Advancing a Free Society

Educational Reform: How to Pour Good Money After Bad

Monday, September 12, 2011

It comes as no surprise that President Obama has proposed an education program that will increase expenditures on teachers and school construction. It is also no surprise that these expenditures will do little or anything to improve results in a field in which this nation is, to say the least, struggling to keep up with other developed (and not-so-developed) nations that have outperformed us in recent years.

There are at least two major reasons for this dire prediction. The first is that Obama never makes a commitment of public resources unless he thinks that it can work for partisan advantage. In this regard the simple point is that both teachers and construction workers are heavily unionized, so that some fraction of the public moneys that go to these twin groups will end up in the president’s campaign coffers courtesy of the unions whose dues will be increased by expanded membership.

The second reason is that, even if we put that dubious motivation to one side, the following truth remains true. The defects in American education go the current structure of the various programs; it concerns the way in which curriculum is designed; the way in which teachers are hired and fired; and the ease of entry of new rivals, often charter independent schools into the market place. What is notable about the Obama reform is that it treats a defective set of institutional arrangements as though they were optimal and then asks people to commit ever greater funds into a structure that just does not work.

There is nothing novel about this approach here. The entire insistence on higher taxes comes with the saccharine assurance that those who must pay them now have the honor to “invest” more funds in infrastructure and other worth while programs that will not only help their direct beneficiaries but redound to the benefit of the millionaires who are hit with 50 percent or more marginal tax rates.

It is all fantasy. Anyone who cared to give away his or her entire fortune would never choose to entrust those funds in the United States government whose ham-handed policies guarantee that most, if not all of it, will be wasted. I have written elsewhere as to why Warren Buffet is a man whose support for higher taxes on the rich puts him on a list of this nation’s most dangerous economic gurus. But his conduct is of course far wiser than his words. He did not take a pledge to commit over half his wealth to the United States government. He chose instead to pledge it to the Gates Foundation, where it will do a lot more good. His conduct is well worth emulating, just as his fiscal advice is well worth ignoring. And as to the President the short emphatic answer is, no funds for public investment, so called, unless you first reform these public institutions. So long has he has anything to say about this, it will not happen.

(photo credit: Purple Slog)