Monday, 29 August 2011

08:58 – As regular readers know, I’m no friend of either government or religion, which I consider to be twin plagues on humanity. Either on its own is bad enough; the two working together have historically been the single greatest threat to human rights. As you might expect, I’m a strong advocate of the separation of church and state.

So it may surprise you that I’m also a strong advocate of school voucher programs, despite the fact that these vouchers are often used to support religious schools. This morning, I read an article in the paper about a small school voucher program in Indiana, only about 3,000 students, that’s being decried as the apocalypse by public schools. Then, when I flipped to the editorial page, I found an article by George Will about a school choice program in Castle Rock, Colorado.

These stories have the same thread in common. In both cases, opponents have introduced the red herring of church-state separation. In both cases, religion has nothing to do with the issue, other than peripherally. The real issue is that public schools–whose employees are grossly overpaid, grossly underworked, and grossly underperforming–live in fear of having to compete with private alternatives. They understand that, given the choice, parents will opt for superior schools provided by the free market. There go their ridiculously high salaries and benefits, not to mention their job security. They’re fully aware that they can’t compete.

My solution to this problem has always been simple: establish school voucher programs without limitations on the number of students eligible. Make them dollar-for-dollar programs. Parents who wish to enroll their children in private schools receive a voucher in the amount of the average amount spent per student in the public schools, including facilities costs. That amount is deducted from the amount provided to the public schools. And homeschoolers should be eligible to cash these vouchers up to, say, three students worth, to help stay-at-home moms and dads who are educating their own children at home.

If such programs were widely implemented, the results are predictable. Public schools would wither. The only students who would attend public schools would be those whose parents don’t care enough to seek better alternatives for their children. The overall educational level of children would soon show huge gains, since private schools and home schools are demonstrably hugely superior to public schools. The total cost of education would plummet as public schools died and the voucher amount was adjusted downward to reflect reduced costs.

Less obvious, perhaps, is that such programs would also nearly eliminate home schooling in the current sense. Many, probably most, parents who currently home school their own children would not do so if they could instead send their children to schools that they approved of. Traditional private schools, religious and secular, would initially grow by leaps and bounds, but alternative small private schools would also thrive. Most of these alternative private schools would be founded by homeschoolers who really enjoyed what they were doing and were good at it. Instead of educating just their own children, they’d begin educating other children as well, and eventually become actual schools.

Of course, the teachers’ unions and state government education departments will do everything they can to prevent this from happening. We see that now, with artificial restrictions and regulations enforced on home schoolers to prevent the homeschool phenomenon from developing further. In many states, for example, it would be illegal for a homeschool family to hire my friend Paul Jones, a chemistry professor at Wake Forest University, to come in and teach chemistry to their children. Those state laws consider the parents qualified to teach their own children, but do not consider Dr. Jones qualified to teach them. Similarly, many state laws prohibit a homeschool mom or dad from teaching other people’s children, once again to prevent small private alternative schools from flourishing. At the behest of teachers’ unions and other self-interested parties, many states have ridiculous health, environmental, and facilities regulations for any school that teaches students from more than one family. Again, those have nothing to do with the safety of or quality of education for the students themselves. They’re there only to protect entrenched public education interests.

That’s why I’m encouraged every time I read an article about good things happening for home schoolers and the advance of school choice.


Saturday, we shipped the last two chemistry kits we had in stock. We now have another dozen and a half in the final stages of assembly and have gotten started on the next batch of two dozen. We’ll ship outstanding orders tomorrow or Wednesday.


11:02 – At least some of the MSM are starting to catch on…

Eurozone crisis: ‘I’ve tried A! I’ve tried B! I’ve tried C!…’ Click, and out

30 thoughts on “Monday, 29 August 2011”

  1. RBT Wrote: “Many, probably most, parents who currently home school their own children would not do so if they could instead send their children to schools that they approved of.”

    You would find a small handful of parents that would continue to do so having committed so much time and energy, such as my own family, but had we had the choice of a school system that could be trusted to teach, we would have gone that route. We couldn’t afford a private school, and while we acknowledged that Christian schools had a pretty good scholastic record (Anne had attended Catholic schools as her parents found those schools to be the best academically), the brainwashing was too much. We homeschooled out of need, not choice. We had no other choice at the time. And still don’t! Luckily, we had the ability to homeschool, something that may not be possible in every State or Province.

  2. I live in a small town. The state rates our town’s elementary schools as excellent. The middle and high schools aren’t so fortunate. I was thinking about how to explain to my wife, a public school teacher, that when we get to that point, our daughter won’t be attending the local middles school unless they improve dramatically. My wife took the words out of my mouth.

