Good point on inequality and education

Here’s Mark Perry, of Carpe Diem, regarding John Goodman’s post: If you really care about income inequality, you need only focus on one thing: the inequality of educational opportunity.

As Goodman puts it:

Poor kids are almost always enrolled in bad schools. Rich kids are almost always in good schools.

As they point out, the left seems more concerned with protecting teachers unions than providing quality education.

But, I think it’s worth pointing out that the blame of bad schools doesn’t fall only on the administrators and teachers, though they are partly to blame.

As one commenter on Mark Perry’s blog post pointed out, what do you think would happen if you switched the kids in the good schools with the kids in the bad schools? Do you think the reputation of the schools would remain intact? No.

I think it’s worth considering why that is. It’s not because of inequality. It’s because different people value education differently, just like any other product or service.

Even in a country that provides publicly for education, people still get to make choices based on a number of factors. Those who value education more tend to choose to live in areas where their neighbors value it as well. Those who don’t value education as much are left in the bad schools.

Charters a good way to give more choice to the people who do value education, but happen to be stuck in the areas where their neighbors don’t value it as much.

But, charters won’t convince those who don’t value it, to value it more.

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4 thoughts on “Good point on inequality and education

  1. I agree with Adam – the incentives that are currently in place by our government do little or nothing to encourage people to climb the ladder. Instead, they make the hole more comfortable or, to use my term, they create a safety hammock instead of a safety net.

    But to address the implications of Goodman’s statement, “Poor kids are almost always enrolled in bad schools. Rich kids are almost always in good schools,” we have to ask ourselves which is the cause and which is the effect. Do poor kids remain poor because they are in bad schools or are bad schools bad because poor kids – coupled with a lack of incentive to improve and no father in the house (brought about by other government mal-incentives) – create an environment that doesn’t favor education?

    I firmly believe that good schools have more to do with the culture of the school than physical facilities, i.e. people are the most important factor. Specifically, this includes BOTH the teachers and the students (and their parents). Although it is a difficult read – he may have invented the run on sentence – Locke’s “Some Thoughts Concerning Education” contains valuable insights and recommendations. One that particularly struck me was his advice to avoid at all costs throwing your kid in with a bunch of non-gentlemen (to use a term from Locke’s time). As Locke noted, “We are like chameleons, we take our hue and the color of our moral character, from those who are around us.”

    The fix is not easy. It’s much easier to change a school with a favorable culture into one with an unfavorable culture than the other way around.

    As Seth points out, those who value education tend to move their kids to schools and neighborhoods where other parents value education – and this collective culture of people who value education and don’t appreciate misbehavior shapes the school environment. Those who don’t value education have little incentive to change their school’s culture or move to a school with a favorable culture. They are not uncomfortable enough to change.

    • “Instead, they make the hole more comfortable or, to use my term, they create a safety hammock instead of a safety net.” Well said.

      In the not too distant past help came with the expectation that it would not be permanent and you were obliged to pay it forward once you got yourself into a better position.

      Now, instead of teaching other how to be independent, we teach them how to the opposite.


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