Parents hate it

Saturday, May 25th, 2024

Case Against Education by Bryan CaplanA reader of Bryan Caplan’s The Case Against Education who recently caught Roland Fryer on EconTalk (Oct 2022 episode) suggested an unholy synthesis of Caplan and Fryer:

If we simply assert that it is desirable to have students master a subject, then it is at least valuable to know (if that is indeed what we know) that paying students directly to master material is much more effective than paying other people to offer free education to students who are completely unpaid in the near term for being compelled to encounter the material.

One could imagine an extreme synthesis of Caplan and Fryer that says the state is primarily interested only in teaching those skills you’ve called truly general purpose — literacy and numeracy — and to achieve student learning in these fields we have devised a system of payments to students that are contingent on reaching micro-milestones (e.g., what one might reasonably learn and demonstrate mastery of after spending 60 minutes on Khan Academy) in progress towards mastery of arithmetic, basic algebra, phonics, and reading comprehension. If students find it most cost-effective to earn those payments by subcontracting to tutors and educational coaches who help them reach these milestones (or even on-demand traditional in-class lectures if preferred), then we will primarily see the growth in supply of pedagogical methods which are most capital efficient relative to a desired learning outcome.

Caplan added that it would be better to pay periodically for continuing good scores to avoid mere cramming, and that led to this comment:

Our kids’ elementary school recently started doing cumulative testing throughout the year. Basically every week they have a test that goes back and tests on material covered earlier. I’d say maybe 80% new material, 20% old material, but that’s a pretty big test. Parents hate it, partly because they just hate having a significant test each weak, partly because they don’t have a way to help the kids prepare, and partly because kids are doing poorly on them.

In the parents defense, I think a lot of the tests are poorly constructed and have poor questions. (I think but do not know that they are mostly taking questions from prior state tests that students did poorly on, with no understanding of whether that’s because it’s a poorly phrased question or whether it was really a harder question intended to distinguish between top tier students.)

But the school administrators I think have been somewhat shocked by how little interest the parents have in what information their children have retained versus making sure their kids have good grades. In elementary school. Not even grades that will show up on a college application.

Again, in the parents defense, there has been grade inflation for so long it’s hard for 3rd or 4th grader that’s formerly a straight A student to understand suddenly routinely get B’s and C’s or worse on tests each week. And it’d be less frustrating if the people doing the testing understood something about constructing tests (if almost all of the class is failing because of the current material and not the past material, that’s almost certainly a reflection of the teacher and/or the test, not the children). But the parents weren’t really even interested in trying to continue tweaking the process. They were just worried about getting bad grades and the need to study for a test each week interfering with travel sports practices.

Parents want their children to do well, but not in the objective sense of learning and retaining more.


  1. Jim says:

    Those who would send off their flesh and blood to spend their formative years being “taught” by middle-aged women in between rounds of TikTok are fundamentally unserious to the point that they may well deserve what is coming to them. The masses really are goyim.

  2. VXXC says:

    The Parents don’t want kids; they just sort of happened. Neither do the teachers.

    Most men-fathers will admit school is daycare.

    If your kids are still in school… lol

  3. Phileas Frogg says:

    After having been at this in Public Education for a decade I have to say, I concluded awhile back that learning is pretty close to rock-bottom in terms of parental priorities for their children.

    High-achieving, intelligent parents are usually the worst. Their main priority is the class distinction education provides. They only care about rigor insofar as it keeps the distinction rarified; actual content knowledge is blasé and banal.

    My own extended family is composed of practical-minded middle-class German professionals (in various fields ranging from law and medicine, to education and finance), and they are all boggled at my decision to homeschool my daughters. They’re always genuinely impressed by their vocabulary, thoughts, and general indicators of academic awareness at family get-togethers, but then turn around 5 minutes later and comment about the need for them to be “properly socialized” and ask, “Aren’t you worried they’ll be different?”

    They don’t care about socialization, they don’t care about education, they don’t care about anyone’s immortal soul. They care about conformity, status, and public perception.

  4. Jim says:

    Mass schooling is an artifact of the advanced industrial state, a mechanism to produce a mass man of acceptable quality to run the factories of the arsenal of freedom and democracy. No son of nobles or merchants was ever “homeschooled”, although to a boy they were tutored.

  5. VXCC,

    Yup, it is the default baby sitter of the nation’s kids and allows both parents to escape raising children to do something meaningful or not.

    Phileas Frogg,

    Socialization means learning to conform.

  6. Phileas_Frogg says:

    Richard Morchoe,

    Thank you for the clarification. Apparently I’m having one of those moments where my understanding of the term was sufficiently close as to get me through three decades of life without issue, but was ultimately wrong. I always took it to be synonymous with the inculcation of pro-social behaviors.

    Upon reassessment I am further horrified then by my families recommendations. They aren’t suggesting, as I’d originally assumed, that my children won’t be taught to be pro-social, or that they will become anti-social, they’re out and out declaring my children must conform because conformity is good of itself.

    Good God.

    Once again, much obliged.


    I suppose that is an important distinction, though our conception of homeschooling is likely nearer to tutoring as we intend to shop out the learning of specific skill sets to knowledgeable parties for pay as the children get older.

    I do know some families that still treat it like mass education.

  7. Jim says:

    Marketing is everything: words become reality.

  8. Roo_ster says:

    Public and private day schools get your kiddos for 7-8 hours/day, 5 days/week. Frankly, there ought to be ZERO home work home studying needed given such a large chunk of the most productive hours of any child’s day.

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