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philjit
Arch-Enemy of Idealism

Registered: Jan 2002
Location: UK
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'Give choice? Unworkable, minister'

Characters in the following piece are fictional. The points being made are not.

quote:

The following extract from the diaries of the Rt Hon James Hacker has recently come to light

Monday, August 22

This morning Dorothy came up with an amazing idea. It solves all my ghastly problems with the failure of the educational system.

And it's so simple. You just give parents an education voucher for each child. It covers the whole cost of a child's education, and they spend it at whatever school they choose. The school just cashes all the vouchers and pays its bills.

No need for the Department of Education. No need for local education authorities, except for an annual inspection. They would be just like the independent schools. In fact, they would be independent schools, except that they would be free to the parents. I couldn't wait to try it out on Humphrey.

"Humphrey," I said when he came in, "I intend to let parents send their children to whatever school they want."

"You mean, after application, interview, proof of need, departmental scrutiny, tribunal hearing and appeal procedures?" he said. "They have that already." "No," I said, "they just go to the school of their choice."

"Quite unworkable, I'm afraid, minister." "Perfectly workable," I said, and explained the voucher system to him. He seemed to go rather pale.

"But that's ridiculous," he said. "Why?" "Well, parents don't understand education. They wouldn't know which were the good schools." "They don't understand medicine, but we let them choose their own doctors."

"But that's entirely different. Parents aren't patients." Before I could probe this interesting theory, Dorothy chipped in. "Which school did you go to, Sir Humphrey?"

"Winchester, since you ask, good lady." "And who chose it?" "My parents, naturally." Dorothy and I both grinned. "But that's entirely different! My parents were cultivated people. Educated. You can't expect ordinary people to know where to educate their children."

"Why not?" asked Dorothy, who has two children of her own at school. "They can tell if their children can read and write and do sums. They can tell if the neighbours are happy with the school. They can tell if the exam results are good or bad."

"After all," I added, "we don't tell them which shops they can shop at. They make their own choices and live with them."

"Well, of course, if you're going to treat education like cornflakes … you see, parents just aren't qualified to choose schools. They need guidance from people who understand." "They can have guidance if they want it. What they don't want is compulsion."

He went off on another tack. "Anyway, it just isn't practicable. The good schools would be swamped. They couldn't handle the numbers." "But every new pupil is an extra voucher. They could build prefabricated classrooms."

"And what about the staff of the bad schools?" "The good ones would be needed by the good schools. The bad ones would be better off finding a new profession."

"Yes, but then you've got a lot of half-empty schools that aren't financially viable."

"Fine. The good schools can take them over." I could see that Humphrey was running out of objections. "It's about power, you see, Humphrey. Do you want the educational bureaucracies and the school authorities to have the power, or do you want the parents to be in the driving seat with the schools competing for their business?"

It was all too clear where Humphrey's preference lay, but clearly he couldn't admit it in front of me and Dorothy. So he changed tack again.

"Well, of course, minister, this is all very novel and imaginative. But with the greatest respect, I'm afraid that the costs would be prohibitive."

"It might cost a bit extra to set it up," I agreed, "but that would be more than outweighed by the savings afterwards. Do you know how much of the government's educational budget actually gets through to the schools?"

"Most of it, I imagine." "No, Humphrey. Only about 60pc. That leaves the missing 40pc to pay for the changeover." "That 40pc is essential overhead." "Really? Then how do 2,500 independent schools manage without it?"

Dorothy chipped in again. "It costs £5,000 a year to educate a child in a comprehensive school. Do you know what the fees are in the independent sector?"

"A great deal more than that, I can assure you, dear lady." "At the great boarding schools, yes. But at the Girls' Public Day School Trust schools, the ones outside London, the average annual fees are £5,025. An extra 50p a week."

Humphrey paused for a moment. A rather menacing pause, I thought. "Ah," he said, "I see." This rather surprised me, but I let it pass.

"So what you're really trying to do is help the parents with children at fee-paying schools? After all, they'll be able to use their vouchers at Eton and Harrow, presumably?"

"The vouchers could be taxable," said Dorothy. "And some schools could have a voucher top-up charge if they wanted, yes. But competition for parents' voucher cash at every level would make sure that all schools reached a decent level, or they'd go out of business. The existence of Harrods doesn't make Tesco into a bad store."

Humphrey clearly picked up the reference to Harrods, though I wasn't completely sure he knew what Tesco was. I was interested to see where he would go next.

"Well," he said, "it's all very stimulating and challenging. But I think you will find that the Department for Education and Skills are likely to react with some caution to this original and ingenious idea."

"You mean they'll block it?" "No, no, minister. Certainly not. They will give it the most serious and urgent consideration.

"And to that end they will insist on a thorough and rigorous examination of all the proposals, leading in due course to a feasibility study and detailed budget analysis before producing a consultative document for consideration by all interested bodies, and seeking comments and recommendations to be incorporated into a brief for a series of working parties, who will produce individual studies that will form the background for a more wide-ranging document, considering whether or not the proposal should be taken forward to the next stage."

He did mean they'll block it.

