Category: Educational Choice

One of the most worrisome economic troubles coming down-the-pipe is the “student debt bubble” which many argue is caused by too many students seeking degrees in higher education as the costs of tuition increase. Because we understand that poverty and economic misfortune are serious barriers to human flourishing, it is very important to try and understand the economics involved in the education market. Dylan Pahman gave a good explanation earlier today about how administrative costs are rising to promote a myriad of diversity-advocacy programs, a process which is clearly affecting  the supply-side of the issue. What about the demand side where students are making the decision to go to college?

How is it that so many students are making a seemingly irrational choice? In a post at strategyprofs, Steve Postrel explains here that while it may be true that college degrees may be becoming more common and watered down in the quality of education they represent, that it is also true that high school quality is dropping. This means that college degrees represent a greater increase in knowledge than they used to, signaling a greater value relative to non-college educated persons.

Typical graduate business school education has indeed become less rigorous over time, as has typical college education. But typical high school education has declined in quality just as much. As a result, the human capital difference between a college and high-school graduate has increased, because the first increments of education are more valuable on the job market than the later ones. It used to be that everybody could read and understand something like Orwell’s Animal Farm, but the typical college graduates could also understand Milton or Spencer. Now, nobody grasps Milton but only the college grads can process Animal Farm, and for employers the See Spot Run–>Animal Farm jump is more valuable than the Animal Farm–>Milton jump.

So the value of a college education has increased even as its rigor has declined, because willingness to pay for quality is really willingness to pay for incremental quality. This principle holds true in many markets.

Interestingly, one of the best ways to help lower the cost of college education might to be to improve the quality of education that a high school diploma represents. Understanding why high school education is declining requires us to think beyond a knee jerk “just spend more” reaction and understand that our current public education system is insulated against the processes that wipe out nearly all other inefficient and inferior services: the market.

To effectively help others become productive agents in the market and realize their vocations, we need to advocate for steps that will cause education at all levels to reflect a true added value. School choice seems to be an obvious candidate for improving educational outcomes.

H/T Marginal Revolution

As I noted yesterday, I’m in Montreal for the next couple of weeks, and today I had the chance to see some of the student protests firsthand. These protests have been going on now for over three months, and have to do with the raising of tuition for college in Quebec.

I’m teaching at Farel Reformed Theological Seminary, which is located in the heart of downtown Montreal, and is adjacent to Concordia University. As I walked around earlier this week, I noticed the following on one of Concordia’s buildings:

The Right to Education
The text is article 26 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which reads in part, “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.”

I think that the kinds of protests we are seeing in Quebec might be the inevitable end of the logic of the welfare state. The logic goes something like this:

Education is a right, and should be free, or the next best thing to it. In order for it to be “free,” it must be administered, or at least underwritten, by the state, because we know that the only way to make something appear to be free is to requisition the necessary funds via taxation. This is, in fact, precisely the rationale for the existence of the modern welfare state, in which in the context of the Netherlands, for instance, it is understood to be “the task of the state to promote the general welfare and to secure the basic needs of people in society.”

Education is a right (per the UN Declaration), is constitutive of the general welfare, and a basic need. Thus it must be “fully guaranteed by the government” (to quote Noordegraaf from the Dutch context regarding social security, mutatis mutandis).

The upheavals we are seeing, then, are what happen when we can no longer sustain such guarantees. They are what happen when “free” becomes unaffordable and unsustainable.

This means that the flawed logic of the welfare state will have to be critically reexamined, no small task for a developed world that has steadily built infrastructure according to logic for much of the past seventy years.

For Quebec this does not bode well, as Cardus’ Peter Stockland puts it, “This is a province in the grip of reactionary progressives afflicted with severe intellectual and institutional sclerosis. Their malaise prevents any proposals for change from being given fair hearing, much less a chance of being put into play. Real change, not merely revolutionary play-acting, is anathema in this province.”

“Each generation needs to re-own the rationale for Christian education,” says philosopher James K.A. Smith, “to ask ourselves ‘Why did we do this?’ and ‘Should we keep doing this?’” In answering such questions, Smith notes, “it might be helpful to point out what Christian education is not”:

First, Christian education is not meant to be merely “safe” education. The impetus for Christian schooling is not a protectionist concern, driven by fear, to sequester children from the big, bad world. Christian schools are not meant to be moral bubbles or holy huddles where children are encouraged to stick their heads in the sand.

Rather, Christian schools are called to be like Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia: not safe, but good. Instead of antiseptic moral bubbles, Christian schools are moral incubators that help students not only to see the glories of God’s creation but also to discern and understand the brokenness of this fallen world.

