Sunday, August 18, 2013

Why not use the principles of prison reform to help the schools?

Last week I met a man who was interested in investing millions of dollars in fixing education. I was happy to meet with him. But, within minutes it became clear that his idea of fixing education and mine were very different.
This man was concerned with making the system more efficient. He had no concerns about making school fun, interesting, useful in later life, offering more choices, forcing fewer requirements and getting rid of tests. No, quite the opposite. He wanted to test everyone and everything all the time. He wanted to use computers to efficiently deliver tests, grade test, evaluate teachers, deliver materials, and so on. 
Here is a summary of what he was discussing:

  1. As with any government program, the public school system must be transparent and include performance measures that hold it accountable for its results.
2. Colleges, along with the public and taxpayers, are among the key “consumers” of the school system; their interests should be prioritized when determining appropriate education goals.
3. The education system should emphasize personal responsibility, work, following the rules, and remediation while supervising students.
4. An education system works to reform underperforming teachers and students and put students on the right path.  
5. Because incentives affect human behavior, policies for both students and teachers must align incentives with the goals of economic growth, good citizenship, increased  college attendance, and cost-effectiveness, thereby moving from a system that grows when it fails to one that rewards results. 
6.School reform should not be used to grow government and undermine economic freedom.

He never actually said any of this. He reminded me so much of someone who was interested in running an efficient prison. I looked up “prison reform principles” and  adapted what a set of prominent conservatives have written on the subject.The original can be found here:

I think school reform and prison reform have a lot in common. As long as we think of schools as a kind of prison, where students and teachers do what they are told, when they are told, with no freedom at all and constant assessment, maybe we should should adopt prison reform ideas wholesale and simply forget about caring about children or helping them think clearly. No one wants a prisoner to think after all.