Posted by: CJ | January 20, 2011

Kling on Montgomery County Education

Arnold Kling is usually not particularly impressed with teacher’s unions. He has a short post titled “The Looting of a County”, lamenting the large average salaries of the Public Education workforce. At first I figure this was more libertarian BS. (Though I don’t think nearly everything Kling says falls in this category. He can be an astute commentator, and has regular and welcome assaults on various conventional wisdoms amongst the elite.)

But then he posted, in response to a comment, the reforms he would enact if he could. Here’s the post:

A commenter asked what I would do differently. Here goes:

1. Make sure that when teachers move into administrative jobs (other than principal), they take a huge pay cut. I do not mind paying a classroom teacher a big salary. They work long hours. But the administrators work 9 to 5, and they do not face the emotional wear and tear that a classroom teacher faces.

2. Get rid of administrative layers. If there is one employee for every 7 students, and one teacher for every 25 students in the classroom, then the administration is bloated. A lot of that is bureaucracy to “manage” and “co-ordinate” across schools. The school system is more than 10 times the size at which economies of scale are realized. Breaking it into 8 to 10 school districts would help.

3. Get rid of special programs that help rich kids. For example, many decades ago, the County used “magnet” programs to try to attract white kids away from all-white schools and mix them in with other schools (in segregated environments). Today, there is a natural racial mix in all schools, albeit with different proportions. The magnets survive because the parents of the rich kids that get into the magnets love all the extra resources and prestige that come with having their kids in the magnet programs.

In addition to magnet programs, there are “gifted-talented” and “foreign language immersion” programs that mostly help rich kids. Yes, I am sure that there is the odd poor kid here or there who takes advantage of one of these programs. But mostly, they represent private schools in the guise of public education.

I think that if we are going to have public education, it should be geared toward kids who don’t already start out with tremendous advantages. The “gifted and talented” children of affluent parents can take care of themselves.

The fear is that without these special programs, these precious kids and their demanding parents will be “lost” to the public schools, as they go to private alternatives. I say fine. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

This is a quite libertarian viewpoint. Also quite informed by his perspective of being in a school district for the quite well-off. But I appreciate him suggesting some semi-specific reforms. I’m not sure how good an idea his “eliminate everyone but the teachers and principals” idea is. I like the idea of paycuts for non-teaching/principal staff. He’s right that magnet programs, at least in my school district, disproportionately favor the already (relatively) well-off. So his idea is more fair, in a sense. But I’m not sure if that idea of fairness leads to better long-term outcomes.


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