Thursday, September 25, 2008

Education Choice Conference

Today, they held a conference on school choice in our
building. I went between classes. The conference was organized by
the same guy who taught the Atlas Shrugged class, in conjunction with
the Friedman Foundation.

One of the most interesting things was a British lady presenting
evidence on private schools in the slum areas of India and Africa.
She and her team went into the communities and found hundreds of
private schools that, according to official figures, did not exist.
She tested the students, and found that they were doing better than
students at the state schools. The parents were willing to pay
substantial fractions of their income for schooling, and, despite
being illiterate and unable to speak English themselves, did a fairly
good job of holding the schools accountable for learning.

However, that one of the main ways the parents held the schools
accountable was how well the students at that school did on state-run
standardized tests. This fact was not discussed much. Everybody
there basically had the attitude of 'What is the best strategy to get
the government out of education as quickly as possible?' I was one of
the least Libertarian people in the room. It was a strange
experience. After one presenter said that the government should pay
for school, but let parents do whatever they wanted with the money, I
spoke up and said,

"What about the rights of the taxpayer? If I am paying for something,
I want to know that the money is not being wasted. There should be
some minimal safeguards to make sure that the education is actually
doing something productive and preparing people to be good citizens."

Yes, I know that the current system is a huge mess, and does not meet
those goals. I am always arguing for school choice whenever I get the
change. But even a Libertarian will (usually) agree that the function
of government is to prevent its citizens from abusing each other, and
that the state should do something to prevent the abuse and neglect of

One of the presenters had a good quote on that subject:

"Children are beings with human rights, but they do not have the
ability to make decisions about those rights."

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