Public Education is Suffering while Private Education is Getting By
April 2014 Essay

Your Education Responsibilities Check List

David V. Anderson

Our theme this quarter,
Your Education Responsibilities Check List, is based mostly on work done here at Asora but has also been influenced by our earlier experiences in the financial industry.

For sometime, as many of you are aware, Asora has been evaluating public school student performance based on each school’s estimated performance on the Nation’s Report Card- officially the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Those studies have given us a perspective on public schools- and it’s a decidedly pessimistic view. More recently we have been making estimates for private schools where we also find mediocre performance levels, which are not much higher than those seen in the public systems.

An examination of the “traditions” of K-12 education reveals bad habits, which are so much a part of the fabric of education that experts and casual observers, alike, rarely see the problems or if they do they tend to underestimate their severity. Thus, we believe that traditions hide many problems.

Consider that:

* Schools both teach and test without addressing the implied conflict of interest.
* Schools nearly always employ social promotion as a substitute for remediation.
* Schools use “look good” testing regimes and “turn a blind eye” to the implied deception.
* Schools frequently hire unionized teachers who often don’t put the interests of children first.
* School systems often discriminate against for-profit education service providers.

Each of these practices harms the educational development of the students and each of them can be corrected without major cost increases- and in some cases can be fixed in ways that lower costs.

We Repeat: It’s Economics That Matters Most
Most education reformers, including most education experts, tend to focus on the details of instruction and pedagogy rather than on the broader economics that are involved. It’s a case of “not seeing the forest for the trees.”

Of the many economic sectors of the national economy of the United States, we believe the education sector is the most dysfunctional. We hold that practitioners of education tend to be anti-capitalistic as compared to their counterparts in other industries. We also hold that capitalism and its principles are needed in the education sector.

A hallmark of capitalism is the cost-efficient production of goods and services. In the desire to earn financial profits firms have the incentives to provide increasingly better products and lower prices if they operate in a free marketplace where rival competitors produce alternative goods and services.

Where Does Altruism Fit In?
Most commentators, including Asora Education, believe that K-12 education needs to be universally available to children of all economic circumstances. Thus altruism is also a requirement.

Our goal is to satisfy both the goals of
capitalism and those of altruism. We don’t see these as conflicting concepts. Rather

We believe that the sincere pursuit of one requires the advancement of the other.

Most stakeholders in K-12 education believe that public schools represent the best altruistic vehicle to support the schools attended by our children. Others see alternatives that can be better: Charter schools, public vouchers, private vouchers and even for-profit schools.

We at Asora think such alternatives will improve K-12 education.

On Evil Profits
Profits are not considered evil in the food industry, which is arguably the most important economic sector. After all, it is necessary for human survival.

Despite “populist” attacks against profits in the education field, we believe capitalism remains an honorable format within the education sector. Consider what editors Joseph Bast and Herbert Walberg said in their book,
Education and Capitalism: How Overcoming Our Fear of Markets and Economics Can Improve America's Schools,

Temperance, orderliness, frugality, industry, honesty, moderation, and humility are all capitalistic values. We should not fear having our children attend schools operated by businesspeople who share those values.

But won’t criminals take over? Crime is a separate issue that affects all kinds of organizations: public and private. Arguably there is more crime in government organizations than in private companies. (The poster boys for that are the recent Governors of Illinois?) All organizations have to erect safeguards against criminality.

If Non-Profit Or Government Run We Still Want Capitalistic Efficiencies
Students of economics are taught that the incentives for success are more effective in for-profit enterprises because of the financial benefits to its customers, owners and workers. Non-profit and government run organizations can also structure incentives to be somewhat like those in a for-profit enterprise. That should help them produce better goods and services and help them become cost-efficient.

Because of this commonality desired in the incentives and operations of schools and other education enterprises, we don’t have separate checklists for the different ownership types. We have just one.

The School Operator’s Checklist
This and several of the other checklists query school management about their adherence to following good practices. So for those who operate schools we ask:

(1) Do your schools require official testing (that is used for promotion, diplomas, and transcripts) to be performed by external independent agencies?

(2) Are your marketing and/or publicity efforts including consumer information about your schools’ performance levels as compared to those of your competitors?

(3) Can your reported assessment performance levels be related to NAEP achievement levels in reading and mathematics?

(4) Do you have a program of remediation for children who have fallen behind grade levels as defined by NAEP standards?

(5) Do you have full management control of your instructional staff, free of impediments such as collective bargaining or other external interference?

(6) Are you really entrepreneurial? Or are you simply comfortable as an operation that will not grow and/or become more cost effective?

The Other Checklists
Similar checklists have been devised for other enterprises and stakeholder organizations. They are:

                More details on these other checklists are provided on the What’s New page. Suffice it to say, all of these other groups have serious deficiencies needing correction. The checklists can help them overcome their problem areas.

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