A new approach to education

December 20, 2009 at 9:15 pm 3 comments

Conor Friedersdorf highlights a “must read piece about America’s future“:

In National Affairs, entrepreneur Jim Manzi presents a manifesto of sorts for bringing about the continued prosperity of the United States. Like Grand New Party, the thoughtful product of Reihan Salam and Ross Douthat, Mr. Manzi’s piece suggests a framework for understanding the challenges that America faces — thank goodness another serious voice is getting us beyond bromides about liberty and tyranny — the trade-offs we must resolve in our public policy, and specific policy proposals for those persuaded by what precedes them. I hope it gets the attention it deserves, including thoughtful responses from across the political spectrum.

Manzi’s “Keeping America’s Edge” can be read here. An excerpt from the section that suggests “a new approach” to education:

We should seek to deregulate public schools. It would be foolish to imagine that we can simply educate everyone in America to be globally competitive. In a nation where about 40% of births occur outside of wedlock, many children will be left behind. Nonetheless, schools remain one of our primary policy instruments for enhancing both social mobility and our competitive position. They are essential to the task of balancing innovation and cohesion. To function effectively, though, America’s schools need to be improved ­dramatically. Our basic model of public schooling — ­accepting raw material in the form of five-year-olds, and then adding value through a series of processing steps to produce educated graduates 12 (or more) years later — reflects the vision of the old industrial economy. This worked well in an earlier era, but improvements that might have kept this model up to date have been stalled for decades. We now need a new vision for schools that looks a lot more like Silicon Valley than Detroit: ­decentralized, ­entrepreneurial, and flexible.

For a generation, many on the right have argued for school choice — especially through the use of vouchers — as the primary means of achieving this vision. Their approach, however, has been both too doctrinaire and too artificial. If school choice ever becomes more than ­tinker-toy demonstration projects, taxpayers will appropriately demand that a range of controls and requirements be imposed on the schools they are ultimately funding. At that point, what would be the difference between such “private” schools and “public” schools that were allowed greater ­flexibility in hiring, curriculum, and student acceptance, and had to compete for students in order to capture funding? Little beyond the label.

We should pursue the creation of a real marketplace among ever more deregulated publicly financed schools — a market in which funding follows students, and far broader discretion is permitted to those who actually teach and manage in our schools. There are real-world examples of such systems that work well today — both Sweden and the Netherlands, for instance, have implemented this kind of plan at the national level.

It’s a provocative article, one that I am still mulling over as I try to form a response and rebuttal, and definitely worth the read.


Entry filed under: etc, think. Tags: , , , .

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. jleeger  |  December 21, 2009 at 3:21 am

    Another incredible grab! you’re on a roll!

    However, I will say this – Mr. Manzi does not think to question whether or not the current thrust of society is in anyone’s best interests.

    If it is, his words are worth considering. If it is not, his words are worthless.

    Important, I think, to ask first – Is the direction we are headed (or a direction in which Mr. Manzi would have us head – “a new vision…that looks a lot more like Silicon Valley than Detroit: ­decentralized, ­entrepreneurial, and flexible”) in our best interests?

  • 2. Brad  |  January 5, 2010 at 2:19 am

    Hi, just wanted to jump in and say I just discovered your blog and love the thoughtful talk on education. This particular article is a great find.

  • 3. N3 - Nubian News Network  |  June 25, 2011 at 9:28 am

    “It would be foolish to imagine that we can simply educate everyone in America to be globally competitive. In a nation where about 40% of births occur outside of wedlock, many children will be left behind.” Insinuating that those children being born out of wedlock will be those children which will be left behind is ignorance at its finest. Sounds like a strong proponent in the european idea of union i.e. marriage. Wonder if he is single? hmmm.


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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

Play is the beginning of knowledge.

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