Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What do you do when things are tight?

I was reading two different pieces today and I thought that they had a really interesting link between the two of them.

From Dana Goldstein:

While we're on the subject of Wisconsin, I find Scott Walker sort of terrifyingly simple-minded but charismatic. His education platform is basically Race to the Top plus vouchers while somehow massively cutting education budgets. (Huh?)

From Mark Thoma:

Local school districts have cut 154,000 education jobs since August 2008.

So my question is this: why is the push for excellence being connected with schemes to reduce manpower costs? If the argument is that education is a key priority then why are we not increasing funding for education? Instead we have the odd situation where the state wants education to improve while cutting expenses.

Usually when this contradiction shows up, the government is seeking cover for the decision to cut services. If cutting expenses also results in better outcomes than we are all better off, right? Or it could be an attempt to remove the more senior (and thus higher paid) teachers to minimize the impact of budgetary decisions that have already been made. But that is a different conversation, isn't it?

Now consider another area that the state runs that is in a similar position, namely the military. Is anybody seriously arguing that some soldiers do not pull their weight? That we could be more effective with a smaller force? After all, wasn't there a movie (Rambo, for example) where a single heroic special forces soldier was more effective than a brigade? But if the administration began talking about waste and cost effectiveness then you would be certain what they really wanted was cover for cuts. Now imagine they talked about those lazy soldiers who re-enlisted or who were only interested in rewards? Who needs a veterns administration when soldiers are fighting for principle and principle alone?

Would such cuts make sense? Either for the military or for education it is a matter of opportunity cost. But maybe the best conversation to have is one about the trade-off between the options. Taxes hurt economic growth but lack of education or defence can both lead to fairly bad long term outcomes. I am not sure where the balance is but I'd prefer to have the conversation openly. Pretending that test scores plus cuts will somehow improve education seems odd.

More efficient models of defense and education may both exist, but then the optimal path seems to be to show the efficiencies first and implement the cuts second.

1 comment:

  1. They'll run the state education system into the ground, then say "look, the state sector can't cope!" and then say that privitising schooling is the only option.

    Privitisation relys on being able to demonstrate that privitisation is better than the state. It doesn't matter what statistic is used, whatever it is it doesn't matter, as long as it can be manipulated (especially in ways that states schools are unable too) to show that private is better than state. (That's why it's full steam ahead on the stupid value added statistic.)

    The education sector sucks up a lot of tax dollars that in recession times people want to get their hands on. The education system will just become like the health and millitary sector where private companies run it at huge expense.