Eureka moment on public education and testing

Something dawned on me while I was reading about the failure of standardized testing to improve the quality of public education.

Testing is an attempt to use means other than the market to perform a market role.

Think about it. How does the market ensure quality? It puts producers in competition with each other in the market. The producers who offer a product with a higher price and lower quality lose out to the producers who do better. But people have to be able to make choices for the winners to emerge and then be trounced by even better producers.

In public schooling, there is no real competition. A school can produce a poor quality product at a really high price — and they are — and suffer no consequences in the marketplace. A disgruntled customer (a parent) can’t just demand his or her money back and try another provider.

So how do you get accountability without a market? Tests are the only real way. But if tests actually told you what you wanted to know, which they don’t, what do you do about it? Even when tests tell us schools are failing, nothing radical changes. The kids who are zoned for that school still go there. Money still flows to that district. Sometimes individuals schools close, and the students are bused to other, nearby, nearly identical schools. Sometimes teachers are fired in droves. But does that help? Is there any evidence that that helps anyone?

The only way to introduce market accountability into education is to introduce a market into education. That’s been tried to an extent with vouchers and charter schools. But again, measuring these programs’ success always centers on standardized testing. And the benchmark is always whether the students in charter and private schools (with vouchers) perform better on them than the students at nearby public schools.

Here’s my thought: in any free, competitive market, you’ll have a good or service available at a variety of prices and qualities. Of course there are levels of freedom and competitiveness. There is no totally unregulated, legal market in America. But let’s take the market for food for example. You can pay a lot for filet mignon, or you can pay a little for beans. Both will keep you alive and fill you up, but they cost different amounts to buy.

I propose that a free, unregulated market for education would be the same. You can pay for Harvard prep, or you can pay for tech school. Both will provide educational value, but they’ll cost different amounts to buy.

Here’s where I think most people would agree with me. And here’s where I will lose most of them: I think that’s as good as it gets.

People see education as the key to America’s upward mobility and meritocracy, and the idea that poor kids would get a worse education than rich kids is a social evil that must be eliminated, in our lifetimes! Throw money at it, stat!

Fact is, poor kids get worse public educations than rich kids, even when the state spends more money per pupil on them.

We’ve got to first face facts about education, then privatize it, thereby introducing a market where there was none, and lastly let the market do to education what it’s done for food, medicine, clothing and other necessities: made it cheaper, move available, and higher quality.

This is long and rambling, but I think I’m on to something. I care so much about public education. I need to think about this some more and write something that makes sense.

Should ownership ever be a crime?

I’m ’bout to get philosophical on your asses (all  three of them.)

Should it ever be illegal to own something? Generally things are illegal because they violate rights. Killing is illegal because it violates someone’s right to life. Theft is illegal because it violates someone’s right to property, etc.

Does Ownership Violate Rights?

But how does owning anything violate anyone else’s rights? Ownership laws are intended to prevent rights violations. For example, gun ownership is made illegal not because there’s anything problematic about owning a gun in and of itself, but because you have to possess a gun to shoot someone with it.

Child pornography is illegal because a child has to be harmed to make it and because people think that owning child porn is likely to cause someone to hurt a child. It’s the gateway porn.

But shooting people (outside of war and self-defense, and adultery in Texas) is already illegal, and molesting children is already illegal. Why do we need laws outlawing gun ownership and child pornography ownership?

Cost vs. Benefit of Ownership Laws

Any law is an abridgment of freedom. The curtailing of freedom is the intended consequence. But every law also comes with unintended consequences. Most people accept that laws that protect rights are worth the freedom we give up and the unintended consequences to enact and enforce. But what about laws that don’t protect rights? What about laws that just criminalize actions that could, but might not, lead to actions that violate rights?

The major unintended consequence of ownership laws is how far-reaching their freedom curtailing is. When ownership laws are enacted, they seek to prohibit a certain kind of ownership with a fairly narrow intent of preventing a certain type of action.

Unintended Consequences

But as the laws are applied, much more freedom is curtailed than intended.

For example, child pornography laws have been used, repeatedly, to prosecute minors for sending naked pictures of themselves to each other. Child pornography cases have been used to prosecute people whose computers have been infected with malware. Gun laws have been used to prosecute people for whom no other charges would stick. Gun laws have been also been used to justify raids of homes police shouldn’t have ever been in. Everywhere you look you can find cases where ownership laws curtain more freedoms than intended.

Not only that, but even well-applied gun laws keep law-abiding citizens from being able to protect themselves. And well-applied child pornography laws still punish speech.

A Better Way

What if owning guns and pornography and anything else you wanted to own were legal? What if all the resources that currently go into finding and prosecuting people who own the wrong things went into finding and prosecuting people who did the wrong things?

Maybe there’d be less random gun violence if law-abiding citizens and the lawless could be equally armed.

Maybe people who like to look at child pornography could do it openly, then parents could easily tell if any potential teacher or babysitter had a predeliction for pedophilia.

So why do we have possession laws when action laws should be enough?

The truth is, possession is an easy win for law enforcement. It’s much easier to catch someone with the wrong thing at the time than it is to prove that they did the wrong thing in the past. But to let law enforcement take the easy way out we’re giving up valuable freedoms. Not only that, but we’re allowing them to put resources that should be going into fighting rights-violations go to possession cases.

I’ve only given two examples, and both I think illustrate my point. But can anyone think of counterexamples, items that merely possessing cause rights violations? Or can anyone think of reasons why making something illegal to own would be worth the sacrifice of rights and resources?