While the Christian classroom makes room for appreciating the stunning complexity of cell biology and the rich diversity of world cultures, it’s also a place to understand the systemic injustices behind racism and the macroeconomics of poverty. Christian schools are not places for preserving a naive innocence; they are laboratories to form children who see that our broken world is full of widows, orphans, and strangers we are called to love and welcome.

In short, Christian schools are not a withdrawal from the world; they are a lens and microscope through which to see the world in all its broken beauty.

During last year’s Acton University—have you signed up for this year yet?—Nelson Kloosterman gave a lecture on the subject of school choice and private education. In the latest issue of Comment magazine, Kloosterman expands on his claim that parental choice is “the next civil rights movement“:

Let me begin with some contextualizing comments designed to set up the discussion that follows.

First, and most importantly, I believe that the fundamental issue in this matter involves parental choice, even though the far more popular phrase is school choice. Parental choice underlies and undergirds school choice, and forms (or should form) the heart of the debate on accessibility to and support of education today. I am assuming the right of parents to raise and educate their children in ways consistent with their parental convictions.

Read more . . .

Schools are controlled by the government, but they serve specific communities with niche needs, says Paul T. Hill, founder of the Center on Reinventing Public Education. Is there a way that education be publicly funded but privately managed?
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As Michelle Kaffenberger points out, parents in the poorest parts of India share a concern of many Americans: Their children don’t actually learn much in the public schools.
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Steven Garber, principal and founder of The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation and Culture, believes that what kind of school our children attend is far less important than what kind of people they are shaped into:
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Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Be incarnationally present with a man who can’t fish and you’ll teach him how to be “missional” while on an empty stomach.

This update on the ancient Chinese proverb isn’t entirely fair to my fellow Christians (mainly my fellow evangelicals) who believe that one of the most important ways we can help those in need is to being intimately, and often sacrificially, involved in underserved communities. But the maxim’s addendum does capture some of the well-meaning naiveté of missionally oriented activism.
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Whether a problem is a matter of “public policy” or “private-policy” often depends on how we think about property rights, says economist David R. Henderson. Take, for example, the debate about whether evolution or Intelligent Design theory should be taught in schools:
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I saw the fine film Act of Valor last month, and I was struck by the level of sacrifice displayed in the lives of the service members featured. I have wondered in the meantime whether the scale of the sacrifice that’s been required of American service persons over the last two decades is sustainable.

One of the film’s characters leaves behind a pregnant wife, and beyond all of the usual and somewhat abstract “faith and freedom” reasons for serving in the armed forces, it becomes clear that service members are making the sacrifices of their time, talents, and lives to protect and defend their loved ones.

One of the things we struggle with in our church culture is the idea that “ministry” can only refer to the work of ordained ministers of the church. In the same way, though, the use of the language of ministry in common parlance illustrates something about how important that work is. It’s the same with how “serving your country” used to be understood. “Service” used to be shorthand for “serving in the armed forces.” Now it’s certainly true that this isn’t the only important way to serve your fellow citizen. But this use of language does show something about the value placed on the sacrifices undertaken by those who do serve in the military.

Roger Sterling CO

I wondered after seeing Act of Valor how long people would continue to be willing go abroad to fight and protect their nation, their friends, and their families when their own families, churches, and charitable organizations are under attack, not just from enemies abroad, but domestically, from policy decisions, legislative invention, and judicial activism.

A report released this week by the Council on Foreign Relations found that educational shortfalls at the K-12 level have significant domestic and national interest implications. As Joel Klein, co-chair of the task force report, said,

One statistic that blew members of this task force away is that three out of four kids today in America are simply ineligible for military service. It’s unbelievable. We’re drawing our national security forces from a very small segment of the population. And a lot of the problem is they simply don’t have the intellectual wherewithal to serve in the military.

One of the proposed solutions and needs identified to correct this problem was to introduce greater innovation into secondary education, especially through expansion of school choice initiatives. As Klein says, “We need to generate an environment that leads to innovation, and that empowers parents to really look over the next decade or so. We need to look at how we can transition from a monopoly on public school systems to one that gives parents and their children meaningful choices that stimulate innovation and differentiation.”

It seems to me, though, that the drift in this country is not toward empowering parents, families, charities, and churches. And so I wonder (and worry) what the future of America’s armed forces look like if we have the combination of increasing unwillingness and inability to effectively serve. The segment of the population that is both willing and able to serve might well become increasingly small, and no presidential fiat or campaign plank about increasing the size of the military could make it otherwise.