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Education and Meritocracy

canvas01

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The discussion on mobility led me to begin thinking a bit more about education.

How do you feel about the American education system as it relates to a meritocratic society? If America wanted to live up to its ideal of a meritocratic society should education (at least pre-college) be a completely public good? Suppose two children begin life with equal academic potential, but Child 1 receives an excellent private education K-12. Child 2 attends an average American subarban public school. Its apparent that a gap between the two children will have been created in that 13+ year span, and through no fault of Child 2's he will now have less ability than Child 2. Imagine how much larger the gap would be if Child 2 went to an urban school. What can be done to begin to fix this problem?
 

Xericx

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School Vouchers.
 

hipcathobbes

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Originally Posted by canvas01
The discussion on mobility led me to begin thinking a bit more about education.

How do you feel about the American education system as it relates to a meritocratic society? If America wanted to live up to its ideal of a meritocratic society should education (at least pre-college) be a completely public good? Suppose two children begin life with equal academic potential, but Child 1 receives an excellent private education K-12. Child 2 attends an average American subarban public school. Its apparent that a gap between the two children will have been created in that 13+ year span, and through no fault of Child 2's he will now have less ability than Child 2. Imagine how much larger the gap would be if Child 2 went to an urban school. What can be done to begin to fix this problem?


arguments cut both ways for vouchers' success, and the propriety of government subsidization of religious schools (since they account for a large swath of private schools today), but vouchers don't really fix anything if parent involvement isn't there. theres a red herring in this kind of argument that it's a problem of private schools per se but thats really just a proxy for socioeconomic status, which is highly correlated with parental involvement in/ability to provide for their childrens upbringing and the ability to provide enrichment activities (piano lessons, spanish tutor, study abroad trips in high school, tennis lessons, whatever). of course some of these (tennis or squash, say) help make connections among the connected class and are constitutively helpful inetting little johnny down the path to success if even through environment alone. in other words, child 1's parents are richer than child 2's, and can provide for more enrichment, which ideally leads to better performance and better placement in the 'meritocracy.' these things i've described seem to be sufficient but not necessary for academic performance (and 'merit'). even minimal parental involvement helps, but people need to take care of their kids.

the achievement gap you mention between suburban and urban public schools is, in similar ways, captured by the socioeconomic gap, as a descriptive matter. but as a prescriptive matter, i guess if you could get around potential legal problems with public subsidies to religious schools, and the programs work, great. but if they come in the form of tax credits, vouchers basically turn down the flow to public schools (or we get substitution effects on other public goods which might negatively affect us all) which doesn't sound like good policy. probably the easiest single measure would be to incentivize young, smart teachers in the way that americorps or teach for america or new york teaching fellows or whatever -- to get them actually in classrooms.
before lehman collapsed, guys i know who were applying to those jobs would have wanted to go to tfa if they had paid just a little more. obviously thats a big salary difference, but still. remember the pres candidates' 911 service forum this year? i dont get why (in general) the guys who are most into free market economics think theres no value to economic incentives to get smart kids into public service.
 

itsstillmatt

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Confiscate all children from their parents and have them raised communally.

On the other hand, a voucher system that did away with state education completely and let it transition into a publicly funded, privately administered system is probably a very good idea.
 

redgrail

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I made a bet with myself when I first read this thread on how long it would take before school vouchers were offered as a panacea. I bet it would come up within two hours or so. It took all of 38 minutes. Bravo.
 

teddieriley

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putting too much emphasis on the educational system. kids can go to great school, but can be screwed and scarred in deeper ways by an f'd up family. It all evens out. Plus you assume kids all have the same sort of capacity to learn. I don't think I was particularly smart growing up, but some of the kids around me were just plain stupid. Same school. Same class. Same books. Same teacher. Same friends.
 

itsstillmatt

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Originally Posted by redgrail
I made a bet with myself when I first read this thread on how long it would take before school vouchers were offered as a panacea. I bet it would come up within two hours or so. It took all of 38 minutes. Bravo.
You are probably right. With the stellar work the government has done in education to date, along with their wonderful handling of the money supply, extraordinary adeptness at creating a drug monopoly and dazzling military performance, they really should get more control over education rather than less.
 

redgrail

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Originally Posted by iammatt
You are probably right. With the stellar work the government has done in education to date, along with their wonderful handling of the money supply, extraordinary adeptness at creating a drug monopoly and dazzling military performance, they really should get more control over education rather than less.

