Last week I noted in passing that politically there may be an inverse relationship between health care reform and education reform in the sense that if health care doesn’t pass or ends up small you’re going to have some vulnerable members of Congress looking hard for something to run on in 2010. Education authorizations always a fave because you get big ticket spending numbers without the hassle of actually having to come up with the cash. Interesting side note, while the House wants to move the student loan bill before the end of the year, it doesn’t seem to be a big priority on the Senate side in terms of what leadership says they want to see finished before the end of this year’s session. That could figure into all this, too.
But stepping back from the politics, on substance there are some interesting similarities and differences between health care. In both cases you have systems with unsustainable cost structures and misaligned incentives and goals. That’s obvious, but it’s unclear how much this round of reform will seriously affect either — on health care or schools. But on health care you have a push for a public option, in other words greater public involvement, as a remedy. Yet on K-12 education the bloodiest fights today remain about what might be called a “private option” whether it’s vouchers or even non-profit but non-governmental providers of services (e.g. public charter schools). Interestingly, we don’t really have those fights on early-childhood education or higher ed* with the same intensity at all, public and private providers share the marketplace with public subsidies and it’s pretty non-controversial…So OK, never mind, perhaps this is a political story after all…
Update: Related, see Josh Greenman on the same issue.
6 Replies to “More Health Care & Education”
I think the reason there are few fights over private schools in the pre-K and higher education sectors is because schooling is not compulsory in those sectors, whereas it is in K-12, and there has always been the tradition of “common schooling” in K-12–now in law because of standards–that does not exist in the other sectors. It’s OK if someone gets a different college education than I do, even a faith-based one, because we’re not expected to learn the same things at that level.
Talking about expectations that we all learn the same things — how about the idea of teaching elementary school kids CPR in school? New research shows us that kids, even as young as 9 years old, can and should learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation so they would be able to save lives. Austrian researchers studied 147 grade-schoolers after they received six hours of life-support training. Testing showed that 86 percent of the kids performed CPR correctly — four months after the training. Yes, let’s even make it compulsory! Ethic Soup blog has a good article on this research at:
Yes, look at high quality post-secondary ed. Now virtually inaccessible to all but children of the upper middle-class and wealthy. Look at high quality private medical care. Virtually inaccessible to all but upper middle-class and wealthy. Now the privateers are going to do the same for public k-12 ed. Some debate.
Monopolies in any endeavor are generally bad. This occurred to me last night as I was reading your tweets and trying to find a particular On Demand program on Comcast. If there were other cable companies – public or private, I’m betting that cable television would look a lot more like Google or YouTube.
In health care, the public option is on the table because private companies won’t offer a quality product, an affordable product, or any product at all, to those in need.
In education, those in the public sector have lost a lot of credibility. The private sector has been involved in education for years, with public funding, btw. Lots of members and staffers on Capitol Hill who fight any role for private companies in education for pay, gladly use public funds to support private placements for their children who require special education services. They also have huge fundraisers, like up in Chevy Chase, so that their public schools get extra funding, through private means, that other children in DC do not get. Federally funded childcare has been a voucher program for years. There is a lot of inconsistency and kabuki in all of this.
I tell you this as someone who does not think vouchers are a good solution to cure the ills of public education, but also does not lose any sleep over the voucher programs in DC and Milwaukee, or anywhere else where democracy has trumped autocracy.
Monopolies also aggressively, sometimes brutally, protect their interests. That is what we are seeing in the politics of both education and health care reform.
So is the public/private dichotomy that informs debates about both health care and education reform a false construct? If that’s true of educational reform, then we might get a little more traction by publicly (sorry) debunking the myth that the private sector — whether in the form of special ed schools, grants, fund-raising, sponsorships, and partnerships — doesn’t play a role in public education. On the other hand, the NEA leadership (monopoly) plays such a huge role in limiting reform efforts and I guess they fit firmly within the public sector.
Interesting post. Enjoyed!