Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

Lewis J. Perelman probably wrote his 1992 book, School’s Out, without knowing anything about Oregon’s 1991 major school reform effort, The Oregon Education Act for the 21st Century that then-Senate President John Kitzhaber supported. But he didn’t have to know anything about it to peg what was wrong with it and similar “reforms”.

In the book, he said,

Reform is a hoax. The ‘new, improved’ education it is trying to sell us as an economic savior is really a solid gold life jacket: It glitters for attention. It’s outrageously expensive. And the longer we cling to it, the deeper it will sink us.

Then, in a 1997 interview he was asked:

“Isn’t there still a need to set goals or standards for what people need to learn?”

His answer,

Any effort by government to decipher and then mandate those things can only introduce debilitating distortions. You would not tolerate Al Gore—or for that matter Newt Gingrich—dictating what stocks you have to own to meet your financial investment goals over the next 20 years. Yet you are supposed to trust his ilk to decide what knowledge assets you or your kids are supposed to invest in over the same span. Political leaders have as much chance of dictating or foretelling the future knowledge market as the future stock market.

I have a feeling that if Perelman was asked what he thinks about now-Governor Kitzhaber’s new “reform” effort, with its Oregon Education Investment Board and a new Chief Education Officer charged with “integrating” twenty years of education, pre-kindergarten through graduate school (known as P-20), I have a feeling he’d simply say, “Read my book.”

That’s good advice. School’s Out is out of print, but used copies are available online. In it he predicted that our brick school buildings would eventually be replaced by what he called hyperlearning. Remember this was written before most of us had even seen the world wide web, which would change our world.

One aspect of “hyperlearning” is today’s online charter schools; you know, the ones that Oregon teachers unions are so desperate to shut down.

Read the book, or his interview, and see if you don’t agree that the new reform is the same as the old reform.

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” is the last line in The Who’s song, We Won’t Get Fooled Again.

Steve Buckstein is Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Posted by at 04:55 | Posted in Education, Gov. Kitzhaber, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Bob Clark

    Thanks for the reference, Steve.  I can see why public employee unions (what with Tim Nesbitt leading the charge for Kitzhaber) like Kitzhaber’s hyper centralized education reform scheme; but what’s discouraging is to see businesses like PacifiCorp hounding the GOP to pass Kitzhaber’s scheme.

    Now it’s not enough to battle public employee unions for free choice (it used to be called empowerment in the early-to-mid 90s under the Clinton administration) but now we have to battle crony big businesses.  How sad is the case of Oregon.  It has swallowed the central planning mode of political economics, induced this way by the crack cocaine like addictive powers of spendthrift federal monies; and now it doesn’t know the way to salvation which is to cut the warped federal funding schemes cold turkey and institute decentralization and efficiencies produced in abundance allowed by free choice and the portability of a family’s public education dollars.

    a bit of digression:
    I am amazed by my step daughter’s new iphone.  It has a built in computer voice, giving one the ability to answer a vast array of technical questions (speaking to and from).  The likes of Portland Public Schools and Kitzhaber are fighting to contain parent and child within its brick walls but the advance of technology may help put big holes in the walls they erect.

    Yet.  I think there is a path to excellence in education that has a government role.  I harken to the educational model offered by a city owned community center such as Multnomah Art Center (MAC).  Here the community center is like a bizaar with a diverse set of educational offerrings family and child chooses from.  The teachers are independent and are the gate keepers to the learning experience.  It’s tuition based but the costs seem very competitive.  The families seem happy and vibrant who attend MAC, and that they are such probably speaks volumes about how this model empowers the family and child much more so than the Portland Public Schools’ and Kitzhaber models.

    What’s also of interest is MAC is an old elementary school well maintained but not having a lot of natural light; and yet we are bombarded by Portland Public Schools for the call to fund fanciful arhitecturally designed rebuilding of its numerous school buildings.  (Even some of Portland Public Schools’ own technical advisors routinely comment about the lack of correlation between building age and educational performance of students.)

    • Steve Buckstein

      Bob, while I share your discouragement at seeing “businesses like PacifiCorp hounding the GOP to pass Kitzhaber’s scheme” I do understand it.

      Regulated utilities depend on government to operate. They get their financial returns guaranteed from government bodies.

      What I find harder to understand are the other business groups that push for such “reforms.”  Most of them live or die in the free market. Part of the explanation may be that while they operate in a competitive environment, they don’t want to. They wish government would protect them from their competitors, or give them special favors. Such wishes may more likely come true if they fall in behind the “new boss” when he wants to try even more top down control of some segment of our society, in this case over education.

  • Chana Cox

    Just another level of government “control” that will neither control nor improve K-12 education.  It will, however, cost taxpayers and the economy a great deal of money.  

  • JoelinPDX

    All you need do is ask yourself the simple question: Has Oregon’s education system become better or worse since the “Education Act for the 21st Century” was passed? When you see and understand that the only possible answer to the question is worse, you’ve come a long way toward understanding Oregon’s problems.

    Oregon’s problems, from the schools to PERS, are all caused by government that has grown too big and bloated…By a government that tries to solve all our problems and fails everytime.

    • Steve Buckstein

      When then-Senate President Kitzhaber and the other legislators voted for the Education Act for the 21st Century in 1991 they promised that by the year 2000 Oregon would “have the best educated citizens in the nation.” 

      Education Week rated Oregon’s education system # 43 for both 2010 and 2011. Not exactly the best.

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