, echoing the economist Herbert Stein notes, "something that can't go on forever, won't. Steady increases in per-pupil spending without
any commensurate increase in learning can't go on forever. So they
won't. And as state after state faces near-bankruptcy (or, in some
cases, actual bankruptcy), we've pretty much hit that point now.
In other words, the much vaunted "Higher Ed Bubble" is going to find that it's got company. The "Lower Ed Bubble" may look a bit different than the higher ed bubble in that resistance to increases in costs won't come from parents paying tuition (though, as a side note, I'd add that there is some of this going on in many private schools) but from taxpayers tired of getting taken for a ride.
It should come as no surprise. While Wisconsin teacher unions gather their forces (and drag students out of classes) for protests, reports show that teacher compensation
in Milwaukee exceeds $100K.
People are right to be angry and the situation must (and, of course, will) be corrected one way or another. Yet even if every state in the Union gets its schools operating at maximum efficiency and value, we're still going to have an education problem. Well intentioned (but sadly misguided) liberals are not simply wrong when they insist that fixing education is so important that we shouldn't be so mean as to worry about the costs. Of course education is so important that worrying over costs can make you look mean-spirited or crass. (A counter-intuitive fact, however, is that costs, when managed, tend to have a way of keeping people on task and on target. Still . . . the point about education being important is fair enough.)
Reynolds argues that over the next three to five years we're going to have to completely re-think elementary education if we truly want to understand why it is not living up to its promises and why more funding, when given, does not seem to produce better results. Could it not be that we're throwing good money after bad? Could it not be that we don't know what we're doing educating this generation of kids? Could it not be that a good chunk of the innovative "education theory" that's come down to us over the past several decades is . . . um, bunk? What is the purpose of elementary education in this generation? What kinds of citizens do we need to produce? How are these ends best achieved? What innovations and creative solutions are working?
When those kinds of conversations start happening and schools start turning out students who can be productive on a whole new level, then perhaps teacher unions will find an audience more receptive to the notion that they deserve more . . . and more important, perhaps they will have an audience more capable of paying for it.