Here’s an interesting article from the WSJ

Although it is about the education system in the USA, it is equally applicable to the current situation in the UK – well, in England, at least.


Suppose that groceries were supplied in the same way as K-12 education. Residents of each county would pay taxes on their properties. Nearly half of those tax revenues would then be spent by government officials to build and operate supermarkets. Each family would be assigned to a particular supermarket according to its home address. And each family would get its weekly allotment of groceries—”for free”—from its neighborhood public supermarket.

No family would be permitted to get groceries from a public supermarket outside of its district. Fortunately, though, thanks to a Supreme Court decision, families would be free to shop at private supermarkets that charge directly for the groceries they offer. Private-supermarket families, however, would receive no reductions in their property taxes.

Of course, the quality of public supermarkets would play a major role in families’ choices about where to live. Real-estate agents and chambers of commerce in prosperous neighborhoods would brag about the high quality of public supermarkets to which families in their cities and towns are assigned.

Being largely protected from consumer choice, almost all public supermarkets would be worse than private ones. In poor counties the quality of public supermarkets would be downright abysmal. Poor people—entitled in principle to excellent supermarkets—would in fact suffer unusually poor supermarket quality.

Read the full article here.

34 thoughts on “Here’s an interesting article from the WSJ”

  1. For some reason, html tags don’t seem to be working?

    Nothing wrong with WordPress or the HTML tags, I assure you. 🙂

  2. From what I have observed poor people shop at bad shops anyway by choice. Walmart, Costco and Fred Myers being the rat holes of choice.
    They like the rubbish they sell, greasy high calorie premade factory food. Should they have chosen to go through the grocery ads they could have saved money on healthy food but they wouldn’t eat it anyway.
    Spousal unit is forbidden to cross the threshold of any of these stores for fear of bringing home disease and contamination from any product of customer. They give me the heaves just looking at them in the carpark!
    I don’t suppose the schools are much different!
    I don’t really care too much, I really do think people should think about these things before they blow out innumerable kids that they cannot feed or school properly.

    PS my dogs go shopping for themselves in Petsmart, they select their own treats etc. Do you think they will let them into school too on this premise?
    Actually one of the JRs is smarter than the usual run of the mill kindergartener!

  3. A rather oversimplified way of looking at education and not necessarily valid.

    State education does not have to be bad simply because it is state funded and operated – it’s bad because those in charge of the system have allowed it to deteriorate.

    It hasn’t always been as bad as it is now – most children left the state school system with the basics – now half of them entering University can’t read, write, or compute to the standard of the 1920s when my mother left the state system.

    This guy’s thesis sounds like an attempt to get everyone to pay for education.

  4. First of all, I dislike the crudeness of the analogy, because I view education, particularly literature, as food for the soul and therefore the very antithesis of the consumer driven society in which we live.
    Having said that, I have worked on both sides, private and state, and the reality of my experience does appear to contradict that. Concepts that would get you laughed out of a state school staff room – what; teach Voltaire; teach all personal pronouns; teach the nuts and bolts of English military history…?! – are taken seriously in the independent sector.
    I am a left winger, de souche, and would be loathe to betray my egalitarian ideals on a wing and a prayer while feverishly clutching bunch of of poems and muttering about art…
    But it does, quite honestly,seem to me that we are the ones being betrayed; the ordinary people who have no alternative, no stream of private tutors or wherewithal and no scheming middle class parents to lobby for them. That is why, I suppose, you may be right.

  5. Claire

    It is not only various Governments which have betrayed the education system – but it also the ‘ordinary’ people – many of whom have no time for education at all, but simply see school as a way of getting rid of their kids for a few hours a day. I use the word kids quite deliberately.

    Go back fifty / sixty years and many of those ‘ordinary’ people knew that the way ‘up’ was through education. They may not have had access to private tutors they did at least support schools in what they were trying to do.

    When one gets, as I have, a mother berating me for trying to get her 14 year old son to learn his number bonds and demanding that I make it ‘more interesting’ it’s time to give up – and I did! My answer was that he’d had eight years of maths being made interesting and still hadn’t bothered to learn. She finally understood when I said that he only had one year before he was out in the wide world and anyone would be able cheat him out of his change.

