Thursday, August 19, 2010

Central Planning Misallocates Resources -- Education Edition

Last night I had a discussion with my wife, who is an elementary school teacher, about how there is no correlation between spending per pupil and educational outcomes. In fact, there is almost a negative correlation. She pointed out that her district did in fact spend a lot, and the educational outcomes were some of the best in the nation. True enough (not that that's a real horse race in this country). Still, I argued, most of the spending on technology was a complete waste, because there was no correlation (again, more of a negative one) between use of technology in a classroom and educational outcomes. I argued that most of what we do in education is a distraction. I'm not sure she really believed me.

One of the pieces of technology in question is one my wife was exciting to get. She told me that everyone in the district received these new computer pads that you can write on and with which you can project what you write using a projector that comes with it. A thousand dollars apiece, and each teacher in the district got one. Everyone is being trained on them, and everyone is expected to use them. My wife has been looling forward to using it, so my diatribe against technology in the classroom really rained on her parade.

Today, my wife comes home and tells me that the lights on the projectors have been burning out. The lights are $300 each, and the district doesn't have any money available for new bulbs. In other words, when the bulb runs out, the pad is practically useless for classroom use (it will still work on the computer -- but you can't have 20 kids sitting around a laptop). So those whose projector bulb has already blown will be unable to use it at all -- and it will sit in the corner, collecting dust. A thousand dollar paperweight. The rest, knowing the looming problem, will be reluctant to use the pad for fear that the bulb will burn out and they won't be able to use it at all.

You have to love the outcomes of central planning. Combine it with fad-chasing, and you have the public school system in a nutshell.

My wife confessed to me that she almost didn't want to tell me what happened with the bulbs. Not only will they likely be pedagogically useless -- it turns out each one will soon become literally useless.
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