Public school as a Chevy Impala

Andrew Coulson compares public education to a 1971 Chevy Impala, which sold for $3,460.

That’s $19,011 in today’s dollars. If cars were like public schools, you would be compelled to buy one of these today, and to pay $43,479 for that privilege (2.3 times the original price).

But, thank heavens, the automobile industry is part of the free enterprise system that thrives everywhere in our economy outside the classroom.

A 2008 Impala costs $21,975. It comes “with technologies that could barely be imagined 40 years ago: OnStar satellite communications, side-curtain airbags, and anti-lock brakes, to name a few. And if you don’t like the looks of it, or if it doesn’t fit the needs of your family, you can buy something else — something bigger or smaller, faster or more fuel efficient.”

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Yep, and if we had unfettered capitalism, as libertarians suggest, we’d have a significant portion of the population who wouldn’t be able to afford a skateboard education. They might, with diligent effort, do tricks with what they had, but they wouldn’t be able to get from one town to another.

  2. Mike, why exactly do you assert that? You’re just stating something as fact with no supporting evidence of any kind. The truth is that the market supplies what the vast, vast majority of people want and need. Poor people today somehow manage to be clothed. By your logic, we should have government-provided clothing or else “a significant portion of the population” would walk around naked. The logic (or lack of it) is the same.

    The bulk of the evidence strongly suggests that the market does a better job of providing just about everything than command and control systems do. If you’re going to make perfection the standard, the system you presumably favor (government coercion and control) is far worse in that regard than market systems are.

  3. Mike,

    In the post to which Joanne linked I suggest providing financial assistance to ensure universal access to the education marketplace. Just Google “Public Education Tax Credit act” for the model legislation Cato has proposed to accomplish that.

    Best,
    Andrew

  4. Margo/Mom says:

    “The bulk of the evidence strongly suggests that the market does a better job of providing just about everything than command and control systems do. If you’re going to make perfection the standard, the system you presumably favor (government coercion and control) is far worse in that regard than market systems are.”

    That is why the leading indicators (infant mortality and longevity) show that the US health care system is the best in the world. Oh, wait, I forgot. It isn’t.

  5. Margo/Mom,

    With employers given tax incentives to pay for health insurance for employees to see specialists referred only by designated primary care physicians, you really think that our health care system is a strong example of unfettered markets at work?

    If you’re going to let your anti-capitalism flare up, at least choose a decent example.

    Dan K.

  6. Free markets in education assume a population density and cheap travel. It absolutely will not work in rural areas and small towns.

  7. mjtyson says:

    Hmmm, arguments against a free market approach to public education so far, inferred, of course, for the most part: 1) school choice by parents would mean unfettered capitalism leading to the impoverishment of most of us, and 2) U.S. rates of infant mortality and longevity are proof that our free market system is immoral and incapable of allowing the creation of good schools for non-rich people. Hence, in conclusion, public education as it is today is the only humane, altruistic and compassionate approach to education ever.

  8. Margo/Mom, if you think we have a free market system in health care in this country, you’re sadly mistaken. It’s greatly distorted by various government tax policies and regulations. This is the most frustrating thing about discussing markets. Governments screw up the market, but continue to pretend it’s a functioning market. Then when their engineering has the inevitable bad result, they claim it’s because of a failing market, not their own stupidity. That’s sort of what happened in California over the last 10 years with energy. The state made some cosmetic changes that it CALLED deregulation, but it was a highly, highly controlled market. Then when it failed, people who didn’t understand economics blamed it on the market. You can’t blame the market when the problems are CAUSED by government interference in the first place.

  9. David – As a libertarian I pretty much agree with you about the free market. A free market, and freedom in general, produces prosperity because every transaction is a win-win situation, or the transaction wouldn’t happen. At least that’s the way it happens when things are working right, and in American, for all our faults and limitations, things generally are working right. However I don’t think government is the only thing that can mess up this happy state of affairs. Freedom has to rest on a basis of morality. As Paul Harvey has always said, “You can’t have self-government without self discipline”. Freedom also has to rest on a basis of competence. So education is important, very important.

    In health care I think our problem is not so much government, as ignorance, a specific type of ignorance. We don’t understand insurance. We ought to, it’s not that hard, but by and large we don’t. Many people, it appears, don’t think of an insurance policy as a legal contract between competent parties acting at arms length. Rather they seem to think that the insurance company is adopting them, and promising to take care of them without reservation, no matter what. That naive perspective causes problems. And there is yet another problem with insurance that I think even very competent and knowledgeable people have been slow to recognize. Third party payment drastically distorts normal market incentives. I have an article on my website in which I develop these ideas a little deeper. Here’s a link. http://www.brianrude.com/tr-ins.htm

    Of course government may be more of a problem in health care than I am aware of, but I would still argue that the trouble with insurance is of utmost importance.

  10. Of course government may be more of a problem in health care than I am aware of, but I would still argue that the trouble with insurance is of utmost importance.

    Given that the tremendous reliance on employer-bought insurance is due to a perverse loophole in the tax system left over from the Second World War, reinforced by copious amounts of insurance regulation from the Feds and the states, government is the *root* of the problem.

  11. Brian, there is some truth to what you’re saying. There is definitely a lot of ignorance about insurance. One of the most ignorant things is that most people don’t treat it as something to insure against possible medical catastrophe. They treat it like something that’s going to take care of everything — even routine things that everyone pays for — which I think you’ve capably compared to the insurance company adopting them. Still, government tax policies have created the situation that allowed that to develop. And then government continues to make it worse by putting on more and more layers of regulations which compound the problem — instead of just getting out of the way and letting the market work.

    (BTW, I agree 100 percent with what Quincy is saying in the previous comment, so I’m not going to repeat what he’s said.)