  6. Yes, you are also right, Boa. I think there is a lot of resentment and philistinism – aka chips on shoulders – in many people’s attitudes to education in England. I have been, and to be honest, still am, very much on the receiving end of the sort of attitude that you describe. Many parents seem to think that teachers can just wave a magic wand and somehow conjure up top grades with minimal effort on the part of the kids involved. I suppose you could say that the combination of individual responsibility and the grammar school system meant that there was such a thing as social mobility in the past.

  7. My mother was educated in Southwark. She and her four sisters started school at three and left at fourteen. As far as I can make out, they were all more concerned about what their mother (a widow) would do if they were in trouble at school than what the school would do.

    They weren’t taught a foreign language – but they were taught how to communicate in English. They were taught Shakespeare, poetry, literature and – grammar. They only touched on algebra – but were able to compute in all the different number bases that were part of the Imperial weighing and measuring systems without the aid of a calculator! They had a pretty good general knowledge – not fancy but well sufficient for them to know where Munich is, who Napoleon was, and when the English Civil War was fought and between whom. They were sent out into the world with the basic literacy and numeracy tools, knowledge of what was going on around them and the skills to find out what they needed to know thereafter.

    One of the sisters won a place at a Secondary School, but Nan couldn’t afford the extras that that entailed. Nonetheless, all did very well for themselves – mostly because they knew they sank or swan on their own efforts – and made the effort not to sink.

    Most children who ended up in Grammar Schools got there via the State system. OK so the schools taught to get their pupils in – how bad is that? Everyone benefited.

    The demise of the Grammar Schools, the ending of the grant aided place system, and the removal of ‘streaming’ – all in the name of ‘equality’ was bordering on criminal. Add into the equation that no one is allowed to fail and one has removed all the incentives for anyone to strive to achieve…

    I think at this point I shout “Bah!…” and take a stroll round our very tiny garden 🙂

  8. Boadicea: I went to school in both Germany and California. In high school, one of the top ten in California in its size category, we read 6 plays by Shakespeare, studied poetry, and were given assignments to read literature from around the world. (This includes Classics — we had to read Greek plays and Roman comedies) The teachers generally attempted to teach us grammar, though it obviously was a futile exercise in my case. The biggest problem that we encountered was that one of the teachers, the one who taught the most advanced course (imagine that), didn’t think it was worth teaching grammar or vocabulary. Rather, he preferred to take advantage of his position to undermine another group of teachers. We were also given a general account of world history. I honestly cannot complain about my education, even if it was public. But then, most of my teachers had been doing their jobs for decades and were generally approaching retirement. It seems that the biggest problem is not funding, it is that education has often been turned into a laboratory for new theories and concepts rather than institutions of learning.

  9. It seems that the biggest problem is not funding, it is that education has often been turned into a laboratory for new theories and concepts rather than institutions of learning.

    Absolutely right…

  10. Christina is right. Competition has driven supermarkets to churn out food to appalling standards.

    There are other questionable assumptions implicit in your argument, Bravo.

    1. That education benefits only the person who ‘buys’ it (i.e. nurses, doctors, teachers, scientists, etc.)

    2. That people know what an education will be worth to them when they ‘buy’ it

    3. That people can afford to pay, (or can borrow) the value of the education to them, at the time they need to pay for it. This implies that banks will lend on a very long-term basis if they are prepared to cover the full value of the education to the recipient, and parents will be prepared to become much more indebted than they are at the moment.

    4. That the value of an education is entirely reflected in a subsequent increase in income, which can be used to pay for it (i.e. smart people have no interest in any values other than making money, which implies good health, good social relationships, good environments, and culture are worth nothing if you cannot convert them to money.)

    5. That employers would be prepared to accept a massive lack of skilled workers, because of parents failing to pay for adequate education, or else they would demand massive increases in immigration from countries that fund where the state funds education

    6. That people would accept the consequences of living in a society where most or many people were uneducated and marginalised, and hence very likely driven to criminality.

