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  • The “Government Education Complex” defined

    Posted by Bruno Behrend on December 15th, 2010 (All posts by )

    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.

     

    7 Responses to “The “Government Education Complex” defined”

    1. jane Says:

      Yes!

    2. JB Says:

      “..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.”

      I’m all for dismantling the complex but only after primary and secondary education are strictly voluntary. Parent/child learning assumes (1) the parental unit exists, (2) the parents care for the child vice partying/ clubbing/drug use, and (3) they care enough to engage the child in other than long hours of tv watching.

    3. Sgt. Mom Says:

      The only question that I have remaining – has the result of a seriously dumbed-down and sheep-like public been the primary goal of the education-industrial complex all along, or merely a fortunate side-benefit?

    4. J. Dewey [Fred Lapides] Says:

      Nice to be on a high horse and get snippy, but just how much money in grants do all our colleges and universities get for “research’ that comes via the navy, the army, and manyh other “defense” programs? That is the way the Military/In dustrial/Educational Complex funds research since giving money for sheer research would be…socialism!!

      So mock on. But check with the University of Chicago and ask how much govt money (defense, education=ie, military) money it gets each year and if they are willing to give it up.

      Indeed; there is an educational complex. But not the one you ignore.

    5. Ginny Says:

      The relatioinship between the defense department and the education commplexes is a pretty dysfunctional one.

    6. Bruno Behrend Says:

      J. Dewey,

      Good point, but I address it in my piece. The MIComplex may be dysfunctional, but it works to a great degree. The GEComplex doesn’t.

      While some aspects would be a nightmare, turning our schools over to the Pentagon would probably be an improvement. ;-)

    7. Carl from Chicago Says:

      I think that the outcome at the higher education level – which is world-class universities, compares very favorably with the majority of our public school outcomes, which fare far below world-class standards.

      If the outcomes were superior, the vast amount of funds dedicated to this effort would be seen in a different light.