    If you’re interested in this subject, the Cato Institute has some excellent papers and podcasts that explore various sides of the issue of employer-provided health care (and why it creates incentives that are bad for everyone).

  12. > Yep, and if we had unfettered capitalism, as libertarians suggest, we’d have a significant portion of the population who wouldn’t be able to afford a skateboard education.

    Well let’s see.

    The average cost of a year of private school education this year is, I believe, $3800 out of pocket. The average spent on public education is in excess of $10,000. Of course, the price paid for private school also ought to include the taxes paid to support the public schools so it’s actually above the out-of-pocket expense figure.

    Since no one’s demonstrated any connection between expenditure and results – certainly not in the public education system – it looks like an Impala education ought to be purchasable at a skateboard price or, that the Impala price tag is buying a skateboard education.

    > Free markets in education assume a population density and cheap travel.

    Free markets assume nothing but demand. After that it’s a matter to be worked out between vendor and customer. Of course if you detest free markets you assume everything under the sun to make them look untenable and bad. Yet like a bad penny free markets just keep showing up to repair the damage done by socialist institutions.

    > It absolutely will not work in rural areas and small towns.

    It worked in the Warsaw ghetto. I think we can assume low population density and low income isn’t nearly that much of an impediment.

  13. David Cohen says:

    The perpetual failure of business-to-school comparisons is the failure to recognize what I hope is a shared value: all students deserve an education. There is no “profit” for the school system in taking on that challenge, nor is equal opportunity an ideal that is generally afforded the “input” of a business system.

    Likewise, when one business fails, others can absorb the excess demand much more quickly than a school or school system ever could, even in the free-market, libertarian dreams some of you harbor. But – again – schools are not factories or businesses, and so if we allow schools to fail like businesses, we have collateral damage to the children stuck in the middle during any period of “market adjustment.” You can’t just leave children sitting in storage like excess inventory, you can’t shut them out the way you would stop ordering when you’ve hit capacity, and you can’t just speed up production to move them out more quickly.

    Some comments around here have accused teachers of living in a fantasy world, but it seems like those not involved in schools overlook the single most simple concept in schools – you’re dealing with children’s lives, not parts and goods. If you can’t see that, what world are you living in?

    I’m not saying schools as they currently operate are perfect. I’m not arguing against any school choice options. I’m just saying that plunging ahead with business models when the “raw material” of schools is our children is profoundly unwise if, as I’d like to think, we all care about the right of all American children to have a free and appropriate education. But that’s not a free-market approach, is it? So when your free-market ideals come up against the democratic ideals of free public education, (supported by the people through their elected representatives), then what?

    It seems clear that most Americans have decided that a true free market is not in our best interests. We value stability and predictability more than efficiency. We have little trust in market solutions to prevent or punish fraud, deception, and various malfeasances in business and industry. It’s not from lack of understanding of business that we make this choice, but rather from an clear understanding of history and human nature. We’ve chosen our hybrid system, so it seems silly to argue about the extremes of either free-markets or socialism that we don’t have and aren’t inclined to embrace.

  14. <<You can’t just leave children sitting in storage like excess inventory

    Actually, Mr. Cohen, that describes what often happens in Detroit Public Schools.

  15. But – again – schools are not factories or businesses, and so if we allow schools to fail like businesses, we have collateral damage to the children stuck in the middle during any period of “market adjustment.”

    How is this any worse than keeping kids in schools that fail year, after year, after year, after year? Seriously, I’d like to know.

  16. Catch Thirty-Three says:

    Margo/Mom, really, the U.S. health care system isn’t the best in the world? Canada’s Belinda Stronach and Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi would disagree. Or else, why would they come here when their countries offer helth care for FREE?

    Or, why are Brits shelling out the cash for private health insurance in spite of the NHS? Why is private spending on medicine in the Netherlands hitting 40%?

  17. >> Actually, Mr. Cohen, that describes what often happens in Detroit Public Schools.

    Oh, and ever so much more then merely warehousing kids.

    DPS enjoys the distinction of the lowest graduation rate of any large, urban school district a fact which may escape the Argus eye of excuse-makers like Mr. Cohen but not the parents of kids in Detroit. They’re deserting the DPS in droves in search of a decent education for their kids. Turns out, those parents are swapping a higher per pupil budget, an Impala budget, by leaving the DPS, for a better education at local charters with lower budgets.

    The DPS doesn’t just warehouse kids, it prepares them for a lifetime of disappointment and missed opportunities.

    > It seems clear that most Americans have decided that a true free market is not in our best interests.

    You might want to consider using the royal “we” since that leaves some doubt about your presumptuousness. After all, you could have a mouse in your pocket.

    The debate on how education’s to be conducted is really just now getting up a head of steam now that a viable alternative to the district system, charters, have come onto the scene. Where we go from here, with charters popping up all over, isn’t entirely clear but I rather doubt that a return to “district knows best” is one of the options.

    If anything, I think that as more parents understand their options and begin to assert their prerogatives, the district system will begin to crumble. It is, after all, an inherently unresponsive and self-defensive organizational form.

    Rather then meet the rising demands of parents the districts will resort, as they already have, to political defenses; charters caps, budget constraints, administrative and bureaucratic attacks. Trouble is, those are all rear-guard actions, defensive actions. The battle’s been lost in many places, particularly in the inner city, but rather then accept defeat the forces of the educational status quo will try to string defeat out as long as possible.

    That won’t be in the best interests of the kids but when’s that been much of an impediment?

