U.S. Education: the Last Rent-Seeking Frontier
Maybe that title is a bit of an exaggeration, given that there are plenty of opportunities for rent seeking in other sectors. But the amount of wealth that goes into the public schools, to pay increasing numbers of people to produce a product that doesn’t improve, is staggering. You’d be hard-pressed to find examples of comparably widespread waste in other industries.
Over at [email protected], Andrew Coulson estimates the extent of the lost wealth. Here’s his conclusion:
So if we’d managed to ensure that education productivity just stagnated, we’d be saving over $300 billion EVERY YEAR.
This inefficiency is a problem by itself; it also stands in the way of potential reform, which compounds the damage. For example, Susan Graham argues convincingly that extending the school year won’t help students in traditional public schools:
What concerns me most is this—if we are going to keep kids in school for longer days, weeks, and years, exactly what will they be getting more of during that time? More of what they’ve been getting? Because that hasn’t been working all that well, has it?
Long school years are a component of some successful schools, like KIPP charter schools, and various Asian school systems. Unfortunately, this potentially beneficial reform doesn’t stand a chance to work in the U.S., where more school would be more of the same. This line from Tertium Quids about the prospect of real reform sums it up best:
Regrettably, the political class is utterly cowed by that prospect, preferring instead to do whatever is necessary to prop-up the tottering government school monopoly or timidly fiddle at the utmost edge of reform.