Suggested Audience: High school students who are contemplating college and feel that something is wrong, parents of high school students who are contemplating college and feel that something is wrong, every person in America that is concerned about education.
I recently won a copy of The New School on Twitter from TheBlaze Books (and, by the way, if you are a reader, you are truly missing out if you are not following what they are doing).
Glenn Harlan Reynolds is the Beauchamp Brogan Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Tennessee. You can check out his blog over at InstaPundit.com.
Reynolds’ basic premise in this book is that American education system, both the K-12 public system and college, is due for a revolution brought on by both market forces and improving technologies. One of the things I really like about this book is that it’s short and concise, yet quite profound in the point it is making.
The book is split up into five chapters. Reynolds’ starts off with a brief history of education in America. Basically, we imported a 19th century Prussian education model. For many years, this system worked quite well for America, but its usefulness is starting to wain.
I definitely agree with that point of view. As someone who has two traditional university degrees and works inside of the belly of the K-12 beast, I am starting to see large indicators that the old model needs to change.
In the second chapter, Reynolds takes a look at higher education. His overarching argument is that college is a “bursting bubble.” I was impressed with his honest assessment of the system that he works inside of and agreed with many of his conclusions.
I thought this chapter was quite refreshing. Finally, someone is saying something that I keep thinking. College is overpriced and overvalued, and all we do as a society is continue to tell all students that it is worth their time and money. Sadly, college is often purchased with significant chunks of future time and money in the form of debt payments. I am a big Dave Ramsey fan. He often jokes that we tell kids that if they want to go get a BA in German polka dancing history, or some equally worthless degree, it is okay because college debt is “good debt.”
As Reynolds points out, American student loan debt has surpassed the trillion-dollar mark. The number of student-loan debtors actually equals the number of people with college degrees. This is a big problem (and a gigantic debt bubble), and it worries me that it is going to have a negative impact on the economy as a whole.
So what happens when the bubble bursts? According to Reynolds, administrators will first do what administrators do best, deny and try to protect the status quo. (I was especially taken aback at the discussion of how administrator laden many colleges are in this country. Nationally, administrators are coming to outnumber faculty!) Administrators will try to create more revenue by raising tuition, but eventually there will be market forces that cause things to move in the other direction. Expect colleges to begin discounting tuition, and once that begins, expect destruction to begin. Reynolds anticipates a race to the bottom. Some colleges will be forced to close their doors, but overall, you should see cheaper college rates as the system begins to normalize.
What to do? First, and I couldn’t agree more, don’t go into debt for college. If you are still going to go to college, consider lower cost colleges. You may want to even reconsider the whole idea of attending college. Apprenticeships may be a viable alternative. He gives evidence that there may be a growing trend here.
With regards to reform of the college system itself, Reynolds encourages universities to not go on spending binges. Colleges have to think about curriculum and delivery reform (i.e. better use of web based classes). He also thinks colleges need to raise their level of rigor. Another thought, and one that I thought was a great idea, encourage budget transparency of both public and private universities. I’d love to see the books ripped open in my state colleges for all to see. One other intriguing suggestion was to make college loans bankruptable after 10 years and make the institutions that got the loan money responsible for a small percentage of the loss. As Reynolds states, our current system puts all the risks of the loans on the student and taxpayer. That is not right, and I agree it should change.
Finally, Reynolds closes the chapter with a look at the politics of the issue. He also takes a look at some future scenarios of how this all plays out. The common thread that runs through them is that higher education will not be as well off as it has been in the past.
The next chapter of the book focused on lower education in America. I was not as impressed with this part of the book. I found Reynolds’ research lacking. When I say this, I’m not saying Reynolds is completely wrong. As mentioned above, I am a public educator, and I can see it from inside the system. The traditional K-12 system has to change to become better, but I’m not sure there is enough political pressure to get it to change.
Politically and culturally the traditional model of K-12 education is entrenched in this society. Survey research conducted by Gallup has shown for some time now (and see this) that Americans view something wrong with the K-12 system as a whole, but when asked about their school system they often respond with more favorable results. Ask them about their child’s school and they are even happier.
I’m not confident that there is enough parents that actually want the K-12 system to change. I about fell out of my seat with this statement, “with changing societal attitudes toward parenting, many of today’s parents are more involved and interested in their kid’s education.”
Ummm….uhhhhh….yeah, right….come spend a couple weeks with me in my classroom. I have been in a couple different districts in my short tenure in public schools. Parents are so not involved it’s startling at times. If anything, the movement in this country among the mass populace is towards less involvement in their child’s life. Those parents that are involved tend to do what Reynolds’ acknowledges, vote with their feet. Of course, that just usually just involves moving to another school district they like more.
I am hopeful that the political chaos that Common Core is causing may be a catalyst for change. I also think that the implosion of the Code Red monetary policies in the next 5-10 years may force some reform as well. When money starts to get tight again, many public districts are going to be up a creek without a paddle.
Despite my qualms with his chapter on K-12, this is an excellent book and well worth the read. It’s a discussion more people need to be having. If you have an interest in education, I think this book is a must-read for you.