  18. The Canadian health system “works” only because about 90% of Canadians live withing about 100 miles of the US border. Health professionals practicing near the Canadian border have been well aware of the influx for decades.
    Recent news items reported that a British Columbia woman, in labor with twins, was flown over the Rockies to deliver in western Montana or North Dakota, since there were no neonatal beds available in Canada. Another was flown from one of the central provinces (Northern Alberta, I believe) to North Dakota for the same reason. Note: there are no “big cities” in either state, but medical facilities are sized to accommodate the Canadian overflow, which is not trivial. Wouldn’t any woman like to experience labor while being flown several hundred miles.
    Also, the Fraser Institute, in Vancouver,documents typical waiting times for various specialist referrals/diagnostic procedure/treatments for serious diseases, broken down by specialty. Americans do not wait 3-4 months for cancer surgery, cardiac procedures, total joint replacements, etc, BUT CANADIANS DO! (unless they come to the States)

    Also, those who discuss various international infant mortality and various morbididty statistics should be aware that not all countries count these categories in the same way or with anything like the same accuracy as does the US. My son has played soccer tournaments against African teams where every boy on the team had a January 1 birthdate! A number of people also feel that the birthdates of South and Central American boys can be a bit equivocal.

  19. Margo/Mom says:

    Catch 33–your questions overlook the one that I pointed to, which is, why isn’t the US (certainly LESS government sponsored than other industrialized nations) leading in the key indicators of longevity and infant mortality. Most experts would point to the inequitable access. We have very good care for those with access–substandard for those on the bottom rungs. But maybe someone can point to a country with a “free-er market” in health care that is surpassing all the others?

    Allen–not sure where your numbers are coming from, but according to the Digest of Education Statistics 2005, National Center for Education Statistics, there is a considerable range of average tuition cost for US private school, from $2,451 in Catholic elementary schools to $14,638 for non-sectarian secondary private schools. The overall average is $10,992. That is tuition, which is not to be confused with cost (else the comparable figure for public education would be $0). Tuition is not likely to equal cost for various reasons. Even private schools are frequent recipients of public funding for some expenses (transportation, special education). Catholic schools have for a long time maintained a mission of inclusion–with an expectation that where possible the church will support a portion of the cost (which is why the church is now closing some schools). Many exclusive private schools may rely on foundations, substantial donor bases, etc. to supplement tuition in meeting cost. Private schools may also be more likely to pass on various costs to parents (sports equipment and uniforms, textbooks, lab fees, etc) than public schools.

    Actual COST of education at private schools is harder to come by, since they are, well, private.

  20. David Cohen says:

    Where did I make excuses for bad schools such as those described in Detroit? What makes you think I’d accept “warehousing” kids in failing schools? Now, follow up your rhetorical question. Because there are failing schools, I take it you’d be comfortable allowing some students to end up without schools in your free-market approach. Because of course, demand would trigger supply. And of course, waiting for that supply of education to catch up with demand wouldn’t be a problem. You wouldn’t mind just having kids wander the streets all day, would you? You wouldn’t mind putting additional strain on working families while the market sorts itself out. And of course, once those kids get back into school, they’ll thrive, right, after all that relaxing time off? Ooops – failing schools… close them down… repeat cycle.

    And why does the existence of bad schools suggest any flaw in my critique of the schools-as-businesses model? Because there are bad schools, does that mean we actually should treat children as raw materials? No, you haven’t dented my argument in the slightest. You’ve avoided it.

    And if any of you have ever been responsible for making funding decisions for a school, I’d love to hear how your bottom-line business thinking aligns with the actual goals of a school, which are NOT profit-making enterprises. We do not make decisions about the best interests of children by simply studying figures. Does that make schools less efficient than they could be? Sure. Does that mean that children are like machine parts? Well, I know my answer. There are no solutions to be found in the extremes. I’ve conceded schools are imperfect (wow -what a shock!) but not finding much intelligent debate here among people willing to concede the lunatic fringe idea that schools=businesses would solve all our problems. I’m open to debates about restructuring district systems and state systems, simplifying the funding, reducing the overhead, etc., but is there anyone here willing to meet in the middle and say that dollars and statistics cannot be the sole determinants in educational debates?

    Now, regarding the free-market, the “we” I was referring to was the majority of Americans. Look at the system that we have. Is it a true free-market system? Do you think that you can get 51% of Americans to do away with all that keeps us from that type of system? That majority does not currently exist. That is why I feel safe in asserting that “we” are at that point right now. It was hardly a bold claim on my part – surprised it was challenged. Do you think 51% of us are ready to do away with most government services, safety nets, and regulatory functions? If you made a list of all the services government provides, you wouldn’t find a majority ready to do without. Reform? Yes. Improve? Yes. Consolidate, innovate, simplify… but not eliminate. I’ll take their existence in a democracy and the lack of serious effort to remove them as an indication of Americans’ desire to have these services, and anxiously await your *evidence* that I was wrong about “our” position on free-markets.

  21. I’ll take their existence in a democracy and the lack of serious effort to remove them as an indication of Americans’ desire to have these services, and anxiously await your *evidence* that I was wrong about “our” position on free-markets.

    There is no “our” position on free markets in education because we’ve never tried it. In this country, education has always been “public” in one form or another, whether a community-supported schoolhouse or the massive NYC school system.

    Historical inertia is not a decision. Let me ask you, when and why did we settle on employer-funded health insurance as our primary financing mode for health care? Was it a considered decision of the people, or was something else at work?

    Ooops – failing schools… close them down… repeat cycle.

    As opposed to, well, keeping them open and…? I’d love to hear an answer from the anti-free marketeers here, why is it better to keep clearly worthless schools open than close them down?

  22. Quincy, you’re fighting a losing battle. To some people, government-operated schools are a religion. Evidence just doesn’t matter.

  23. Yeah, there is that. I just want to get the questions on the table and hopefully get the folks who aren’t “religious” to think a little bit about our current situation.

  24. Margo, FWIW, the average cost of private school tuition you provided sounds way too high. They must be using a mean, instead of a median, which would be less affected by extreme outliers on the high end (for example, an elite boarding school that is 6 figures annually would drive the mean way up).

