In conversations about ethnic or sub-community and varying access to education, I suggested a while back that the necessity of a “good” education for everyone is over-rated. The minimal education needed to get by in our culture and civilization is literacy, some arithmetic competency, and an understanding of how to manipulate or survive the attentions of various bureaucracies. In a good schooling environment this is achievable by about the 2nd grade, in the less good likely the 4th or 6th. It might be said that the only other purpose that public schools get us for the dollar spent is to provide relatively poor moral and public ethics education and to act as baby-sitting service for our kids for 6-7 hours a day on the weekdays of about 2/3rds of the year.

There is as well a public interest in locating and identifying few those in our midst who are touched by genius. The Mozarts or Ramanujans hiding in the weeds, who if found and nurtured can likely blossom and refine their talents to greater levels than they otherwise could if left undiscovered. Our country (and the world) would benefits greatly from the another Fermi or Kelly Johnson. It doesn’t need 5,000 more mediocre literature majors in selling cars. 

In the past (on my personal blog), I’ve offered arguments for privatizing education. To that end, I offered that making all schools private and offering public funds based on testable measures of differential improvements be used as an additional spur toward educational excellence. What I mean by “testable measures of differential improvements” is that:

  • We track each students in a large array of skills and proficiencies and measure their improvement in those from year to year.
  • This measurement then, when compared to the mean across all other (similar?) students improvement, offers a measure of how effective the school is at teaching.
  • That is, one expects students to improve. If school A manages to get its students to improve their abilities better than school B, it gets might make sense to give it more pubic funds to accentuate the fact that parents would likely also be willing to pay more to have their kids attend those (better) schools, especially if those differential scores were public.

Testing isn’t as hard as it sounds. One of the problems, in my view, is that subject matter, especially in the primay and seconday schools (beyond basic life/culture, maths, and reading skills) is irrelevant. Students at that level, really need to learn four only four things: reasoning skills, perserverance, dilligence, and memory. If a student, remembers what he is taught, works hard and carefully, and makes connections easily between those things he is presented he will excell whether or not he had taken “AP” level courses in it in high school or never heard of it before college. Thus at the same times I’d advocate privatizing schools, I’d also recommend freeing their curricula from federal/state level requirements beyond teaching them to be good students. Note, it is also impossible to learn to be a good student without learning something.

However, in those discussions noted above on the notion that many if not most students do not need the education they get for the public interest that there might as well be a second reason to apply public funds. It would be in the public interest to also give assistance to students of exceptional ability. I would suggest:

  • Students of parents too poor to get their kids into school at all, receive tuition vouchers to get their kids into a school in their area. I would also suggest, from a business standpoint, those areas would be good ones to open schools because the competition for public funds based on differential improvements likely mean the poorer regions might be regions in which those funds might be easier to access than more affluent areas.
  • Students of parents of ordinary students who are not very poor … get no assistence (except that in general taxes for schooling would be much reduced all around).
  • Finally, for the few exceptional students … I’d offer exponentially graded assistance or at least a larger than quadratic polynomial level of finanical and voucher aid. If the Mozart/Ramanujan child lives in a poor and dangerous neighborhood, one would want to give his parents the funds to move to affluent surroundings and the vouchers necessary to get him in the school of his choice. This assistence might kick in at the “very good” students at a lesser level and rise to be aggressive for the brightest.

Filed under: EducationGovernmentMark O.

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