Washington DC - spending $15,000/year/kid, has had vouchers for decades. Still one of the worst performing districts in the US.
Philadelphia - taken over by the state in 2002, outsourcing many schools to private for-profit corporations: no more increase in performance than publicly managed schools.
Seems private managers and vouchers don't always work out.

I'm honestly more worried about the long-term implications of these programs. Smith discusses at length the positive externalities of an education populace in WoN. If vouchers were established everywhere, the whole system that ensures the provision of these positive externalities would be under an existential threat.

Your aside regarding how well the government manages other sectors really has no bearing on this whatsoever, apart from illustrating the general distrust of government that Republicans have a historical obligation to observe, though the days of the GOP as a small government party is long gone (DHS, etc

The public education system is in a sad state, but the answer is not vouchers. At best it is a band-aid. The public school system needs better teachers - this can be attained through incentives - and it needs a depolitization and standardization of curriculum. It needs to move away from standardized testing as a measure of success and towards centrally graded exams (APs and IBs, e.g.). It needs a great many things - in some extreme cases it even needs vouchers (temporarily) - but the mindlessness with which some advocate the voucher system is a little disturbing.
 

rach2jlc

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Originally Posted by iammatt
Confiscate all children from their parents and have them raised communally. On the other hand, a voucher system that did away with state education completely and let it transition into a publicly funded, privately administered system is probably a very good idea.
We've talked about education on other threads and while I'm always optimistic, I think that there's SO much stupidity, backbiting, and self-serving charlatanism in the upper-levels of education administration that I don't see practically HOW we could get where we need to be, barring some sort of massive revolution or a "space race" sort of initiative where we ALL get behind it.
 

itsstillmatt

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Originally Posted by redgrail
Washington DC - spending $15,000/year/kid, has had vouchers for decades. Still one of the worst performing districts in the US.
Philadelphia - taken over by the state in 2002, outsourcing many schools to private for-profit corporations: no more increase in performance than publicly managed schools.
Seems private managers and vouchers don't always work out.


I don't know much about Philadelphia, but have had rather extensive experience with the DC system, and in particular with one of the few schools that has actually thrived there. It was from that experience that I suggested possibly taking the children out of their houses and raising them communally might work. As some above have mentioned, the influence of parenting on the educability of a child is immense. Even perfect schools, whether public or private, will not be able to help a high percentage of kids from bad families.

I'm honestly more worried about the long-term implications of these programs. Smith discusses at length the positive externalities of an education populace in WoN. If vouchers were established everywhere, the whole system that ensures the provision of these positive externalities would be under an existential threat.
The long term implications of these programs might be more worrying if we were looking to switch from something that is actually working. There is no doubt that a well educated populace is positive for the community, but there are quite a few doubts over whether a well educated populace is possible from a rigid system, and whether a rigid definition of educated makes sense. As to whether education would be under an existential threat with a voucher system, I do not see why it would be. If there were truly benefits to those who would use the system, then they would use it. The only people who would not use it would be those who saw it as useless, but then they aren't getting much out of the system now, and they make education more difficult for those who are working at it. The number of good things that have gone out of existence because the government has not been there to save them is inordinately low.

Your aside regarding how well the government manages other sectors really has no bearing on this whatsoever, apart from illustrating the general distrust of government that Republicans have a historical obligation to observe, though the days of the GOP as a small government party is long gone (DHS, etc
The fact that the government does not manage anything well does have bearing on whether they should be more deeply involved in education. I am, no matter what you say, not a Republican, and have never been registered as one, so I am not performing any obligatory historical rites. Perhaps you could mention one or two places the government has been a shining success, and we could look to model the educational system after that.