    The Cato institute claims the average tuition for private school is around $2500. I don’t know how reliable that is, but it sounds closer to me, and certainly comparable to the private schools in our area.

    Oh, and it’s true that books and lab fees are often extra for the students at private schools… but not THAT much extra! :-)

  25. The tuition at the private school I teach at is 18,000 for elementary school. Most good private school have much higher tuitions than a few a grand, it is only the church supported schools that have that lower tuition.

    Changing focus for a minute. We might point out how many parents insist that their there child’s education mirror their own. So one reason why reform/revolution in education moves slowly is because the “buyers” of education want it that way, and even in the environment where government acts as a mediator. I am thinking specifically about reforms in math education…

    Ok have at me now…

    Matt

  26. The average tuition for private schools is, relying on NCES tables rather then my memory, as of 2005 which is the latest numbers NCES has, is $4,689.

    http://tinyurl.com/5kp3c9

    > And why does the existence of bad schools suggest any flaw in my critique of the schools-as-businesses model?

    Because your critique isn’t a critique; it’s an appeal to emotion.

    Oh no, saith David Cohen, we’ll not treat those fragile flowers of youth like car parts as would be done in a vile, profit-maddened business environment. No, each blossoming mind shall be nurtured in environment of caring and compassion with nary a cost accountant in sight.

    Save the poetry for the coffee house. Schools exist to perform a function which society ostensibly deems worthy of taxation. The only question that matters, at least from society’s point of view is whether the job’s being done. In the parlance of capitalism that would be “the bottom line”.

    Pretty clearly there’s a widespread feeling that the job *isn’t* getting done. The expansion of charter schools at the state level and the passage of NCLB at the national level indicates that lack of faith.

    > I’ve conceded schools are imperfect (wow -what a shock!)

    Not exactly a concession of noteworthy magnanimity. I can point you to an entire school district that’s so imperfect that if it didn’t exist it couldn’t be sold as a fiction.

    > but not finding much intelligent debate here among people willing to concede the lunatic fringe idea that schools=businesses would solve all our problems.

    Perhaps you’d have less trouble finding intelligent debate then if you were willing to eschew your strawman arguments.

    The school/business comparisons spring from the observation that businesses that do a lousy job eventually, inevitably disappear whereas schools which do a lousy job go on doing a lousy job with no particular reason to think they’ll ever do anything *but* a lousy job.

    When the lousy businesses go away what’s left, by default, are better businesses. But lousy schools seemingly never go away.

    Is it necessary to draw you a picture?

    > I’m open to debates about restructuring district systems and state systems, simplifying the funding, reducing the overhead, etc

    Time to come up to speed bucko, the debates moved beyond what you’re willing to discuss.

    The basic assumptions underlying public education in the U.S. are under debate not just the “repaint the trim on the Titanic” factors you’ve allowed you’re willing to discuss. I rather doubt the debate is anywhere near ending so you might want to do some stretching exercises if you plan to be part of the debate, you’re going to feel some strain.

    Charter schools represent a fundamental change and the debate about them hasn’t nearly built up a full head of steam yet. NCLB’s kicked off a national debate about an exciting new concept which has never been applied to public education before: accountability. That’s another debate that’s not nearly run its course. That bogeyman – vouchers – that opponents would like to believe has been cast out into the outer darkness is waiting patiently, rattling it’s bones occasionally, till the time when the danger represented by charters has the full attention of those willing to discuss restructuring district systems and simplifying funding.

    There’s plenty of talking going on and plenty more to talk about. But you might want to try to get used to the fact that you aren’t the one deciding what does and doesn’t get talked about.

  27. I was investigating private elementary schools in CA –bay area — and they seem to cost about $12,000 dollars per student per year. The local public elementary school my son attends states that it spends about $7,000 dollars per student per year. I actually sent my son to a private school for a pre-kindergarten program and was disatisfied with the results. What I found was that direct parent involvement seems to produce better results than either public or private school. Not sure if this holds beyond the early elementary school grades.

    So how much should we be paying for education? I’ve found it confusing to figure that out even for myself. I suppose with a free market system, at least I alone would suffer the consequences or reap the benefits of whatever decisions I made. (Actually my children would)

    So I can see the free-market approach working if public money for education is terminated. But as long as public money is spent on education, there will always be the issue of how much to spend. Should everyone be given the same amount? If not, how do you decide who gets what amount? What level and quality of education should the public fund? These seem to be a lot the same issues we’re trying to deal with already and not getting good results for children. But then again the free market approach doesn’t require good results, it just requires that people take responsibility for the results they get. This doesn’t seem to be in the spirit of public education.

  28. Catch Thirty-Three says:

    Margo/Mom, to loosely quote the July/August 2007 edition of “Foreign Policy”: is there a plainly superior alternative to the U.S. health care system? The answer is no. The article also points out that health care is an issue everywhere.

    And please, spare me your whining abou “equal access”. If I get in a wreck tomorrow, all I need to do is to get to A hopsital, ANY hospital, where I must be stabilized, by law, regardless of cost. And as I pointed out, as much as you hate the health care system in this country because we aren’t in the business of rewarding, coddling and pampering everyone merely for being born,people still come streaming in here in spite of their free health care at home.

    I also suggest you look at the list of Nobel Prizes for Medicine. A lot of European countries won them before, say, the 1960s. Then, the list, while it still had the occasional European winners, tended SHARPLY American. Care to explain that?

  29. Margo/Mom says:

    C33:

    Since you are plainly disinterested in discussing the commonly accepted health indicators of infant mortality and longevity–are there any health indicators that you rely on in making your judgment?

  30. If a lack of competition and choice were the reason for high inflation rates in public education, then we should see low inflation rates in higher education. There is plenty of choice and competition among colleges, but we see very high inflation rates. The comparison of cars to education is silly.

