When money is exchanged for a good or service, the buyer and seller enter a contract where the product offered will meet expectations and achieve advertised results; and if it doesn't, some form of restitution/refund is expected.
In a market economy, providers of goods or services that do not operate with integrity should as a matter of course lose customers and go under. This behavior is enforced in America by the Federal Trade Commission. With all of this, one would think that the American consumer is well taken care of... but no.
In 2008, Americans spent almost $600 billion (via income taxes alone) on public education (or well over $10,000 per student per year). That's a lot of money. Where is the consumer protection? If a student doesn't successfully complete high school, fails to get accepted to college, or fails to get a job, shouldn't the "buyers" be entitled to a refund? What if the school doesn't do enough to educate a child? What then? How does one get restitution?
If we look at Education America as a business (EA.com), who are its customers? What is the product (how do they create value)? What does the model look like?
- EA.com creates value by taking raw materials (students age 5) and machines (curriculum, exams, standards) them within its factories (schools) and with its workers (teachers) into theoretically actualized, independent, and contributing members of society (students age 18-ish) 13 years later.
- A company's customers are the ones that pay for the good or service, or in this case, the American taxpayer. The customers are the ones that have already passed through the system, not the ones currently in the system. Their stake is in the "future value" of EA's product and not in the process. This is a pretty significant nuance, and rather convenient for EA.com as its customers are unable to judge the quality of the product until well after the product has left the factory, and the payments have been collected.
- The model is brilliant - get paid to crank out widgets according to an external specification (curriculum) and measured based on an antiquated (standardized tests) assessment, which has no connection to the graduate's ability or likelihood to succeed per the customers' requirements (blue text in #1 above).
By the time you realize the education you bought your child didn't meet expectations, it's already too late 'cause they've already graduated. And since there are no refunds, EA.com is counting on the fact that you will recognize there is no value to airing your very legitimate grievance, and just give up.
This can't be allowed to go on. Since a bad-education-refund is not possible, what can we do??? Where is our Fair Education Commission???
In the spirit of my last post, to create change, we must identify the most influential constituency, pick the most provocative issue, and pour some Tabasco into that wound.
The only way to truly and sustainably change Education America is to mobilize most if not all citizens to vigilantly ensure #1 above for every child. Adults aren't doing this today because it's in their past, and they don't correlate it to their future. We need to reposition Education and make it much, much more viscerally relevant to everyone.
Education America is funded by American taxpayers, all of whom are current or future retirees. Every one of whom expects to receive Social Security and Medicare until they die. Social Security and Medicare (SS&M) are the political third rail - the one place where all political parties fear to tread. This is because both are at risk of bankruptcy, and more taxpayers are closer to retirement than ever before (i.e. they are going bankrupt faster).
SS&M were designed on the premise that there will always be more employees than retirees (bizarrely, no-one counted on people being healthier, living longer, having less kids) and that the current employees' taxes keep the system afloat (unemployment = bad). So if I'm retiring in the next 10-20 years, I want to make damned sure that today's students are VERY employable and will pay a ton of taxes, otherwise all I've done is fund my parents' retirement, and I'm left holding the bag.
Strategy: Make SS&M the wound, a poor education the Tabasco, and push the masses to personally focus on improving Education America to ensure their retirement benefits.
Let's take a look at the "biggest" education change agent in America - the Gates Foundation. They are investing a TON of money (my guess: $1-3billion/year), but that's less than 0.5% of the total education budget - a relative pittance. They can't make a big enough impact with that - they need a bigger lever.
Rather than creating programs, they should stand squarely on the third rail (since they're not political), and use their $Billions to create a fervor among Democrats and Republicans alike. If the citizens of America want to ensure SS&M access for their own retirement, they need to make sure that EVERY student graduates and is very GAINfully employed very soon after. The Foundation should produce a clear, simple list of three things that the voters must expect from Education America in the upcoming election (step 1). In the following election round, they should specify the next three things that voters must focus on (step 2), and so on.
We can't get a refund on the misspent $600 billion - let's at least make sure all future money is spent well.