The Economics of Education
The K-12 education sector engineers social solutions for how to care for, raise, teach, and “produce” a citizen of the polis, our children. The great efficiency with which schools are able to organize, train, endorse & certify, schedule & utilize professional teachers, administrators and staff – to perform these functions is so great, that that efficiency is known as an externality within the field of economics.
The expenditure and effort put forth into: caring for, raising, educating, and producing a citizen is far, far outweighed by the advantages to every individual student, their parents, and the benefits reaped by society.
This will not change.
It has not changed for millennia. And although it shall be altered by the latest global pandemic, society wants to revert to the old, tried & trusted model of collective education... Why?
In The Politics, Aristotle often relies upon the phrase ‘ to the extent that…’ due to the imprecise, but higher science of studying how to govern human nature and society. It is not a perfect science, but it is most important and necessary. School systems across the country are formulating plans for how to address health & safety concerns so that they may gather and matriculate the next generation of young learners together... the eager young minds of tomorrow. (Dragomanns has a separate post on the statistical premises of grouping cohorts during this isolation period.)
When contemplating the economics of collective education in a physical school environment, three substantial gains for all become immediately clear:
#1) Professional Counselors & Care-takers:
from health, safety, emotions, environment, to food for the body & mind, educators – especially in pre-K to 6th grades – grant parents the freedom from all of these responsibilities. Families can go to work, earn a living, and attend to other duties with a peace of mind for the duration of a school day. As a child progresses through the system, the trade-off between a teacher spending time managing the classroom & teaching life skills vs. teaching content reverses.
This reversal is also reflected in the remuneration, with college professors and tenured high school teachers earning more than Kindergarten or 1st grade teachers. As a society, we have monetarily voted for and overlook, or at the very least, appreciate lesser the contribution of elementary school, gym, music, and art teachers. Personally, I am certain teenagers become better drivers as far away as possible from unhinged, white-knuckled, volatile or catatonic passenger-seated parents... but yall already voted, so...
#2) Knowledge Sharing:
learning is guided by professionals to maximize opportunities of growth. Educational journeys undertaken by a classroom increase the rate of growth, transfer, accuracy, attendance, and volume of knowledge. Children learn better together than they do alone. (And, it's way more fun!) As we matriculate from middle to high school, and from college to graduate work, the economic gains in knowledge only multiply.
#3) Access to Resources:
the utility and efficiency of sharing resources: musical instruments, art supplies, courseware, textbooks, libraries, laboratories, maker-space technologies, gymnasiums, theater, games, playgrounds… makes collectively educating students within a dedicated physical environment a critical and fundamental function to the preservation and continuity of society. Saving time, money, energy, while exposing children to as much as is possible within constrained budgets. School agendas are a reflection of our values as a people. What do we hold near & dear?
Thus, to the extent that these three educational services grant freedoms and a commonwealth of knowledge and resources to their communities, the economy of scale in brick & mortar education systems shall not be overcome by the best crafted virtual environments. Digital classrooms can be powerful supplements, and leverage their own advantages (like Learning Management Systems that automate questions according to the level of the student, or tabulate grades in an instant...). But in a world where isolation is already becoming a behavioral issue, a world of tablets, cellphones, and gaming consoles, most parents will agree that real social interaction, face to face, with other children is also a fundamental component of this externality.
To the extent of all benefits: social, psychological, academic, economic, societal and individual... education in a dedicated physical environment helps establish and maintain continuity.
The economy of scale, data correlation, noble intentions, social engineering... grant each school environment the ability to capitalize upon material & human resources, knowledge, and other “factors of production" to ensure the polis moves forward, along with the frontiers of human thought, technology, and civilization.
Labor markets may shift in their blue & white collar job needs, entire industries may become obsolete, demand for technical skills may evolve, taste in entertainment, art, and music veer hither, wither, wilt or wisen up, urban political revolutions may tumult… but the spillover efficiencies gained by the individual, the family, and the polis through education do not ever decrease! This is an economic principle, as factual as the planet Earth is round. To the extent of well-intended mediocre engineering, ‘ when one teaches, two learn. ’
Aristotle's Politics observation by Daniel N. Robinson (2013) in the Great Ideas of Philosophy, a highly recommended Great Course available on Audible (Amazon), lectures #12-14.