  31. Reality Czech says:

    Infant mortality and longevity must be corrected for the characteristics of the population. If countries A and B are identical except that A has 15% of ethnic group X with very low mortality and B has 15% of ethnic group Y with very high mortality, it doesn’t mean that B has a worse health-care system than A. If group X has higher mortality in A than in their native country and Y has lower mortality in B (which we can see in real-world examples), it just complicates matters further.

  32. Margo/Mom says:

    Infant mortality and longevity must be corrected for the characteristics of the population.

    So, our problem is bad genes?

  33. “First, it’s shaky ground to compare U.S. infant mortality with reports from other countries. The United States counts all births as live if they show any sign of life, regardless of prematurity or size. This includes what many other countries report as stillbirths. In Austria and Germany, fetal weight must be at least 500 grams (1 pound) to count as a live birth; in other parts of Europe, such as Switzerland, the fetus must be at least 30 centimeters (12 inches) long. In Belgium and France, births at less than 26 weeks of pregnancy are registered as lifeless. And some countries don’t reliably register babies who die within the first 24 hours of birth. Thus, the United States is sure to report higher infant mortality rates. For this very reason, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which collects the European numbers, warns of head-to-head comparisons by country.”

    http://health.usnews.com/usnews/health/articles/060924/2healy.htm

  34. Margo/Mom,

    Surely you acknowledge some of us have better/worse genes than others? My wife’s grandparents all lived to ages 89-96; mine died in their 60s/early 70s. My parents died in their 60s; her parents are both still healthy and approaching 80. Prior to our marriage, I had much better access to health care. Despite being close in age, it is very likely she will outlive me significantly, and her older siblings will probably outlive my younger siblings.

    If you want a free market health care example, look at laser eye surgery. The costs have dropped dramatically while other health care costs have risen.

    The problem, as other have stated, is “insurance” paying for routine items. I don’t expect my auto insurance to pay for my oil change, or my homeowners insurance to pay to paint my house, nor do I have to get their approval as to when and from whom such services are performed. Even food stamp programs don’t dictate which stores I can shop from. Can you imagine how expensive food would be if we had employer sponsored food plans managed by a third party?

    Back to public education. The simplest solution is for states to allocate a dollar amount per student (e.g. K $5000, 1-5 $6500, 6-8 $7500, 9-12 $10000) and the school of attendance gets the funding. That would avoid situations such as the Mercury News recently reported where districts are kicking out students that want to attend but live within the district boundaries.

  35. Ah yes, we’re back at the same-old, same-old Libertarian religious arguments with regard to “Business models work and are the epitome of perfection” attitudes with the same old retreats to strawman accusations and ducking and dodging the arguments when the Lib theology gets challenged.

    So far, the only thing I see coming out of a free-market ideology is that the rich get richer and the poor get–nothing. After all, they’re poor because they deserve it, right?

    pm up above highlights a very important piece of the puzzle when he or she writes:

    I actually sent my son to a private school for a pre-kindergarten program and was disatisfied with the results. What I found was that direct parent involvement seems to produce better results than either public or private school. Not sure if this holds beyond the early elementary school grades.

    Give the poster a cigar, please. After six years of my child in a private school, and six years of my child in a public school, I found the public program to be much better–even given the holes in his knowledge from the private school. His holes were much smaller than his compatriots, though, because we got involved with his schooling and we actively sought out additional resources to expand his knowledge–summer camps, Saturday Academy, 4-H, etc.

    Parental involvement is a significant piece of the puzzle of what makes up a good education. Without it, most kids will crash and burn.

    My guess is that most of the proponents of a free market in education are not necessarily supportive of a universal, quality education for all–rather, they’re supportive of paying less for more, especially out of their own pockets.

    However, few have the guts to admit it, and raise the specter of the failing schools and failing school districts without coming to terms with the notion that under their system, those kids would still be thrown away.

    Sheesh, just given the whining about using insurance for preventative health care rather than paying strictly for catastrophic situations, it’s obvious where they’re coming from.

    (Disclaimer: I’ve paid premiums for years, as has my husband’s employer and now my employer, to an insurance program which encourages preventative health care with an eye toward reducing the costs of overall insurance. I hear many complaints about this particular insurer, many of which center around the bureaucratic nature of it. My own experiences have been positive, but I don’t insist on Cadillac care when I can do just fine with a Ford or Chevy level service).

  36. Ragnarok says:

    joycem said:

    “…strawman accusations…”

    Ah yes, a classic example of the Stout Denial defense, made famous by the “William” books.

    Followed by the Off-topic Gambit – very smooth.

  37. Ragnarok–

    glad to see you recognize your own side’s mechanisms.

  38. Andy Freeman says:

    > The local public elementary school my son attends states that it spends about $7,000 dollars per student per year

    That typically doesn’t include capital costs, aka the those school bonds that are on every ballot. Tuition for private schools does.

    And, if it’s in CA, that number is almost certainly wrong. The state minimum is significantly higher. (That may be all that they get from the local taxes. If so, the state is kicking in more money.)

  39. Ragnarok says:

    “The local public elementary school my son attends states that it spends about $7,000 dollars per student per year.”

    But this is almost certainly false. Per the LAO, the statewide average in CA was $11,935, not counting parcel taxes, tax breaks, bond issues, etc.

    http://www.lao.ca.gov/analysis_2008/education/ed_anl08006.aspx

    Public schools love to quote only the Prop. 98 figure, but even that is ~$9,000.

  40. > My guess is that most of the proponents of a free market in education are not necessarily supportive of a universal, quality education for all–rather, they’re supportive of paying less for more, especially out of their own pockets.

    What, pray tell, is the value of your “supportiveness”? The public education system that you seem to think the epitome of egalitarianism was designed specifically to be anything but egalitarian. What all those zillions of otherwise valueless districts exist to perpetuate is economic disparity.

