Wednesday, April 21, 2010

But it won't get much better

Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people. First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers are scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.


“In 1983 the National Commission on Education, headed by Nobel Laureate Glenn T. Seaborg, wrote that "If a foreign nation had imposed this system of education on the United States, we would rightfully consider it an act of war." I've been pointing this out for years. We have a system of public education indistinguishable from an enemy attack -- and it has been getting worse since the Seaborg report."

"If you are dealing with class averages and minimum scores, it's trivially true that your best investment is in the marginal students who are almost able to pass the test. The result is triage: bright students are ignored. Average students get minimal time. Dull average gets  the most time. Really dull gets no time at all. The result is a rising median score, kudos for the teacher, and more federal money for the school.  That may not be the results the parents and taxpayers intended, but it's what they get -- assuming that the teacher has been successful."

"Nationally we have opted for equality over excellence. That means that nationally we ignore bright students unless they fit other profiles. Since bright students tend to have bright parents, and many understand what's going on, they tend to take the bright students out of the public school system. That too has obvious effects."

"I have always thought that Congress, which has the undoubted right to run the DC school system any way it wants to, should make that the shining example of how schools ought to operate. THEN we might listen when the Department of Education tells the rest of the country what to do. But for the moment I believe the DC school system is actually the worst in the US. Of course the Washington educrats still assert the right to tell the rest of the country what to do. Why not?"

"The remedy to all this is obvious and has been for fifty years: transparency and subsidiarity. Local control of local schools including local school taxes. The results will be mixed, of course. Some schools will become worse. Some won't. Whether the averages change is not important. We all know, although few of us say it anymore, that 90% of human progress is the result of about 10% of the population. Those numbers are neither fixed nor rigidly accurate, but they're close enough. The first goal of a tax paid education system should be to see that the 10% get a good start. That's unfair to the other 90% in the short run, but it's more than fair over the long haul. We used to know that. Most of us still know that, but we don't say it very often now. "

Jerry Pournelle


There is never going to be a national school system much better than what we have now. It may get worse, but it won't get much better.

Thanks Bruce

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You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.

Harlan Ellison