The public education system is in a sad state, but the answer is not vouchers. At best it is a band-aid. The public school system needs better teachers - this can be attained through incentives - and it needs a depolitization and standardization of curriculum. It needs to move away from standardized testing as a measure of success and towards centrally graded exams (APs and IBs, e.g.). It needs a great many things - in some extreme cases it even needs vouchers (temporarily) - but the mindlessness with which some advocate the voucher system is a little disturbing.
You are right that vouchers will not give everybody in America a better education, and they certainly will not give everybody an equal education. While the former is a worthwhile goal, it is an impossible one, the latter is tragically silly. The standardization of education should not be the goal. Children are not standard, do not have standard abilities and do not need standard curriculum. If your goal is to have public schools which are as good as the current private schools, then you will need to lure back not only good teachers, but also some of the good students that are leaving, as the student body as a whole is very important to the quality of the school. If you make education more standardized, you are giving yourself less ability to compete for these children. You are also limiting your ability to compete for good teachers who want to be something other than the neighborhood do gooder. Depolitization is a great idea. It is usually best accomplished by taking something out of the political system. As for incentivization, how in the world would you accomplish this? Everybody likes to talk about it, but nobody has ever come up with a reasonable answer to how it is done. There is no way to set wage rates in the educational system other than by taking a flying leap. Like your comment about Republicans distrusting government, I find that this is the answer many on the left give to the problem of education, but there is no real answer hidden inside the pretty wrapping.

Anyway, vouchers will not help everybody, but they will provide more opportunity for the best of the kids not able to afford schooling. To help everybody, or at least equalize things, you really do need to take kids from their families. I have worked with groups doing both from a public/private point of view, and the ones offering voucher, or scholarship, type programs have much greater success but reach many fewer kids. The confiscation model, though I would not call it that in front of the people who do it, has been pretty successful, but with lower highs. It also is politically difficult, and the people I know who run a few schools, and who I have worked with on them, are experiencing some of those political difficulties in their neighborhoods now. In other words, there is not a perfect answer, but a continuation, or slight alteration, of what we are doing now seems to be a sure recipe of failure through orthodoxy.
 

Get Smart

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I've had this rant with friends over and over

the K-12 system is like the first semester of a college calculus class (as an example). On day 1 everyone is pretty much at the same level, by the first week some are getting it and some not, a month in it's clear who's understanding the class and who is struggling. By the first midterm it's definitely clear. Then by the final, those who didnt get it by midterm probably wont do better than a C in the class.

My wife teaches 4th grade and she is blown away at how many in her class are underperforming at 4th grade standards.

I think the education system needs to get off the "go to college" bandwagon and push trade programs for those who just don't get it. When a kid struggles to read at 4th grade level in the 4th grade, he isnt just going to miraculously make up for it later. He'll always struggle and realistically college will not be an option. You can make a great living learning a trade and I think the education system doesnt take into account a student's true potential, but rather an idealized potential.

You have 10 kids, they all put in 100% and will yield different results. Schools need to take this into account, that not everyone performs at the same level and at some point (say the 4th or 5th grade) make a determination of where you are and put you into a learning tract that teaches you at the pace you are able to accomodate. So if it means finally finishing algebra as a high school senior, that's fine. Then you go to trade school. Not like you need to know differential equations while learning to cook, be a mechanic, electrician, plumber etc.

I think it's a huge problem the administration is more on side with parents than teachers and blame teachers for the failed parenting of kids in their class. When my wife has a parent-teacher meeting day, NOT ONE PARENT shows up, and that goes for many of the other teachers she works with. You'd be lucky if up to 5 parents show up.

the classroom is like a sports team, there's only so much a coach can do to help the team win.
 

rach2jlc

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Originally Posted by Get Smart
the classroom is like a sports team, there's only so much a coach can do to help the team win.

You can't make chicken salad out of chicken shit.

I'm sure he stole it from somewhere (he wasn't terribly original), but it was my tennis coach's favorite expression in high school. Seems apt here..
 

Get Smart

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Originally Posted by rach2jlc
You can't make chicken salad out of chicken shit.

yea the expression I use is "the school gives you a bowl of shit and expects the teacher to spin gold out of it"
 

Milhouse

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The entire argument is predicated on the idea that nurture counts for more than nature in this case.

Does education lead to success, or does a child's intrinsic ability to learn and curiosity about the world cause them to succeed?

If you feel that it is all about education, then sure, a solution to education needs to be sought out.

If you feel that a "winner" or "leader" is born with characteristics that help them be successful, then you simply have to facilitate them and guide them a little. Their own characteristics will provide the rest.
 

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