    Of course the joke was on the designers of the system since, as everyone knows, there’s no worthwhile connection between educational effectiveness and budget. The Washington D.C. school district has a per student budget that ought to buy entry to a moderately toney private school. But to call the district excrable would be to do an injustice to excrement.

    The smell, by the way, is identifiable by Washington D.C. parents who’ve deserted the district to the extent possible pushing the percentage of charter school kids in the D.C. district to right near the top of the list.

    Now it’s my turn to guess and I’d guess that we’re both on the same side when it comes to the so-called “equity” law suits which seek to equalize per student spending across the breadth of a state. I’m sure you get quite breathless at the thought of all those immorally rich kids having no more spent on their education then the nobly poor. After all, it’s got to be a short step to an egalitarian utopia once the funding inequities are ironed out of the school system, right?

    I have a slightly different reason to be thrilled at the prospect of enforced, educational funding equality: rich people, and by “rich” I mean anyone who can pony up enough money to spend more then the state would propose to spend, would desert the system in droves.

    Of course, you’ll say “good riddance” since all those higher-order thinking skills you’re so proud of are largely illusory.

    I, with the advantage of the devilish cleverness that attends membership in the Republican party, realize that all those rich people didn’t get rich by being stupid, passive and accepting. They’ll not only desert the public school system which no longer allows them to lavish upon their children the one resource which they have in abundance but they’ll also take their money with them.

    Right now vouchers and tax credits are aimed at poor people but convince some judge that public education spending ought to equalized and all those rich folks with kids will see the good sense in vouchers and tax credits. Now the poor folks and the rich folks will be deserting the system in droves. Wanna guess how that’ll make middle class parents feel?

  41. It would be nice if one could advocate for a reasonable amount of market involvement in either education or health care without being branded an extremist libertarian social Darwinist. Did somone mention ‘straw man’? Insisting on zero market involvement is just as extreme as advocating for completely unfettered markets with no social safety net.

    On the other hand it is gratifying to see so many people aware of the problem of tax policy in health care. I only wish the commonly-proposed remedies were better than what I’ve seen so far.

  42. Sheesh, just given the whining about using insurance for preventative health care rather than paying strictly for catastrophic situations, it’s obvious where they’re coming from.

    If it’s paying for a predictable event such as routine health care, it’s not insurance. Period. As an experiment, just try buying auto insurance and telling the person on the other end you’re going to drive your car off a bridge. I guarantee, you will NOT be offered coverage.

  43. Ragnarok says:

    “…devilish cleverness…”

    Or perhaps “fiendish”?

  44. Catch-33′s argument is so quickly and easily countered that it’s hardly worth the bother. Besides Momof4′s cases, another recent one was a woman with a brain tumor. Canada said, OK, we’ll send you to a specialist in 4 months. Not much point in a specialist seeing a dead woman.

    She came here (the US), got a workup and diagnosis within a week, went back to Canada with the documantation. They said, OK, we’ll get you an operation in a couple of months.

    She came back to the US, and within a week or so, had the operation and was recuperating.

    To finance it, she and her husband had to mortgage their house. But she’s alive.

    If you think health care is expensive now, wait till it’s free.

    But that’s off the topic of the “Chevy Impala”. Let’s consider another comparison. If Chevrolet had the same failure rate as our schools, every other car would fall apart within 15 miles of the dealer.

    Would we put up with that?

  45. joycem wrote:

    My guess is that most of the proponents of a free market in education are not necessarily supportive of a universal, quality education for all–rather, they’re supportive of paying less for more, especially out of their own pockets.

    Darn straight! A “universal, quality education for all” would be a theoretically perfect system. Theory, meet reality, where perfection is unattainable. There will ALWAYS be kids left behind: whether it be the fault of the system, the parents, the kids themselves, or any combination of the three.

    Now, given that simple FACT, we’re left with too choices:

    We have Socialism(our current scenario, in case you were unaware): a system with no checks-and-balances, is not self-correcting, requires constant oversight by EVERYBODY, and gets progressively more expensive all the while.

    Or we have Capitalism: a system with built-in checks-and-balances, is self-correcting, requires oversight by CUSTOMERS(ie, parents), and gets progressively cheaper as greater supply is created and new effeciencies are found.

    Those are your options. And in anticipation of your objections, corruption and greed are irrelevant as they exist in both systems. As to the higher cost of services for those who need more services(ie, the disabled), I have yet to hear a good reason why those costs should not be born by those who require the services. Ability to pay is not an argument, as the disadvantaged get short-changed in both systems.

  46. It’s amazing how those who favor government schools always think the motives of free market advocates are selfish and dishonest, but they tend to see the motives of their own government-paid allies as pure and honest. They can’t seem to accept that many of us believe a) funding the education system as we do is morally wrong, b) education will never be as good as it can be until parents have real choice in a way that can force bad schools to shut down, and c) there’s nothing so fundamentally different about education that makes it immune to the same market forces that provide us the other things we need in life.

    I’ll admit that most of the education socialists have good intentions, but that doesn’t make their bizarre inability to reason any less baffling. I wish they could understand that those of us who disagree with them do so for reasons that deal fundamentally with morality and rationality, not JUST because we prefer not to have our money stolen. It’s too bad they can’t read minds the way they think they can.

  47. Margo/Mom says:

    “And some countries don’t reliably register babies who die within the first 24 hours of birth. Thus, the United States is sure to report higher infant mortality rates.”

    I guess maybe they don’t report deaths until two or three years after they happen as well.

    “If you want a free market health care example, look at laser eye surgery. The costs have dropped dramatically while other health care costs have risen.”

    See–laser eye surgery isn’t a health care system. It’s a product. Is there some data about an outcome of laser eye surgery in population terms?

