Saturday, April 11, 2020

1889 Institute: Lessons for Public Education from a Soviet MiG Pilot

Lessons for Public Education from a Soviet MiG Pilot
By Byron Schlomach

In 1976, Soviet fighter pilot Viktor Belenko flew a top-secret MiG-25 jet to Japan and defected. In his autobiography, Belenko tells of life in the Soviet Union. At a remote military base, his superiors transplanted large trees to make the base more attractive for a high party official’s visit. The trees died. Another set of trees died, too. The dignitary never showed.

One factory worker Belenko knew always filled his quota before noon, drinking the rest of the day to avoid breaking the quota, which would have made his coworkers angry since their quota would have increased. When propaganda films of American slums claimed to show typical life in America, Belenko noted TV antennas on roofs and cars in streets, having never seen so many in the Soviet Union.

What does this have to do with public education? Public education is government owned and controlled – the very definition of socialism. With socialism, there is always waste of a not-always-obvious sort. Belenko saw past propaganda and everyday life, recognizing waste in the Soviet Union. We must do the same regarding public education. Here are some examples.

We financially reward school districts for students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches. Over 60 percent of school kids are so identified, implying Oklahoma is quite poor. Yet, fewer than half of Oklahoma’s children live in households below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The lunch program allows participation only for kids up to 185 percent of poverty, so far fewer than 50 percent of Oklahoma’s school kids should be eligible for free/reduced-price lunches.

Experts generally agree three to 10 percent of students might be gifted. Over 12 percent of Oklahoma’s students are classified gifted under an over-broad statutory definition. Tulsa has claimed 50 percent more gifted students than Oklahoma City.

The state funding formula’s weights for pre-kindergarten, first, and second grades are as high or higher than high school weights. Private schools’ highest tuitions are for high school. Ours is among a handful of states that provides universal pre-K, for which there is no evidence of long-term benefit.

The number of non-teachers equals the number of teachers. Teachers leave teaching because central offices stress irrelevant testing and evaluations and neglect discipline, not because of low pay.

Making education better does not lie in another study, re-doing funding formulas, technology, or more money. When states first started building roads, state agencies did the work socialistically with corruption and waste as a result. The solution was competitively contracting out construction and heavy maintenance to private firms.

That’s what charter schools, education savings accounts, and vouchers are. It’s just contracting out education in order to avoid the waste and corruption of socialism. That’s the reality that a Viktor Belenko might see.

Byron Schlomach is 1889 Institute Director.


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