  11. Nice strawmen, which completely miss the point of the article, which is, that a monopoly organisation grows a bureaucracy which is more interested in preserving the bureaucracy than delivering goods or services to the customer. It was specific to the US, but is also relevant in the context of the UK where education is firmly in the hands of a bureaucracy that has turned what was a working system into one which gives an extremely poor service to ‘many, if not most’ of its consumers.

    Recognizing that the erosion of their monopoly would stop the gravy train that pays their members handsome salaries without requiring them to satisfy paying customers, unions would ensure that any grass-roots effort to introduce supermarket choice meets fierce political opposition.

    I direct attention to the virulent opposition to ‘free schools’ by the education establishment and the teacher’s unions.

  12. JT: have you ever studied tuition voucher programmes in the USA? All legal residents of the US are mandated to receive 12 years of education or pass all requirements to get a GED. (General Education Diploma) Now, in some parts of the US public education is actually reasonably good — New Hampshire, Nebraska, usw. In other parts, such as California, Louisiana, usw it is dismal. A tuition voucher programme, as existed in Washington, DC until Obama stripped children of the only chance they would ever have to get a decent education, consisted of the federal government paying the tuition to a private school. Parents would not be obliged to pay additional money for it, that already comes their taxes. It would likely be similar in the UK — instead of giving the regular sum of money to a failing government-owned school, it would be given to a private school instead.

  13. A similar theme taken up by the headmmaster of Charterhouse school:

    Note that I have railed in these pages against the fact that I, personally, received an excellent education in state schools of the time and that I have written a number of times that it is my opinion that it is outrageous that I had to pay twice to get a similar education for my own children. (After they left the Army schools which, being directly responsible to the parents of the pupils, managed to preserve most of the best aspects of the pre-bureaucratisation of the state system.)

  14. There is no need for a choice of schools because what everyone wants of a school is excellence, for their own children and for everyone else’s, because well-educated people make for a good society. We want all schools to be uniformly excellent, and if they are not, the answer is not to opt out but to use our democratic powers to put matters right.

  15. jt, somewhat pie in the sky.
    Most parents don’t give a tinkers cuss, they regard education as some inglorious childminding service.
    Those that do care prefer to pay these days as it is the only way you can get your child an education unless you are extremely fortunate to be in specific areas where they retained Grammar Schools.
    Plus of course these days one has to pay for a Christian upbringing without a load of woggo religion and multicultural claptrap.

  16. JT

    You have obviously never taught – and it’s a long time since I fled a classroom. Everyone wants a good education for their children? Read my #5 and Claire’s response #6 – and Claire is still in the system.

    What democratic powers are you intending to use to improve education? The only ‘democratic’ right you’ve got is to put a tick on a bit of paper every five years – and then sit back while those you voted in carry on in exactly the same way as the mob you voted out.

  17. There is every need for choice in schools at the moment. The state education system is so bad in some areas that parents will stint themselves to pay for private schooling for their children, despite the fact that they are already paying through their taxes for an education system that is failing. The whole system needs to be overhauled, starting in primary so that the children leave that sector able to read, write and calculate well enough to cope with secondary school.

    Boadicea, the current Education Secretary in Britain is doing his best to improve things, hampered at every turn by most of the teaching unions.

  18. There is every need for a choice. For the simple reason that what might be an ‘excellent’ education for one child is not for another. This whole notion of ‘equality’ of education is what has caused the whole problem. Dishing out one syllabus to all and sundry does not give everyone an education it leaves at least 50% with less than they deserve. Those at the bottom end can’t keep up and end up with nothing and those at the top end up with too little.

    While I would never advocate, as our ancestors did, that those at the bottom should get nothing, one has to be realistic and accept that they will not make a huge contribution to society. However, with the right education they can take care of themselves – and they do not get that with the present system.

    The present ‘everyone must have the same mush’ system does not educate those capable of great achievement to the levels that they can reach – and that we, as a society, need.

    It does not surprise me, Sheona, that it is the teaching unions who are the problem – they are the most blinkered, self-opinionated, self-righteous, and social engineering mob that I have ever come across – and that was me being polite!

