In recent months, I've written in these pages about a "higher education bubble" [but] we're also starting to see the deflation of what might be called a "lower education bubble" - that is, the constant flow of more and more money into K-12 education without any significant degree of buyer resistance, in spite of the often low quality of the education it purchases.
. . . at the K-12 level, we've got an educational system that in many fundamental ways hasn't changed in 100 years - except, of course, by becoming much less rigorous - but that nonetheless has become vastly more expensive without producing significantly better results.
In the past, when problems with education were raised, the solution was always to spend more money. But as economist Herbert Stein once noted, something that can't go on forever, won't. Steady increases in per-pupil spending without any commensurate increase in learning can't go on forever. So they won't. And as state after state faces near-bankruptcy (or, in some cases, actual bankruptcy), we've pretty much hit that point now.
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Getting rid of . . . overgenerous, underfunded public pensions is something states will have to do to remain solvent. But that's just the short term. Over the longer term - which means, really, the next three to five years at most - straitened circumstances and the need for better education will require more significant change.. . .
Like striking steelworkers in the 1970s, today's teachers' immediate unhappiness may come from reductions in benefits. But their bigger problem is an industry that hasn't kept up with the times, and isn't producing the value it once did. Until that changes, we're likely to see deflation of the lower education bubble as well as the higher.