Saturday, January 22, 2005

My Position On Education

Just in case anyone was interested, here are my views on education:

I believe that general education and literacy is a public resource, like parks, that everyone benefits from even if they don't personally use it. Therefore, I am in favor of public funding to ensure that every child gets a certain minimal education. I scoff at the people who think that parents of many children should "pay their fair share", i.e. bear the full cost of the education of their children. Such people are usually childless and bitter and don't realize that these children will be ringing up their purchases at Wal-Mart in 20 years; if they did, they'd see their own vested interest in public education.

Education is the sort of thing that, at its best, is highly personalized in its method of delivery. The content of education, however, can and should be standardized. I am in favor of both nationwide testing and accountability (although not a fan of the way NCLB implemented it) and increased local control-- like letting curriculum choices take place at the school or classroom level rather than the district level. I like the idea of a sort of national syllabus that lists the concepts to be taught (e.g. addition of three numbers, similes and metaphors, major battles of the Civil War) without specifying the methods or materials to be used.

My position on school choice is that I'm in favor of charter schools and tuition tax credits, but against vouchers. Education is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor and schools should be able to specialize. My local school principal thinks it's "cherry-picking," but that would involve thinking that students with different needs are somehow better or worse than other students-- a very illiberal attitude indeed.

Most anti-voucher folks, when asked why they are against vouchers, will immediately cite the financial losses to the schools, without any reference whatsoever to the fact that those schools will also be educating fewer students. That just shows where their priorities are. My problem with vouchers is that I think they will corrupt the private school system, raise tuition prices, and impede the availability of religious educations for people who want them. I think they would work in the short term but not in the long term.

Charter schools are a good idea-- by design they deliver education for less money, involve parents (the one variable that has been proven beyond doubt to make a difference in education) and have a "self-cleaning" mechanism that ensures that bad charter schools are rapidly weeded out. Charter schools can provide the specialization needed to help children of every sort, and tailor themselves to the needs of their community. Our local school district was all against charter schools ("they take money away" yada yada yada) until they discovered that they could put their underperforming students into a charter high school, at which point charter schools became the best thing since sliced bread. For some reason, their charter school wouldn't take money away from the regular high school, while a charter school not under their control would.

My daugher (and next year, my son) goes to a charter school, and I love it. If there's anything I think is being poorly done at the school, I just volunteer for the appropriate committee and fix it. I got on the curriculum committee last year and recommended some math curricula, and now they are using the math curricula I recommended. We have had some dissatisfied parents who took their kids back to the regular public schools. I asked one of them why she did, and she said she didn't like that everything at the charter school was run by committee instead of by an autocratic principal or a benevolent bureaucracy. She wanted a school that, like Mussolini's trains, ran on time. To each his own, I guess. But that's the beauty of school choice. Everyone gets what suits them best. The opponents of school choice are, in my opinion, more concerned with keeping their own power rather than with the goal of doing what's best for a child's education in conjunction with the child's parents. In my experience, people who want to protect their views from competition are really afraid they can't compete in the marketplace of ideas.