    There is only one local private school, and I am concerned about the quality of the academic program. From what I hear the students who have switched from the private school to the public school don’t impress my sources. Ironically, it’s a religious school that’s fairly compatible with my religion.

    I was eating lunch one day, and heard a parent complaining to another parent that their kid’s teacher gave too much homework, and that they had to spend too much time helping them do it. Since my wife is a school teacher in our town, and the teacher’s name was mentioned, I knew that kids of that grade level should be able to do homework without help. Worse, I have met the teacher, and know that she happens to be the one that teaches gifted and talented kids.

    My only hope is that the middle and high school have years to get their act together before my daughter is old enough to attend them.

  3. I don’t envy the competent public school teachers. There are many good ones, and more than a few excellent ones. Unfortunately, the system is organized to crush those and advance the mediocre and poor teachers. If (when) the public school systems do collapse, those competent teachers won’t have any problems finding teaching work. It’s the bottom 75% of public school teachers who will find themselves out of jobs.

    If I had kids and for some reason I couldn’t home school them, the first alternative I’d look at would be Catholic schools. Many of them are excellent and at least some of them don’t push religion very heavily. I’m told that our local Catholic schools have many children from other religious backgrounds, including some children from evangelical Protestant homes, and undoubtedly more than few kids from atheist/agnostic/secular homes. In terms of rigor, many Catholic schools are what our better public schools were when I was attending them, 40 and 50 years ago. They expect kids to perform, and they discipline them as necessary.

  4. Excellent!

    The world would have been a better place had J. M. Keynes never been born. I still almost choke every time I read a news article that talks about stimuli and so-called quantitative easing as though they have beneficial effects on the economy. Everyone seems to take this as a given, when it’s perfectly obvious to anyone who looks that government intervention never benefits and always harms the economy.

    When I read articles that talk about the “failure of capitalism” I want to strangle the authors. How would they know that capitalism has failed, given that there are no capitalist systems in operation world-wide? The fact that they treat the US economy as capitalist shows just how ignorant they are of what capitalism means.

    Even conservatives like Pournelle are anti-capitalist. He keeps talking garbage about pure capitalism leading to “human flesh being sold in the market place”. Yep, I guess we laissez-faire (real) capitalists are all cannibals and murderers. Geez.

  5. As a retired physics teacher, I can only say that I agree with your assessment of schools wholeheartedly. The only quibble I might have is your characterization of teachers as “underworked”. (I taught six classes per day and sponsored a robotics club after school.) I might add that the public school structure is actually worse than you seem to realize. Even here in Texas, where we don’t have an entrenched teacher’s union, Pournelle’s Iron Law is at work pervasively. In particular there are administrative bureaucracies at the local and state level and there is a massive lobby working for ever more pervasive and expensive standardized testing. The key to fixing the system is decentralization. Vouchers are certainly one way of accomplishing this, but I suspect that in the long run they will become a tool for the bureaucracies to centralize control over schooling that they don’t have control over today. The system certainly needs to gutted and replaced, preferably with one that will respond to market forces and not primarily to political ones.

  6. Check out the lastest rant from Fred Reed also echo the demise of the big book publishers. Some of Fred’s rants are pure fantasy, some are dillusional, some are spot on. This one is spot on.

  7. By “underworked”, I was referring to the ridiculous low ratio of students to teachers and administrators. When I was in school, 40 to 50 years ago, a typical classroom had something in the range of 24 to 30 students. (Obviously, there were exceptions for some advanced or specialized classes, but normal classes seldom had fewer than 24 students, and teachers taught different classes pretty much all day long.)

    But if the student:teacher ratio has fallen dramatically, the student:administrator ratio makes that decrease pale. Non-teaching staff in a typical elementary school was one principal (who often taught some classes), a couple of secretaries, the school nurse, and a janitor. At larger schools like my high school (graduating class of 700), there’d be a principal, an assistant principal or two, maybe four or five secretaries, the school nurse, a couple of guidance counselors, and a janitorial staff of two or three.

  8. The make-up of teaching vs. non-teaching staff was essentially the same in my schools as yours–except the grade school principals taught full loads and did the administrative work before and after school. There was one janitor who worked one shift cleaning up the building after the kids left, and another guy who came in to make sure the coal-fired boiler was working in time to warm up the building. My old high school had over 3,000 students, two vice-principals (scheduling 3,000 kids with 4 x 8 cards (no computers) writing our schedules in script (imagine that–and we could read it) and two deans (boys/girls) who handled discipline and absences, and three building maintenance people who worked in shifts around the clock–plus a night security guard paid for by the school system’s insurance company.

