Markets & Curriculum

 

shutterstock_258757268The education system in the United States has been slipping lower and lower over time, despite massive increases in expenditures per student. This has made the case for school choice stronger than ever, especially in the era of the Internet. An education market is the best way to spark innovation, discover new ways of imparting information to students, and lower costs. And its biggest beneficiaries would be poorer, mostly minority, students who currently have the fewest options.

However, I want to focus on one particular aspect of market-based education that is often either overlooked or put in a wrong way: Educational choice shouldn’t be just about how — or how well — schools teach, but also about what they teach. One of the advantages of having an education market is that it’s more perceptive to changes in society (for example, the rise in importance of computer science) than top-down alternatives. This is important.

Even when a conventional system wants to evolve and succeed, its artificial attempts to reallocate capital and make changes will always lag further behind society than those of a freer market. Furthermore, a bureaucracy’s attempts to perceive what society needs — instead of society deciding itself — ultimately leads to the education system reflecting the bureaucracy’s values much more than the those of the people it’s supposed to serve.

A good example of this is subject emphasis. In public K-12 education today, students are generally required to take at least one course on basic civics (usually combined with history) early on, while economics remains (at best) a high school elective. This is interesting, considering economics is significantly more relevant to most people (particularly, the poor) than government. Indeed, you can know all the branches of government and how they work, but you can’t change it; you can still only vote once every two years, and calling your congressman doesn’t accomplish much. This isn’t to say that learning about government and civics is unimportant, but that understanding some basic microeconomics and accounting is much more likely to impart useful skills and knowledge to the average citizen. Moreover, a better grounding in economics would likely lead to a better understanding of the consequences of government. I don’t know how much either subject should be taught in schools, but I’d wager that civics is taught too much relative to economics, and that a market-based system would be more likely to notice this and correct for it.

The problem, however, is that some people see the decision to privilege government over economics as a conspiracy by the education elite to turn everyone to be sheep blindly following their politicians. I’d say it’s more likely the result of the bureaucrats’ natural biases and ignorance. In their lives as government officials, economics just isn’t something they have to pay attention to; government structure, however, is vitally important to them, which biases them toward politics. (If, instead of bureaucrats, our education monopoly was run by Fortune 500 CEOs, you would see an over-emphasis on business management and the stock market.)

The advantage of a market in education is that it helps overcome the biases of managers. If a school has a better balance of subject matter, it will become more attractive to prospective students, and other schools will have to improve their balance to compete. The same is true of changes in technology: administrators will have to choose new technology that actually improves learning to the students, as opposed to expensive equipment that does the same thing as older technology, just with more flash.

The improvement in what schools teach is just as important as how schools teach it and would be improved greatly by school choice. Not only would it likely improve test scores, it would do something even more important: better prepare students for life after school.

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  1. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    Indeed, agree a hundred percent, but don’t drift away from your main point by proposing specific curricula adjustments.   Curricula will emerge as thousands of independent, semi independent, and coalitions of schools figure out what end users want, internet companies figure out what they can deliver and how and what end users want and need.  Moreover, it is a conspiracy– a conspiracy among educators, educational bureaucracies, unions, government funders, and text book publishers who are threatened by vastly superior ways of doing things.  They must conspire because we are on the cusp of a profound revolution in education driven by new communications technologies, parents, educators who understand and have real talent, and businesses with needs.

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  2. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Naudious: A good example of this is subject emphasis. In public K-12 Education today, there is one class in each grade (starting in about the 3rd Grade) that teaches basic civics (usually combined with history); however, there is usually only one class in Economics (usually an elective) in High School. This is interesting, considering economics is significantly more universally relevant to most people (particularly the poor) than Government.

    At a book signing I attended years back, Randall Munroe made a similar point about statistics being under-taught relative to calculus; a grounding in the former is almost certainly more important than the latter for the average citizen (which isn’t to say anything against calc!).

    But, as you say, if that’s true, then we’d expect to see that emerge from a more market-based schooling system.

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  3. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    I’d be happy if kids getting out of school could add, subtract, multiply and divide, read, and knew a bit of history.

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  4. SpiritO'78 Inactive
    SpiritO'78
    @SpiritO78

    I Walton:Indeed, agree a hundred percent, but don’t drift away from your main point by proposing specific curricula adjustments. Curricula will emerge as thousands of independent, semi independent, and coalitions of schools figure out what end users want, internet companies figure out what they can deliver and how and what end users want and need.

