January 31, 2010

YESTERDAY I POSTED ON EDUCATION SECRETARY ARNE DUNCAN’S STATEMENT that Katrina was good for New Orleans education. Reader Wyman Duggan writes:

I’m a huge fan of yours, and no fan of the Obama Administration. But Arne Duncan Is right on the money with respect to the revolution that is occurring in New Orleans public education post-Katrina. I submit that it is highly desirable from a libertarian perspective.

And another reader who requests anonymity writes:

Though I almost never disagree with you, I have to agree with Arne Duncan that the hurricane was the best thing that could happen to New Orleans public schools.

The system was so atrocious before the storm that you actually had the valedictorian of a high school here who couldn’t pass the state exit exam. The public school system was as dysfunctional as you could find in the Western world – violence, corruption, and not much education.

The system is now improving and has the highest percentage (60%) of charter schools out of any school system in the nation.

School scores are improving and there is now hope (oh, how that word has been forever tainted by the Obama) that things can change (another word that was sullied) for the better.

It really did take a nearly-destroyed city to mostly remove the stranglehold that the teachers unions had on the local system. Sometimes good things do come out of disaster!

This is reminiscent of what Mancur Olson says in The Rise and Decline of Nations about the power of wars and catastrophes to promote growth by breaking the power of the “web of special interests” that inevitably arises in democracies. Which makes Duncan’s statement a true “Kinsleyan gaffe,” where a politician accidentally tells the truth . . . .

UPDATE: Chris Kobus emails:

If our educational system has been so corrupted that it can’t be fixed without a natural disaster to literally blow it out of the water, then we are in big trouble. Disorder cannot be destroyed (2nd law of thermodynamics), but order can be created by removing the disorder somewhere else. Problem is, that takes a lot of focused effort. Far more than the political class is willing to put in these days.

I would like to see each school compete on its own. No school districts and no monopoly. Monopoly power always seems to lead to corruption that trickles right down to the politicians and back again in a vicious cycle.

Yes. The presence of public schools of varying quality with geographically defined districts also distorts the housing market in ways that are underappreciated.