We all saw it. What an awful committee hearing. Betsy DeVos’ confirmation session looked more like a Comedy Central celebrity roast with zero jokes and Elizabeth Warren doing her best Jeff Ross routine. No one exited that hearing feeling good about themselves – Democrats, Republicans, Independents, the stray cat scavenging the Capitol dumpster – no one. And now Jeff Ross feels equally insulted, too. Sorry, Roastmaster.
But now that it’s all passed, why don’t we talk about why Betsy DeVos could be a GOOD thing for America. Yes, you heard me correctly. Why? Let’s start with the obvious question: How much worse can it get? If you really think about it, the answer is, “Not much.” American education is in the shitter. The proof? Read on.
The United States dumps 5.5% of its GDP into education. Not bad, when you look at other nations.
As a matter of fact, if you were to look at this, you’d think we’re right in line with several other countries.
And you’d be completely wrong.
This is what the exact same six nations look like when we compare actual educational spend.
Boy-howdy! With that much investment, we should be churning out cures for cancers every other week! Of that $1.07 TRILLION, the federally funded portion is responsible for about 10%, with the other 90% being coming from the states and localities. As a matter of fact, federal spending has increased consistently since the Department of Education was founded in 1979. Today’s level of spending is, after inflation, 374% higher than it was in 1979, but since the establishment of the Department of Education, grades have improved less than 2%. More on that later.
First, let’s take a peek at what our money is buying us, courtesy of the Programme for International Student Assessment, the world’s foremost assessment of educational quality.
Well, shit. That’s not what we wanted to see, is it? Unbelievable. 60% of us basking in white privilege and we still can’t beat the Brits. Screw it. At least we have better teeth. And if you happen to be a sapiosexual with an Asian fetish, just take a minute to stare at the chart. Enjoy it…. ooohhh yeah.
Whew.. alright.. back to serious stuff. Let’s have a chat about how this all ties into Betsy.
Her critics (especially Elizabeth Warren) have often complained of three things:
- Betsy supports school vouchers.
- Betsy supports the privatization of education.
- Betsy has no educational leadership experience.
When taking it at face value, #3 there seems to be a big bugaboo for dear Betsy. I mean, would you go to the proctologist to get your teeth cleaned? Maybe if you were talking out of your ass, but that’s for another post on a different site. Look, I cannot defend those who have concerns over point #3, but here’s the deal; it may not matter. Sure, the concern is valid when you consider the education system staying in its current form, but here’s a newsflash for those not paying attention: schooling in the United States may be about to change, big league. Betsy may try to take the purchasing power of education out of the hands of the government and put it in the hands of the parents.
What the HELL does that mean? Maybe the Democrats have a good reason to freak out!
What it means is that we could soon be living in a world where schools are forced to compete with one another for funding. How’s that? Because instead of taking your tax dollars and allocating them for you, the government will give you a voucher for education and let you decide which school is going to get your money. That’s a system where the parents decide who gets funding and the money goes directly to the school. Imagine the systemic change that could occur in the very near future. What could it look like?
Picture the following:
How would school change for the teachers?
Better schools are going to be better because they employ better teachers and give them better pay. Shitty teachers will no longer be able to hide behind their seniority levels, and new teachers will no longer have to wait several years to feel like they have job security. In short: Teachers will be better, better teachers will be rewarded, and teachers will make a salary that reflects their performance instead of their seniority.
How would school change for poor people?
A voucher system means that areas where the population is most dense (inner cities) will have the most vouchers (read: funding) to invest in education. Instead of the Department of Education wasting millions of dollars giving poor kids iPads that don’t help them, parents can take that same funding and invest it in the teachers. Poor people with poor schools will finally have the power to provide themselves with a quality education.
How would school change for wealthy people?
What impact would it have on the quality of education?
Before we can answer that question, we need to understand the current state of our education system. Brace yourselves: It ain’t pretty.
In aggregate, American high school seniors are proficient in math at an embarrassing rate of 26%. To go along with that, they are competent in reading at a still-embarrassing rate of 38%. Unfortunately, only 38% of Americans are able to read those results, and only 26% of Americans actually understand them.
Among races, white people are proficient in math and reading at the rates of 33% and 47%, respectively. Black people yield the lowest proficiency at rates of 7% and 16%, which an indication of the shamefully bad schools found in Americas inner cities and a truly perfect explanation for President Trump’s campaign question, “What the hell do you have to lose?” Lastly, Asians come in the best shape, with proficiency rates in math and reading of 47% in each category. I argue that Asians would’ve had a higher proficiency in reading, but for many, Engrish is a second language – so let’s cut them some slack.