© Anthony Jay 2005

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Old Post 08-23-2005 01:18 AM
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Mugtoe
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Old Post 08-23-2005 02:48 AM
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CHiPsJr
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School vouchers! IT'S THE END OF THE WORLD!!! RUN!!! SAVE YOURSELVES!!! THE SKY IS FALLING!!!

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Old Post 08-23-2005 04:26 AM
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Large Filipino
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That's an awesome idea. That's already implimented,in a way with the Developmentally Disabled system. Each client gets a set rate according to need.
Then the guardian chooses the agency that the person will attend...when the waiting list warrants.
At the very least,it would make schools competitive.
It would be cool to see high school commercials.

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Old Post 08-23-2005 05:13 AM
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willimo
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Registered: Jan 2003
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School vouchers aren't a very good idea. The bit in there about how it's not much more expensive to pay for a private school education over a public school education isn't true. Consider how much cheaper a system with say, 50,000 students can operate per student than a system with 500.

Some private schools would start charging parents more than the voucher allows (just as they charge parents at all for those who go that route), and they would make more money. That's ok, but as time passed, the people that could afford it would flee to the more expensive schools, the price would go up, making even a grade school education a greater and greater hardship on parents of any income bracket, especially those who rely solely on the vouchers. With time, the only schools worth their salt would be out of reach of the impovrished, which would only widen the gap between the wealthy and educated and the poor and uneducated. And there is no guarantee that these schools, facing climbing costs of education (being driven by the more lucrative sales to the more expensive schools) wouldn't shut down, which would destroy the compulsory education as we know it (which I am aware mugtoe isn't into).

It is a common misconception that public schools aren't good. Most public schools have a system in place for students who excell in academics to do just that, whether it is a gifted and talented program, or a magnet program, or whatever, public schools do have an outlet for students who are willing to work, and are more importantly, pushed by their parents to succeed.

Things are bad enough for students whose parents don't care about their education. I would be horrified to allow a voucher system to be put into place if only because of the sheer number of students it would leave behind. Yes, there are flaws in the system already, and yes students are left behind, but the situation pales in comparison to how dire our education system would become if we allowed people to flee the system entirely, taking away any advantages that the public school system has - namely, the ability to provide an an essentially free education to those who need it the most.

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Old Post 08-23-2005 06:01 AM
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Large Filipino
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But the commercials,man!
Cheerleaders!!!

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Old Post 08-23-2005 07:05 AM
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Mugtoe
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Public education is one of the few places where the labor unions and management are on the same page. It's become a jobs program that bilks the taxpayer for more and more money and delivers less and less quality as a result and allows less and less accountability to the people paying the bills. Competition is never bad. What we have at the moment is a monopoly that is unaccountable to its customers and not subject to any market forces. It has no compelling reason to change regardless of what kind of product it churns out.

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Old Post 08-23-2005 02:32 PM
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Trenchant_Troll
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Registered: Mar 2004
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quote:
Originally posted by willimo
School vouchers aren't a very good idea.


That about cinches it for me. I'm all for vouchers.

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Old Post 08-23-2005 02:51 PM
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Smug Git
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Not all of the US spends much on public education, so I don't think that portraying it as a money-consuming racket is entirely correct.

In the area I now live, school taxes are high, but the schools are in fact good, by American standards. Of course, the question of where American standards lie is another issue altogether. Not that far from here, where total school tax receipts are lower (the rate is similar, but house prices are lower) the schools aren't so good.

It is interesting, though, that so much money is spent on American schools in general and yet they are so bad. I was amazed to find out how relatively little of the US education budget goes on salaries (wheras in the UK, even the direct grant schools (no local education authority cut from that money, it went straight from government to school) would spend approaching 90% of their budget on salaries, which is how it should be. More and better teachers are what you can get with more salary money and of all the things inside the control of the education system, that's the most important thing. So long as the building doesn't actually fall down, at least.

There is competition and choice for education in the UK, actually. The result is, as would be expected, that good schools get better and the bad ones tank. The problem with it is that the strategy for improving the tanked bad schools hasn't yet worked (putting them into private contractor control was tried, for example, after a competitive bidding process, and didn't really work any better than the old system). The education market is different to a free market however you try to make it freer, at least in part because the most important part of success in teaching (supportive parents) is actually out of the control of the education system. Additionally, society appears unwilling (and it's a credit to society, perhaps) to accept that a bunch of kids will get screwed through no fault of their own (because they are useless parents), but it is those kids that end up, primarily, in the sink schools where the system is competitive.

You can spend money badly in education, sure, but you won't go far wrong if you increase teacher salaries to improve the field of available teachers. On interview, schools take the best available candidate (in the UK, the person in question has to accept the job offer on the same day that it is offered) but the number of good people prepared to take on a teaching career is reduced by the poor pay. Successful teaching requires a lot of skills and is hard work, and while there are some who do it for the love of it and are prepared to live poorly while they do it, that pool of people isn't sufficient to provide the number of teachers that are needed.

