What is education?

I found the discussion in the comments of this Marginal Revolution blog post, Jon Stewart is Wrong on Education in Baltimore interesting.

On his show, Jon Stewart made the following joke (observation, false comparison, whatever you’d like to call it):

If we are spending a trillion dollars to rebuild Afghanistan’s schools, we can’t, you know, put a little taste Baltimore’s way. It’s crazy.

Marginal Revolution’s Tabarrok counters that Baltimore spends 27% more on schools, per student, than an affluent suburb and a good portion of that incremental spending is from Federal and State sources.

Simply put, Baltimore is already getting more than “a little taste.”

That post generated some comments exemplified by MD2’s comment, as follows (emphasis added):

Let’s get past a $-per-student perspective and think about the total amount of resources invested in these kids. I’m comfortable saying the average Baltimore student gets half or less of the parental involvement and societal enrichment than the kids in Fairfax do.

We probably can’t put a dollar value on parental involvement, but it’s part of the total investment package, and many would argue more important to actual student outcomes than the way some of the school money in Baltimore is spent just to keep bad schools from turning into gang recruiting zones.

That’s not an argument for or against throwing more money at Baltimore, just that good education is not a boxed service we just write a check for. It requires a lot of personal investment as well.

I agree that parental involvement is more important to student outcomes and you can’t put a dollar value on it.

But, I would also argue that you won’t make up for lack of parental involvement with school spending. That’s like thinking that buying a bag of Cheetos can unclog a drain.

Many disagree, which causes the school directive to change from educating (something it can do well) to parenting (something it won’t do well).

Many also believe that keeping kids occupied in schools — whether they are learning and being productive or not — is a net gain for the greater good since it keeps kids off the streets, which changes the school directive from educating to warehousing criminals (something that makes educating others more difficult).

Both of these changes in the school directive have disastrous effects on school’s main purpose — education.

Maybe good parenting is what helps students in good school districts have better educational outcomes.

Or, maybe good parenting is just a signal, not a cause, of school districts that have not been expected to expand its charter too far beyond education. Simply put, maybe bad school districts could be better if they were only expected to educate.

I’m not saying that there isn’t need for other efforts in those areas, like addressing parental involvement issues or keeping disruptive people occupied. It’s just that it seems pretty clear that school is not a good place for that.

1 thought on “What is education?

  1. “But, I would also argue that you won’t make up for lack of parental involvement with school spending. That’s like thinking that buying a bag of Cheetos can unclog a drain.”

    That hits the nail on the head! As you imply, the problem is that the Progressives believe that giving more tax dollars to the schools will solve the (lack of) parent problem.


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