How Much Does It Take?

As an educator (reveal to those who don’t know me, I’m a college instructor), it boggles my mind that so much can be spent on those in schooling and receive so little to show for it. By that, I mean subject proficiency and graduation rates. Some will say there is a positive correlation between amount spent and outcomes, and I’m sure to an extent such is true, but where is the “breaking point” in a cost/benefit analysis? Others will “pull the race card” as the reason why student performance is low. I am of the opinion that the issue is more basic than such wide-sweeping, often stereotypical statements. Of course, New Orleans in particular is of concern to me, so let’s focus on its public school system as an example of the failures of public education, and explore some options.

Currently, the New Orleans primary and secondary public school system is dominated by “charter schools”, which are quasi-private institutions that basically make profit on a per pupil basis and outcomes of students’ performances on the LEAP Test. While on the surface such a system appears to be well thought-out, as it allows parents to send children to (ostensibly) better performing schools, there is still the chance of cronyism and kickbacks, as well as jettisoning of “problem” students, by the charter school administrations to turn a profit. Why is this happening? I submit that it is because the money being spent is our money, gathered through taxes, and there is no direct accountability to the taxpayers. This is often an issue in a non-free market system, where favoritism, not competition, chooses winners.’

So, I’ve shown my hand a bit with that last statement. I believe the solution is based on a system where true choice, not some limited selection, happens. The kicker here is to make parents more responsible and involved in their children’s educations, and not pawning them off to government. In fact, costs could be much lower, utilizing free courses online, at lower levels and collegiate levels. All that would be required is an internet connection, which is readily available at libraries, cafes, and the like, but could also be utilized at community centers. Because of such low costs, any gaps could easily be filled by private charities donating a laptop or tablet computer, some internet access for those in need, and perhaps tutors when necessary, at the fraction of the cost of current public funding, without all the bureaucratic red tape. 

Of course, some minimum competency exam would still be required, but that is already available via the GED. Students can go at their own pace, and if they’re ready at, say, 10 years of age and they pass, they now have a high school diploma equivalent. They can continue their education at that time, or perhaps learn a useful trade skill or some hobbies like mechanics, martial arts, or woodworking.

Currently, the education system in New Orleans and across America in general is geared towards the “lowest common denominator”, which is teaching to a test, not to any specific student’s needs. The proposition I am making easily caters to each student based on their needs, not some heavy-handed “top-down” approach. There would still be room for teachers in such a scenario, but there would actually be competition for positions as tutors or classic lecturers in private schools. This would filter out the less qualified educators over time, force those who remain in the profession to be higher qualified (though likely increasing individual pay), yet still rein in overall education costs.

I see the traditional student-teacher relationship that the world has known for a long time soon to be a thing of the past, and rightly so, if we only allow it to happen and educational Luddites don’t interfere.

-Doc

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