"Education Revolution"?

Posted by JSYL on Thursday, August 28, 2008 in ,
Do you think public education can be treated like a free market?



Update: It's quite clear I study arts, and not commerce. James and Wikipedia have made me realise I misused the term 'free market'. What I meant to ask (though it's far less catchy than my original question) was this: Can the underlying philosophy of laissez faire- that is, that the order of things be determined by the natural forces of supply and demand- be applied to the public education system?                      

The reason I ask is because one of the Australian government's most recent steps towards a self-proclaimed 'education revolution' proposes that schools' performance be ranked across the board, and that this information be available to parents everywhere. Consistently badly performing schools may be shut down, merged with other schools, or have their principals sacked.

The argument for the policy is that public education is the government's economic investment into 'human capital'. It would render teachers and principals alike accountable for their schools' performance, and give them incentives to do well, placing schools in a competitive market environment. It has however come up against heavy criticism, with teachers' unions arguing that, unlike corporations, there is no fair way to rate how 'well' schools perform, and that students would only be disadvantaged by any funding cuts or dramatic changes to their school's structure that would take place as a direct result of such a rating.

With that in mind- discuss!

[Photo: CBS Local]



James M says:

I haven't put much thought into it this is off the top of my head in a Civil Lit class, but isn't the failure of the free market to provide public goods such as health and education one of the reasons we still have government intervention i.e. market failure?

I'm quite for the free market (not to be confused with capitalism) except the market does break down for a number of reasons. Government intervention may be needed for economic reasons, and simply for social justice.

I don't think that something like education should be left in the hands of companies pursuing the bottom line, as opposed to you know, the education of our future generation.

As an interesting side note, in one of the Scandinavian countries (either Finland or Sweden), whilst they're not leaving it to the free market they're outsourcing education to private firms. Whatever the local government would have spent on educating the one child, they give instead to a private company which would teach the kids instead. At the end of a set period, the government will review the success of the company through KPIs. Since the money which is in tens of thousands per child, is quite good, these firms are really clamouring to get these contracts.
So far, it's had some results though it's too early to really get the quantitative data out and analyse it.

I guess, it's using the greed of corporations for the power of good.

Jennifer L says:

tthe whole philosophy of public education is that all children have a right to education. so yes it means we take all the delinquents, trouble makers and law breakers...but to say that principals are solely reponsible for underperformance is bs. As teachers, we do what we can, sometimes even more. But if these kids are coming from low socioeconomic areas, a whole load of other things are attached.. poor parenting skills, low income, low literacy levels.
So you cant measure the educational level of the kids and let that be a true reflection of the quality teaching at the school.
I work my butt off at school,just like the other teachers at my school. But if the kids dont want to learn...and if parents arent literate or even supportive of education to say the least, then it makes things reallly hard. We are working just as hard as a typical school in the north shore, if not even harder with some of the issues we have to deal with.
These people who come up with these 'brilliant' ideas need to step foot into a disadvantaged school so they can really understand what its like.

James M says:

You know what Jane, I just realised what was odd about the last entry- it started off as a casual writing piece than morphed halfway into a newspaper article.

On another interesting tangent, in the US, George Bush's "No Child Left Behind" policy was a spectacular success and a stupendous failure. Whilst he achieved his aim of improving the grades of the weakest students at schools, he did so at the expense of dragging the rest of the school's average down simultaneously.

I really have not answered your question at all, except to graffiti your blog with useless snippets of information.

Oh wow Janey, you've really hit a sore point on this one.

Most liberals and centrists (I use liberal in the small l sense) say that the government ought to intervene in a market when there are three particular factors:

1. The regulated market is a natural monopoly (Power grid, telephone grid, roads, etc.)
2. The regulated market does not follow the standard laws of supply and demand.
3. The regulated market is so important that it cannot be privatized.

Education falls under parts two and three. In our age, you NEED a certain amount of education to even understand what is going on in society. A person who cannot read is not equal to a person who can, no matter how much you want to make that true.

The current public education system is unfair, yes (I went to a private school, most people who make it to uni made it through a separate state tier, the Selective Schools, and only Janey is a true blue state school girl- which she should be VERY proud of!) There is a certain minimum standard which ought to be maintained, and that is for everyone. And that minimum standard ought not to be far from the maximum standard, because the government must regulate this particular market and have an actor within it.

But the government is introducing metrics for the wrong reasons. They should not be retributive. If you're going to have metrics it's to see where the government ought to properly intervene- with more resources, better teaching strategies, bringing in experienced teachers, etc. The current arrangement looks like No Child Left behind, where we actually want the Chicago or New York Public Schools system.

I think the government has a huge role (that 'it' itself may not comprehend, and i'm talking about 'it' as an entity as a whole and the role it's supposed to play in society) to oversee and utilise its power to 'intervene' in the market to balance the forces of demand and supply. There will always be a demand for education, it's a given - it's funny what a piece of paper can do for people. Correspondingly, the supply can be assumed to represent the need to provide decent schools for our children that are 'accessible'with a requisite for it to be 'above a certain standard' in all schools.

I think the focal point is the recognition that 'it' (being the government) has realised it needs to do more for our economy and 'our future' by keeping up with revised standards and new measures to ensure that kids are always receiving a better education. The definition of a 'good' education can be measured by qualitative performance indicators - university numbers, workforce, employment figures, graduate surverys. Having these educational resources being the 'best', accessible and available to everyone is imperative.

The goal is to try and achieve these outcomes. Seems quite simple, but I guess that is where
social in'equities' arise from competing issues, such as;

1. politics (self explanatory)

2. The growing demand of parents and society as a whole (ie. votes)to raise the level, provide the best resources (e.g in private schools) and teachers, as well as weeding out what is long-overdue for a rehaul (better resources and funding for all schools; state moreso).

2.Global benchmarks - where our economy is heading' and 'how far behind we are in terms of the rest of the developed world' and ensuring we keep up with them

3. Socio-economic factors - bridging the education gap across Australia. Dealing with troubled kids, and generally low socioeconomic areas. Addressing areas where kids are in less-advantageous situations, to help them get to those resources and to provide the assistance to deal with all those problems.

With the last point, it's hard to achieve a balance overall and in regards to the OTHER competing economic factors in light of running a fully-effective economy. It's pretty much a learn from history kind of path we are taking. When the government can only deal with the problem as it occurs or preemptively steer the society into a certain direction if we are getting too wayward (though fingers can be pointed in the other direction).

However, if kids don't want to learn you can't force them. The government can only facilitate the society in such a way. Whilst there are significant needs for huge improvements and FOCUS of what educating our society means, I know it can only be relative to everything else.

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