Incentives matter, even in education

A Facebook friend shared a link to this “letter” to the President from Patrick J. Kearney regarding Patrick’s disapproval for school choice.

In this post from 2011, I explained why I think those against school choice usually don’t realize that they are against giving poor families the same educational freedom that middle and upper income families already have.

I agree with Patrick that there are good quality public schools in our country. I believe they are good because they tend to serve middle and upper income families that are better able to afford education choices. So, they have to stay good so enough families choose them over their other options.

When I was young, my parents made this choice by moving my family from a school district they felt was not putting education first to one that was. They could have tried to change things by voting for different school board members and speaking up at school board meetings, but they inherently knew their power of exit was much stronger for their (and my) immediate needs than their power of voice.

Looking back, I agree and am thankful for the choice they made and I’m thankful they had the power to make that choice.

So while there are good public schools, there are bad public schools, too. And, they aren’t bad because of under funding (most poor performing districts spend the same or more per student than the best schools) or for lack of people who want to do the right thing (there are plenty, but they’re power of voice is muted by vested interests).

They’re bad because of the incentive structure. As Terry Moe explained in a recent EconTalk podcast on the rebuilding of the New Orleans School District after Hurricane Katrina: “Vested interests are universal.” And these vested interests “will invest in political power to resist reform when the institutions they benefit from are performing very badly.”

School choice gives more families the freedom to exercise their power of exit to circumvent these vested interests.

Paying college athletes is a sign that college education is worthless

As we inch closer to paying college athletes, maybe we can acknowledge that the college education the athletes receive is worthless.

Maybe that’s because they receive a different version of the education other enrolled students receive, or maybe because college education, in general, is worthless.

Or a little of both.

College Admissions “Scandal”

The biggest news to me is that this is a scandal.

I think just about everyone figures that a wealthy person can buy admission for their kid with a generous donation to the school.

I’m perplexed as to why these folks didn’t just make a donation to the school.

Maybe they tried but the school’s asking price was too high, so they tried a scalper?

Or, maybe I just have it wrong and rich folks really can’t buy their child’s way in to a school with a generous donation.

If I recall correctly, my alma mater got a brand new basketball arena paid for by a generous donor right about the time said generous donor’s son was on the school’s D1 basketball team. I don’t recall there be a big hullabaloo about that.

Update: Given the revelation on how much Dr. Dre donated to USC to pave the way for his daughter to attend, I’d say the above hypothesis is correct. The asking price for direct donations to the university was too high, creating a black market for lower level folks to peddle their influence.

 

Interesting

What You Should Do (via Marginal Revolution).

The first link on his list is to Y Combinator’s Request for Startups.

#9 on its list is Education. It reads:

Human brain power is vastly underutilized on this planet because most people lack access to a good education. Strong education systems lead to greater social mobility, better workers, better citizens, and more and better startups. A small increase in the learning output of education systems across the globe would have an enormous impact on human productivity and economic growth.

We are interested in new school models that can develop critical thinking, creativity, citizenship, and job skills at massive scale. We’re looking for ideas that combine technology and person-to-person interactions to deliver highly individualized educational experiences.

We also know that 90% of the human brain develops before age 5 and achievement gaps open up well before kindergarten. We’re interested in ventures that dramatically improve outcomes for children from birth to age five, that reduce inequality, and that have the potential to enhance the future quality of life for those children and their families. Scalable solutions in these areas should now be doable thanks to advances in brain science and technologies such as smart home devices, wearables, and mobile.

Maybe. I like simple things. But, that seems too simple.

Those gaps that open before age five, may just be the first signals of  families that value education differently, rather than some deprivation of resources.

Consider soccer. Some parents/families are into it. Some aren’t.

By age 5, there will be noticeable soccer-playing gaps between the kids from families who are into it and those who are not.

The scalable solution there is soccer culture. Nothing else will live up to that on a sustainable basis.

Likewise, to improve educational outcomes, the scalable solution is a culture that values education.

Oh yeah, and competition. The education system needs more of it.

Schools that teach marketable skills

I saw a commercial for a career college make the claim that the school teaches real skills that are in demand in the marketplace and allow you to earn money.

I thought that was a good shot at traditional colleges, where that isn’t always the case anymore. I think they do still have quite a few degree programs that teach marketable skills, but they also have quite a few that should be adult community education courses.

 

Participation Trophy College

The previous post brings to mind discussions I’ve had on the topic in the past. In one such discussion, a person asked:

So, do you want to be the one who tells someone they can’t go to college?

It shows how much of a pedestal we’ve put college education upon. Like home ownership, it’s now a dream, that everyone is entitled to.

In home ownership, we forgot that renting was a good option for many. With college education, we forget that people without college education do fine, too.

Do I want to be the one who tells someone they can’t go to college? No. If I did, I’d apply to be a college admissions officer.

But telling people they can’t go to college or people deciding for themselves that it isn’t for them isn’t bad. How’s it any different from telling people they didn’t get a part in a movie or people deciding that pursuing their dream of acting isn’t panning out so they should try something else?

How’s it any different from kids in sports not making the team or deciding that a certain sport isn’t for them?

The question also shows how unimaginative we’ve become. It’s college or else. We can’t imagine alternatives. Yet, there are many.

 

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