National Public Education
16Aug/110

Do We Want a Successful State-run Program?

Suppose that we had a successful state-run school system in this country.  One where the states were increasing their educational success and the public was generally satisfied with their progress.  What would that look like?  Would it be something that we would want?

If we wanted the state system to work, we would have to lessen the amount of mobility out of the states.  Currently only about 62% of the U.S. population is living in the state they were born in.  This means that, roughly, more than a third of the people educated in any one state move to another.  What is the point, then, in working hard to make your state’s educational program excellent?  More than a third of the benefit from that excellence is going to move off somewhere else.  The only logical way to treat such a situation is to aim for a middle ground in your educational efforts, so that you don’t produce graduates who are better than average.  High mobility has to lead to mediocre state programs.

In Canada, where it can be argued that provincial-run education does work well, the percent of the population that is living in the province where they were born is about 85%.  Only about 15% leave the province they were educated in, or less than half the U.S. rate.  If we want to succeed at a state-run program here, we would have to get our out-of-state migration rates down to about that level.

Then it would make sense for the state residents to invest in their own state’s educational programs.  If you all stay in the state,  then it makes sense to hire good 7th grade math teachers because the better students they produce will be the ones you work with, or live next to, later in life when both you and they are still in your state.  Then you all will have better jobs and better communities, and your kids will too.

But only if you, and your kids, stay in the state.  You cannot move to another state for a better job, or more opportunity, or a better climate.  And, you cannot take advantage of the power of this country, either.  You have to rely on the power of your state.  Google may be doing well, but that is not going to affect you unless you happen to be in a state where they operate.  To benefit fully from your state’s educational program, you have to regard it as your one and only source of power and success.

This means, too, giving up on any attempt to improve the overall educational strength of the U.S.  A state program has no control over the country as a whole.  To make a state program work you have to focus on that program, not the country.  Of course, success in the state may help the country succeed, but this is only by chance.  The state cannot set out to improve the country.  State success may have little effect on the overall improvement of the country if other states do poorly and cancel out its contribution.  A state program cannot change the success of the country as a whole any more than it could change the educational success of a foreign country.

In the end, then, making the state-run school system work would mean shifting our allegiance to the states rather than the nation.  It would mean that we would actually have to care more about the success of our state than the success of our country.  The state would have to become our true home, not America.

So we could make our current state-run system work.  The question is, do we want to?  Do we ever want to put our efforts more towards our states than our country, and do we want to limit ourselves to residing only in the one state where we were educated?  If the answer to these questions is no, then there is no way we can ever have a successful state-run educational program.

Peter Dodington

8/16/11