Incidentally, the 'those who can't, teach' nonsense really is just that, nonsense. They might teach badly, but to teach something well you have to be better than the highest level to which you have to teach your students. Given that that level should be objectively high (because kids can learn a lot by age 18, if the environment is right) the level of subject proficiency on the part of the teachers needs be higher still. In every good school that I taught in, the teachers were extremely proficient at their subject, and it was in part this that allowed them to help students achieve very high levels of performance. In many subjects, that level of proficiency, in addition to the extensive skillset required to be a good teacher, will command a pretty good salary outside of teaching and so teaching has to offer comparable salaries if we wish to attract good people. Of course, in some subjects, you could get people for cheap because their subject field isn't attractive to employers. And that's as it should be (certainly, I favour a free market in terms of staff recruitment and retention). Sociology, English, Psychology, etc, graduates are easier to attract into teaching and their salary might be, on average, less than teachers of other subjects might command.

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Azrael
The Advocate

Registered: Dec 2002
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Before the problem can be addressed, at least in England, it must be recognised. The quality of GCSEs has been falling for some time in order to keep the grade output more or less steady.

Employers are starting to say A levels are worthless because a quater of all students pass with straight As.

To confront the problem we must expose it by raising the bar and checking the damage. Once revealed im sure the outcry would bring about some change.

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CHiPsJr
Ginger-headed Troll

Registered: Sep 2000
Location: Kansas City
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quote:
Originally posted by willimo
School vouchers aren't a very good idea. The bit in there about how it's not much more expensive to pay for a private school education over a public school education isn't true. Consider how much cheaper a system with say, 50,000 students can operate per student than a system with 500.


First of all, show me this "economy of scale" as it applies to the public schools. Your assumption is that the district will save by consolidating overhead expenditures. By and large, that simply doesn't happen, for the simple reason that there is no incentive for it to happen. In the district where Paint and I attended public school, there are EIGHTEEN administrators pulling down $50K plus to be "curriculum coordinators". Other districts of similar size in the same state have one such employee. Why does district 501 have eighteen? Because the budget permits it, and the administration gains absolutely nothing by slashing said expenditures--all that happens is their budget for the next year shrinks.

quote:
Originally posted by willimo
Some private schools would start charging parents more than the voucher allows (just as they charge parents at all for those who go that route), and they would make more money.


This directly contradicts your argument about economies of scale; if they are economically desirable the private schools will seek to create them, not avoid them, which means taking advantage of the opportunity provided by the voucher to increase enrollment.

Secondly, the argument is empirically false; private school tuition in localities with voucher programs is increasing at rates at or below the national average.

quote:
Originally posted by willimo
That's ok, but as time passed, the people that could afford it would flee to the more expensive schools, the price would go up, making even a grade school education a greater and greater hardship on parents of any income bracket, especially those who rely solely on the vouchers. With time, the only schools worth their salt would be out of reach of the impovrished, which would only widen the gap between the wealthy and educated and the poor and uneducated.


Wow. OK, first: this is worse than the existing system how, exactly? Seems to me that we kind of already HAVE expensive private schools to which richies can send their kids. At WORST the vouchers don't increase access to those schools at all because they jack up tuition by exactly as much as the voucher is worth; in the real world, the vouchers make schools more accessible for some (not necessarily all) kids who couldn't otherwise afford them. There is absolutely no way, economically speaking, that education can become LESS affordable for those getting the voucher than it would in their absence.

Secondly: as mentioned above, this hasn't happened where vouchers have been tried.

Third: the scenario you're creating here is massively and directly contradictory with the arguments you make below, but I'll get to that later.

quote:
Originally posted by willimo
And there is no guarantee that these schools, facing climbing costs of education (being driven by the more lucrative sales to the more expensive schools) wouldn't shut down, which would destroy the compulsory education as we know it (which I am aware mugtoe isn't into).


First: which rising costs would those be? Your whole argument is that the vouchers reinforce a tiered approach to education. If those tiers are as impregnable as you claim, there's no reason that economic pressures would exist across the tiers: if Elito Academy only hires the best teachers and already has them all on staff, then there is no reason that an increase in salaries there would force Inferiora Academy to increase THEIR salaries, because by your logic the second-tier teachers have nowhere else to go. The second tier schools will (and do) charge lower tuition rather than shutting their doors; that is how markets work.

Secondly: this, like every other scenario you spin, hasn't happened where vouchers have been tried.

Thirdly: university tuition is increasing at a rate which must surely exceed any but the wildest forecasts of what might happen in private schools post-vouchers. How many colleges have closed up shop as a result?

quote:
Originally posted by willimo
It is a common misconception that public schools aren't good. Most public schools have a system in place for students who excell in academics to do just that, whether it is a gifted and talented program, or a magnet program, or whatever, public schools do have an outlet for students who are willing to work, and are more importantly, pushed by their parents to succeed.



First: Some public schools are good. Some are bad. Some provide excellent learning for above-average students. Some don't. Vouchers don't pose much of a danger to strong public schools; why would they? Vouchers DO pose a substantial danger to bad public schools, and they damn well should.

