Education Debate (Part 3… much belated)

We’ve been focusing pretty heavily on horse race politics lately, and I think it’s time we took a break and remembered that currently I’ve undertaken a project with my friend Mark from Publius Endures (I know, typically it’s high class to link to the site when you say its name, but I’m going to toss him about four links in a mo, so be patient).  At the beginning of December we decided to see if he and I, a libertarian and a New Dealer as he calls them, philosophically political opposites in many ways, could come together and write out a new education plan that would work, and do so without completely abandoning the principles which shape our political views.

Now, had I not fumbled the ball and taken so long on my current turn, we would have no problems meeting our deadline, but I think if he and I both work hard, we’ll have a full on plan written out by the end of the week, and one that I think is worth talking about.  But before we begin, even if you have been paying attention it’s been a while since the last salvo, so you should probably take some time to catch up.  My earlier posts on the subject can be read here and here, while Mark’s are here, here, and here.  This current addition is answer to his post here.

Once you are all good and caught up, enjoy.

This far in, there’s much we agree upon, and actually little we disagree upon.  After rereading his second round contribution, one thing that seems to be a point of contention is not so much complete disagreement, but instead a matter of where to draw the lines.  We both agree that competition is vital in allowing the schools to help improve each other, but how much competition?  What about religious influences?  And what about preventing private schools from driving out public schools?

It is, I think, a natural point of contention to arrive between two people where one follows Freedmanism, whilst the other is more Keynesian in nature, but that doesn’t mean we can’t come to an agreement somewhere in between.  And one thing that I’m going to probably say a lot through this post is “trial run”.

One thing I’m not afraid of doing is testing things out and seeing if they work.  One thing that I’m going into this program understanding is that some of the things that we propose will work, some will need tweaking, and some will just need to be thrown away and started over from scratch.  The other thing is arbitrariness.

Establishing something arbitrarily is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you’re not exactly sure where to start.  Where arbitrary systems and metrics get you in trouble is if you continue to adhere to them if they don’t work.  Here’s an example, say I tell you to pick a number between 1 and 100, and for every guess you make, I can only tell you higher or lower.  If you pick 42, you do so on an arbitrary basis.  You don’t know me, you have no idea whether I would go higher or lower on the scale, so you pick something arbitrarily.  Now, when I tell you higher, that’s where we see the follies of arbitrary systems.  You can arbitrarily pick another number (27), or you can stick to the old arbitrary number of 42.  Neither gets you closer to the goal.

In this way, arbitrary decisions are harmful.  But if you start out with an arbitrary decision, and then use the data provided to you from that point on, you can eventually hone down where you need to be.  You’ll eventually guess my number, or you’ll eventually figure out just how big a district should be or what the right mix of funding should be per student, etc.

So, let’s start addressing some of these points of contention between Mark and I, shall we?

1)Competition- Mark believes that at a minimum, the “funding follows the student” which would make students of low income or special needs as valuable as high income students.  In other words, we’re using money to equalize stratification of students based upon opportunity and ability.  Not a bad idea and I would at least be willing to see a trial run of it after hearing a little more about it in detail.

2)Private vs. Public competition- Mark brings up a good point that private schools would not be ready to handle a complete emptying out of public schools, and that immediately shifting over to the new program instead of the grace period I would insist upon would still basically result overall in a grace period.  Some kids would shift over to private schools but not all of them could possibly.  This would lighten the load on the public schools which would give them up to the standards of the PD system, thus, there you go, grace period.

In order to get this ready to go, though, during the built in grace period, the public schools would have to maintain funding at a rigorous level to get PD capable, otherwise, I’m willing to give it a go.

Now, I’m going to kind of not agree with Mark as to the nature of tax credits.  If everyone received a flat tax credit then maybe, yeah, but at this point we’re giving tax credits only to those parents who are choosing private schools, thus, it may be called their money, but to my way of thinking it’s government money still.  I know, that sounds very money grubbing government Democrat of me, but I’m sorry, they’re getting this money solely for their child to get an education otherwise they would be paying the government that education.  This is important on for two points.

Basic educational standards.  Now, this isn’t really a problem since Mark is fine with accreditation which would basically take care of my licensing requirement.  I will simply take this opportunity to reinforce the idea that under PD, there are going to be a lot of different types of schools, which means a lot of different types of accreditations or licenses.

The second is with religion.  Mark, being a high-waller such as myself, shouldn’t have a problem with this, but in order for this to work, and in order for private schools to be a part of this, there has to be some sort of guarantee that there will be equal secular avenues of private education available.  If it’s a competition between public or parochial schools only in a certain district, I would not feel very comfortable awarding tax credits to the parochial school alone.  If we need to widen the district or establish charter schools or whatever, that’s fine, but if we are going to be handing tax money back, it is extremely important that the only option under that tax credit not be a religious school.

