Bryan Caplan – The Case Against Education
Or rather, against more formal classroom schooling than necessary. The title is a misnomer; in a way this book is a data-backed confirmation of Mark Twain’s quip about the difference between schooling and education.
Once students get past basic math and literacy, most of what they learn in the classroom, whether history or calculus, is useless in most jobs and unused in most lives. College degrees are less about building human capital and more about signaling—a credential certifying a certain amount of intelligence, work ethic, and conformity.
Tamping back on signaling-only degrees would reduce “credential inflation” and spare millions of people from crippling debt and hundreds of hours of drudgery. At the same time, Caplan, who deeply values education, encourages opening the life of the mind in other, higher-quality ways—good conversation, books on interesting subjects, movies, culture, online courses, travel, and more.
Andrew Coulson has a gem of a column over at the Huffington Post defending teachers’ unions from their Democratic attackers:
[I]t is not an attack on government to observe that government is bad at running schools, anymore than it’s an attack on shovels to note that they make lousy Web browsers… Nor is it an attack on the ideals of public education to say that state monopolies are an ineffective way to pursue them. That’s a confusion of ends and means. Public education is a not a particular pile of bricks or stack of regulations, it is a set of goals: universal access, preparation for participation in public life as well as success in private life, building harmony and understanding among communities.
If the true allegiance of reformist Democrats is to those ultimate ideals, then they should have no problem acknowledging that government monopolies are ill-suited to advancing them, and that teachers-union excesses are more a symptom than a cause of our monopoly-induced woes.
The people of Illinois don’t expect their government to be corrupt; they insist on it. That’s why nary an eyebrow was raised when it recently came out that two lobbyists for the Illinois Federation of Teachers were able to qualify for generous teachers’ pensions by working as substitute teachers for one day.
One man could receive up to $3.8 million if he lives to age 84. This is in addition to the 401(k) the union gives him as an employee. The Chicago Tribune reports:
Preckwinkle’s one day of subbing qualified him to become a participant in the state teachers pension fund, allowing him to pick up 16 years of previous union work and nearly five more years since he joined. He’s 59, and at age 60 he’ll be eligible for a state pension based on the four-highest consecutive years of his last 10 years of work.
His paycheck fluctuates as a union lobbyist, but pension records show his earnings in the last school year were at least $245,000. Based on his salary history so far, he could earn a pension of about $108,000 a year, more than double what the average teacher receives.
Nationwide spending on K-12 education is around $13,000 per child per year. Not all of that spending is actually for the children, contrary to popular rhetoric. Fortunately, it appears only two people took advantage of this scheme. But the real kicker is that one of the two actually helped write the legislation that made it possible.
I’m not a big fan of football analogies in politics (think of former Sen. George Allen absurdly carrying a football wherever he went), but Fran Tarkenton has a good one:
Imagine the National Football League in an alternate reality. Each player’s salary is based on how long he’s been in the league. It’s about tenure, not talent. The same scale is used for every player, no matter whether he’s an All-Pro quarterback or the last man on the roster. For every year a player’s been in this NFL, he gets a bump in pay. The only difference between Tom Brady and the worst player in the league is a few years of step increases. And if a player makes it through his third season, he can never be cut from the roster until he chooses to retire, except in the most extreme cases of misconduct.
This would incentivize mediocrity, not excellence. It is also almost exactly how government-run K-12 schools are structured. Reform ideas that ignore those incentive problems are doomed to fail. Adding some competition to the existing near-monoply would do much to give teachers the same incentive to make the most of their talent that athletes currently enjoy.
Click to enlarge; original here.
Remember this graph the next time someone proposes spending more federal dollars in education.
Also remember how far removed Washington is from most state and local jurisdictions. Maybe those jurisdictions should have more say, and Washington less.
Schumpeter was nothing if not quotable. Readers who are currently students will appreciate this one:
“Moreover, professors are men who are constitutionally unable to conceive that the other fellow might be right. This holds for all times and places.”
-Joseph Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis, p. 82.