Education: Race to the Bottom
By Sean Hayes
Appeared in the Korea Times on 12/04/07
The Seoul government has finally realized that competition in education is not a bad thing. The present “equality” driven educational system has created a mere race to the bottom, while competition naturally leads to a race to the top.
Competition in all fields is natural and should be encouraged. The present system of assigning students to school based on a lottery and location creates the same problem as a business monopoly.
A monopoly will naturally provide a bad product, since there is little incentive to provide a good product. However, when the monopoly is broken by competition, the consumers will exercise their judgment in choosing the best product, thus forcing the former monopoly to provide a better product.
We must all remember the importance of the product at issue. Education is the very foundation of modern society. A good education imparts morality, culture, develops the ability to create and think, and allows the exploration of information that is needed to become productive adults and citizens.
However, parents realize that the Korean educational system has failed them and accordingly often choose to totally forego the Korean educational system by sending their children to foreign schools or to supplement formal education by after school education.
This is reflected in numerous statistics. The government spends 3.4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on education, while parents spend an additional 3 percent.
It is also estimated that parents spend about 20 percent of their monthly income on education for their children.
Realizing this problem, the Seoul government, from 2010, will allow students and parents to choose which high schools to apply to.
Younghoon High School is preparing for this change. They recently held a promotional event for students and parents. The event, as reported in this paper, was to showcase their unique educational environment, volunteer programs, and overseas study programs.
At present, most high schools are chosen for students based on their place of residence and a lottery system.
However, this step in the right direction does not go far enough. In a highly bureaucratized system with a powerful bureaucracy, an entrenched teachers’ union, and a political system that is either incapable or unwilling to combat the system an expedient way to drastically change the very nature of education is to create and foster “true” private schools.
In Korea, most schools, public and private, are regulated to such an extent that they are a mere extension of the Korean government. This bureaucratizing of education has created the very race to the bottom we are all trying to lose.
In this system, few schools compete for students thus creating a system that is not rewarding schools for the quality of their educational product, but simply for their location and ability to abide by government mandates ― mandates that overwhelming have failed our students.
Hence, we must liberate our schools by allowing them to educate our students with the schools dictating who, what, when, where, and how including the price to charge, the teachers to hire, the curriculum to teach, and the students to choose.
The schools that are providing a superior educational product will rise to the top and the schools that wish to maintain the status quo will fail. This system may also provide an impetus for public schools to strive for excellence, since they too would need to compete for students.
In the U.S. research by Harvard economist Caroline Minter Hoxby indicates that incentive-based reforms have had greater success than changing the rules or increasing resources.
According too her study greater choice leads to higher student test scores, higher graduation rates and lower per-student spending.
Lets free our schools by allowing them to race to the top.
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