Secondly: when you argue that there exists a free, high-quality alternative to private schools, you undermine every argument you make above about the inevitability of a tiered educational system and the collapse of compulsory education. If mid-level private schools fall apart and the kids in them wind up in the high-quality public system you tout, where's the harm? If the free alternative is high-quality, what does that do to cost pressures?

quote:
Originally posted by willimo
Things are bad enough for students whose parents don't care about their education. I would be horrified to allow a voucher system to be put into place if only because of the sheer number of students it would leave behind. Yes, there are flaws in the system already, and yes students are left behind, but the situation pales in comparison to how dire our education system would become if we allowed people to flee the system entirely, taking away any advantages that the public school system has - namely, the ability to provide an an essentially free education to those who need it the most.


First: people are already allowed to flee the system. They're called "rich people" and "the academically oriented middle class." Is it your argument that public schooling should be compulsory for them as well? Or is it your argument that it's acceptable to hold the children of academically interested poor people hostage in order to create a better environment for the children of academically disinterested poor people? I find either argument repugnant. Students are an end in themselves; they are not to be treated as a means to any other end.

Secondly, I'm not seeing how education in the public schools ceases to be free once the beneficiaries of vouchers choose to leave. Indeed, I'm not seeing how the education of the children of educationally disinterested students changes one iota. How, specifically, do kids from disinterested families benefit from the presence of other kids from interested families? I've taught both, and I see pretty much zero osmosis going on. In fact, I see a HELL of a lot more pressure being exerted by disinterested kids to de-incentivize learning than I see from interested kids to pull the slackers up.

Vouchers aren't a magic bullet that makes everything perfect forever, but they're a hell of a lot better than an ossified status quo that leaves high-talent, low-income kids to stagnate for the benefit of the "system". They're a pretty critical first step towards better schools. And the internally contradictory nightmare scenarios about what would happen with them are not merely empirically disproven in model programs, but in every other industry in which competition is practiced.

Education is too important for us to permit the quality of the product to be contingent on the whim of the provider.

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Old Post 08-23-2005 04:13 PM
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Mugtoe
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Sadly, I have no pernts to give.

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quote:
Originally posted by Smug Git
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SimpleSimon
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I do.

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Smug Git
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How is the problem of the decline of the losing schools to be addressed? The fact is that kids attend those places. I believe in competition, but in this case you have to ensure that the losers still get something decent, and it's critical that you include that provision in your whole competitive procedure. You can't say 'OK, vouchers, off we go, we'll sort out the rest later' because it won't get sorted and it will probably drive the losers lower. That would be fine if it was adults that we were talking about, but it isn't. It's kids, many of whom were already unavoidably disadvantaged through being born to useless parents. That's not how to achieve a flexible social structure where merit rules. You might bleed through a few poor talented kids, but you'll drive many more hopelessly parented kids down. So the plan needs to be worked out before the populist (and easiest) bits are put into operation.

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Old Post 08-23-2005 04:37 PM
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CHiPsJr
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quote:
Originally posted by Smug Git
How is the problem of the decline of the losing schools to be addressed?


Once again: how, specifically, do the "losing" schools decline?

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Old Post 08-23-2005 04:42 PM
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Smug Git
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Because, in my experience (of working in an education system where there is competition) the succeeding schools attract the most applications and are therefore compelled to select from them. Understandably, they take the least problematic and highest-performing kids. Uncoincidentally, they are also getting the kids with the most motivated parents (indeed, one school I worked at was restricted from judging kid's ability, and basically just picked on the parents, and is one of the best schools in the country).

The less successful schools, however, have to take whatever they can get. Those schools then have a high percentage of kids that are problematic and, again uncoincidentally, they have a larger proportion of shitty parents. I worked in a school like that when I first started; that school is still bad and, in fact, got a lot worse (being put into 'special measures', which is a big (and very bad) deal). The presence of large numbers of difficult students adversely affects the education of those that aren't problematic.

This problem could be addressed by significantly increasing the funding to the schools that have these kids, but because of the competitive procedure that created those schools, that would effectively be rewarding failure with more money. However, these kids are more expensive to teach, frankly. I've taught classes of 33 at good schools with little problem, but at the bad school, a class size of 14 would be appropriate; this has, of course, huge implications for expenditure. Staff recruitment and retention is also very difficult at these sorts of schools, which also drives down the school's performance. It becomes a spiral and the school ends as what is called (in the UK) a 'sink school'. The worst kids and the worst teachers all end up there.

This should be no surprise to any free marketeer, because every honest free marketeer knows that there will be losers. It's a whacked-out fantasy to claim otherwise. The problem in this case is who the losers are; the biggest losers of all are the children attending these schools, many of whom have already been kicked in the teeth through being born to useless parents. That is why you need to build protections in and these protections have to be a part of the whole plan. The two competitive efforts in British education, the Grammar/Secondary/Technical school system of the immediate post-war, and the introduction of competition between schools in the state system, both failed to achieve their objectives because the lower end wasn't put into place. In the case of the first, the Secondary schools were allowed to drift but, most importantly, the Technical Schools weren't built in sufficient numbers. In the second case, there was no serious workable plan for addressing the matter of failing schools. In addition, the practice of rewarding success with additional funding (understandable enough) failed to address the problem of requiring significant extra money for the schools of kids that the successful schools didn't want, for smaller class sizes and for recruiting and retaining good staff to work in a more difficult school.

