Gary Tutin for Assembly  


20th Century Education in the 21st Century

Education invites dogmatic pronouncements. And plans. Sorry to disappoint, but education is too complex for a one-size-fits-all solution. That is the heart of the problem with government schools.

Too often, politicians promise to "fix" school shortcomings with money and gimmicks. Remember how the Lotto was going to enrich the schools? Higher education depends on strong K-12 schooling. According to the Cato Institute, Los Angeles (California) spends almost $30,000 per student per year, including capital costs. They also boast the second worst drop-out rate among the nation's largest cities. Only 40.6% graduate. (For those who attended schools here, that's way less than half.)

California made sweeping changes to our public schools recently to qualify for up to 700 million federal dollars in Obama's "Race To The Top" program. No figure on the state's expense, but California did not get the money. Federal funding is the way they control the states, which has more to do with politics than education.

 

"...bureaucracies naturally tend to make more and more rules for the schools to follow, which, in turn, justifies more of their beauracracy. If you want proof, just find a copy of the Education Code for the state of California, which is the largest code of statutes in the state."
— Judge James P Gray, A Voter's Handbook

 

While researching this article, I happened to catch "The Willis Report" on FBN, which provided some statistics regarding higher education in the United States. Attending a public college for state residents may run to $28,000 a year (more in California), excluding extras like food and books that could double the cost. Out-of-state attendees could be on the hook for $46,000-plus annually. The average college graduate begins working with $20,000 in debt, while the average starting salary for college graduates is $30,000.

You need not be a college graduate to see that's a problem. The cost of higher education has nearly doubled since 2000, tripled over the past thirty years. These increases are greater than the rate of inflation or of wage increases. Why? Have costs risen that drastically, more than health care? Administrative cost increases far exceed those for classroom instruction, while government subsidies incentivize colleges to spend more.

Producing more college graduates increases under-employment, providing really knowledgeable baristas for Starbucks, while leaving fewer jobs for high school drop-outs.

Rather than reflexively increasing budgets or instituting new requirements, we must study the available information, encourage what works and allow schools and teachers the flexibility to experiment. Everyone can suggest possible improvements, but those are theoretical. We need greater efficiency and accountability, which will not result from government fiat.

The President is fond of promising a new right: a college education. He knows that it is not a right, nor is it up to him to bestow rights on anyone. In theory, today's youth would land better jobs with more education. In reality, employment depends on the job market, regardless of one's education. As Mike Huckabee recently put it, Obama's mistake is that "education is not the end product." We could wind up with a smart versus a skilled population, although it seems more likely we will have neither, considering our underperforming education system.

"Obama and his education establishment allies note that on average, people who have college degrees earn a lot more than people who don't. True, but irrelevant," says George Leef. The statistics cannot factor in other circumstances that might contribute to the quality of jobs someone gets.

Bureaucrats can cite statistics all day long, but you need only chat with a few young persons before their vast ignorance becomes obvious. They don't know simple things like the number and name of the Congressional houses, what country we fought against in the Revolutionary War, how many cups in a quart. They think the Electoral College is where future politicians study. It is discouraging.

 

"The system is failing… because it's not designed to serve kids, it's designed to serve grown-ups."
— Ben Austin, Parent Revolution

 

Parent Revolution is a Los Angeles-based group trying to do what government has failed to do, improve schools. When I read Mr Austin's statement about the design of the system, I remembered thinking the same thing decades ago, while attending public school in New York City, where class size was around 30 per class and we still managed to learn something, although education was not the priority, it was making the administrators look good, those self-important cyphers with mysterious titles and responsibilities.

Tenure and teacher evaluations must be considered. Nothing should be ruled out. Most parents think teachers should be rewarded for exceptional work, and responsible for their failures. Isn't it more important protecting the students' interests than the teachers'? It's a thought.

I am fairly certain a Libertarian won't be getting massive contributions from any teachers union, thus avoiding the bias that comes from financial obligation, but I respect teachers. They deserve fair treatment. Others with huge salaries and perks might merit closer examination.

The Governor says California is spending 10 percent of its general fund on prisons and 7 percent on higher education [excluding community college spending; see Education vs Prisons for more.] My goal is reducing prison costs by reducing the number of crimes subject to a jail sentence. If money were the problem, more money would be the solution. It isn't.

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