As for stratification of services, here’s the deal.  I think Mark’s funding following the student is a good idea.  One thing that I’ve come to understand in my own studies of NCLB is that those students who traditionally receive the worst education are still receiving the worst education.  Minorities, low income, special needs.  With Mark’s idea of funding following the student, we have the opportunity to level the playing field, both in house in the public schools, and under the new PD system where public schools and private schools share territory, in private schools as well.  Now, the ultra rich are always going to have a leg up, and I can’t fix that.  While the populist class warrior in me wants to punish the uber rich, I just can’t justify it, and there will always be a mediocre student out there who has a dad or a mom willing to pay for a new wing in a school just to give their kid an unmatched level of education.

And damn it, I can’t prevent that.  But what Mark’s idea does is establish a system where no student is denied a high quality education because he just isn’t worth it, and personally, I like it.

Which brings us to district size.  I wanted to make PD requirements adhere to the district as opposed to individual schools, that’s to say, all of the educational opportunities that PD is supposed to offer don’t have to be met within any one given school, but they must be met by the district as a whole (Though, for each portion of PD that a school offers, it is still responsible for being accredited in those areas).

But Mark worries about district size.  Here’s my best and only answer.  We’re going to have to start out arbitrarily, and work our way to the right answer.  We can start with a best guess, keeping our initial parameters large enough to allow for PD to be met by enough schools to offer adequate choices and such, but small enough so that we’re not busing students across state every morning.  We’ll have to take distance and population into account, but it’s going to have to start out as a guess, and see where it goes from there.

3)Committee Lobbying Concerns-If you’ll remember, I offered up two committees that Mark essentially whittled down to one.  These committees are basically R&D established to make sure that our system continues to work, and to help test and implement new ideas as they come along.  Mark does point out a potential problem in that the committee could easily be susceptible to the negative aspects of lobbying.  And to a degree, some lobbying is going to be necessary.  As products become available, companies are obviously going to do what they can to get them implemented in class rooms, and to a certain point, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

But I think strict regulations regarding the committees behavior and implementation, surveillance, and enforcement of ethical standards, if done right, can prevent or at least minimalize this.  Also, this is where Mark’s idea to make the committee’s decisions in many cases non binding helps out a great deal in that lobbying for something with the committee doesn’t necessarily doom all of the schools to use a certain product, and thus provide for back door monopolizing and contracting.

I will add that making the committee 100% transparent and accountable will help too.  We’re not dealing with National Defence, so there’s no reason why there should be one shred of information regarding the committee that shouldn’t be made completely available to the public.

4) Central Pool Of Funds- I’ll go with funding following the student, though I would still like to see if we couldn’t get some big brains on the CPF to see if we can’t make something work in this regard.  I’ll not shelve the idea completely, but instead pass it off to maybe a temporary committee or focus group or something…  It’s just an idea I would like to see not thrown out completely, perhaps to be fine tuned and implemented at a later date.

5) Teacher standards and certification-I’ll agree with Mark completely, and I think that some of the proposals he gives and more are PERFECT material for our education committee to work on as a kind of ongoing project.

6) Fat Science.  I will say this.  Mark talks about choice and I’m not talking about reducing that choice.  I won’t mandate that campuses remain closed, thus I’m not going to prevent students from going off campus for lunch.  Also, I’m not going to mandate that students must only bring food and beverages of a certain nutritional quality to the school, so if mom and dad want to send little judie witha  daily diet of Twinkies and Jolt cola, have at it.

Further, I’m not going to restrict one iota which vendors are allowed to provide lunch to a school.  I am going to say that I want to see certain nutritional standards put in place.  Hell, I’ll let McDonalds set up shop on a public school (this may be an exaggeration), but if you think I’m letting them put a double quarter pounder with cheese on their menu, you are smoking crack.

To be honest, and since we’re pretty much attacking this problem almost like we’re working from the West Wing, I’m going to assume that we got the Surgeon General at our disposal, and I would defer to that official to establish certain nutritional guidelines.  I would personally throw in a little wiggle room based on how stringent the standards were, and there you go.  (Note: part of the reason I’m sticking to this one is because Mark doesn’t seem to care so much, so I’m ready to fight tooth and nail!)

And that’s about it.  I’m going to toss it over to Mark now, and hopefully that should wrap things up.  We’ll see where he sits after this, and maybe we’ll have a fully written out proposal endorsed by both of us in the not too distant future.

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