Friday, January 13, 2006


Stupid Americans…

Tonight is John Stossel's 20/20 special report: “Stupid in America: How we cheat our kids”.

The short video preview for the show tonight reminds me of the engraving on the Statue of Liberty by Emma Lazarus:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

The gentleman in this video promotion was much like how Emma Lazarus described America. He challenged all the notions of demographic inequalities (income, location, race, sex) and said that he could teach any child and get better results.

He is only capable of attaining what he has done and will continue to do so because in private education (a semi-free market) teachers, students, and administrators have the proper incentive structure for measurable advancements in educational attainment.

In a free market for education, schools would want to help children learn and lower costs simultaneously. They would be responsible to the children and parents and would have to measure up or the parent would take their money elsewhere. Under the current system, you’re stuck (by location, lack of choice, and child attendance).

For a better understanding of why things are the way they are, it is essential to look at the incentive structures. Here’s a brief look at the current public education model:

1.Since it is “free to me”, parents don’t have an incentive to check and see if they are getting their money’s worth. Your return on investment is less tangible.

2.Teachers and Administrators do not serve their “customers” and many times don’t even pretend to. There is no merit-based reward system for proficiency or excellence, no motivation for growth or accountability. They are not accountable for the grades of the child or whether they learn anything at all. It has turned into nothing more than an extended day-care for many.

3.Children do not have incentives to learn. Being forced to be in attendance, since mandated through age 16, generally does not have the most positive of outcomes. There appears to be a sort of ‘race to the bottom’ since there is little incentive to excel, with little or no reward or praise for excellence or ‘good’ behavior in the classroom. Psychologically, we tend to resent what we are forced to do, giving children little incentive for further learning or even a positive attitude for aptitude.

And although I am a fan of John Stossel and all the work he is doing to point out the current education fallacies, school vouchers won’t cut it. A shift from monopolies to subsidies will not free the markets. The governments will still be coercing people out of their money and will still maintain a monopoly on the money for schools or mandate regulatory actions on all schools because of the subsidy. It’s not enough, but the show should be entertaining nonetheless. Watch ABC This Friday, Jan. 13, at 10 p.m.

Here's some more on the subject from some very good folks: here and here.

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