    I’m sure I have mentioned this before – but I’ll say it again. Here in Oz, a child’s education ‘quota’ follows him where ever he is educated.

    In 1962, The NSW government demanded that toilet facilities at Our Lady of Mercy Preparatory School in Goulburn be upgraded within 12 weeks of notification. In sympathy for what appeared to be an injustice, as there was no state aid available at the time, all Catholic schools in Goulburn closed their doors. Consequently 2,200 Catholic school children presented themselves for enrolment at Goulburn’s state schools. This doubled the enrolments in the state schools which were not able to cope with the extra students. The government capitulated and paid for the toilet upgrade. The ‘Goulburn Incident’ epitomises the ongoing fight for equitable funding of non-government school students in Australia. Reference

    That incident lead to the government paying the appropriate ‘per capita’ funding for each child enrolled in the private system. Consequently private education is far cheaper here than it is in the UK, and parents don’t have a natural resentment that they are paying twice over for their child’s education.

    Needless to say, we have the same left-wing mob trying to ensure that this stops. After all why should governments be so honest as to pay what they are taking in taxes to private schools so that those of limited means, who are paying those self-same taxes, can have a choice about where to have their children educated?

  19. What we need in UK, Boadicea, is something on the same lines; some sort of voucher system so that the funding follows the child. There are good state schools out there and excellent ones, as well, but the problem is that parents are not allowed to ‘discriminate,’ in their choice of schools, so those that should be left to rot on the vines so that the others can flourish, are kept artificially alive, and never mind the children whose education they ruin.

  20. “Gresham’s law is an economic principle “which states that when government compulsorily overvalues one money and undervalues another, the undervalued money will leave the country or disappear into hoards, while the overvalued money will flood into circulation.”[1] It is commonly stated as: “Bad money drives out good”, but is more accurately stated: “Bad money drives out good if their exchange rate is set by law.”” Wikipedia.

    I think the principle of ‘bad money driving out good’ can be extended to a host of other situations, education being one of them. If educational standards are lowered to meet the needs of the least able members of society the more able members are going to suffer and standards will drop. If government institutions alter their conditions of employment so as to cater for the particular needs and abilities of various immigrants (non English speaking doctors, for example) standards will inevitably fall. Likewise, if the police and army have to lower the physical requirements so as to allow female recruits to qualify, overall standards (of strength, at least) will drop.

    It seems to me that government regulations are designed to ensure that the standard is reduced so that even the worst can qualify. What they should be doing is setting them so high that only the best can qualify. With that philosophy overall standards will improve.

    It is important to realise that in measuring success we have to have something against which to compare performance. The benefits resulting from a well educated British workforce will only be achieved if the educational standard is better than that of its trading competitors. Ultimately, success is relative. In order to succeed, you do not have to be the best you possibly can be, you just have to be better than the rest. I would suggest that the tragedy of British education is not that it is poorer than it used to be, it is that it is poorer than that of our competitors.

  21. JT: I work in education and am a university student myself. It’s pathetic what comes
    out of schools today. People can’t even write a basic essay or string together a
    coherent thesis!
    The bureaucracy is broken. No amount of tinkering will prevent this
    Frankenstein’s monster from getting worse and worse and worse.
    The best example of this is “No Child Left Behind” — the lowest common
    denominator is able to hold back the entirety of a class, things are only
    getting worse, and students are drilled to pass exams but not to think.
    Whenever school choice has been tried, it’s been successful. Washington, DC was
    an excellent choice — many students who would never get anywhere otherwise were given
    a chance and made the most of it.

  22. christinaosborne :

    jt, somewhat pie in the sky.
    Most parents don’t give a tinkers cuss

    That is why it is so important to provide every child with an education that is mandatory, free, and excellent.

    Boadicea :

    What democratic powers are you intending to use to improve education? The only ‘democratic’ right you’ve got is to put a tick on a bit of paper every five years

    Your democratic powers are bigger than that. You can lobby your MP, PM, cabinet ministers etc, write to the press, organise demonstrations, hold meetings, set up petitions, blog where it matters, join the party most likely to get the changes you want implemented, stand for parliament – your democratic powers are limited only by your energy and your imagination.

