The Perfect v. The Good

Writing in National Review (!!!), Rick Hess challenges the notion that more money is what schools need. Of course, like many debates in education, asking the global question, “do schools need more money?” misses the real nature of the problem which is that some do and some don’t and the problem is much more state level finance than levels of funding from Washington. Still, it makes great political theater!

Hess is right that the current system is inefficient and policymakers need to address those issues (and new analytical technology is making it increasingly possible to do so). But he notes that, “Buying off the status quo is no way to focus the education debate on accountability, competition, parental choice, flexibility, or results.” Huh? Sure it is! Public policy is littered with success stories that involved doing exactly that! And, of course, some failures, too. But buying off opposition re NCLB is exactly what Eduwonk recommends here and here, for example. It’s a small price to pay in the big scheme of things. Good poker players recognize that their chips are tools and weapons to be employed in the game, good policymakers recognize the same thing about money and don’t get bogged down in pointless academic arguments.

Afterthought: The Bush Administration obviously does not understand this. They passed a reform-heavy education bill and have not used money strategically and they passed a funding heavy Medicare bill (that we probably can’t afford) and didn’t use the funding as leverage to get any real reform…Perhaps some uninformed undecided voter should ask the president about that tonight in St. Louis…

NCLB Afterthought: Also, in their zeal to take down No Child Left Behind, some foes of the law are touting Hess as their new public intellectual because of this article. Great thinking! His position on funding dovetails so well with the establishment position…never mind his position on choice.

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