    So, I concede. Our infants are the healthiest in the world, except for those population groups where they are not, and then it is the genes (or the hyperexpectations of insurance customers) who are to blame. And other countries don’t have populations that live longer, it just must seem that way because of the deadly dull lives that they lead. And the population from Canada coming here for elective procedures isn’t matched by our elderly driving over there to get affordable medications.

  48. SuperSub says:

    Margo-
    “I guess maybe they don’t report deaths until two or three years after they happen as well.”

    Not quite sure what your attempt at an argument means… but the one you were trying to counter is legitimate. The US, with its expansive system of electronic record-keeping, likely does a heck of a better job tracking births than any other country. Not only that, but due to our high-quality health care, we consider more fetuses to be viable despite various defects that usually lead to death/stillbirth… therefore inflating our mortality rates over other countries. Anyone who works with numbers will tell you that for a comparison to be valid, the methods used to collect the numbers must be identical… and in this case they are not.

    As for differences between populations and its effects on overall mortality, its best to look at factors that cause early death. The US population as a whole has a reputation for criminal violence, being overweight, exercising less, etc. These factors are determining our average ages of death, not our health care.

    And as for your Canada comment… how are brain tumors, birth, and heart operations ‘elective’ procedures? Well, I guess the individuals “elect” to live more than a few weeks more… selfish bastards.

  49. David McElroy — I agree that most people who support privatization and other forms of choice see this as a moral issue. However, isn’t it ironic that so much of your critique of public schools are based on self-interest arguments. Teachers, administrators, liberals all have some agenda that promotes their self-interest. I think much of school reform debate is philosophical, which is why so many empirical claims on both sides — like comparing cars to education — are so silly. You can’t have it both ways however, and claim everyone is driven by self-interest except you.

  50. Jim, you need to read what I actually said, instead of what you assume I might have been thinking.

    First, I didn’t say that “everyone is driven by self-interest except [me].” I SPECIFICALLY acknowledged the good intentions of the educational socialists. They mean well. I give them that. I’m consistent here. I know that some people (on every side of every disagreement) are driven by self-interest and some are driven by honest philosophical beliefs. You won’t find any evidence that I believe otherwise. I merely pointed out that the proponents of government schools are inconsistent on this. They accuse those such as myself of being selfish, but they don’t question the motives of their allies.

    Second, you’re way off base to say that my critique of government schools is “based on self-interest arguments.” I said no such thing. I haven’t even made a specific critique of government schools here (other than in the most general terms). My involvement in this thread (if you can call a series of comments here a thread) is purely to challenge the people who are attacking the market system.

    I suppose it’s possible that I’ve said something here that I don’t recall — and I don’t feel like re-reading the whole thing — but I can’t recall anything I’ve said here to give you the picture of my points that you’ve come up with. Maybe you’re confusing someone else’s comment for one of mine.

  51. ” See–laser eye surgery isn’t a health care system. It’s a product. Is there some data about an outcome of laser eye surgery in population terms?”

    Laser eye surgery is a medical procedure, just like a hip replacement, setting a broken arm or removing a cyst. The difference is, laser eye surgery has not been priced and restricted by insurance companies, hence competition has resulted in the price of laser eye surgery dropping over the last two decades while the cost of other medical procedures has increased faster than the rate of inflation. As for outcome in population terms, I believe about 10 million Americans have had laser eye surgery since 1990, most since 2000 (due to price drops) and the current rate is about 1 million per year. Left to the control of insurance companies, I believe laser eye surgery would be more costly and available to fewer people.

    And even if you want to insist laser eye surgery is a product, those surgeons who fail at providing better eye sight are soon out of business, leaving the more successful surgeons to choose from. Schools that fail to provide a good education suffer no such consequence. Further evidence of David’s assertion that “the market does a better job of providing just about everything than command and control systems do.”

    I noticed you did not answer my question. Do you agree some of us have better/worse genes than others? Don’t you think life expectancy is related partially to genetics and not entirely on the quality and availability of health care?

  52. Margo/Mom says:

    All kinds of mixed fruits in this salad. Cliff wants to argue that a single procedure equates to the experience of a health care system. Two totally different things. That isolated procedure–and its means of delivery, via free market or government controlled means–is a part of the US health care system overall. Quincy and David argue that the US health care system is not sufficiently free of government interference to constitute a free market system. Challenge still stands–is there a free market health care system in the world demonstrating better population results? (and this relates to education because of the furor over whether our national education would be improved if the government stepped out and allowed the “free market” to take over). For that matter, is there a free market system of education offering better results? BTW–Fordham, in its Education Gadfly–hardly a left-wing rag, recently had a piece on its experience in closing underperforming charter schools. They found it ran counter to their expectations that parents would be happy to leave and go somewhere better. Moving a child from school to school is difficult, if not traumatic and many prefer to stay in the hope that things will get better, or because the devil that you know is better than the devil you don’t.

    Supersub wants to quibble over the term “elective” as it is used in medical circles. It’s not my term–I believe it is used to refer to procedures that are not “emergency” and there the criteria would refer to an immediate danger to life (these are the things that a hospital cannot turn away if someone doesn’t have insurance or cash). I once spent three days in a hospital bed on pain medication waiting for an OR for “elective surgery” to set a broken bone in my leg. Needless to say, this was some sime ago. Today I would have been at home on pain meds and the surgery would have been a drive-by.

    Where I live, a group monitors the availability of first prenatal appointments for low income mothers. This is a population that is virtually guaranteed coverage through Medicaid. The wait is typically 6-8 weeks. Might this be an indicator that helps to explain the discrepancies in infant mortality in the US based on such factors as race and income or, as Cliff and Reality Czech suggest, is it a poorly distributed gene pool?

    One specialist that a family member sees books 3 months out, and this is fairly typical for that specialty. I am not certain where people get the impression that everything in the US is there when you need (or want) it.

  53. Ragnarok says:

    Margo,

    First, schooling: What I want is choice. Let the money follow my child, whether I send him to a private school, a public school, or something else. I don’t care whether you call this vouchers or not.