    By universal excellence I don’t mean that every child should or could be turned into an Oxbridge candidate. I mean having the resources and the willpower to make the very most of every child according to their ability.

    In Switzerland no-one sends their children to private schools unless they have special needs. The ordinary local schools are well-resourced and pupils are treated equally, whether their parents are bankers, doctors or dustbinmen. There are seldom more than twenty pupils per class. Each child is expected to shake the teacher’s hand on entering and leaving the classroom: a small thing which I believe makes a big difference.
    While far from perfect, Switzerland has far less in the way of social problems than the UK (despite a high immigrant population). The UK could learn a lot from the Swiss.

  23. Sigh, I repeat. I had an excellent education in the state system. The people you are talking about lobbying, writing to, and so on and so forth are the people who have wrecked the system. The people who keep the system wrecked are the bureaucrats. The people who are doing something about it are those who are providing choice.

    The UK don’t have to look abroad to see a system which works, all we have to do is look back to when we had such a system ourselves. And no, I am not advocating some back to the future, nostalgic re-invention of the 1950’s, merely pointing out that what has been achieved can be aspired to.

    The dead hand of bureaucracy is what needs removing.

  24. … it is so important to provide every child with an education that is mandatory, free, and excellent.

    That we can agree about – but you don’t do that by limiting choices. You have to take politics out of the State class-rooms and put common sense back in. The sort of common sense that starts with the ability and will to impose discipline and ends up with throwing out social engineering and socialist clap-trap. If one wants to raise standards then one must set standards and the nonsense that does not allow any one to fail clearly lowers standards.

    You may have the will, the energy and the time to lobby MPs etc, but 99.99% of most parents haven’t. The majority of Mr, Mrs and Miss Blogs don’t give two hoots about education – school is a convenient place to pack their children off to every day. It was and, I have no doubt, still is a common complaint that the parents one really wants to see on open evenings are precisely those parents who don’t turn up. If they can’t be bothered to do that, what chance is there of them lobbying MPs, etc?

  25. Bravo

    The dead hand of bureaucracy is what needs removing.

    That is true, but one also needs to remove all the political rubbish as well. Schools should be where children receive an education and should not be used as places where left-wing political theories take precedence over what actually works.

  26. Boa: in my opinion, the bureaucracy is actually a part of the political rubbish. There is a huge amount of self justifying, wasteful paperwork – targets, monitoring procedures,health and safety, citizenship…Every Child Matters meetings…Assessment for Learning meetings… self evaluation procedures…the list goes on.
    I have just spent an hour filling in an ethnic monitoring questionnaire, which asked me whether I was white, black, Hindu, Sikh, Christian, bi sexual, lesbian, etc – and concluded by enquiring whether I worked in the gender role opposite to that which was assigned to me at birth…
    The mind boggles.

  27. Good God Claire, that is not only a waste of time – but it is an absolute intrusion into your personal life and has nothing at all to do with whether you can / cannot teach.

    I find it quite incredible that one cannot ask a woman if she is intending to have children – but that anyone can be asked and expected to reveal such personal information.

  28. Huge waste of time, Boa. I have been asked leading questions about my kids – pertaining to, how do you cope, and do you intend to drop any more sprogs – but don’t mind, actually. I kind of appreciate the honesty, and the recognition that motherhood is not something that can be airbrushed out of the equation.
    I do object to the pointless bureaucracy, however. Sometimes – and I have heard many a teacher say this – it is actually a relief to get into a classroom and teach, because that way no one can come chasing you with a pile of forms.

  29. Bravo, you seem to think I missed the point of the article, but I think you must have missed the point of the article. As Boadicea said, it sounds like an attempt to get everyone to pay for their education. In suggesting schools could operate like supermarkets, how could it be otherwise. The analogy is dangerous, for the reasons I outlined in #11.

  30. Not so, JT, the article is about bureaucracy – check out the situation in the US. Besides, who do you think pays for education, the Education Fairy?

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