Although it is missing from the US Constitution (one of the reasons I am in favor of completely eliminating the US Department of Education), Iowa’s Constitution specifically makes education an obligation of the State.
“The educational interest of the state, including common schools and other educational institutions, shall be under the management of a board of education.”
Seven years later the board of education was abolished, to be replaced by Title VII of the Iowa Code and its 50 chapters.
Iowa legislators like to joke, “The state only does three things – educate, medicate, and incarcerate.”
Based on the respective budgets, that joke is not far off the mark.
The pure libertarian position is easy – the government has no business in the schooling business and should get out of it entirely, to allow the flourishing of the private market, freedom for its participants, and the elimination of discontent. One only has to look at the history of educational achievement around the country, and in Iowa, to recognize neither the Federal nor the State government is getting ‘A’ grades.
But we are where we are.
In Iowa we have many fine public schools. I attended them and loved every minute of it. My teachers may have their own opinions.
My own children attended Iowa public schools, and they seem to have survived.
One of my children actually attended an elite (and expensive) private high school in Massachusetts, the same one I attended 25 years before her. Thanks to the scholarships I received (from the good fortune of being a Des Moines Register paper boy), and to the financial sacrifices of my parents, followed by my own, both my daughter and I seem to have received a good high school education, perhaps even a superb one.
Most of my grandchildren have also attended public schools. The results vary, but I am eternally optimistic. Two of them attended private elementary schools in Cedar Rapids, at great sacrifice by their parents, before switching to public middle and high schools.
In addition my father was a public high school teacher in Iowa. So was my sister. And my brother was the head librarian (not libertarian) for a state university.
So the question for me is not ‘are Iowa public schools doing the job they have set out for themselves’, nor is it ‘are private schools better than public schools, or vice versa’.
The question for me is – can we do better?
I think we can.
What I do not think is, all we need to do is spend more money.
I think there is a lack of proper incentives, and a lack of competition.
The only things a school teacher should be incentivized by are 1) becoming a great teacher, and 2) being paid enough to discourage job shopping. Isn’t this the truth for all of us? We want to be great at our jobs, and we want to be paid enough that we aren’t interested in finding a different job. In short, we want personal fulfillment, and to be adequately compensated for our labor.
The research with which I am familiar says one thing – good teachers are the key to good education. Good teachers produce good results because, well, they love to teach and they have learned how to do it well.
Unfortunately it is not so easy to figure out who are the good teachers and who are the not quite so good teachers. Many methods have been tried, many have failed. I maintain the best method to determine whether teachers are successful is to let the parents decide (with the help of their own children, of course).
The best way to do this is to give parents the choice of who will teach their children. If a teacher attracts many students, let’s believe the parents. If a teacher attracts very few students … let’s believe the parents. This is called a free market, and it works in every other aspect of life. People vote with their dollars, so when quality is high and price is low, businesses thrive. It can work with teachers, too.
Before moving on, a gentle reminder. Wealthy parents already have their choice of teachers. I literally bought my daughter the best teachers I could find! The challenge doesn’t have to be solved for wealthy parents, it only needs to be solved for the rest of us.
The question is – how will relatively not so well off parents be able to afford anything but the teachers no one else wants?
I am open to discussion, but at this point I haven’t seen anything better than letting the taxpayers’ money follow the child (it’s not the government’s money, let’s never forget that). Taxpayers spend an enormous amount of money educating children, and it is always expressed as the ‘annual per pupil cost’. Why shouldn’t the money follow the children around, so parents can find the best teachers for their kids, and afford to pay them?
Well, some legislators are not open to the idea of competition. They prefer a monopoly and public schools are a monopoly, or are as good as a monopoly, when you don’t have $10,000 for each of your children every year to hire the best teachers for them, if they happen to be teaching in a private school.
One doesn’t have to ‘believe’ in great public schools, or even greater private schools, to recognize if the money follows the child, no matter where the parents decide to send the child, great teachers will have an advantage, and we will soon learn who the great teachers are, because they will be the ones with a gaggle of kids trailing behind them, wherever they teach, public or private.
As I said, I’m always open to discussion. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe you are right, but we’ll never ever know, if all we do is fight.