Last week, I described a 2012 book on Education Governance; a must-read despite its significant failure to seriously consider central planning-lite approaches to school system reform. A knee-jerk central planning assumption driven by inertia is a major reason why nearly every analyst and policymaker that would support transformative changes, including many that I’ve advocated; for example, an end to pricelessness and the public finance monopoly of the public school system. But because they assume that every syllable of the new way of doing things would have to be legislated and implemented through existing bureaucracies, they have given up on transformation and set their sights lower; much lower at something they believe to be realistic (more on that later). After elder statesman, reform advocate, Ted Kolderie correctly points out that that we currently have an “inert system,” his new book puts the alleged impossibility of transformational change very succinctly:
The effort to transform the system radically through political action . . . is not practical. A political majority for radical change is almost a contradiction in terms.
Though I agree that elimination of government-run schools, or radical re-design of the nature of public schooling, is not going to happen, I disagree with the premise that “radical change” — school system transformation — is politically infeasible. Though we should pursue productive tinkering with the central plan in whatever useful ways the political process allows, we can achieve productive, transformational change without that. We can move forward with a catalyst for transformational change without any tinkering with the traditional public school (TPS) “business plan”. That means not having to change how we collectively decide what the curriculum and textbooks for public school students will be, or teacher training or pay or recruiting. What we don’t need to spell out in new laws or regulations also includes deciding which TPS teachers teach which students, which we now do randomly, except that we sort the children by age and by attendance zone. We don’t need to re-write the central plan for government-run schooling. We only need to make it easier to opt out of the government-run schools. That “only” requires doing something that is hard to contest directly — ending discrimination against private school users — and allow parents to top-off public funding like a tuition voucher, tuition tax credit, or education savings account. That means allowing families to spend more on the schooling of their children than taxpayers want to spend on each child. The actual transformations of the school system will then follow through market forces. I’m not arguing it would be easy — far from it — but winning the argument to subsidize children the same regardless of whether the government, a non-profit entity or a profit-seeking entrepreneur runs the school that a parent believes will work best for their child, and allowing them to spend their own money on schooling, is not the impossible dream.