For years now I've been listening to some people with MBAs (and others who think they know as much as people with MBAs) say that lacking the free market principles--namely the compulsion to turn a profit--public schools will never achieve efficiency or effectiveness.
This alleged imperative has led us to replicate the business profit model in our schools with the false currency of standardized testing data (and in so doing helped the testing industry turn its own healthy profit). But that has only served to erode the quality of education as misguided administrators and teachers put these super-valued test scores ahead of actual student learning.
The test-score faithful also believe that such numbers can measure teacher effectiveness but instead have given ineffective teachers new tools with which to be not teach: pass out the test-prep papers and go back to their newspaper and smart phone. And so we are still left to rely almost entirely on the good will of principled teachers and the false hope that all of us care enough about our students to do our job at a level of excellence the system currently does not demand of us.
But there may be a better way. Out of the calamity of our last economic bubble comes a formula by which we might finally assign the proper value to students in our K-12 education system:
Go public with public education and let individuals legally invest in (bet on) student success.
Deregulating the financial industry now enables disinterested third parties to invest their money by insuring all manner of third-party assets -- including, now infamously, sub-prime mortgage securities. Let's use that same gimmick to buy and sell shares of the success of children in our classes and let the value of those assets be expressed in our financial markets.
Buy shares of tenth grade Carman's future. Cash in when and if she graduates high school and cash in again if she gets her degree. Or hedge Carman and get your pay-off if she drops out, gets pregnant as a teenager, gets arrested, or in some other way becomes a burden to society.
Bring all those stock analysts and investment gurus to our classrooms -- they'll rate every student and teacher in the system if investment dollars are at stake. Every teacher and school and probably every parent -- blue chip or junk bond or something inbetween. Those brokerage firms with clients heavily invested in success will make darn sure we all have adequate materials working conditions. They'll figure out how to make teachers and administrators be fair and effective or get out.
So step up, Wall Street and investors. Buy shares in Nicole, my 11th grade AP student. This might be insider trading information coming from me but I can tell you she's a low-risk investment -- all but guaranteed to pay off. She's got a GPA above 4.0 and reads and writes like a third year college student. I wouldn't hedge this young lady.
If you're looking for something riskier with a higher yield, there's my freshman Jon -- I believe in him but right now his skills are lagging, his attendance is kind of shaky, and he's been in trouble with the law.
Of course, whether or not you choose to invest in one of my students or any other K-12 student, you'll probably still be banking on this entire generation to pay for at least for part of your retirement.