The recent unpleasantness in Wisconsin has me thinking about how schools are organized and funded, how teachers are trained and paid, and what all that means for my grandchildren. I don't have many answers, but here are my thoughts, so far:
Most importantly, I think our academic infrastructure is out of sync with how Americans live and work. Schools have grown from simple, straight-forward mentoring environments to complex, bureaucratic mega-monopolies. Because our schools are funded by local, state and federal taxes, the interests of parents, teachers, and students are too often lost in the resulting political maelstrom. I'd prefer a "user pays" system that would return control to parents at the local level.
While most of the business world has learned how to do more with less, schools have been content to just do with more; not that student outcomes have improved, because they haven't. Now, finally, taxpayers are becoming concerned about the educational value proposition, and they're not happy with what they see.
This could mean the beginning of the end for the era of public education, but I prefer to see the current uproar over teacher's union privilege as an opportunity for educational entrepreneurs, even intrapreneurs.
People are almost always willing to pay more to get more, but they are not willing to pay more to get less, as is often the case with tax-supported public education. And, in the age of Globalization and e-Commerce, most businesses are becoming ever more adept at providing more for less. I see no reason why that rule should not apply to public education. One can dream.
With respect to higher education, consumers already have considerable choice, due to the proliferation of online and specialized institutions. In the future, however, consumers of education services will certainly demand more than most schools now provide, and at a lower overall cost. Over the past thirty years, college tuition and fees have risen roughly 450% compared to increases in median family income of only 150%. It's been a while, but as a parent of three children who were educated with student loans, I can tell you that that value proposition gets weaker with every tuition increase. Virtually every traditional college should begin right now - if they haven't already - to rethink their pricing structure and their educational platforms.
It should be obvious to everyone by now that online courses can be delivered far more efficiently than classroom instruction. I expect online courses will become the standard, low-cost offering of many more institutions, with classroom and laboratory instruction being offered at a premium. This will give students more choices, more customized learning environments, and personal control over their time and costs. This should also allow college enrollments to expand without the need for expensive bricks and ivy infrastructure. Students might also benefit from better access to instructors and other experts.
Well, thanks for letting me vent. With the media focusing on the angst of teachers, administrators, and legislators; I just had to say that I think they're mostly missing the point: This is 2011 - not 1911 - or even 1951. The world has changed, and is changing at an accelerating pace. Unionization of teachers is a relic of the past. Mass production of educational content is a relic of the past. Taxpayer funding of education may well become a relic of the past. America and the world are advancing into a new age of entrepreneurialism, and I believe that a private education industry will be an important element in that change. Until next week,
PATIENCE, DISCIPLINE, and CONFIDENCE in the FUTURE! mh