesses—no government intervention needed).

The biggest hurdle is how do we get to the ideal I see from where we are. I don’t know. But I believe that recognizing that education is a parental right, not a government responsibility, is a first step.
We ought to encourage parental control of education wherever possible, allowing the market to meet growing demand for alternatives.

And we need stronger families, which will lead to less poverty and less societal need beyond what parents must provide for their own children.

Do I foresee the ideal happening? Sometimes I’m hopeful; sometimes I’m discouraged. All I can really do is what is in my power: see to the education of myself and my children, and share good ideas in hopes others will make good choices.

I know this is already long, but if you want fuller answers and more details, follow the links in the copy.

Thanks, Lease, for engaging in the conversation. I welcome respectful feedback like yours.

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