    Exactly right. This is why local control over schools on how federal money is spent should be as closely allied with how the districts want to spend the money.

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  5. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Naudious:A good example of this is subject emphasis. In public K-12 education today, students are generally required to take at least one course on basic civics (usually combined with history) early on, while economics remains (at best) a high school elective…

    The problem, however, is that some people see the decision to privilege government over economics as a conspiracy by the education elite to turn everyone to be sheep blindly following their politicians…

    No, it’s not a conspiracy.

    But the mission of the public schools has always been to turn children into “good citizens”, good “Americans”, so civics of some sort (whether the Pledge of Allegiance of yesteryear or learning whether condoms are recyclable today) has always been integral to public-school education. Economics, on the other hand, has no country, no citizenship, and so has not been.

    Our system of universal public education was an idea American Progressives got from the Bismarckian welfare state, and the goal of such an education was to produce capable citizens to serve the state. This wasn’t a conspiracy. It was, to many people, simply open patriotism – simply “serving your country”. (For example, many early supporters of universal public education worried that Catholic schools were producing students with more allegiance to Rome than America.) And, had civics education stayed old-fashioned, many modern Conservatives probably wouldn’t object to it.

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  6. Bill Nelson Inactive
    Bill Nelson
    @BillNelson

    I am a strong supporter of common core, as long as I get to define what this is.

    Every student needs exposure to certain parts of classical liberal studies: Plato, Rousseau, Voltaire, Tocqueville, Hayek, to name a few. So there needs to be a core that is taught to understand and appreciate our classical liberal political philosophies.

    But as far as history, that should be left to the student.

    You educate for three reasons: learn the basis and rules of your society, learn those things you wish to expand your mind, learn something to help you contribute economically.

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  7. Naudious Inactive
    Naudious
    @Stoicous

    Bill Nelson:I am a strong supporter of common core, as long as I get to define what this is.

    Every student needs exposure to certain parts of classical liberal studies: Plato, Rousseau, Voltaire, Tocqueville, Hayek, to name a few. So there needs to be a core that is taught to understand and appreciate our classical liberal political philosophies.

    But as far as history, that should be left to the student.

    You educate for three reasons: learn the basis and rules of your society, learn those things you wish to expand your mind, learn something to help you contribute economically.

    It seems somewhat un-classical liberal to mandate such education. I like all those thinkers, but it seems like mandating they be taught opens a pandora’s box when it comes to what is taught.

    I would push for schools to choose to teach about Classical Liberal thinkers, but I would like it to remain that they be taught due to their merits, rather than their political endorsers.

    I Walton:———————————————————————-

    Moreover, it is a conspiracy– a conspiracy among educators, educational bureaucracies, unions, government funders, and text book publishers who are threatened by vastly superior ways of doing things. They must conspire because we are on the cusp of a profound revolution in education driven by new communications technologies, parents, educators who understand and have real talent, and businesses with needs.

    Individuals in education may be acting with their self-interest in mind, but that doesn’t necessarily constitute a conspiracy.

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  8. Naudious Inactive
    Naudious
    @Stoicous

    Adding to the idea of Biased-Determination versus Planned Conspiracy; this is a mistake people on all parts of the political spectrum make.

    For instance, while our military leaders are great people; there is a good reason we don’t let Generals declare war. Since they spend their lives planning and conducting military action; they are much more likely to choose military options over other options. However, many people on the left morph this into a conspiracy, whereby the Military is purposefully jingoistic because it wants to serve its own devilish interests. The truth is that Generals are experts in war, and know everything about war; but they don’t necessarily know much about other possible options. They may know how to destroy an enemy’s forces in the least amount of time as possible, but they don’t know what the Economist knows about how fast Trade Sanctions could act instead (and the Economist doesn’t know what the Generals know either). Generals acting unilaterally will choose what they think works best, the problem is they don’t have the knowledge of other fields to judge all options fully. Hence why Congress has the power to declare war, since Congress can take a much more comprehensive view of the situation.

    It is the same issue with Public Sector workers. While there are always a few devilish characters (Benedict Arnold in the above example), the majority of the problem results from a bias towards engaging with the field you know.

    • #8

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