How does that look compared to the rest of the global average? Well, not as bad as you’d think. The US is actually above average in science but lags in both mathematics and reading (shown below). The problem? Americans shouldn’t be happy with being “average,” especially with its current price tag.
Here are some quotes from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
“While the U.S. spends more per student than most countries, this does not translate into better performance. For example, the Slovak Republic, which spends around USD 53 000 per student, performs at the same level as the United States, which spends over USD 115 000 per student.”
So, how is it that we can invest as much as we do in education, and the best we can eek out on the global scale is “average” or “below average”? The answer lies in how our education system is designed.
The American education system is designed to make as many students graduate as possible.
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Yeah, that’s what the Democrats want you to think. The concept I just mentioned is a fantastic end-goal, but it skips out on all the details. The system isn’t designed to produce top performers, it’s designed to keep low performers from failing.
“No child left behind? Wasn’t too long ago you were talking about giving children a head start. Head start? Left behind? Someone’s losing fucking ground.” – George Carlin
Look at the conceptual bell curve shown below. The vertical line represents proficiency, and the orange curve represents the student population. Our education system is designed to squeeze that curve towards the middle, and success is measured not by the quality of education received or the brilliant minds produced, but by the mere number of people walking out the door with a diploma.
Doesn’t sound that great anymore, does it?
The acceptance of that truth allows us to realize a number of other issues.
- Students are being taught for a test. Instead of allowing teachers to focus on topics that interest students or even themselves, teachers and students alike have their passions taken away from them by the system which dictates what students must learn and when. Where a privatized solution would allow a high school student who is passionate about the arts to attend an arts school, public education requires that they focus on calculus. Tell me, when was the last time you benefited from taking the derivative of an equation?
- When students can’t make the grades, we just forget about it. In my home city, students are not actually allowed to fail anymore. Teachers are required to give them the minimum passing grade for all subjects, even if the students do absolutely none of their work. Sound anything like a participation trophy to you?
- While the current system does produce a higher number of graduates than other options, remember that it does so by squeezing the bell curve. Not only does that bring the lagging students up to the group, but it also brings the brilliant students down. We simply do not have a system that caters to advanced thinkers. When I was a child, my parents were so disgusted with the public school system that they had my teacher give me spelling tests that were several years above my grade level. That was in the 90’s. Today, it’s even worse.
Under a privatized system, we would witness the curve get wider. Admittedly, a privatized system will likely produce fewer graduates than the system we currently have; however, it will be more likely to produce top performers. Instead of a system that helps push students through like cattle, the system will be one that lets students get only what they earn. The blue line below represents this shift.
You might find yourself asking, “If that’s the case, why are the Democrats freaking out?” To answer that, let’s take a look at what the Democrats claim will happen. If you want their reasons for why they think this way, I’m sure Occupy Democrats has some truly remarkable bullshit cooked up that will explain it. I’ll give the truthful reasons below.
First, Democrats represent the interests of the teachers’ unions, and the teachers’ unions do not wholly represent the interests of the students. Secondly, a society of people who are educated enough to do the work and be productive but are too stupid to question the system is much easier to manipulate than a diverse society of brilliant thinkers and hard workers who understand that they reap only what they sow and that life awards no participation trophies. In other words, the socialized system generates votes for Democrats. Once again, for the Democrats, all it comes down to is votes.
Now, let’s tie it all together.
When the Democrats gripe that Betsy supports privatization and school vouchers, what they’re really doing is expressing their fear – their fear that she may very well push the United States in that direction and that the public may very well realize that it can work if we keep the government out of it. How do I know this? Because even Elizabeth Warren supports school vouchers!
“A taxpayer-funded voucher that paid the entire cost of educating a child (not just a partial subsidy) would open a range of opportunities to all children. With fully funded vouchers, parents of all income levels could send their children—and the accompanying financial support—to the schools of their choice.”
“An all-voucher system would be a shock to the educational system, but the shakeout might be just what the system needs.”
“Under a public school voucher program, parents, not bureaucrats, would have the power to pick schools for their children—and to choose which schools would get their children’s vouchers. Students would be admitted to a particular public school on the basis of their talents, their interests, or even their lottery numbers; their zip codes would be irrelevant.”
When I say that Betsy’s lack of educational experience may not truly matter, it’s because I sincerely hope that she decentralizes the education system altogether. If she distances government from the students, she distances herself from students, and that’s what needs to happen. Donald Trump owns golf courses – that doesn’t mean he needs to be a PGA pro. Betsy is in a truly perfect position to make a revolutionary change, and I think all Americans should rally behind her and see what happens.
If you’d like to see more material on this debate from a professional, here’s what Dinesh D’Souza has to say. Both of these videos are short, but brilliant.
Until next time,