Make Public Education Much Cheaper

I’ve been reading “The Case Against Education” By Bryan Caplan. It makes a convincing argument that most of time spent in school is wasted in a signalling game.  I haven’t gotten to any suggestions to improve the situation, but maybe they are towards the end and this post will just be inferior to the ideas in the book. Whatevs.

Most of the book focuses on higher education, and for that the answer of how to decrease cost/waste is fairly obvious. Colleges could just require fewer pointless courses and let people graduate more quickly or by going part time.

For primary school a big part of value is getting the kids out of the house and under someone else’s care for 7 hours so that solution wouldn’t work. But maybe  we could dramatically decrease the amount of time that children spend in a fully supervised classroom setting where there is a highly trained, highly compensated teacher and only 20-ish students. Instead, break the day up so that 1/3 to 1/2 is that sort of intense and expensive interaction and make the other 2/3 a lower cost more free form experience.

Supposing its 1/3 classroom time then while Group A is getting their time Groups B and C do the free time and then switch off. So each teacher can effectively teach 3 classes or 60-90 total children without having to actually attempt the impossible task of dealing with 60+ children at once.

The “free time” could then be divided between activities that don’t require the same level of adult interaction. There could be “quiet time” where children have to read/do educational stuff on the computer/do art or whatever. And then active times where they can play and/or engage in semi-organized sports. These times could be supervised by a smaller number of educators + community volunteers or school administrators. The point would be to make activities available to the students, but not direct them or force them to engage in them. And then to prevent/break up fights and stuff. The children would direct themselves based on their own interests but they wouldn’t be able to just watch youtube or completely waste time. They would have to actually confront boredom and make decisions about how to use their own time.

Of course with less classroom time there would be less classroom learning for sure. But the learning done in the classroom could be more intense and focused on things that really matter.  For young children there are already lots of breaks that occur during a school day. My daughter has play time, recess, phys ed, library time, lunch etc. But a lot of that still happens in an environment where the teacher is present. There is no real efficiency gain. By segregating the classroom time with teacher from all the breaks and play time, the teacher could be free to teach more kids.

For older children classroom time is focused but often focused on things that are unimportant. Let high school students take a smaller number of important classes and then head to the library to do independent study or online learning. There seems to be very little gain from making children sit through classes that they correctly believe will be of no use to them later in life, so let them follow their own interests or pursue what they think will be valuable and they will enjoy it more and be no worse off than they are now.

This system would not only reduce costs dramatically but it would make children happier and make education work better. It would teach the extremely valuable skill of self-directed learning which is the cornerstone of a successful adult life. Children who are less bored and defeated by endless class time could put more energy into the classes they had. Students old enough to watch themselves could be allowed to leave school and spend time apprenticing. It would be a hybrid between public school as it exists now and the unschooling method championed by David Friedman.

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