Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Texas Education

The New York Times has a highly detailed article on a Turkish social movement (a bunch of Islamic moderates) operating a chain of charter schools in Texas. It purports to be an investigative piece, but it’s hard to say how much there is there—it accuses the chain of not living up to the spirit of H-1B visas for special talents (they like to bring in Turk teachers even though they have no apparent special skills), and of relying on Turkish contractors, builders, etc. Honestly this does seem pretty minor, and I do think a bit of xenophobia motivated the article—if these were a bunch of tough-talking Texans I bet there isn’t a big to-do. Nevertheless it is somewhat interesting that a social movement could decide to influence American education en masse and might be something to think about when debating charter schools.

However, it’s this little detail that I thought was worth dragging out:
The Texas Education Agency has a total of nine people overseeing more than 500 charter school campuses. “They don’t have the capacity at the state level to do the job,” said Greg Richmond, president of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. Even so, the state’s education commissioner, Robert Scott, last year took the unusual step of granting Harmony permission to open new schools outside the normal approval process.

Nine people for 500 school campuses? Ah, Texas, you sure know how to do your government lazy. If you’re not going to trust your government big, you might as well not trust your government small either. Many advocates of various small government or market-oriented solutions to problems don’t realize this, or don’t sufficiently account for this in their thinking, but markets are fragile entities that need the authorities present at various times for various reasons. The market isn’t a clean model; it’s a chaotic, turbulent sea. Given the problems Texas has had with, for example, high-stakes test cheating, it might behoove them to keep and retain experienced regulators.

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