    Today the same high school has only 800 kids but is also K-12, and now has more security people on duty than all those non-teachers from my era put together. Major fights in classrooms and the halls are an hourly–not a daily–occurrence. My cousin just did his student teaching there, and told me that there is no learning at all going on in that school.

  9. Given the slave markets of olde, I suspect Pournelle’s assessment that “Pure Capitalism” would result in similar unsavory practices to be rather profound.

  10. I think you are confusing past societal standards with capitalism. Speaking literally, the words “capitalism” and “anarchy” are synonymous, in the sense that both mean no government-imposed regulation on consensual activity. But that’s a long shot from chaos, which is what most people mistakenly believe anarchy means.

  11. I confess I cannot fathom a difference between societal standards, past or present, and capitalism. Are they somehow exclusive of each other? Free capitalism, without any form of regulation, moral or otherwise, is something I think would devolve into slave trading. We are not far above that now, IMHO.

    That is supposing that the flesh Dr. Pournelle and I are referring to is slaves, and not actual flesh. And that could mean organ legging. I can see the ads now: “We don’t charge an arm and a leg for our arms or our legs!”

  12. Capitalism is constrained by the “voluntary” aspect of the transactions. I have no problem with slavery as long as the slave has willingly sold himself into slavery. Nor do I have an problem with organ-legging, as long as it’s voluntary. If someone wants to sell a spare kidney to a rich person who desperately needs it, why not?

    Where I have a problem is if the slave did not give up his freedom willingly, or the organ was taken from someone without his permission. In that case, we’re not talking about capitalism. We’re talking about gangsters. And the proper response to gangsters is to shoot them. See Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

  13. But that is only as long as society has feelings one way or another about slavery. I suspect that the slave dealers of the past felt no differently about their wares as the candlestick seller did, and J.Q. Publicus probably cared even less. Slavery is still an issue in many parts of the world, including Canada, where a woman has just been charged with human trafficking (http://tinyurl.com/3hbuvof).

    Capitalism, on it’s own, has no restrictions in it’s definition. You can attach “voluntary” restrictions to the business deal if you want, but capitalism itself does not hold any such ideals. Capitalism is the private ownership of goods and services for sale, and or rent, in a free market, with the intent of earning a profit for the seller.

    If you needed a new kidney, are you so absolutely sure you would be sniffing about to see if it was legally obtained? Or would you accept a kidney only from someone you met and know?

    We are in agreement about gangsters. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is an old favorite. Heinlein was influential in many of my beliefs.

  14. [i]The real issue is that public schools–whose employees are grossly overpaid, grossly underworked, and grossly underperforming–live in fear of having to compete with private alternatives. They understand that, given the choice, parents will opt for superior schools provided by the free market. There go their ridiculously high salaries and benefits, not to mention their job security. They’re fully aware that they can’t compete.[/i]

    Yeah, some teachers are like that, but some really put in the hours. Like my sister, for example. She has a lot of homework to mark, lessons to prepare and she can’t set her own hours like I do (almost). I’ve often seen her working well past midnight.

    She’s fortunate to be in a good government school in a nice suburb where the kids want to learn. Some schools in Adelaide are horrors, perhaps not as bad as the worst US schools, but I wouldn’t go within a mile of them. She had to work at one of the bad ones (Clovelly Park) for a term a few years back and being called a slut was the least of her problems. Forty years ago when I went to a high school there it was a working class suburb but with few of the problems they have now. I’d rather live under a bridge in my sister’s suburb than in a mansion (not that you’d find one there) in Clovelly Park.

    My elder niece, her husband and younger nephew all work as teachers in the private sector, it’s the only type of school I’d take if I was a teacher. I wanted to be one in my teens, now I’m just grateful I discovered computer science when I did. Teaching is a politically correct minefield now.

    I think the state system should be abolished and all schools privatised and allowed to form alliances as they see fit. I also agree with having some sort of voucher system. My sister doesn’t agree with that and I have to concede that as she’s been doing that job for over 40 years she’s entitled to her opinion.

  15. Wow, one hockey riot and they put Aussies on top?

    It’ll only last one year, and Vancouver will be back on top. It’s really the most livable, because Austrian and Australians have funny accents. 🙂

  16. Oh, come on! Everyone knows Canadians have funny accents just like Austrians and Australians. Y’all just talk funny.

  17. It always amazes me when someone purports to provide a single number that represents an extremely complex multi-dimensional matrix whose variables and weightings (and even the required number of dimensions) vary dramatically from one person to another. In essence, these ratings attempt to reduce personal taste to a single number that applies to everyone. Geez.

