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The K-12 Road to Serfdom

By   /  August 16, 2014  /  No Comments

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There’s been an interesting exchange in written letters to Newsday’s editors this past week about the Glen Cove “cheating” scandals. The most recent, by a Coram resident, disregards the original writer’s concerns as conspiracy thoughts. “The writer implies that the guilty parties may have had a valid reason for cheating, or perhaps were coerced by some dark, state-driven external force.” The Coram resident offers three influences that he thinks could’ve pushed Glen Cove officials to “cheat”.

First, they were motivated by a purely altruistic desire to assist their students. Second, the cheaters were driven by a parochial loyalty to their employer and associates to maintain an image of success in their school district. Third, they were attempting to assure that their professional evaluations were not negatively affected by poor test outcomes.

What the writer misses is that the idea he was responding to–basically, public choice theory, which applies private economic thought into public bureaucracies–already explains these incentives as systemic to centrally-planned economies. This is what Thomas Berger, of East Patchogue wrote about in a letter that appeared in Sunday’s Newsday.

The problem is that state and federal education officials are treating our children like numbers.

Our children should take tests written by their teachers, covering what was taught in class. Our children do not need a distant state bureaucratic Gestapo educational department, but a caring concerned teacher.

Newsday needs to seriously investigate the state Education Department and the politics within. Each school district needs a staff to work to educate children, not some political authority sitting at a desk in Albany. We want our children educated by teachers who they can see, talk with and interact with.

The tragedy of Glen Cove’s cheating scandal is that great people were forced into a scandal of the bureaucratic state. Nobody took a payout, or was promised a promotion–there was no exchange.

But, as the economist Milton Friedman observed, “bad laws (in this case, a one-size-fits-all testing standard) make socially advantageous acts illegal, and therefore, leads to an undermining of morality in general.” This pattern is not avoided by politicians’ promises of stricter enforcement or new ethical standards–it is made worse. It is systemic to the bureaucracy such as it is at the VA hospital system, which has also been plagued with scandal.

An optimal education system would be one where families are free to choose where to send their children to school and educators are not subject to the dictates of what Reagan (and Berger) called “a little intellectual elite in a faraway capital”.

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About the author

Founder, Executive Editor

Before founding the Beacon, Mike worked at AOL Patch, Anton News, and most recently at Reason Magazine.

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