After Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Republicans stripped public union members of their collective bargaining power for benefits and working conditions, education has become a hot topic. Many states are faced with budget deficits and are being forced to cut funding from education.
This has created a debate about education reform in this country, a debate that is sorely needed. Per my new personal policy, the following is my response to someones comments about education from Facebook.
To start, education is the LAST thing that should EVER be cut because it is that alone which guarantees the future dominance of a country, economically at least.
Education is certainly an important part to growing the economy, however it alone is not the sole factor for growth, and it certainly is not alone as the only factor that “guarantees the future dominance” of a country’s economics.
Common sense tells you there’s far more to economic dominance than education. For starters immigration and mobility throws the entire scale into whack because people who may have been educated in China, which generally scores better than most countries, might come over to the United States to start a business or work. In fact that’s a rather common occurrence, more than people think with all the press about jobs we move over there.
Furthermore there’s tax rates, governmental red tape, population income, and various other factors that will determine the strength of a country’s economy. To prove this point I took the countries that rank in the top 30 in GDP and compared their PISA scores (the international education scores) to their GDP. The full document can be viewed here.
The correlation coefficient when comparing the two numbers was -0.158, which essentially means there’s absolutely no correlation between a country’s PISA score and their GDP (correlation is a scale from 0 to 1, with 1 being perfectly correlated). However, that does not mean that education isn’t an important factor to a country’s economy, it simply shows that it is ridiculous to think that education is the only factor that guarantees economic dominance.
To prove that point further I took those same countries and compared their GDP to their corporate tax rate (which can be found on page two of the document). The correlation coefficient was 0.654, which actually shows statistical correlation. However, I will stress this is too crude of a statistical study to make the assumption that education is less important to economic success than taxation, it simply shows that education isn’t the only factor.
The second part of this statement deals with educational funding. In the United States we’ve exploded our educational funding. In 1990 we spent, at all governmental levels, $248.9 billion on elementary and secondary education. In 2005 that number was $536 billion, about $200 billion over the rate of inflation. It’s clear that we have made a commitment to invest considerable money in education. However, as has been stated previously, we’re not showing very good results (ranking at around 15 in the world in PISA scores).
So clearly other countries have to be spending more on education, right?
Below is a chart provided by the Department of Education. It shows that across the globe, only two countries spend more per student than the United States.
Clearly simply throwing money at education doesn’t work, so I honestly I don’t see a harm in cutting funding. Other countries spend far less per student and get better results. I think we’ve become too focused on infrastructure and teacher benefits to actually put those newly invested dollars to work. As rough as it might sound, cutting education funding is a legitimate method to get administrators and lawmakers to spend money more efficiently on education.
Again, make it a federal program, and by the way, just because a 228 year old piece of paper doesn’t explicitly say that education can be determined by the national government doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good idea. Most developed countries have education at a national level, unlike the U.S., and perhaps it isn’t a wonder that they’re doing so much better than us in every measurable way. I know, Jacob, that you would love to cut out thousands of bureaucracies in favor of one, besides, it would be far more efficient anyway, wouldn’t it? (It seems like you would really support that idea to streamline government)
The “228 year old piece of paper” that he so condescendingly refers to is The Constitution. Ya know, the foundation of this country. No big deal.
The idea here is making education a federal program. Instead of states controlling curriculum and administration, the national government would do it all. For starters, it’s unconstitutional. That pesky 10th Amendment grants all rights not explicitly given to the federal government, to the states. So if you really want to make education a federal program, you’ll have to offer up an amendment that puts it in the constitution as a job of the federal government. Considering that requires ratification from the states, I doubt that will pass.
And no, the Constitution prohibiting it alone doesn’t make it a bad idea, there are various other reasons…
Bureaucracy isn’t always bad. The term has very negative connotations, but it is simply a group of people making administrative decisions. Hopefully those decisions and ideas are innovative and groundbreaking. I think education is one field where we could use that. I’m certainly not saying let’s hire a bunch of people to sit around and think, but I also don’t think putting educational development and curriculum building into the hands of a few is better than having it in the hands of many. If education was to become a federal program you’d have a bunch of people sitting in a room in Washington D.C. deciding what children across the entire country would learn. I truly believe that is a disastrous situation.
Education needs to be as local as possible because people learn differently. Education isn’t black and white. If curriculum decisions are made at the state level, we then have 50 states designing curriculum, and one state might have a really good addition to the curriculum and another state might follow suit. Or one state might have innovative new ways of teaching and interacting with students, and other states might follow in their footsteps. If we have one singular body doing that work, innovation will drop drastically.
Then there are the political reasons. It’s much more difficult to defeat an incumbent in a federal position than a state or local position. There are less votes for more local officials and it’s easier to mobilize the vote inside a single county or city than the entire state or country. Politicians at the federal level have more votes and more to take care of than state officials, and therefore their education votes might get clouded in other matters and it might be more difficult to convince people to vote them out if they do something undesirable.
Also, what government programs has the federal government successfully managed? Social security is on its way to insolvency and Medicaid and Medicare are riddled with fraud and inefficiency. And this is the entity that you want to run education?
The Department of Education is already an inefficient entity. It employs 5,000 people and it doesn’t even set the curriculum! If education was purely a federal program they’d clearly have to double, heck even triple the size of its staff. That is money we simply don’t have.
Also, when you make something a federal program, it’s very difficult to undo. If it failed as a federal program, that’s it, there’s really no going back to passing down power to the states again, it would be too costly and time consuming for them to reform their educational agencies.
