Imagine that the next President and Congress pass a sweeping education reform. Forget how it works. Just imagine that the outcome is the best outcome you can imagine actually happening. It exceeds the upper bound of the sober forecasters by an amazing amount. It’s enough to make this President’s legacy. Yes, I know this won’t happen; bear with me.
There will be magazine covers smugly asking Is Government Back? and all kinds of celebration. This is in a sense a Rorschach test for you, but the point is to stipulate that government has done everything it can do. It’s the best thing they’ve done since the Moon shot.
Let’s even grant that this leads to some strong growth in the economy and some nice, productivity gains.
The fact is, even if you conjure massive amount of economic growth from this, you aren’t giving everyone economic security. The point of “fixing” education is, largely, to provide people with skills to earn a living and be good citizens. But when you have a lot of idle labor working “below their station” and political scientist will tell you this is not good.
The truth is until the robot singularity arrives we still need janitors, farm laborers, garbage men, and construction workers. Sure, it might be good for society if all of these people had a well-rounded education that helped them be good voting citizens, but if, at the end of the day, they are only paid $10/hour all of that is for nothing.
Pay teachers more. Break their unions. End testing. More testing. Free college. Charter schools everywhere. Whatever mix of reform and non-reform solution you come up with, no matter how idealized, is missing the product that the system is supposed to deliver, and that it can’t deliver on its own.
If the labor movement can’t deliver this–and there’s no evidence that they can anymore–then the solution is to demand that Americans get a fair deal from the economy. A much higher minimum wage, a stronger safety net, basic healthcare, and preserving and strengthening Social Security would go a long way to fixing these problems.
Would a much higher minimum wage cost jobs? Probably, yeah. My magical pony plan includes a stronger safety net. This would in fact require a slight reconfiguration of the economy, but at least it would do what it supposed to do instead of deluding everyone into thinking they’re going to be a doctor–and even if they were this would only mean doctors made minimum wage.
Education is great. Free education is great. It helps people find jobs and roles that they are well suited for and helps them feel fulfilled in life in the process. But the notion that this is the fix for everything is wrong. It might be an important step in a developing country, but here we have an educated class. What we need is to improve the lot of the working class.