- - Thursday, September 18, 2014

Last in a series.

New York-Amid transformation globally, America’s bloated, unionized and archaic education bureaucracy is choking off the impulse to profit from past mistakes and promote essential learning here at home.

In 2012, we spent the mammoth sum of $811 billion on public education — only 15 countries in the world generated total economic output in 2013 that was greater.

Notwithstanding this outsized spending, the overwhelming mass of our student population fails to outshine global peers on standardized tests, a seemingly intractable situation that has persisted for years.

One reason for America’s poor relative performance may be the bias ingrained into our country that education is something performed primarily in an institutional setting, outside the home, interacting mostly with teachers.

This rigid plank in our thinking runs counter to the experience of Albert Einstein, who sagely noted: “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.”

Learning is a life-long process we must cultivate before,during and after students sit in classrooms.

Why we must change profoundly

Consistent underperformance versus human competitors for scarce jobs is only one portion of a mounting problem, exacerbated by ineffective education.

Those in and planning to enter the workforce are under constant, rising threat as inventors continue to bring down the cost and expand the functionality of machines.

When you read “The Age of Spiritual Machines,” published in 1998 by Ray Kurzweil and “The Second Machine Age,” offered this year by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, you will understand why reforming the ways in which Americans learn must become a top national priority.

Machines in many industries are already pushing humans forever out of jobs that once provided growing incomes, sufficient to nurture millions of families.

Tireless, reliable, and today less expensive than humans, machines enhance financial returns for America’s investing class — a tiny minority — but they do not need items like housing, transport or food so their widening presence reduces demand across the wider economy.

Meanwhile, a steadily growing population whose dwindling incomes are the prime means available to service towering debt obligations places America in unusual jeopardy.

We must come together, across party lines, and retool the delivery system by which each of us learns — here, we may be able to turn technology and innovation from an enemy into a friend.

Unclogging the arteries in America’s education system

In education, America’s unionized, and cartelized delivery system resembles some of the noblest sounding, yet worst run charities ever conceived.

In the name of helping future generations, we spend vast sums without thinking carefully about who is truly harmed and who actually benefits.

In 1998, America spent $426.7 billion on public education — in that year there were 78.3 million persons aged 5 to 24 who might have been in school. So public education expenditures were $5,446 per person, calculating these using a conservative approach.

Also in 1998, 7.2 million full-time equivalent employees in education earned $346.8 billion in total compensation or $47,940 per employee, so 81 percent of the cost of public education was for compensation and benefits.

By 2010, the cost of public education ballooned 91 percent to $813 billion, yet the number of school-age persons climbed only 8.1 percent to 84.6 million, so public education expenditures per school age person grew 76 percent to $9,604.

Moreover, compensation to educators and administrators in the public system rose to $634.8 billion, or $78,852 per full-time equivalent employee and compensation costs were 78 percent of the total.

To make the kind of sweeping changes that are urgently required, we can not tinker around the work rules and contract-based obstacles put in place by public sector unions that believe they can defy laws of economics forever—these must go, they serve only a narrow slice of the workforce and have harmed America long enough.

We already have means at our disposal to share knowledge cheaply and continually inside and outside the classroom—these means are sure to get vastly less expensive as technology hurtles forward.

Now we need to move the most important part of our economy, our education sector, into the future where students of all ages can progress as
swiftly as they care too, measuring themselves against the best and the brightest all over America and across the globe.

From an agrarian schedule, our education system should move to one where employees work throughout the year interacting more closely with all those inside communities who wish to learn and help others learn.

What unions have broken starting inside classrooms, households and innovators must now band together and fix.

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