“Most developed countries have education at a national level, unlike the U.S., and perhaps it isn’t a wonder that they’re doing so much better than us in every measurable way.”
That’s actually a myth. Most developed countries do not have education at the national level, I guess we all just like to think they do. Countries vary in great degree with how they organize their education, and believe it or not the United States isn’t the only country to delegate the task to municipalities.
In England education is broadly overseen by the Department of Education, but the policy and curriculum is developed at the local level – much like the United States. Germany has a similar system, the states play the major role in education, whereas the federal government takes more of a backseat. Australia is nearly the same way, as is Canada where curriculum is developed at the provincial level. Even The Netherlands relies heavily on localities to provide input for education, although it is mostly overseen by the Dutch Ministry of Education. And in Belgium education is overseen and financed by three separate communities.
The idea that most of the developed world has education controlled by a federal or national entity is simply wrong. I suppose you could take the time and tally up all the developed countries and where their educational power lies, but I doubt it is most.
Please also keep in mind that cutting spending isn’t the only way to solve these budget issues. By making government programs, WHICH DEFINE THE FIRST WORLD COUNTRIES (you won’t find a developed country without massive social programs and government spending) , more efficient and by raising taxes we can solve these problems even easier.
I’ll start off my response to this section by first making it clear that the definition of a first world country does not come from the amount of government programs a country has, that’s an absurd definition that no one accepts as valid. The definition, for starters, isn’t really clear. It was clear during the Cold War, when first world countries were generally viewed as nations that aligned with the United States and embraced capitalism. Now the definition is murky. The UN uses Gross National Product, many people use the Human Development Index, and other use either both or a different definition. Depends on the person, depends on the institution. But no one is using government programs alone as the definition.
I would also like to know what you define as “massive social programs.” I wouldn’t classify the United States as having massive social programs yet we are considered a first world country without question.
I also don’t think that cutting spending is the only way to fix the deficit, I just happen to think it’s the best way. For starters, tax revenue is usually higher when taxes are lower, check out federal tax receipts after the Bush tax cuts in 2003-2005. And raising taxes during a downswing in the economy is never a great idea. So for right now, cutting spending is a must and really our only option, because if we are to raise taxes, it would have to be on more than the wealthy to make an noticeable impact, and no politician is going to seriously propose tax increases on anyone but the wealthy right now.
Also, we have to keep in mind that tax rates aren’t the problem, tax credits and deductions are. In 2010 45% of tax payers didn’t pay any taxes (so I guess that doesn’t really make them tax payers). We handed out $1 trillion in deductions and credits last year. That’s insane, and is not sustainable. We don’t have to raise the rate, those are fine, we have to do away with the credits and deductions. The real rate (which factors in the credits and deductions) is between 17-26% for the top bracket and is 9% for the average tax payer. That’s a problem.
But Americans have become pretty solid supporters of social programs and government spending, it’s time they realize they need to pay for it!
I actually disagree with this statement. I think it depends on how you define social programs; either paid for by the government or provided by the government. I think people are in favor of government handouts, that is to say the government helps you pay for something you purchase on the private market. But I don’t think Americans like the idea of government provided programs, like a public option health care or other type of insurance.
I think two recent examples have to do with Paul Ryan, the republican in charge of the budget for the House of Representatives. Ryan proposed the idea of handing out Medicare vouchers to seniors and allowing them to purchase from private sector companies. This idea has been ridiculed by the democrats as “killing Medicare” but in actuality seniors favor Paul Ryan’s budget over Obama’s. And at a recent town hall in Wisconsin he got a standing ovation.
With that said, absolutely people are protective of the money they get from government and the services the government provides. But you act like we don’t pay enough in taxes to support the government’s services.
The federal government brings in about $2 trillion in taxes each year. But what’s really important to look at is how much tax revenue they bring in per person.
Here is a list of countries with their total tax revenue (across all government agencies), population, tax revenue per person, welfare expenditures as a percentage of GDP, and if they provide health care, and post-secondary education. What I found was interesting.
The United States collects around $10,000 in taxes per person. There are six countries that collect less taxes per person than the United States. This is only OECD countries (which doesn’t include Russia or China). Of those six countries (Spain, Greece, New Zealand, Japan, Hungary, and South Korea) five of them have some form of heavily funded, or completely controlled, government health care program. And one of them, Greece, not only provides health care but also post-secondary education as well.
Furthermore three of the six spend more as a percentage of their GDP on welfare than the United States, the smallest difference being 6% (between the United States and New Zealand). Also, there are four countries that collect only $2,000 more in taxes per person yet spend about 4% more on welfare than the United States, and all provide health care.
This shows that for what the United States provides in regards to welfare, we actually pay the right amount. The average of all of these countries is around $15,000 in tax revenue per person, and remember only eight of them don’t provide health care and 18 of them spend over 20% of their GDP on welfare. I think that taxation wise we should model more like Japan, at least according to these statistics. They spend about the same on welfare as the United States and also provide health insurance, yet they collect $4,000 less in taxes per person.
One final note about education, this also comes from OECD numbers. The average initial salary for a teacher, in US Dollars, in OECD countries is $28,949 a year. The United States average is $36,000. Compared to the OECD Country average the United States pays more for teachers, so the idea that paying teachers more will somehow increase academic performance is also misguided.
PISA scores were obtained from this table from the OECD
OECD Country Welfare Expenditures were obtained from this report