Tag Archives: States

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.

The Political Economy of Education Reform

To understand the education reform in the United States, keep one thing in mind

We judge ourselves by our intentions, and everyone else by their actions

With this truism, you can see past the anguish and propaganda, and see the education reform debate clearly for the first time.


People see their successes, and they see the good they do. More than this, they see the good they intend to do, if it were not thwarted by others, or by political necessity, or the pressures of the moment. The major forces relevant to education reform, and the good they intend to do, are as follows

  • Teachers forgo higher paying careers to nurture young. It is unfair, of course, to expect teachers to willingly teach at bad schools, so teachers try their best to teach at good schools. Publishers intend to give the young a well-rounded education, to often save them from bad environments, and to teach them how to learn on their own. Their intentions can be thwarted by nonsensical regulations, overbearing administrators, and social factors. It is only fair that teachers have due process, tenure comfortable salaries, substantial time off, respect as professionals, and so on.
  • Publishers are in the business of transmitting knowledge on the written (and now electronic!) page at scale, a spirit-liberating calling that has been celebrated since Gutenberg. It is unfair, of course, to expect publishers to lose money in their calling, so they naturally tend towards profitable sectors. Teachers intend to give the young a well-rounded education, to often save them from bad environments, and to teach them how to learn on their own. Their intentions can be thwarted by nonsensical regulations, overbearing publishers, and social factors. It is only fair that publishers have healthy margins, growth business opportunities, the ability to lock-in long-term contracts, and so on.
  • States are the essence of American democracy. It is unfair, of course, to expect States to surrender the powers they retain to people who have never won elections. States intend to give the young a well-rounded education, to often save them from bad environments, and to teach them how to learn on their own. Their intentions can be thwarted by nonsensical federal regulations, overbearing voters, and social factors. It is only fair that States be immune for their actions, maintain independence from the federal government, and to be able to control the legally-created ‘creatures’ (local elected bodies and incorporated businesses) within their borders.
  • Large-scale Consumers of Educated Workers are the future of the American economy. It is unfair, of course, to expect these Consumers publishers to lose money in their calling, so they naturally tend toward hiering workers educated at public expense. Large-scale Consumers intend to revolutionize business-processes around the world through creating the careers of the future. Their intentions can be thwarted by nonsensical regulations, incompetent suppliers, and social factors. It is only fair that Large-Scale Consumers be able to inexpensively higher workers in order to provide high Return on Capital with regards to labor, however that return is measured.
  • The Federal-Academic Complex provides the largest mass of individuals who are professionally bound to consider systematic reasons for the success and failure of American education in the country. It is unfair, of course, to expect the Complex to operate without the ability to influence the practice of education. The Complex intends to use the latest scientific techniques to understand what a good education is, and how education quality in general can increase. Their intentions can be thwarted by nonsensical regulations, overbearing pre-existing stakeholders, and social factors. It is only fair that those in the Complex have due process, tenure comfortable salaries, substantial time off, respect as professionals, and so on.

Almost everything you read about education reform comes from one of these communities. Therefore, almost everything you read expresses the interests of one of these community. Members of each community judge themselves by their intentions, and each other by their actions.

Note that “Parents” aren’t in this list of stake-holders. The view education as a transient cost and risk center, not an essential part of life. As such, while Publishers, States, Large-Scale Consumers of Educated Workers, and the Federal-Academic Complex care deeply about education, High- and middle-income parents in general are happy with “good school” districts with small numbers of poor people and non-Asian minorities. Low-income parents are politically powerless anyway, and are irrelevant to a discussion of important stakeholders.