Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, a centrist Democrat seeking an early edge in an all-but-certain crowded presidential field, launched a long-shot bid for the White House Thursday.
“Americans sent a clear message on Tuesday. They want leaders who will take this country in a new direction,” he said in a statement. “They want leaders who share their values, understand their needs, and respect their intelligence. That’s what I’ve done as governor of Iowa, and that’s what I intend to do as president.”
At Yearly Kos, he spoke at the education panel, explaining eloquently about the problem with American education. I profiled him on UTI too positively to my taste now. At the time, I thought it was great that he was not afraid to say, “The United States is doing worse than other countries, so we should replicate some things other countries do to get better.” Now I just think it’s the same thing Thomas Friedman is saying in The World is Flat about education: more creativity, more hard academic knowledge, more enterprise, and so on.
The greatest problem of American education isn’t curricular, but economic. American schools are funded within districts, so schools serving higher-income students get more money than schools serving lower-income students, which is probably why the US is the second least socially mobile country in the first world.
From a social justice perspective, policy must first help those at the bottom. It’s bad that incoming Columbia students need to take calculus classes, while their Cambridge and University of Paris counterparts learned it in high schools. It’s worse that low-income schools receive too little money so that they are forced to use outdated textbooks.
Vilsack’s education ideas are good as a starting point for reformism. But the level of social injustice in American education is so high that without progressivism to first equalize school quality, it’s almost completely pointless.
From a more pragmatic perspective, anything that depresses income mobility is bad. The USA’s native body of scientists, entrepreneurs, leaders, writers, and artists comes from a pool of middle-class people, plus select few geniuses from poor backgrounds. So instead of producing 4 million potential inventors and discoverers every year, it produces 2 million. Valuing merit over privilege is good from a national dick-size point of view, too.