Education

Children learn best when they have great teachers
Who needs to use the bathroom?

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. 

5 Responses

  1. I have to disagree. As an advocate for those in low income bracket and as a middle income privileged parent who volunteered in the schools I believe tax money has to stay in public schools. More money should be given disproportionately to schools who have higher number of low income students. I can email and give you the reasons for this if you want. In short, teachers have more stress and need more support and resources when they are working with low income families, children wirh disabilities, and those who don’t have parents who can or do support education for a variety of reasons. Those areas the kids whom the public should want to grow the most bc they will affect the broader community…we are as strong as our “weakest link”. I do not say this with judgment. I support kids with disabilities and low income and students of color. They would acknowledge this usually.
    Smart, bright, well-supported students can do well almost anywhere and one of the best things they learn from attending public schools is humility, empathy and patience that they don’t get just from being smart and wealthy.
    Everyone benefits from everyone being in public schools. I would ban private schools if I really had power but they have always been there. The key is keeping public schools enticing enough to want well educated wealrhy parents to stay there as well. You do that by giving extra money to public schools with those struggling populations. All kids will benefit from extra resources and perks at such schools and it will keep the parents who might leave seeking those schools out. It creates balance. That is the kind of competition you can create. Make the schools people avoid now the ones they seek.

    Our public schools were better when they set their own standards and didn’t use No Child Left Behind. We set high standards and met them but our good results were combination of:
    1. Parents and students who valued education
    2 Highly educated teachers well paid and given some freedom to accomplish their goals. I and my oldest kid had four PhDs in their field teaching in their schools. Now lucky to have BA degrees, maybe MAT.
    3. More wealthy and/or white and/or highly involved parents volunteering in the schools and donating time and money and oversight. This is not the same as parents just dictating curriculum. They more often dictated student behavior and supported teachers.
    4. Iowa attracted good teachers. Historically this was bc we had bright women who couldn’t work in other fields and we can’t go back to that history
    🙂 But more recently we attract smart good teachers when we are seen as progressive inclusive state. I work at a college with future teachers and my best and brightest can’t wait to leave Iowa bc of current admin. They liked gay marriage and they are mad that she might take away abortion if she could, wants vouchers, is against immigrants, etc. The people running to stay and teach don’t think they can do better… They are not our best and brightest. Politics aside– young smart teachers often want to live in forward moving state. They do lean liberal but not always, but they value the underdog and diversity..

    We believe a great deal in natural competition but that doesn’t work with schools. If any public schools exist then they can’t compete by their very definition… They can’t control their income/price, they can’t control whom they take (the students you get usually decide your costs and decide your success rate 95%) so they don’t have elasticity to compete. And if money leaves them they lose more $ then they lose student burden bc of critical mass
    If you abolish all public schools then that problem goes away and you are left with other problems.
    1.Wealthy parents will add their money to the tax money they are getting to take with them and they will still buy better school. Poor parents will have only the tax money and it may not help with transporting kids to school, etc so they would not likely have much choice anyway. Kids with disabilities and lower test scores cost schools more and you they might send their money to the schools that help those populations more but those schools will also have to pay teachers more and spend more per kid so will cost more and probably more than those parents can afford or poor parents could afford. So it’s still uneven access
    2. Parents will choose educational system that matches their thoughts and beliefs. This will increase the divide already growing in our country. A common education hearing multiple points of views from other students and parents and teachers is one of the reasons our country has usually raised kids who could listen and discuss things and see other points of view. As we have already increased private schools I see a growing divide and less ability to tolerate other ideas. Ones lives in a vacuum
    Schools don’t indoctrinate. They expose. Then kids think about their family and history and their own thoughts and come to their own decisions. This has made for progress in our country. It also leads to moderation. Private schools will lead to greater extremism.
    3. Socially, anecdotally I also noticed it was healthier for kids when they went to school with kids from their neighborhood. When everyone went to different schools and posted with kids from school and not the neighborhood something changed in the neighborhood. Kids brought families together in the old days. And neighbors cared about school kids.
    4. Kids get more exercise when they can walk to school. Private schools lead to more driving and less independence as well. That’s another issue but there is a reason schools are close by and walkable. Our kids would benefit from getting back to that. That’s just my opinion. No evidence.

    I am moderate (have voted for almost all parties at one time or another based on candidate) and my partner is libertarian/Republican and we wrote this together.
    Thanks for listening. We don’t like Kim but don’t like other candidate. We were hoping you might be the guy. But we can’t agree on this. We support public schools 100%.