  18. “It always amazes me when someone purports to provide a single number that represents an extremely complex multi-dimensional matrix whose variables and weightings (and even the required number of dimensions) vary dramatically from one person to another.”

    Like the IQ mafia?

  19. “It’ll only last one year, and Vancouver will be back on top.”

    The trouble with Vancouver is that it’s right next door to the United States. That reduces its livebility. All those uncouth tourists and people trying to get into Canukastan to live… 🙂

  20. “It always amazes me when someone purports to provide a single number that represents an extremely complex multi-dimensional matrix whose variables and weightings (and even the required number of dimensions) vary dramatically from one person to another.”

    Like the IQ mafia?

    Not at all. I don’t doubt that there are many aspects to intelligence, but in terms of academic success and the ability to deal with abstract thinking, the only one that matters is G, and that is quite well quantified by good IQ tests.

  21. The trouble with Vancouver is that it’s right next door to the United States. That reduces its livebility. All those uncouth tourists and people trying to get into Canukastan to live… 🙂

    I’ve never been to Australia, but of all the countries I’ve seen, I consider the US to be by far the most livable. Less so now than it was a few decades ago, but still winner and champeen.

    On a related note, I was just looking the World Bank ratings of countries by business friendliness. Hong Kong and Singapore won overall, and were at or near the top in most of the categories considered, but the US was well up in the Top 10, as was Canada. Australia’s ranking wasn’t too shabby, at #10. What was striking to me was how well English-speaking countries in general did. With only a couple exceptions (in both directions), they dominated the rankings.

    I think all of us who bitch about things in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand need to stop occasionally and consider how lucky we are to be where we are. And when the Eurozone disintegrates, we’ll be luckier still to be where we are.

  22. I bitch because I care so much!

    Which I tried posting five minutes ago and got a “ERROR CONNECTING TO DATABASE” page.

  23. Sorry about that. I get those sometimes, too. I think that’s what happens when one moves from Greg’s and Brian’s excellent dedicated host to a shared host.

  24. “I think all of us who bitch about things in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand need to stop occasionally and consider how lucky we are to be where we are. And when the Eurozone disintegrates, we’ll be luckier still to be where we are.”

    For sure. I like the wide open spaces here, our wildlife, and many other things. I guess if I had to live elsewhere the US would be first choice, followed by Canada.

    Now, if only we could get rid of our crazy government, which is being held to ransom by Greenmailers…

    Europe’s a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t care to live there.

  25. I have lived in both the US and Europe, and without a shadow of a doubt, Europe is more livable, enjoyable, and healthful–except maybe the UK, where I perceive their societal problems are almost identical to the US. I would still be in Germany now, were it not for the tragedy of losing my spouse. After this summer of unrelenting and unbearable heat and humidity in the heartland–daily into the 40’s C with overnights seldom below 25, while watching the daily highs in Berlin of modest 20’s C and teens overnight–well…

    Corn crop here is going to be dismal, as there has been a drought that has caused the ears not to grow to full size. Stalks are now brown, so there will be no more growth–even if there is rain. The corn is now drying in the fields, and most farmers I know are shuddering at what they will get from this year’s harvest of puny ears.

    Unless you have lived abroad, I really do not consider that refrain my parents’ generation hummed constantly to us, about ‘thank your lucky stars you were born in the US’ to mean much of anything. There are places very well suited to live as good or better life, as I found out. Jim Rogers claims Singapore is better than the US.

  26. By the way, I would dearly like to see the US fulfill that empty refrain of my parents’ generation. But it ain’t gonna happen. The lobbying system of the US government is the very definition of corruption. And politicians who would exempt themselves from Social Security, then call for reductions in SS for the masses, are not fit to serve anyone but pigs. Having a lottery for people to serve in Congress would produce better results than the current system.

    The 19th century was the UK’s; the 20th was the US’; and the 21st will be Asia’s. And Asia will do it with governments that are not “as democratic” (as Americans would put it) as what the US has had to date.

  27. “[i]Like the IQ mafia?[/i]

    Not at all. I don’t doubt that there are many aspects to intelligence, but in terms of academic success and the ability to deal with abstract thinking, the only one that matters is G, and that is quite well quantified by good IQ tests.”

    Howard Gardner and others have shown that there are many dimensions to intelligence that have a fairly large degree of linear independence. Yeah, I’d rather have high IQ than low but it’s only a part of the picture.

Comments are closed.