Reposting my “Government Education Complex” piece

I doubt if I was the first person to use the phrase “Government-Education Complex,” but I use it often to describe the current education system. Others have clearly started to pick up on the meme, which is good.

A friend of mine in Indiana emailed me and asked me to define it for him. So I did.

The “Government Education Complex” is the interlocking set of interests that control the vast majority of American education dollars, education policy, and the steady increase in unnecessary education job creation. The explosion of spending, debt, and taxation we’ve witnessed in the last 25 years was used to fund the growth of this Complex.

The complex is made up not only of associations of administrators and teachers unions, but an interconnected network of bond dealers, builders, architects, law firms, textbook companies, and other service providers who profit off of the overproduction of service contracts, debt, public employment and bureaucracy. This interlocking network has played a role in funding the campaigns of 1000s of elected officials at all levels and in both parties.

Like the Military Industrial Complex that Eisenhower warned of, the “Government Education Complex” is politically powerful, and completely self interested in perpetuating itself. Unlike the Military Industrial Complex, which has provided America with the most effective fighting force on the planet, the Government Education Complex has failed to provide our society with the educated populace we are paying for.

Rather, it merely uses our children as a stick to beat more money out of us while providing, at best, a mediocre education for the lucky few. The unlucky get to go to America’s urban drop-out factories.

The vast sum of political money raised by the “Government Education Complex” is used to write legislation at the state level to grow the complex while protecting it from any competition. State school codes are written by and for the complex and its members, and passed by the political class whose campaigns they fund.

The “Government Education Complex” succeeds because of one key factor in its structure – the school district. The “district” is an artifice that provides voters and citizens with the false perception of “local control.” In fact, your local school district is merely a “franchise” of the centralized complex – like McDonalds, only more expensive and with a more limited menu.

That is why America has 1000s of school districts, almost all of which are creatures of the individual states’ school codes. While there is some variation state-to-state and district-to-district, most of that variation is due to differing socio-economic or regional factors, not district autonomy.

This raises the question of whether the “Government Education Complex” is corrupt. The short answer is, “Yes.” At any given moment, you can find 100s of local news stories about wasted money, insider contracts, or the difficulty citizens encounter when looking into school district finances. The entire process, from the complex property tax collection systems to the overly complex fund accounting dictated in many states, is designed to obfuscate spending.

The long answer on corruption is more complex, simply because a great deal of what most regular citizens call “corruption” has been legalized by most state school codes. The Government Education Complex is designed to grow itself, while spending money by the billions. It is operating exactly as intended. The actual education of America’s children is not its agenda. Spending money is its agenda.

The Government Education Complex cannot be reformed. It must be dismantled. If you are serious about educating America’s children, you must disabuse yourself of the notion that any combination of tepid reforms – a transparency law here, a teacher merit pay tweak there, or teacher measurement improvement law anywhere – can “fix” our education system.

Dismantlement means that we need to move toward the money following the child to a much more vast array of education content providers. We need to replace the Government Education Complex with a “Parent/Child Education Network.” This means that there will be a place for every imaginable learning system, from the traditional school to international digital content beamed to tablets and smart phones on demand.

The transition from a Government Education Complex to a Parent/Child Learning Network should be our goal, and every incremental step in education reform must be measured by whether it leads there.

Any set of “reforms” that leaves the Complex in place should, and will, be viewed as a failure.