The Plot Against Public Education

Politico has published the article The Plot Against Public Education: How millionaires and billionaires are ruining our schools.

The amount of money in play is breathtaking. And the fiascos it has wrought put a spotlight on America’s class divide and the damage that members of the elite, with their money and their power and their often misguided but unshakable belief in their talents and their virtue, are inflicting on the less financially fortunate.

Those who are genuinely interested in improving the quality of education for all American youngsters are faced with two fundamental questions: First, how long can school systems continue to pursue market-based reforms that have failed year after demoralizing year to improve the education of the nation’s most disadvantaged children? And second, why should a small group of America’s richest individuals, families, and foundations be allowed to exercise such overwhelming—and often such toxic—influence over the ways in which public school students are taught?

This may be a bit about the other side of the education debate compared to the articles I have been posting lately.  I think it does point out how the problems of concentration of power apply to education. (However, the Bill Gates experiment seems to indicate that breaking up concentration just for the sake of breaking up concentration is not a viable approach either.)

Our problem may be that when we see some schools, school districts, cities, or states performing poorly with respect to their peers, we think of centralizing authority over schools so that the poor performers would not be allowed to continue performing poorly.  We fail to entertain the thought that what we may actually be doing is preventing excellent schools from performing excellently.

We may be falling for the “Lake Woebegon Fallacy” in which we think we can get all students to be above average.  Perhaps what we need to realize is that we have to raise the average, but there will always be a  statistical distribution of performance measured at any and all levels.  To narrow the distribution it is  always easier to get the exceptionally good schools to stop being exceptionally good than it is to make the exceptionally bad schools to stop being exceptionally bad.   Taking the easy way out is not getting us to the goal we really want, which is to raise the average by making improvements almost everywhere.

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