Education reform in the US

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Cato's Andrew J. Coulson blogged yesterday about spending on education in Washington DC. His figures certainly seem to put paid to the idea that private schools only perform better because they have more money to spend.

Coulson found that:

  • DC's K-12 school spending was $1,291,815,886 in the 2008-09 school year.
  • At the same time, 44,681 students were enrolled in those schools.
  • If that number excludes the 2,400 special needs students that have been placed in private schools, then DC's total per pupil spending is $27,400.
  • If those 2,400 students are actually included in the figures (it's not clear), then DC’s correct total per pupil spending is $28,900.
  • Meanwhile, the average tuition figure at the private schools serving DC voucher students was just $6,600 (according to the US Department of Education).
  • After three years, voucher-receiving kids are reading two grade levels ahead of their public school peers (also according to the Department of Education).

These figures are remarkable, albeit not that surprising: the ability of the private sector to provide more for less is well known and well established, even in education. The key factors driving this difference are greater accountability, the freedom to innovate, the absence of heavy-handed bureaucracy, and the weakening of the teachers' unions.

That last one is crucial in the US context and is, I would suggest, the answer to Coulson's question: why did President Obama kill the DC voucher programme? To put it simply, Obama just cares more about his friends (and donors) in the Unions than he does about disadvantaged school children.

P.S. I wrote an extended blog about "Why the private sector succeeds where the state fails" here a few weeks ago.

Undiversity

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"Hang tradition." In this modern climate where we all assumed to share the mental capacity of a five-year old, the modern approach to England's rich and varied cultural heritage is one where children, and indeed the parents, are in need of protection. Having to explain something to a child that the state hasn't sanctioned, or placed in the curriculum, is tremendously tiresome. As the children of a primary school in Kent found out when part of their 'cultural' event that looked to bring a 'diverse and fragile' community together was cancelled after the staff discovered that some Morris dancers 'blacked' their faces.

Why do these Morris dancers perform with blacked out faces? The merry band of dancers concerned explain that it is thought to be some sort of disguise, or another theory offered elsewhere relates it to an attempt to look Moorish. Or perhaps these people feared persecution and sought to protect their identities. These reasons fundamentally point in the opposite direction to the racism that the dysfunctional teachers and parents of Kent inferred. Had they spent two minutes on the internet they would have been furnished with information that they could then pass onto the children, instead their charges will remain slightly less aware of the world around them. This a primary example of why this country's education system is only good at producing state educated clones who can barely think for themselves, let alone function.

These dancers should be welcomed back. This country needs to realise that offence is something that can be explained away if the other party holds all the information pertaining to a comment, or action. In this case the teacher and parents in Kent won't be the ones made to look ignorant; it will be the Morris dancers and their traditions. The public won't seek to understand why the dancers 'black' up, they will make assumptions. Tradition and culture are choked out of existence by the noose that state sanctioned prejudice and stupidity create through the dumbing down of the majority of the population via the poor quality of government provided education. This is just another classic example.

Alec Linfield joins the ASI

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I am currently at Sutton Valence school in Kent, and having just taken my GCSE's I am feeling confident about the results that I will receive in August. I will be looking to take Maths, Economics, Design technology and Politics at AS level and hopefully I will be able to work my way into a decent university and forward to a successful career in the business sector.

Being accepted to do a week's work experience at the ASI was a great feeling as it meant that I could obtain an insight into travelling to and from London and being in a working environment. This I feel will be a great opportunity for me to take a step forward in thinking about my future career propects.

Cutting government

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Labour are on the back foot. The political agenda is being set by the opposition parties who both seem content and intent to continue raising the pressure on the government’s spending commitments. Increasingly this is looking like the battlefield upon which the next election will be fought.

This is undoubtedly a good thing. People are getting increasingly disillusioned with the promise of politics, and in this moment of realism, policies for a smaller government will certainly go down well with the electorate. Even though Labour has bottled the comprehensive spending review (CSR) they are not in control of the headlines and even the usually complicit BBC is putting in the boot.

