Government-Imposed Failure

Chuck has good idea for reforming education:

Sometimes you hear lamentation over the fact that teachers aren’t regarded with proper levels of esteem. That we have star athletes but no star teachers even when most students would benefit more from the latter. A possible solution to that problem with a keener eye for improving the cost/benefit equation of education at all levels would be to pay the best teachers a lot of money. And pay the really good really well through syndicated teaching.

To reform the cost structure of the education system –college, high school, junior high – cut out the redundancy. Let the best instructors instruct the whole nation of students. Each school would pay a subscription fee to each of these syndicated teachers, or each student would pay tuition directly to a superior teacher. Or, hell, each student would just go on Youtube at the tiny cost of whatever time use would be contributed to the computer or the internet subscription. I would have literally saved thousands of dollars and would have a better baseline knowledge of philosophy and a few other subjects.

I suppose that if this hasn’t been already, it’s unlikely to occur. The problem, at this point, is not technology or money. This would have been feasible shortly after the invention of subscription television; all you would need on-site would be technology facilitators to ensure that equipment functions properly and someone to collect and grade homework, enter grades, and ensure classroom discipline. Alternatively, at this point, one needn’t even go to school; one could receive instruction at home. I would imagine that this proposed system would be cheaper to operate than the system currently in use.
The reason why Chuck’s proposal will never be implemented, then, is not due to logistics, cost, or the limitations of technology. The failure is ultimately due to a lack of political will.
As a child of two public school teachers, I can say with are asonable degree of certainty that the vast majority of school teachers would be opposed to merit pay. Because most of them suck at teaching. I’ve observed plenty of my parents’ coworkers (it’s easy to volunteer at public schools when you’re homeschooled), and I also spent a couple years in public high school under the tutelage of a large number of stupid and incompetent teachers. Very few teachers have a reasonable degree of mastery of their subject. Of those who do, few are able to teach effectively.
Now, most teachers belong to a union, and simple probability suggests that most of the teachers belonging to the union are either stupid or incompetent. The union’s job is to protect teachers’ jobs,not reward good work. So, the main opposition to merit pay and “star teachers” is…the teachers themselves. Why? Because a meritocracy would cause many teachers to be worse off financially.
Ironically, it is the teachers themselves that complain how they’re underpaid relative to, say, sports stars. I suspect that this lamentation is borne of nothing more than envy. In essence,teachers are complaining how they can’t earn millions of dollars for doing what they already do. They want to be rich,but they don’t want to work hard for it or make serious sacrifices for it. (Seriously, how many teachers would spend hours a day practicing teaching during their years in Jr. High? How many would hire personal teaching trainers? Etc.) Ultimately, teachers who complain about being underpaid are often nothing more than socialists, trying to prove that they are noble people, well-deserving of society’s riches.
Beyond that, then, it should be clear that the very thing preventing teachers from being stars is…teachers themselves. The government, at the behest of the teachers unions, heavily distorts the education market. Attendance is mandatory until the age of eighteen (at least in my state). Students have a limited selection of schools. The whole teacher-classroom setup is maintained only at the behest of the government. Alternative forms of schooling often arise from private schools and homeschoolers. Innovation within government schools is low and costly.
What teachers need in order to become stars is the ability to compete in multiple markets simultaneously. This can easily be accomplished in this time of (relatively) low-cost technology. A teacher could record a lesson every day and have broadcast to various schools, customized for class period length, local class meeting times, etc. But the government, at the behest of the teachers’ union, refuses to allow this because many teachers would be out of a job.
Ultimately, the current education is organized around one central purpose: to make sure that the current number of teaching jobs remains the same. One good teacher, by the “magic’ of modern technology, would be eliminate the need for dozens of bad teachers. One great teacher would eliminate the need for hundreds of bad teachers. Betteryet, economies of scale would reduce systemic costs, making education simultaneouslyboth cheaper and higher-quality. The main thing preventing this from happeningis the government (quelle surprise, non?).

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