    On a personal note. I sent my kids to same public school I went to for one year… They weren’t letting my kid advance and she had to eat lunch in her coat in 10 mins. I tried to get changes and couldn’t so we sent them to private they could walk to for k-5. Then they went to public 6-12 and that went great. We were in the most diverse and 50% poor schools. Many parents were scared of those schools and moved their kids to private or “white” schools. My kids all got offers to elite or Ivy colleges. One has graduated and two still in college with 4.0 and doing great. Their high school worked fine for them. My concern is for the parents and students I saw who would be at that school even if they were given $ bc they can’t get their kids to school and can’t navigate the system etc. They couldn’t afford extra costs or a private school might not let them in
    All sorts of things. The public school made my kids comfortable with kids from all income levels and races and genders. They loved it and turned out great. I think we all need to invest better and wiser into the public schools only.

  2. Kate I appreciate your thoughtful comments. A couple of reactions.

    Aren’t public schools already given ‘extra’ money to educate children with disabilities, both physical and mental? One of my sons received special reading assistance (one on one with an aide) and I believe that was from some special federal fund. In my plan this money would follow the student, so it wouldn’t make any difference whether the teachers were in a public or private school, they would be paid the same (assuming they could attract students, or should I say their parents).

    To be honest I don’t care what wealthy parents do, nor do I want to stop them from doing it. I do care about providing the best possible education to the children whose parents are in the 10% to 90% range of incomes, I suppose we can call them the great middle class. I see no reason why competition among teachers who want to provide their educational services at a reasonable price would not work, just as it works with doctors, lawyers, massage therapists, landscapers, etc. As to what building these services are provided in (a public building or a private building) I am completely ambivalent (although I suspect parents will be less so).

    That leaves the students whose parents are in the bottom 10% of the income distribution. Yes, this is a harder nut to crack. But why should we assume these parents are incapable of choosing the best teachers for their children? Is that not paternalistic? Is that not denying them agency? I admit I am frequently horrified at what I see some of my poorer neighbors feed their children (the wrappers frequently end up in my front lawn), but I am also delighted at the conversations I have with those same children. They seem to be sucking up knowledge at pretty much the same rate as the wealthier children on my block, with whom they constantly play.

    But how about this – underprivileged children (what does that mean? they picked the wrong parents?) are automatically subsidized at a slightly higher rate than average, and overprivileged children are subsidized at a slightly lower rate. This would be an intentional tilting of the playing field to the advantage of the disadvantaged (in other words, a ‘progressive’ tax). I’m just throwing this idea out there for the purpose of generating thoughtful conversation, not because I have completely thought it through.

    In any event if we ran the educational system like a business – my platform – we would be seeing constant experimentation, rapid elimination of ideas that don’t work, quick expansion of ideas that do work, and generous rewards to people who provide excellence. And I believe we would achieve constantly better results, rather than the deterioration we have seen from our current educational system.

  3. With more and more education heading to VR and digital classes online… I can see how monitoring which classes are more popular could set an example for other teachers etc….. esp if it was optional who’s online classes you were attended.

    But just as any analytics / online course with years of experience, support, and materials comes professionalism.

    let’s face it… teachers in low income areas work off the clock with their own resources.

    Adding competition within ranks will only dilute the current situation more.
    (That’s not job security, and that goes for other people and partnerships making the switch to digital.)

    It’s too soon in my opinion and others… to be talking about competition in any form until their wages are properly met with all due respect.

    Otherwise… as seen currently in your campaign… it adds fuel to fire.

    Let’s get back to how we will encourage teachers and educators by paying them proper wages, giving them educational materials, and actual time off (where theirs not grading on off hours.)

    Perhaps then educators in low income and environmentally and economically poor areas can create change then.

    Due to poor previous management theirs already a lack of respect, trust and wages throughout Iowa.

    1. Do you realize ALL public employees recieve the same wage as their peers? I can clean 25000 sqft in 8 hours as a custkdian. My peer can only clean 18000 sqft in 8 hrs. I question why he is making as much as me? Should I just slow down or not try as hard? Why on earth would I clean more, for the same wage? The weakest link, makes the weakest chain. And costs you more, for less.
      Rick is right when it comes to salary competition among teachers. (My wife is a teacher and she fully agrees)

  4. Is there any way to get rid of the federally mandated common core? My daughter, as well as many children I have talked to, struggles to learn the way teachers are forced to teach. I also find it ignorant that teachers are not encouraged to teach spelling and grammar anymore, many teachers have told me that funding for it was cut due to computers having the ability to correct errors.

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