    Clear?

    Also note that public funding of education does not imply public schools, the bleating of the opposition notwithstanding.

    Second, healthcare: The US healthcare system is quite bad, but I don’t know of any that are good. There was an article by an NYTimes reporter called Bruce Bawer some time ago about Scandinavian healthcare systems, and they (to my surprise) were quite appalling. Some hospitals couldn’t do injections because they didn’t have syringes!

  54. Margo/Mom says:

    R:

    Clear. I don’t know that you and I are totally in opposition on this one. Certainly one of the factors driving a concern for school improvement in my district is the presence of charter schools. I would say the jury is still out on whether they have brought about a net gain. There are a few excellent examples, a few really horrendous experiences and the rest no better or worse than the public schools.

    I think that the public dollars following the student does provide some things to think about–impact on special education (currently wrought with all kinds of disagreements between parents and schools)–particularly in some “niche” areas (eg: work with profoundly autistic children) that the public districts really have not been able to get their arms around.

    But I wonder, for the benefit of the libertarians, what level of government control, supervision, quality assurance, etc. would you advocate for the expenditure of these public dollars. Would you place all decision-making power on the parents? Would parents who “get robbed” of a year’s education through some form of educational malpractice, or other chicanery have any recourse? Should the state continue to fund schools that provide some parental incentive but little educational value (the computer give-aways that SES providers have already tried in some cases)? Are there any situations that the state should not fund? Teaching of creationism? Teaching of anarchic principles aimed at the overthrough of the state? These are all things that would have to be worked out somehow.

  55. The “guaranteed coverage under Medicaid” comment above illustrates the problem with government-run health care. How many people are aware that the typical Medicaid reimbursement rate (along with those of Medicare and Indian Health Service) is so low that physicians lose money on each office visit, unless additional procedures are needed? This is particularly true in primary care (family practice, obstetrics, pediatrics, internal medicine), because additional procedure are typically not needed. In some areas having large Medicare/Medicaid patient populations, physicians do not accept these patients, because they can’t afford it. The system only “works” if the percentage of government-dependent patients is not too high and all physicians in the specialty take their “fair share” of them. Decrease the reimbursement rates and patients will not have access, because office overhead (rent,staff,supplies,phones,records etc.) must be paid if physicians are to remain in business.

  56. Not sure why you think I equate one medical procedure to the experience of a health care system, or what you even mean by the experience of a health care system. Laser eye surgery is simply one example of the free market influence on cost and quality. You held up the US health care system as an example of a free market failure in an attempt to discredit the assertion that the free market does a better job of providing just about everything than command and control systems do. Most reject the notion that the US healthcare system is an example of the free market. I am not aware of a health system that is free market based, only isolated cases such as laser eye surgery.

    Regarding education system that is market based, the US college system, despite its critics does a pretty good job. Students can choose from community colleges, state schools and universities, private schools and universities (both religious and secular) and their government grants and loans are accepted at all institutions (although the student might not be!). Colleges that do poorly are chosen by fewer students or by students with lesser abilities. Colleges must improve if they with to attract more/better students. If they do improve, they can raise their fees. If not, they need to lower fees in order to attract students.

    I don’t see the fact that many individuals choose not to leave an underperforming school is an indictment against choice. Many people stay in jobs, neighborhoods, colleges, relationships because they judge the cost to change to a better option higher than the benefit. Staying to try and improve a school, job, neighborhood, etc. that you have invested time into is often the right choice.

    “Elective” is not the same as “emergency,” but it is non life-threatening. Bypass surgery is not elective, and is generally not an emergency procedure, but a hip replacement or laser eye surgery is elective. An elective procedure may improve your quality of life, but if you do not have the procedure, you will not die. Some procedures, such as a C-section, may be emergency, scheduled or elective, depending on the circumstances.

    As for infant mortality rates, I have made no claims. I have only stated that I believe genetics plays a part in life expectancy. Still you have not answered if you agree with this assertion.

    I don’t know which medical specialty you are referring to, but some specialties do have a shortage of providers which leads to long waits for service. Again, I don’t see this as a criticism of the free market, but as a criticism of a command and control system. How long is the wait for laser eye surgery?

  57. Ragnarok says:

    Margo,

    “Would you place all decision-making power on the parents? Would parents who “get robbed” of a year’s education through some form of educational malpractice, or other chicanery have any recourse?”

    Most of it, yes. There’s absolutely no question that parents on average will be more concerned with the welfare of their children than the bureaucrats who infest the public school system.

    As long as the state funds education, they should have some control – but the bias should be in favour of the parents.

    As for recourse if you get robbed, what does the current system give you? Every day millions of children are robbed in precisely the manner you describe, but nothing changes.

    Part of the problem, IMHO, is that the teachers are well suited to brainwash parents; they are mostly presentable, moderately articulate, full of confidence that they’re doing the Lord’s work, and supremely comfortable in their intelligence and wisdom. And, like car salesman, they do their proselytizing day in and day out.

    What chance does a hapless parent have?

  58. Reality Czech says:

    So, our problem is bad genes?

    Anything extrinsic to the system; genes are just one factor. For instance, some Mexican candies are very high in lead. If Mexican children perform poorly in school because their parents’ culture unwittingly leads to lead poisoning (and Political Correctness leads to inadequate policing of the quality of imported foodstuffs), this is not the fault of the school.

  59. Catch Thirty-Three says:

    Margo/Mom: You seem to be obsessively devoted to merely two statistics: infant mortality and longevity. If that bothers you insanely, fine. I don’t see the need to kill a housefly by dropping a 550 kT nuclear device on the city when a well-aimed flyswatter will do just fine.

    Again, health care and education are hot topics of discussion all over the world, like it or not.

    Also, the government is not your Personal Pampering Agency.