Why EdChoice is so Beneficial: Removing Parkinson’s Law from the public education debate in Ohio

I’ve been watching and listening to the whole debate about EdChoice in Ohio with great interest. Of course, the Ohio Senate had to vote to delay the implementation of Ed Choice which was scheduled to take effect the day of this writing, until April 1st 2020. The public schools in particular have responded terribly to it, including the school in my own district which I’ve written a lot about, Lakota. It has been nothing short of embarrassing to listen to Lakota’s superintendent complain about the funding model that is coming whether they like it or not and move the entire district into a victimized status so quickly on the issue. The report back from some financial news from Lakota has not been good and they are floating the idea for another levy which would be a terrible, anti-growth tax increase just to supplement their mismanaged spending habits, so the news was bad enough. This EdChoice debate has only made things worse. Dealing with professional educators to me is the worst experience that there is in professional politics because they are so entitled and unrealistic about what they think their financial requirements should be, so we’ll deal with some of that here, and in the coming months. Listening to politicians attempt to put their minds around what to do about EdChoice, which is simply a grading system that inspires the financial contributions of the state to follow the student of that failing school to the school of their choice. This of course leaves variability in public school budgets for money they have been used to getting now going to an unpredictable number of students who may decide to go somewhere else with that precious state money.

I listened to Bill Cunningham and Representative Bill Seitz talk about this EdChoice problem on WLW and every word made me cringe. Here were two people who call themselves rock ribbed Republicans missing the whole point of the public education debate. Now, my history with these two is that they are on the wrong side of many issues. They mean well like a lot of people do, but their perspective has been tainted by years of acceptance of a system initiated by people like John Dewey during an experimentation of many things during the progressive era at the turn of the last century and like many have accepted that that’s just the way things are and the way they will always be. Money goes to the school from the state to teach children living in that district not just skills for a future job, but to turn them into democratic citizens with an emphasis on social change. In hindsight this has been a complete disaster, look at the products of the schools, which many of us are. People aren’t very smart, and they don’t set their sights very high in life. Dewey’s mistake was in attempting to steer society away from republic representation and more toward democratic majority rule, which we all know now is a disaster at the epistemological level.

For the two Bills talking on WLW about EdChoice, they are both people in their 60s and 70s now, to them public school is about sports programs, learning to follow orders so that kids learn to live in a civil society, and in establishing much needed social connections with peers. Way back, many decades ago when my wife and I pulled our kids out of public schools for a year to teach them at home because the results were just so disappointing we had family members literally melt under the news because they were afraid my kids would turn into complete social outcasts, because they believed after so many years of this Dewey philosophy that the goal of public schools was to establish these mental applications. Of course, those sentiments were completely fear based, just as about everything in public education is. We have learned to just accept the failure that is evident because that’s always the way we have done things. People like the “Bills” on WLW enjoy the idea that their public school is the holder of real-estate value, and that Friday Night Lights football in the fall months of every year make for great conversation. But it was flawed from the beginning and never was poised to do what Dewey wanted because his fundamental problem was in thinking that the state as a central authority should be in charge. It was a progressive experiment, but not a very “Republican” thing to do.

Schools like Lakota and many others who are complaining about the insecurity in their funding model should be looking at the situation like any business would instead of some free-loader sitting in a bird nest of a rich district and opening their mouths for tax money to flow in. They should be working to be the best school with the best options in a free market society. No matter what the report card states in giving families the choice of a school they’d like to go to, Lakota should feel confident that kids would want to go to their school for all the reasons that anybody would, to get a good education, be near a good sports program, or just to be around other students who aren’t problems coming from broken families. Students should have a choice and if Lakota wants those students, they should have to work to attract them.

The most tragic thing I have noticed, looking at the situation professionally, is that all public schools have become addicted to the natural state of Parkinson’s Law that has contaminated their budgeting structures. Everyone who has been involved professionally in process improvements understands that Parkinson’s Law is an adage that states “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion,” meaning that a work schedule blankly stated will allow a worker to fill that time allotment from beginning to end by the nature of human interaction. If you give someone an hour to do a 5-minute job, they’ll take the whole hour. Process improvement demands to understand how long it actually takes to do a job, and to work out the tendencies of Parkinson’s Law to misstate labor needs. Well, that same tendency is at the center of the public education debate all across the country, and is why the EdChoice trend is so badly needed. Budgets have been filled to their maximum to accommodate whatever the state provides and to what extent local school district tax payers will put up with in increased levies driven by labor unions looking to use Parkinson’s Law to attach need to student performance by using the chaos of money going to the schools, not the student, to keep the process centrally controlled and with a false understanding of what education per student should cost, leaving the real state funding model perpetually broken, which is just how the labor unions and lazy superintendents like it.

Clearly what we have had hasn’t worked. Education needs reformed and the centralized aspects of it need to be removed. Free market solutions are the only way to improve schools and the students that come from them. People should have the option to vote with their feet putting schools into the same competitive situation that every restaurant, shopping complex and entertainment destination must do, compete for the dollars available. Education is not so sacred to not be attached to competitive market conditions, end of story. A quick look at our students declares that trying something new wouldn’t hurt, because we couldn’t do worse. And ultimately that is the direction of education anyway, just as the trends of the world are declaring. People want more choices in life, not less, and it’s a matter of time anyway where money for education shouldn’t even come from the state. But while it does, it should go to the students so they can vote with their feet. Not to hold them to a school that doesn’t feel it has to earn their business. If Lakota is such a great school, or any government school for that matter, don’t tell us how good you are. Make yourself one of those schools that people want to go to. Make it so that you are so crowded that you must turn people away, which only increases the value of the product. Sure, it makes the current way that schools do business chaotic, it forces them to understand how much Parkinson’s Law is in their processes. It forces the teacher unions to think differently for sure. But that is their problem, not ours. And the state will never know how much it should spend on students so long as Parkinson’s Law is contaminating their assumptions. That is the key to this whole discussion and we’re going to have it now or in a few years, but the way things have been are not the way things are going to be. The old Dewey model was poised from the outset to fail. But these days, life happens too fast and there is just too much to learn to attempt to squeeze everything into the traditional classroom setting that we have been attempting to do. The times and this new economy are forcing us to change, so let’s get at it and solve this problem once and for all by looking at the entire concept differently.

Rich Hoffman