Dream wrote:There is nothing better about teaching a tenth module of English to a smart kid than an eighth to a less able kid.
How are you quantifying better, here?
Is it what the student gets out of it, personally? Financially?
Consider the same comparison, in college. Is there nothing better about giving someone an high-income degree, as opposed to a low-income degree? Not only do those degrees represent different levels of economic activity, they represent different levels of social value- the engineer that invents things will get paid more for those inventions, because they're worth more to other people than the poetry that an English major comes up with.
But what if the poet enjoys his poetry more than the engineer enjoys his inventions? Is that a comparison we can make between people? (I enjoy my favorite food more than you enjoy your favorite food?) Does society have an obligation to people to supply them with self-actualization, and can society even attempt to do that?
What if the smart kid wants the tenth module of English, and the less able kid would rather get a job than sit through the eighth module?
One of the primary problems with the "let them out early" model is that the people who derive the most benefit from education receive the least of it from the state. But, honestly, that's also probably the most efficient outcome. Time for a brief economics lecture!
Generally, when we talk about a good having an externality, we envision the demand function like this:
At all levels of output, the price society would pay for the good is higher than the price private individuals would pay for the good, leading to a 'market failure' because we aren't at the socially optimal level of output.
Does education have that kind of externality, though? Clearly, basic literacy and math skills have that sort of externality, and the argument for civic knowledge (basic history, operation of government, etc.) is about equally strong. But, individuals are able to capture the extra benefit that higher education provides for them through personal gain, both financial and intangible. A mechanic earns a higher wage than an unskilled worker, and a doctor even more. As well, the literati is nearly the sole beneficiary of their extensive readings. One could make the claim that the presence of educated people betters society as a whole, and it does, but that's different from an externality. The presence of the Coca-Cola company makes the lives of many people better- but that doesn't mean that Coca-Cola should receive more funds that it gets through voluntary transactions! Consumer and producer surplus are part of the benefits of a market economy, and are almost always lowered by government intervention.
So perhaps the demand function for education looks something like this:
Now the socially optimal level of output is equal to the privately optimal level of output, once you get above some minimum standard.
So, instead of requiring everyone to have 13 years of schooling, we should just provide people with the resources they need to have literacy (in both English and computers), basic math skills, and a basic understanding of the American government, and then let them determine (and pay for) what, if any, higher education they desire.
The easy counterargument is that this leaves the poor out in the cold, because the amount of state support to them has lessened. This could be fixed by lowering taxes or by a negative income tax to give them more money, which they then can spend on education if they want it.
The other counterargument is that the desires of parents and children will conflict at times, and so the state should step in- which assumes that the interests of the state and children are aligned more than the interests of parents and children. I hesitate to say this is true on the whole, but the issue of pathological cases has to be addressed somehow.