Educating the Poor

Many people claim that government must educate, because otherwise the poor would not be able to afford education for their children.

The only problem with this theory is the facts.

There can hardy be any educator in America who is unfamiliar with the “achievement gap.”

No informed educator should be ignorant of the colossal failures of government schools to fix that gap. Kansas City tried; Camden, N.J. tried. Both spent massive amounts, which were frittered away on non-teaching activity, and resulted in no improvements in learning. This is a story which has been told over and over, with variations, for generations.

What you might not know is that government failure is a universal constant. Every country has problems; massive spending has been of no value, the world around.

Two things have been of value: small, autonomous revolts against the status quo, led by the likes of Correa, Gatto, Escalante, and Benezet – bold pioneers who were hastily shut down by the educational system. Some cynics think that success is not desired. I prefer to think that bureaucracies strongly resist change, even positive change; and that tax-funded monopolies have almost no incentive to improve. Better schools would hire fewer paper pushers.

The second thing of value is when parents are free to pull their children and their dollars from under-performing schools – a choice denied to most in Western society.

But this choice is being exercised by many thousands of parents and children in the developing world. Anybody who wishes to be educated in these countries – poor or not – chooses private education, not the government.

Unlike many armchair warriors, James Tooley and his teams examined thousands of such schools, and interviewed and tested 32,000 students. The conclusions are plain: parent-funded schools in many countries in the developing world are better and cheaper than competing government schools. “Free” government schools do not educate more students; they pull students from better alternatives.

One other result of Tooley’s study: governments choose to be unaware of many thousands of private schools. Most researchers seldom leave their air-conditioned offices, and rely heavily upon lists from bureaucrats who have strong incentives to under-report – to not even notice – the successes of their competitors. The parent-funded revolution in the developing world has, in consequence, been invisible to many bureaucrats and researchers and pundits.

If you only count students at government schools, increased spending and recruitment may look like an improvement – especially if you refuse to even admit that thousands of non-government schools exist. When it is admitted that “free” government schools are simply moving students from one sort of school to another, the “improvements” vanish. This is even more so when the students are merely shifted from superior private schools to inferior government schools.

I have written quite a bit about these issues. Please explore the tags at the bottom of this post. Cheers!

8 thoughts on “Educating the Poor”

  1. One of Karl Marx 10 steps to Communism is free education for all. Of course nothing is free. What Marx advocated was government monopoly of education. What better way to insure indoctrination into an oppressive society, and what better way to make it succeed than to make education of choice too expensive for the majority of people to afford. It’s sort of like what has been occurring in this country for decades. Beware of being lured into Obama’s promise of free education. It comes with chains attached.


  2. Until there is not longer a state backed monopoly on a currency controlled by private banks, limited liability, plutocracy in general, it is rational public policy to invest in the developing generations. But school choice has to be paramount. Funding should follow each student, forcing schools to compete for students (and allowing bad schools to fail). Funding schools primarily through local property taxes guarantees a perpetuation of a haves vs have-nots dynamic.


    1. Rational for whom? For the State? No disputing. But what is in the rational interests of the rest of us – the have-nots? Many home-schoolers and alternative-schoolers have concluded that the rational thing for them is different from that which is rational for the State.

      You perpetuate the myth that the problem of schools for the poor is the lack of funding, or that the funding of schools for the wealthy gives them an insuperable advantage. One wonders if you have actually read the evidence, given that extremely poor families are already building better schools with their own, extremely limited resources. Who is served by the myth that our problems must be fixed by the State?


      1. You misunderstood my point about funding following the student. If you homeschool, the government should cut the parent/kid the check directly, but otherwise you’re still not funding the school directly, you’re funding the student. So schools that students don’t want to go to are just allowed to fail. And schools that provide the education that the parent/child are looking for thrive.


  3. Are you not concerned that, when government cuts the checks, it “calls the tune?” There actually are other countries where this happens, and their “private” schools behave almost exactly like their “public” schools. They’re subject to the same regulations, after all. Under these conditions, the only advantage the private-but-tax-funded schools retain is that they might have a slightly more efficient bureaucracy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, at this point I think a universal basic income should completely replace government bureaucracy. The state shouldn’t provide any services. Study after study consistently show direct grants to individuals and families outperform government provided services in both positive human results and at cost efficiency.


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