Monday, January 30, 2012

Perverse Incentives and Education in Dallas

The Dallas Independent School District (DISD) has recently decided to shut down several schools to save money. This could be a great opportunity to shut down the worst schools and get rid of all the bad teachers who help make those schools so bad. Instead, DISD has decided to shut down their exemplary schools, meaning they will be getting rid of their best teachers.

What corporation in the market economy would act like this, shutting down their best performing companies and keeping open their worst? If you saw this happening, you would know there were perverse incentives afoot. No company keeps an unprofitable sector of their business around unless there was something in it for them -- unless they were getting subsidies or tax breaks -- or both. And this is what we should expect when we see a school district shutting down their best schools and keeping open their worse.

Of course, it is the state and federal government which is providing the perverse incentives. If there is a low performing school, their solution is to throw more money at it. High performing schools get less money, because it is perceived that they don't "need" it. There is a mistaken belief in government that if something is not working, it is because not enough money is being spent. Thus, there is a financial incentive to shut down good schools and keep bad schools, since the latter get more money. Of course, most of that extra money goes to bureaucrats who are only going to make matters worse, and to utterly useless technology (not all technology is useless, of course -- but my experience is that much of it bought for our schools is utterly useless, especially after, say, a bulb goes out on a $1000 piece of equipment, and the money is not available to buy new bulbs, which are not as sexy as new equipment, even if it is the new bulbs which are actually needed!).

The federal and state governments consistently make our educational system worse and worse -- and then they turn around and blame the teachers, who are doing the best they can in the institutions created by ignorant legislators and selfish bureaucrats. Teacher pay is cut, but not a single bureaucrat's pay -- or job -- is under threat, even though letting go a few of those useless, value-destroying parasites would probably solve most budget problems.
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