I have worked, in my career, in a school that was failing under the competitive system and has now gotten worse, as they tend to do; this school was also, incidentally, a Grant Maintained school (funded by direct grant from the government), so the Local Education Authority (LEA) can't be blamed for what happened to it. It was also a Secondary school, in one of the few counties that still have the Grammar/Secondary/Technical school system. I taught in a Grant Maintained school that selected parents; this was a catholic school, in a very competitive environment (London; we had kids who came from up to an hour and a half away). Tony Blair's government abolished the Grant Maintained system while I was teaching there; this was somewhat ironic as his own children attended the school (controversially, as he lived on the other side of London). I taught in a Grammar School, which takes the top 20% of kids (so, different to what you call a 'grammar school' in the US) in an LEA that did have selective education by exam result at age 11, but restricted competition between its constituent schools. I also taught at a private school (mostly for fabulously rich resit students). The clear ingredient in the best school was good parents. The good schools certainly did get better from competition, whether between kids based on exam or between parents. The bad schools got worse. That's my experience, anyhow. I made the decision to leave the bad school and only teach at good ones; as a teacher in a shortage subject with a good CV, I could do that. The teachers I left behind where the ones that couldn't get out, same as the kids that they were teaching, because no one else wanted them. They were trying to teach kids with the same per student budget as schools that had the overwhelming majority of smart kids, or kids with supportive parents, or both. They only got paid the same as the teachers having a much easier and less stressful time at those successful schools. In the commercial competitive world, that business would go bust and quite right too; in the real world, those kids have to be taught somewhere.

You might feel that the US education system is so horrible that it really doesn't matter, anything is better than what you have, but the fact is that you can make the worse a lot worse and the people who suffer that are children.

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Old Post 08-23-2005 05:25 PM
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CHiPsJr
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I would actually argue that there are indeed some schools in the US that literally couldn't get any worse. Schools with truancy rates of 70% or greater; schools at which it is estimated that 50% of the students have a puncture wound somewhere on their body on any given day; schools without desks or books. So essentially, my first argument would be that your objection is not, in fact, something that would prevent us from immediately implementing vouchers; that some schools will be beyond horrendous is a given.

I would add to that that my primary interest in the educational system is in the education of individual students rather than in measures of systemic performance. I would contend that if a teacher is incompetent, we should not see a system in which he is teaching a few competent students as superior to a system in which he is teaching no competent students, regardless of mean test scores. My basic feeling is that a concentration of really bad education is no worse than the diffusion of really bad education throughout the system. I would repeat, on this level, that there is NO WAY I would accept the argument that an otherwise able student or family has some sort of obligation to make his or her education less effective than it would otherwise be just to prevent such schools from existing; it seems to me that to object to vouchers on these grounds is identical to saying that some able but impoverished students/families must be sacrificed for the good of the less able/interested, which is, as I said, repugnant.

I think that the best argument against market creation of bottom-feeder schools is geography. No voucher system of which I'm aware permits a public school to select 100% of its student body, rather, there is a portion of the student body that is just the neighborhood kids. Students with less motivated parents won't wind up at the worst school through process of elimination; they will end up at the CLOSEST school, and this fact inherently creates something of the random ability mixing that voucher opponents seem to see as a barrier to total failure.

The fact that I oppose compulsory schooling beyond the age of 15 also gives me a bit of an out on this question, in that I would contend that in they system I'd advocate the worst schools wouldn't be nearly as bad as they would otherwise, in that the true barriers to the education of their peers would simply not be there.

To the extent that schools fail, which is, as I said, an inherent problem rather than a voucher flaw: if the losing schools are private, the answer is simple: the schools with no applicants close, and those students end up in the public schools. If the losing schools are public, then my best suggestion is that they be made laboratories for radical reform; why any faculty member at such an institution should have tenure is beyond me, not that many of them would want to stay. These are institutions that could certainly be considered for private charters, as various institutions have publicly challenged the educational establishment with offers to teach the students they deem "least able."

Bottom line: there is no reliable way to educate kids who just don't care, particularly if their parents don't care either. That fact shouldn't prevent us from doing our best for those kids who DO care.

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I would strongly advise against acting with the populist stuff (vouchers) before getting the fall-back right, because the fall-back will never happen otherwise (because in effect it can be portrated as rewarding failure, of schools, with more cash). The motivated parents, who may coincidentally be more likely to vote, will be the primary beneficiaries of the vouchers and that will be enough for them. The kids of the shitty parents won't care so much, and if they were paying the price that'd be fair enough, but they aren't. Their kids are.

You haven't explained what happens to the kids that aren't attactive to schools in tihs competitive environment (primarily ones with shitty parents, which isn't their fault). Vouchers, or league tables and competition, etc, is just easy to come up with. The hard question, the important question, the difficult one to sell, is what happens to the kids who aren't wanted by these competitive schools? Frankly, I've heard all the competition stuff, the rewarding excellence stuff, before (it's been a mantra in UK education for years, and acted upon; what was lacking was the fall-back implementation).