The government has spent and spent, and we have got nothing in exchange except a serious amount of debt that even by the best predictions will be a serious drag on our economic future. In adversity there is an opportunity for those that believe the government should play a less pervasive role in the running of our lives.

So what should the next government do? There are of course privatizations that still need to be undertaken; welfare to fundamentally reform; education to liberate; a flat tax to be put in place; the BBC to be overhauled; medical saving accounts to be created; and much more besides.

How constitutional is government health care?

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The attempt of the Obama administration to copy the NHS is beginning to unsettle many in the US. According to the WSJ, some of them are seriously considering legal action on the grounds of the right to privacy which is threatened by government health care rationing and other regulations. The precedent is of course the famous supreme court ruling of 1973 Roe v Wade which ruled out any state intervention in family planning measures such as abortion. Although the argument was not abortion-specific, the decision legalized abortion in the United States to this day. What is interesting is the fact that the ruling was based on the principles supporting the right to privacy. The reasoning behind this is expressed in a similar ruling of 1992 Planned Parenthood v Casey:

These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to liberty protected by the Fourth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and the mystery of human life.

Well the gist of all that can be similarly applied to many other medical decisions regarding disease prevention and treatment. Euthanasia is a case in point, but more generally the prioritizing of medical resources away from the elderly. This is something President Obama has openly embraced in a recent broadcast interview.

The free access to any kind of healthcare is something Americans have always taken for granted. Another way of looking at this is to consider the role model of the NHS and how far it has been allowed to trespass upon the Bill of Rights of 1688 and the principles of classical Whig liberalism. Obama's policies should give us a welcome opportunity to open up a new discussion on the right to privacy in health care in this country too.

Do we need the BBC?

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The revelation that BBC executives are claiming outlandish expenses is not all-together shocking. This second expenses scandal seems to have a different air than the exposure of MPs; the BBC officials are not elected and are not there to represent us. People feel less betrayed, though more ripped-off. This latest revelation simply illustrates the problem of public waste and a culture totally disassociated from the taxpayer.

There is no place for a state broadcaster in an age of such technological advancement and variety. Entertainment and information is now at most people’s fingertips via the internet, the state does not need to provide it. This change in technology has decreased the barriers to entry in the broadcasting markets, as blogs and YouTube video sharing have shown. The BBC is a public industry operating within a free market, they are chasing the same staff and resources as ITV and Sky but with none of the profit incentives, which makes them much more inefficient.

Currently, the BBC is wasting vast sums of public money producing substandard broadcasting. As long as the government continues to pump funding into the BBC they will continue to act as a monopsony power, stifling this market.

Dealing with pensions the Danish way

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Whisper it gently but there are a number of things worth copying from the social democracies of the Nordic countries. Sweden has school vouchers, no inheritance tax and no national minimum wage. Denmark has low statutory labour protection, meaning a more flexible workforce. And now, from the Economist, I find that Denmark is the first country to really grasp the pensions nettle.

So far only Denmark has taken the radical step of indexing the pensionable age to life expectancy.

This has to be the way to go, even Brad DeLong, no rightist he, has been known to advocate the same thing. The pensionable age should be set at the average age of death of the previous age cohort.

The basic and simple problem is that current pensionable ages were set when everyone was living rather shorter lives. When Bismark started the state pension you would have to be lucky to reach pensionable age. When Lloyd George started ours you'd have to live longer than average to get it. Now you'll be unlucky if you don't reach pensionable age, although obviously there are some through illness or accident who do not.

With ever increasing life spans this simply cannot go on. We need to work for more years, that's it. You can of course do what you want with whatever savings you have made and good luck to you, but as far as the State is concerned there is no reason why a hale and hearty 69 year old should be consuming the taxes of those still in the labour force. As above, raise the pensionable age to that of the average age at death of the previous age cohort. That would mean around 77 for men, 81 for women as things currently stand. Return the State pension to what it was always supposed to be, social insurance against outliving your rational level of savings.

Of course, there will be criticisms of this. Does Worstall really insist that we must all work until we drop?

No, only that half of us should.