Monday, October 10, 2011

Education reform

Education is the key to the future. Most people will agree on this. But can be capitalize education and get the result we want. Like a previous post about why health care is so outrageous expensive in this country, capitalization of education fails for similar reasons.

The key problem with the dropping effectivity of education is that it serves the wrong customer. Colleges and universities serve the students. And the state and federal government encourages that for the same flawed logic. They demand certain graduation rates, or they cut the budget under the idea that low graduation rates means bad education. I argue that it is much more likely that the opposite is true. Let me explain.

When you measure universities and colleges by their graduation rates, there are two ways to achieve that. One is to do a better job at teaching (which is the hope), and the second is to lower the requirements for graduation. When two options to achieve the same arbitrary goal exist, what does a system do? It finds the easiest way to a solution. And in this case, that is often by lowering the requirements for graduation. Because if you lower the requirements by 1%, you will have instant increased graduation rates. Try doing that by improving teaching.

The core of the problem under all this is the wrong focus on who is the client. As I indicated above, the focus is on students as the client. And rule number one in business is to satisfy the client. So, what to do when too many students fail their class and become dissatisfied clients? Lower the requirements so they can graduate.

But this problem goes deeper. A standard aspect of teacher evaluation at universities is student evaluations. Sounds great. Let the students evaluate the teacher. The client gives feeback to the producer about the quality of the product. Perfect example of consumer driven evaluation. Very capitalistic! And it works. Bad teachers get bad evaluations. And that is how it is supposed to be. Right? really? Does it?

It doesn't. It doesn't because it focuses on the wrong client. Universities traditionally have as a task to produce people who can do certain professions in society. Whether this are public of private institutions, even the later receive most money from the government through grants and loans to students (independent of the student can actually pay those loans back).

So, why is the government paying so much for education? To subsidize the dreams of individuals? No. When dreams of students match up with their major, nice, but ultimately, governments spend money on education to educate people so they can contribute to society. And with that in mind, we should realize that the client the universities need to serve is society.

And what would that change? Well, if we take the needs of society as the benchmark for education, graduation rates as a primary measure of success are useless. Graduation rates are nothing if those students cannot find jobs at the level they are supposedly being trained for. But that should be the criteria for success.

This criteria contains two factors. One is the level at which they are supposed to be trained and the second is whether the university was successful in doing exactly that. Once we step away from student driven quality norms, and go to society driven quality norms, we get a handle to actually reform education and bring it to the level it needs to be at.

Instead of having teachers lowering their standards so they have 70% of the students pass the class, we have to get to setting a priori standard of what students should know, and if 80%, of the students fail for a class, so be it. The students that survive will at least know what they need to know. And once we measure universities by how well their students do instead of have they jumped the hoops in the proper order, maybe we can stop the gradual decline in oblivion.

PS, don't get me going about the practice of grade curving, which is the ultimate tool for students as a group to lower the standards for a class by collectively sitting back and do nothing. Because in the end, if you are just a tad better than the 20% losers, you have a good grade. Students don't compete against each other, they find the best strategy to passing grades that leaves most time for partying.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Paying through the nose for emergency room visits so that Americans can proclaim they have freedom of choice when it comes to health care insurance!

Last weekend, I had a wonderful discussion with one of my hard-core republican neighbors about health care insurance and Obama care. She was very much opposed to socialized health care because it was socialism. Eeeuuuwwwwww..... No, you should take care of that yourself, and if you are not working, tough luck, because everybody who can work can have healthcare insurance. Right...... (That's a blog post on its own, I leave that for another time)

Anyway, she was very much surprised when I told here that the socialized health care in the Netherlands was cheaper per capita than in the capitalized US health care 'system'. Of course she didn't believe me. O well.

But the most interesting part was the discussion about why the costs for health care per capita in the US are larger than any other country. There are of course a whole slew of reasons for that, but one that I like to discuss here is the use of Emergency Rooms as last ditch primary care. People without health care insurance often wait with going to the doctor when they are sick in the hope that it will go away with home remedies, over the counter medication, or that the body deals with it by itself. But when that does not happen, people end up in the room when the situation worsens and they need urgent care. That is were the costs come in, because a 100 dollar visit to a primary care physician has now multiplied itself to a 1,000+ dollar bill. A bill they cannot pay anyways.

Here is the crux. My neighbor, who vehemently opposed ObamaCare because it was ugly socialism, really really agreed with the statement that we could not let people die. At the same time, she really really didn't want to have socialized health care because it is evil socialist yuckyness.... This dual choice results in lack of primary care (which is cheap) for many people and racked up emergency room bills (which is really expensive) for those waiting too long in order to avoid large health care bills. So, who is paying those emergency room bills? Well, not the people who tried to avoid using the health care system in the first place because they don't have the money to pay for it. They are more likely to go bankrupt because of it. Wna when that happens, who pays the bill? Exactly, the taxpayer.

In short, her choice to have 'freedom' in whether to have health care insurance resulted in higher costs for society because we were not consistent with our mantra that everybody should take care of themselves. Because when it comes to the point of letting someone die, society at large has decided that letting someone die of a curabvle medical issue is not accaptable, hence we allow gthem to flock the increadible expensive emergeny rooms, but we refuse to provide them with a cheaper option because it infringes on the perceived 'freedom' of choosing yourself whether you want to have health care or not. This inconsitency results in far mo0re tax payer dollars to go to health care then when we would be consistent in our choice. Either we choose to have the freedom to be insurced or not buit we let people die who do not have health care insurance, or we provide a meaningful option so that everybody can have affordable health care. This hybrid system of denying health care when you are not yet almost dead but allowing to use the emergency room as a last ditch effort to prevent someone from becoming a carcass is the most expensive compromise you can imagine. But try to tell that to someone who listen only to the republican propaganda channel to Fox News.