They Want Money

Different forces in the education reform debate are fighting over different resources. States and school boards are fighting over power. Parents and Large-Scale Consumers of Educated Workers are fighting over childcare. And teachers and publishers are fighting over money.

States and School Boards both focus on power. Every organization wants to exist on its own terms, without having to bow or beg from others. Both States and school boards have the ability to raise taxes, hire and fire workers, and impact the lives of many citizens through decisions related to children. Both are naturally annoyed by the power of the other. From the perspective of states and school boards, education reform is just an opportunity for States to disempower school boards and aggrandize themselves. States have been largely successful in their struggle.

Parents and Large-Scale Consumers focus on childcare. From the perspective of parents, “childcare” means a place you that will take care of children without messing up their features while parents work. What this means depends on social class. For middle and high class parents, schools should not interfere with the natural progression of children to college or other advanced training. For low class parents, schools should not teach children to become socially awkward or talk back. Large-Scale Consumers of Educated Workers, by contrast, want future laborers who are highly productive (that is, can be hired with an expectation of a large return on capital)

While States v. School Boards fight over power is relatively straightforward, the fight over child-care is more complex. First, Parents are highly mobile, and can move out in and out of school boards, while Large-Scale Consumers of Educated Workers are immobile. (While there are often multiple local schools within driving of a job, for political reasons Large-Scale Consumers of Educated Workers prefer to hire in a country proportionally to its revenues from that country.) Further, Parent are risk-adverse, while Large-Scale Consumers are risk-tolerant, when it comes to individual students.

For instance, consider these two possible trade-offs

  • All students in a school become factory drones v. More students talk back to their parents
  • All students in a school go to college v. Some go to college, some start businesses, some fall behind

While the details of these trade-offs are different (low income parents see short-term costs as catastrophic, while high income parents have a future time orientation and so are risk-adverse about future events. Because of the very high rewards for education in the modern economy (as pointed out by the ‘Occupy’ movement), the difference in return-on-investment between a very highly educated worker and a college-educated worker is higher than between a college-educated worker and a high-school-educated worker, but because middle and high class parents fear that it will be their child who does not go to college, they are intolerant of policies that would allow some students to prosper and others to flail.

This fight appears to have been conceded before it began by Large-Scale Consumers of Educated Workers. Instead, Large-Scale Consumers and Parents seem to be working together to create a public education system that creates a floor in terms of proficiency, with Large-Scale Consumers content to allow risky decision to be made after high school graduation.

Teachers and Publishers fight over money. For both Teachers and Parents, education funding is a source of money that can be milked to support lifestyles that could not otherwise be afforded. Teacher and Publishers tend to be active in the political space in order to collect “rents” — to get States and School Boards to provide a greater return-on-investment to their efforts than could be achieved in a free market. Both Teachers and Publishers are rentiers, primarily concerned with improving their own bottom-lines at the expense of children put in their care.

States and School Boards are neutral to the outcomes of education — they simply want to control it. Parents and Large Scale Consumers of Educated Workers both want good education systems, but different in their risk tolerance. Both Teachers and Publishers are essentially parasitical to schools, seeking to divert resources obtained by States and School Boards, at the behest of Parents and Large-Scale Consumers, towards themselves away from children. (Though in the best tradition of marketing, where you take your greatest weakness and claim it is a feature, both Teachers and Publishers identify their own income as being ‘for’ children.)

Education Reform in America is largely a function of the alignment and intelligence of six forces along these three axes. The future of education reform could be predicted if we only knew who would get the power, who would define proper childcare, and who profits.

12 thoughts on “They Want Money”

  1. Two main critiques.

    “middle and high class parents fear that it will be their child who does not go to college, they are intolerant of policies that would allow some students to prosper and others to flail.”

    This assumption is incorrect. Middle and high class parents are very tolerant of policies that would for variation in prosperity and success. In fact, higher class parents can game the system to ensure that their students succeed where others will fail. Their ability to do so is constituted by wealth, which leads to larger school district budgets, tutors for the SATs, and college application coaches. However, lower class students can’t afford any of these things. So, they don’t succeed.

    Yes, it’s about money. That’s because of capitalism, and institutional failure is a result of contradictions within capitalism as capital moves about the industrialized West. When education is funded and supplied by non-capitalist means, the crisis will continue. Yes, this probably means for a very long time.

  2. Hey Stephen,

    Excellent comment!

    I agree with your first point — my verbiage was ambiguous and inartful. I should have written something like:

    ‘middle and high class parents fear that it will be their child who does not go to college, they are intolerant of policies that are riskier for their child, even if the most likely outcome for their child would be better than the most likely outcome of the current
    system for their children.’

    In other words, middle and high class parents are risk adverse when it comes to educating their young, but are essentially indifferent to the outcomes of others.

    I (think) I disagree it being about money is a result of capitalism — self-interest long preceding the establishment of capitalism as an economic system. Of course is a non-capitalism system it may be because of living conditions, or prestige, or something else, even if money as such is not as important.

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