Saturday, December 4, 2010

Education: A Radial Idea; Get Politics Out of the Classroom

Something that has always bothered me about the education in the US is how highly politicized it is.  We have school board elections in Texas resulting in dedicated political entrepreneurs attempting to influence how nationwide textbooks are written by using their skills at political mobilization to stack the board.  School board elections happen on the ballot, which may be a poor representation of those most interested in the school and get too many voting on board elections that have neither the knowledge or interest to make an informed decision.  We also have shenanigans like New York State hiking tuition at state schools and putting the money into the general fund.  There are few places more clearly in need of expert opinions, from the fields being taught especially, yet these expert opinions seem weak relative to the political forces that determine education policy.

So to fix this, a truly radical idea, depoliticize the schools.  Remove them entirely from government oversight.  Create an entirely separate institution, with revenue raising capability, to oversee the school system that is not directly answerable to the state.  To maintain democratic governance an oversight board would be elected.  These elections would be a required form during school registration (though making a selection would be optional) to insure the parents have a say in how their kids are educated.  An additional open election would be held so those without kids currently in school could elect a certain proportion of the oversight board members as well. Local oversight boards would then elect a number of their own members to sit on state and national boards, or there could be direct elections to these boards as well (though at this point we're getting into a pretty complicated additional electoral system).  Curriculum would be drawn up, likely primarily at the national level, by a panel of experts in each field with input from members of the board selected for these panels.

Revenue collection would be a major problem.  Parents would of course be a large source of revenue but the rest of society has a nearly equal interest in the education of children* so this institution would need to have powers to collect revenue more broadly, which would require a special grant of powers from the government.  This likely makes the idea a non-starter but if we are going to remove the school system from existing partisan politics and political issues that have no bearing on education truly radical options, such as this (though hopefully more detailed and carefully thought through than this skeletal outline), will be necessary.

*I see arguments that parents should be solely responsible for the education of their children fairly frequently.  While I agree that parents are responsible for the upbringing of their child, I don't see that this carries over well into education.  Parents are the ones who will suffer the consequences if their child ends up being a brat or is completely ungrateful or lacking in a number of other signs of a good upbringing, we all suffer if a child ends up being without marketable skills and able to participate in society.  Whether or not we have kids, today's kids, whoever their parents are, are going to be the people working for our companies, paying for our social security, paying the taxes that keep society going, fighting and dying in our wars, and providing staff to the nursing homes we live in tomorrow.  We have almost as much interest that kids are educated to be competent at their jobs as parents are.  Our interest in most other parts of a child's upbringing is limited, but when it comes to education and skills we face a much different set of incentives and responsibilities if we desire to live in a functioning society.

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