In the UK, the problem with failing schools is hardly ever wastage of money. Private firms aren't really any better off, unless they get more money than the failing school was getting, in which case the advantage of private control isn't clear, because mostly the problem is rooted in insufficient money to attract good teachers and to have the smaller class sizes required.

It all sounds like pie in the sky to me, as someone who's worked in a system a little like it. I don't think that it's how you fix broken schools; you might indeed need some new people at those schools (to replace the shitty staff that couldn't get work anywhere else) but you're also going to need a lot more money. In the public education system there are plenty of excellent people who'd be able to do that job with the extra money, and there is no profit margin as there is with a private firm.

Teacher's unions aren't helpful either, with their insistence that all teachers are basically paid the same, regardless of what subject they teach. It's all very collegial and so on, but the fact is that English teachers are easy to find, and maths teachers aren't. A Maths teacher, of the same talent who make the same effort as an English teacher, should earn more. Their salaries should keep rising until there is a sufficient pool of good teachers, and that of English teachers should until it can't fall further without leading to less good teachers than are required. Gym teachers should be earning bugger all. These subjects all relative to the demographic in the UK teaching profession, of course; shortages may be different elsewhere.

You have to have loser schools unless you effectively give more money to schools that teach more of the loser kids. They're harder to teach so need rarer teachers who should earn more*, they need smaller classes so more teachers, which costs more. They also need, in my experience, more money spent on learning materials (I can teach a class of 30+ smart and motivated kids with blackboard and chalk if I have to, which is cheap, but the more challenging kids require more expensive teaching aids to get the best out of them). The problem with this is that it's difficult to asses all this in a formal way, which has also been the experience in the UK.

*And my least favourite statement from and teachers was that their talents lay more with teaching the smarter and more advanced pupils. Dickheads. We're nearly all better at teaching them, they're a lot fucking easier to teach. What they really meant is that they preferred teaching those pupils because it was easier, which is fair enough, we all did, but it wasn't a matter of a specific talent.

I'd almost rather see the state withdraw from education altogether than give vouchers, actually, although education is one of the few things where I support serious state intervention. In fact, my whole conservative philosophy of not feeling that sorry for the people who lose out in life's great competition really requires that people at least had the chance to achieve their potential, and that requires universal education. The idea that it can't be achieved through government action is bunk; it is merely the case that in some countries, it doesn't. That isn't an irretrievable situation, though. It is interesting to see the US follow some of the populist crap that the UK did, like the 'No Child Left Behind' nonsense, although the UK has gone farther down this route than the US yet has, accompanied by a fall in overall standards (vouchers has long been a kickaround idea there, too, but sanity has generally prevailed).

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Smug Git
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quote:
Originally posted by CHiPsJr
Bottom line: there is no reliable way to educate kids who just don't care, particularly if their parents don't care either.


I am convinced, from my personal experience, that that isn't true. Even at the bad school I was at, there were some success stories. Smaller classes and better teachers (ie, higher wages to recruit and retain them) would have increased that number, for sure. It's just harder and more expensive. But it's not the kid's fault, and they're worth it, I think. At any rate, they deserve it.

I might allow for kids who do get the required attention and expenditure being able to leave school earlier; some people really aren't going to achieve enough to make the extra time worthwhile, just through their own inherent limitations. But they'd have had to have had a better start than they are currently getting, for that judgement to be made.

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Or to think of it another way, imagine a class of 14 kids bad enough so that you could just about achieve a decent job with them, in terms of their abilities and potential and behaviour (or imagine 1 kid, or 5, or whatever, making up the class), with a reasonable amount of bells and whistles teaching aids. Now imagine a class of 30 of them, with no teaching aids; how much will you achieve now? Could you even bear to do that all day, every day? That's the situation, in practice. Of course, there are other problems to deal with (like truancy; in the UK, their parents get sent to prison, now) but in terms of what you can do in the classroom, as a teacher, class size and facilities are important.

Incidentally, there is an effect (a well-documented one, I believe, but learning that goes back to my teacher-training days) on the morale and behaviour of kids who get sent to the bad school, quite apart from the negative affect of the general absence of good examples amongst their peers. This is clear in the average failing school but also in the Secondary Modern schools where kids who failed the grammar school entrance exam were sent.

While I'm on the subject of nonsensical statements that I've heard about the education system (in the UK), the idea that teacher training colleges are hotbeds of weird pinko radicalism is bollocks. While clearly the profession attracts a more humanist cohort, some of whom definitely are pretty far out left, the training colleges are in general looking at the right things. They may require too much paperwork (an increasing failing in UK education, as the government is looking to check and doublecheck and triplecheck everything, as if burying any problems under paper will solve everything) but they don't waste time indoctrinating trotskyite principles into prospective teachers. Maybe it's different in the US.

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CHiPsJr
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quote:
Originally posted by Smug Git
I would strongly advise against acting with the populist stuff (vouchers) before getting the fall-back right, because the fall-back will never happen otherwise (because in effect it can be portrated as rewarding failure, of schools, with more cash). The motivated parents, who may coincidentally be more likely to vote, will be the primary beneficiaries of the vouchers and that will be enough for them. The kids of the shitty parents won't care so much, and if they were paying the price that'd be fair enough, but they aren't. Their kids are.


