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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Schoolag Archipelago

Zero-tolerance often seems to equal zero-common sense. On the other hand, the rules promulgated in public (and sometimes private) schools may actually equate marginal benefit and marginal cost, only the two are measured completely differently than so-called "stakeholders" would like.

Case in point, Sampson County, North Carolina:
Under a new school rule, students at Hobbton High School are not allowed to wear items with flags, from any country, including the United States.

The new rule stems from a controversy over students wearing shirts bearing flags of other countries...

The superintendent of schools in Sampson County calls the situation unfortunate, but says educators didn't want to be forced to pick and choose which flags should be permissible.
Zero-tolerance rules choose corner solutions even though economic theory predicts corner solutions are not efficient.

[Update: 12:26 EDT]

How about another one?
Schools Chancellor Joel Klein yesterday vowed to investigate a Queens high school policy that may have cost a teen girl her health.

The Daily News reported yesterday an official at Jamaica High School barred school deans from calling 911 in an emergency - just weeks before 14-year-old Mariya Fatima suffered a stroke her family says could have been less devastating.

Klein called this a violation of Department of Education policy and instructions he had sent to principals early this year.

"We'll look into it and take appropriate action," he said.

Former Jamaica Assistant Principal Guy Venezia sent a memo to school deans on April 12 banning 911 calls "for any reason."

That reminds me of my time high school, which was not all that long ago. It is amazing what an organization can get away with when it is not funded voluntarily by the consumers of its product.

Preferences vary vastly across students and parents. My personal experiences in my high school lead me to believe public education often produces a public ill. For example, many students I knew were introduced to drugs through the black market at my high school. They later would drop out, or worse, get passed along to graduate without basic skills in reading and mathematics. I think it is difficult to argue that public education produced a public good for these students or their parents. And I was not all that poor.

Of course, public education tends to be high quality for the affluent, as is most everything else. However, legally forcing poor parents to send their children to drug-infested (and often rodent-infested) buildings full of incompetent people who do not care about them is simply inexcusable and can hardly be argued to increase class-mobility or class-equality.

Education is good, but public is bad, and a negative multiplied by a positive is a negative. The public high schools in poor neighborhoods in the United States are reminiscent of Soviet agriculture. Only, instead of producing truckloads of rotten vegetables, we are producing busloads of rotten kids.

I’m not sure how exactly one would go about fixing the current system, but any viable solution must take the decision of school choice out of the hands of government (which has no reason to care about the poor) and into the hands of parents (who presumably care about their children).
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