Sunday, February 1, 2015

Education Debate

I had the following debate with a co-worker on whether common core was a good idea. His arguments in favor of common core were:

  1. The states are not doing a good job educating our students
  2. We need to do a better job educating so we don't live in a county of idiots, who will elect Sarah Palin!
  3. The states' main obstacle to doing a good job is the teachers unions
  4. States cannot take on the teachers union, even in Republican states. Its easier for unions to buy off state governments than it is to buy off the federal government
  5. The federal government will require accountability from state schools through common core
  6. The evidence that the federal government will do this is common core itself. The fact that teachers unions hate common core is evidence the federal government is sticking it to common core
  7. Might as well try something. We can't screw it up too badly, since our education is already screwed up
  8. Creating a basic curriculum and enforcing compliance with it is not so complicated that the federal government can't pull it off, and
  9. Vouchers would work, but that is not a politically feasible solution
My arguments against:
  1. I agree, our education system is not great
  2. The states do not do a good job because they have the wrong incentives. We need to properly align the decision makers and incentives to get a good education system
  3. Parents have the most invested in their children and the strongest incentive to get their kids a good education. The largest problem is that parents cannot control their kids' education, other than by moving out of the school districts. The school districts in rich neighborhoods are usually good, because those parents have chosen those schools. Poor parents often don't have that option of moving their children into good school districts, and are so are stuck sending their kids to the schools in the district where they live. A voucher system would give parents control
  4. Putting the federal government in charge of curriculum goes the opposite direction from aligning incentives. It makes it even less likely that a parent can influence the kind of education the child is getting
  5. What examples are their of the federal government taking on a problem and actually improving it? The federal government does not usually solve problems it tackles
  6. Teachers unions are a problem, but largely created by government privileges given to unions.
  7. In fact, putting the federal government in charge may make a bad situation worse.
Arguments I wish I'd made:
  1. Why was no child left behind not enough accountability? Where is the evidence that it worked?
  2. Why should we believe that the federal government is going to stand up to unions? Particularly in the face of at least two counter examples I can think of:
    1. The GM bailout: investors and bond holders took a haircut; the union did not
    2. Teachers unions hated the DC voucher program, and President Obama did their biding and defunded it in his budget, even though it was popular in DC.

1 comment:

Brett said...

I'm in favor of vouchers, but I don't have a problem with the common core. From what I understand it wasn't a federal initiative, though they have put their weight behind it, so maybe there's no difference. State participation is also not mandatory, though there are incentives.

I've never been a big fan (or implementer) of mandated curricula, but for the foreseeable future they will be the norm in education. The state by state curriculum standards were an absolute mess. Some were decent, many were terrible. Proficiency tests were in the same boat. If we're going to be told what to teach, I prefer having a national curriculum that can typically be higher quality than what the states were producing themselves.

"Why was no child left behind not enough accountability? Where is the evidence that it worked?"

You be hard pressed to find someone who feels that NCLB was a success. It introduced curriculum standards and testing on an unprecedented level, but didn't really offer any solutions or resources for "failing" schools. But now that legislators have a semblance of access to what goes on in the classroom, I don't think they'll ever relinquish.

I'm not sure the unions have a huge problem with Common Core in principle, they just felt slighted that they weren't more involved in its development. And the feds are using Common Core in concert with their efforts to impose teacher accountability and merit pay, both of which are anathema to unions.