Have you ever seen a 20/20 show or read an article about the American Education system. How Americans don't know crap about where Argentina is, or Australia, or perhaps our kids get confused between Australia and Austria. Then there are the test scores, especially in math and science. It makes Americans look bad.
And how do we respond? Some Americans say really stupid things like, "Well, we may not know where Iraq is, but we sure did blow the country to hell and back." And it makes us look arrogant and stupid.
Then we look at our University educational system, and, well, the US has some of the best Universities in the world. I saw a stat recently that said that of the 100 best universities in the world, American Universities represented 75% of them.
To summarize: American primary and secondary education sucks but higher education is among the best in the world.
I have been thinking about this a lot lately.
How can the educational system fail so many so early, and then do so well after Americans become adults? And I think it is not about money – it is about competition.
For the most part, primary and secondary education is a monopoly. The local government funds, with some help from the state or the Federal government. Sure, there are private schools, but most of us are in the public system. And I know, people will talk about how we are not spending enough on education (we spend more than most countries per pupil). It is not that we don't spend enough but that there is no real incentive to change. Anything. Sure, there are some dedicated teachers doing a fine job, but when we look at a system, we need to look at how everyone fares.
We can talk about the school year being too short or the teachers teaching to a standardized test, but that does not get at the heart of this non-competitive environment we find ourselves in. If you live in a particular neighborhood, you go to a particular school. That's it. If they do a good job or a bad job, it does not change where the neighborhood girls and boys go. In fact, relatively better schools just improve property values of a neighborhood because people realize we don't have much of a choice.
I have been against school vouchers for quite some time, but that is really inconsistent with what I am now realizing: that school choice matters. The problem is that if we initiated a voucher system, some schools would fail. And as Americans, we don't like seeing schools fail. Heck, recently, we don't like seeing banks, auto companies and others fail because of their own actions as well.
Now, if you want to discuss longer school days or school terms, that could be decided in the marketplace. Or school times – why have all of the high-schoolers get up at 6:00 to get to school early? Just have different times in the marketplace, perhaps? Or a more flexible high school experience where you could start at second period and just finish the day up later.
I mean, look at the university system. People decide where to send their children, and the universities in the US are really good. That is because if they were not good, they would fail. And good is such a self-definable term. If they are good enough for the parents to send their children, then they are good enough to succeed.
I know this type of thinking is foreign for most. I mean, people like all of their children to go to the same school, have the same mascot, play in the same band. But you know, you could choose to do that if that is important to you. Or if parental involvement is important, choose a school where the parents have to volunteer.
Right now, we have lots of kids being educated by parents with no formal teaching experience. And some of these kids are doing so well. Some of them, it seems, are more apt to be working at Burger King. Which may be fine. I just think kids should not have limits placed on them by a school system.
See, this whole education thing is not very market oriented. And neither is the government bailout of the banks, the auto companies, etc. Sometimes, as Americans, we need to trust the markets. I mean, sure, use the government to make sure companies are not out of control (as in pollution, or monopolies, or workplace safety), but let the markets work.
I love Jimmy Carter, but I never really liked that there is a cabinet-level position for Education. That seems like a way to retard innovation. Just my two cents. I don't want a half-hearted effort of giving vouchers to some or rebates to rich and middle class parents who send their children to private school. I want an overhaul of the system so that these kids can support me in my old age. We need tax revenue from somewhere, and I would rather be getting it from people who are curing cancer and devising new ways of using technology than from people who are serving me the best soft-serve ice cream in the mall.