Monday, December 26, 2005

Too much school choice? 

Mark Steckbeck points out a new study showing a sharp drop in adult literacy rates among college graduates. And this isn't like reading Adam Smith:

The test measures how well adults comprehend basic instructions and tasks through reading -- such as computing costs per ounce of food items, comparing viewpoints on two editorials and reading prescription labels. Only 41 percent of graduate students tested in 2003 could be classified as "proficient" in prose -- reading and understanding information in short texts -- down 10 percentage points since 1992. Of college graduates, only 31 percent were classified as proficient -- compared with 40 percent in 1992. Schneider said the results do not separate recent graduates from those who have been out of school several years or more.

The results were based on a sample of more than 19,000 people 16 or older, who were interviewed in their homes. They were asked to read prose, do math and find facts in documents. The scores for "intermediate" reading abilities went up for college students, causing educators to question whether most college instruction is offered at the intermediate level because students face reading challenges.

Steckbeck looks at alternatives to education, and says school choice isn't the panacea others would make it out to be (though in the end he decides to say "opt for the voucher program and hope for the best").
Fully privatizing education such that every child (up to a certain age) receives a voucher to be used at a private school is the most appealing from a market perspective. Kids are segregated based on talent and demands, but also based on ideology. As Coulson from Cato argues, a voucher allows me to send my kid(s) to a school promoting creationism if I'm a creationist or one promoting evolution if I believe in evolution. But it also allows me to send my kid(s) to an Islamic school that might promote anti-Americanism and encourage terrorism, or a white supremacist school that promotes violence against blacks or hispanics or jews. Who knows? Some schools might emerge to serve the demand for drug abusing or alcoholic parents.

My libertarian instincts are to say "so what? It's your money, so you should do what you want." But Steckbeck stipulates to public financing and with that comes some oversight. So the question becomes: Do we overstep our Constitutional limits in agreeing to public financing of education? There's no necessary reason why a good that has public goods qualities should be paid for with public funds. Are we supporting public financing of education to censor pernicious education?

Fishsticks needs to come home soon, so he can read about this.