Your mistake is in portraying failing schools as a phenomenon unique to vouchers requiring a specific "fall-back" approach. Failing schools exist, and need fixing, in any given educational environment. If we can't do anything before fixing the worst schools, we can't do anything, ever. That mindset is a recipe for complete inaction in the interest of anyone except the least fortunate.

quote:
Originally posted by Smug Git
You haven't explained what happens to the kids that aren't attactive to schools in tihs competitive environment (primarily ones with shitty parents, which isn't their fault).


Actually, I've told you exactly what happens to them: they remain in their neighborhood schools, as do the bulk of kids under any voucher proposal.

What we haven't heard is any proposal on your part as to what we should do with motivated kids trapped in failing schools due to economic circumstance. Do we, or do we not, leave them there until we fix the system for everyone else? Are they to be treated as an end in themselves, or as a means to ends we decide upon?

quote:
Originally posted by Smug Git
It all sounds like pie in the sky to me, as someone who's worked in a system a little like it. I don't think that it's how you fix broken schools; you might indeed need some new people at those schools (to replace the shitty staff that couldn't get work anywhere else) but you're also going to need a lot more money.


I've been pretty clear that I see vouchers and competition as an incremental improvement rather than a cure-all. You want more money? Fine by me. I even agree, more or less. But it doesn't speak to the incremental benefits or harms of educational choice at all.

quote:
Originally posted by Smug Git
Teacher's unions aren't helpful either, with their insistence that all teachers are basically paid the same, regardless of what subject they teach. It's all very collegial and so on, but the fact is that English teachers are easy to find, and maths teachers aren't. A Maths teacher, of the same talent who make the same effort as an English teacher, should earn more. Their salaries should keep rising until there is a sufficient pool of good teachers, and that of English teachers should until it can't fall further without leading to less good teachers than are required. Gym teachers should be earning bugger all. These subjects all relative to the demographic in the UK teaching profession, of course; shortages may be different elsewhere.


Okay.

quote:
Originally posted by Smug Git
You have to have loser schools unless you effectively give more money to schools that teach more of the loser kids. They're harder to teach so need rarer teachers who should earn more*, they need smaller classes so more teachers, which costs more. They also need, in my experience, more money spent on learning materials (I can teach a class of 30+ smart and motivated kids with blackboard and chalk if I have to, which is cheap, but the more challenging kids require more expensive teaching aids to get the best out of them). The problem with this is that it's difficult to asses all this in a formal way, which has also been the experience in the UK.


SOME of them probably need more money to be taught effectively. Money can provide multimodal learning but it can't cure apathy. But it's all neither here nor there.

quote:
Originally posted by Smug Git
*And my least favourite statement from and teachers was that their talents lay more with teaching the smarter and more advanced pupils. Dickheads. We're nearly all better at teaching them, they're a lot fucking easier to teach. What they really meant is that they preferred teaching those pupils because it was easier, which is fair enough, we all did, but it wasn't a matter of a specific talent.


Well, let me aggravate you further, then. With average kids, I'm merely an above average teacher in comparison to my peers; with smart kids, I'm one of the best teachers in my building. So, yeah, I'd say I have a relative aptitude for teaching intelligent pupils, even taking the relative ease of the process into consideration. That doesn't mean I shouldn't teach standard speech classes, but it does mean that I should probably be the guy teaching debate. Just because a task is pleasant doesn't mean everyone does it equally well.

quote:
Originally posted by Smug Git
I'd almost rather see the state withdraw from education altogether than give vouchers, actually, although education is one of the few things where I support serious state intervention. In fact, my whole conservative philosophy of not feeling that sorry for the people who lose out in life's great competition really requires that people at least had the chance to achieve their potential, and that requires universal education. The idea that it can't be achieved through government action is bunk; it is merely the case that in some countries, it doesn't. That isn't an irretrievable situation, though. It is interesting to see the US follow some of the populist crap that the UK did, like the 'No Child Left Behind' nonsense, although the UK has gone farther down this route than the US yet has, accompanied by a fall in overall standards (vouchers has long been a kickaround idea there, too, but sanity has generally prevailed).


And once again, you're making a comparison between vouchers and a utopian alternative, not between vouchers and the existing reality. I mean, hell, you're not even positing a solution that would make your educational utopia POSSIBLE; you're merely contending that it exists in some other cultures and that spending more money is somehow involved.

The extended logic of your arguments is that the truly moral action would be to make public school education compulsory for everyone and to ban the private schools entirely. That would CERTAINLY create a more equitable system, and would improve the current equivalent of bottom-feeder schools by forcing kids currently in the private schools through their doors. It would also force the parents of those kids to support social spending that would make the whole system better. Of course, you DON'T support that, but I fail to see why you see the current victims as acceptable sacrifices but are willing to give current escapees a pass.

By all means, improve education as a whole, but in the meantime, acknowledge the possibility that the system may be imperfect, and allow as many people as possible to make decisions in their own interests rather than holding them hostage to your agenda. That's what vouchers are about--not about freeing people from the consequences of bad decisions, but about providing decisions to as many people as possible, which is an inherent good.

