What is the government's role in public education?

Venture Capitalist and Technology Entrepreneur
We should be experimenting to find a better way of educating our kids.
  • Transcript


Question: What is the government’s role in public education?

Peter Thiel: It’s not been doing a very good job. 

We should be experimenting with a lot of different things.  I don’t know if vouchers or charter schools are the answer; but I think we should have a system where we experiment with many different things; and we sort of see what seems to be working. 

I think most parents have enough of an incentive to see their kids do well that they’ll figure out what seems to be working better.  And I have a reasonably high conviction that if we have many options, we’ll do better.  We need to bring some competition back to bear on this. 

The one metric I can think of is, the long term prosperity of a country like the U.S. or the rest of the world is really driven by productivity growth.  There are elements of our society where there’s been tremendous productivity growth.  You look at the computer revolution.   ____________ computers are doubling in speed every 18 months.  It’s remarkable.  You have this massive, accelerating technological world we’re living in. 

And at the same time one of the very odd disconnects with that is that median incomes in the U.S. have barely gone up since 1973.  So you could ask where has all of this productivity growth gone?  Part of it, of course, is this growing difference in wealth and in incomes. 

But I think another part of it is that the productivity growth has actually not been as much as it should be. If you look at all sorts of other aspects of our society, it’s not clear there’s been much productivity growth at all.

Are people working at the Post Office more productive than they were 40 years ago?  Are people working at the DMV more productive than they were 40 years ago?  Is road construction more productive than it was 40 years ago?  It’s probably much less productive actually. 

And since the governments have the economy, if there’s no productivity growth in the economy, that’s a big drag.  No productivity growth in the government, that’s going to be a big drag on the rest of the economy.

Question: Who should reform the system?

Peter Thiel: It relies on a whole bunch of different areas.

There’s probably interest both on the level of the parents as well as our country as a whole in making sure that the system is better. 

A very easy first step would be to outlaw the teachers unions, although that may not be an easy step.  I think we have to shift the schools from being run for the benefit of the __________ teachers and towards the benefit of students trying to be educated.

Recorded on: Sep 05, 2007