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Vouchers (and other effective competitive schemes) will make the bad schools worse. That is the effect of market forces in this case, there will be losers, even compared to now. Thus, you need a plan for dealing with that before you go ahead, logic would suggest. I think that you are the one with Utopian ideals, if you think that the bad schools won't get worse, with just the introduction of vouchers.

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quote:
Originally posted by CHiPsJr
Well, let me aggravate you further, then. With average kids, I'm merely an above average teacher in comparison to my peers; with smart kids, I'm one of the best teachers in my building. So, yeah, I'd say I have a relative aptitude for teaching intelligent pupils, even taking the relative ease of the process into consideration. That doesn't mean I shouldn't teach standard speech classes, but it does mean that I should probably be the guy teaching debate. Just because a task is pleasant doesn't mean everyone does it equally well.



That same was true of me in my subjects, but it wasn't rare. The rare teachers, the most valuable ones, were the ones who could deal well with the problematic, less bright kids. It's a failing on our parts, not a strength. If it just came down to teaching bright kids, there'd be plenty of other people trying to get into the profession, because even if the money isn't great, the job would be a lot easier and more enjoyable; being able to teach the best kids isn't a great talent, it just says that you're good at your subject. Stretching even a genius schoolkid isn't hard if you're good at your subject. The reason that there is any rarity to it at all* in teaching is that the job isn't all the easy stuff like teaching bright kids (and I have taught some of the brightest kids you'd find anywhere and it wasn't hard; I know that they were amongst the brightest because I was an A Level examiner and I saw a very good representative sample of what was on offer in the rest of the country).

*And it's not as rare as those of us wanting to protect our cushy positions as the primary teachers of the smart kids would like to pretend, either.

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I'm not advocating banning private schools, because parents can spend their own money as they wish (pre or post tax deduction, as is agreed fair). It would achieve some more equity, by dragging down the richer kids. My problem with vouchers is not that it will raise some kids, because it will, but that it will drive others down, and I am certain that, if all you do is introduce vouchers, that is what you'll achieve. The Big Problem in education, the one that really needs solving, is the weaker kids, not the existence of smarter kids who aren't getting best teaching; the former pool is bigger than the larger and in fact the failure to deal with it is perhaps the major contributory factor to the existence of the latter. Vouchers sounds great, nice populist fix, but I think that it'll make the important part of the Big Problem worse. I don't oppose competition in education, far from it, but it's not the answer on its own. It's just the easiest, most populist part, of the answer to get through. There's a lot more at stake, though. And it'll cost. But then, worthwhile things will often cost. In the long run, of course, it may even pay for itself, or at least partially do so, with the result of a better-educated population.

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CHiPsJr
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quote:
Originally posted by Smug Git
Or to think of it another way, imagine a class of 14 kids bad enough so that you could just about achieve a decent job with them, in terms of their abilities and potential and behaviour (or imagine 1 kid, or 5, or whatever, making up the class), with a reasonable amount of bells and whistles teaching aids. Now imagine a class of 30 of them, with no teaching aids; how much will you achieve now? Could you even bear to do that all day, every day? That's the situation, in practice. Of course, there are other problems to deal with (like truancy; in the UK, their parents get sent to prison, now) but in terms of what you can do in the classroom, as a teacher, class size and facilities are important.

Incidentally, there is an effect (a well-documented one, I believe, but learning that goes back to my teacher-training days) on the morale and behaviour of kids who get sent to the bad school, quite apart from the negative affect of the general absence of good examples amongst their peers. This is clear in the average failing school but also in the Secondary Modern schools where kids who failed the grammar school entrance exam were sent.



Small classes are better than big ones.

You want to keep kids from leaving bad schools, thereby creating smaller classes.

I don't get it.

On the second point: in a voucher program, kids whose parents don't take advantage of the voucher STAY WHERE THEY ARE. They don't get deported to Cabrini-Green. American schools don't work that way.

quote:
Originally posted by Smug Git
While I'm on the subject of nonsensical statements that I've heard about the education system (in the UK), the idea that teacher training colleges are hotbeds of weird pinko radicalism is bollocks. While clearly the profession attracts a more humanist cohort, some of whom definitely are pretty far out left, the training colleges are in general looking at the right things. They may require too much paperwork (an increasing failing in UK education, as the government is looking to check and doublecheck and triplecheck everything, as if burying any problems under paper will solve everything) but they don't waste time indoctrinating trotskyite principles into prospective teachers. Maybe it's different in the US.


It's not Trotsky. It's Dewey. The American teaching schools are hotbeds of ivory tower educational orthodoxy. Some of it DOVETAILS with left-wing ideology, true, and the endorsement of various Democratic causes by the teacher's unions creates another connection, but it's not about left-wing agendas so much as it is about approaches adopted for their humanistic vibe more than for their clinical merit. The preponderance of client science and the absence of scientific rigor underlying the prevailing paradigm in American education is the scandal. As is the resistance of the system to alternative theories of learning.

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