Decentralized Education

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Mar 23, 2022 12:52 AM
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Preface: as I was digging into cryptocurrencies, my mind jumped to education as a potential area to problem solve using crypto. As I've covered, our education system is broken, and it is largely broken due to centralized powers: federal and state governments. Decentralization obviously addresses that issue, and if done properly could revolutionize education. The below is meant to be a draft or thought-starter. It does not claim to have all the answers, but I hope that it serves as a starting point for ideas to be fleshed out further!

Education Today

Right now, most education is provided by the state and regulated by the state, teachers are certified by the state, and paid for through state taxes and disbursements. It is a centralized system.
There are some anomalies: private schools and homeschooling particularly. But both of these are still regulated by the state. While provided (and funded) privately, they are still subject to both federal and state regulations.
But the state is failing in its delivery of education (among many other things). This was true prior to the pandemic, and it is even more true after it. Pre-pandemic: x% of students are proficient at Math, y% of students are proficient at English.
Even within a school, education is centralized around the administration (for the school broadly) and the teacher (for the classroom itself). If you end up with a bad administration or a bad teacher, well, tough luck - your education probably was even worse than average.

Education Decentralized

One of the main premises of decentralization is that it allows us to create trustless economies. We don't need an intermediary to insure our purchase of Bitcoin because the blockchain handles that.
It would be great to see education arrive at this place where delivery is not controlled by a few sources, but rather it allows maximum autonomy of the individual student/family, and minimal control from any single source.
In this world, education would trend toward being more effective not because of government regulation, but because the economics demanded educators produce better outcomes. And parents and children could trust that their educators were aligned to the best interests of their student again because of the economic arrangements in place. You simply wouldn't need a federal or state agency to try (again, unsuccessfully) to force competence or passion. The system would ensure it.

How Decentralized Education (DecEd) Could Look:

What could that look like? Here is a start to how it could look:
  1. Each family is funded some amount, say, 2 million Satoshis (a Satoshi is one hundred millionth of a Bitcoin), to fund their child's education. For each course, the student would pay the creator and teacher from this fund.
  1. The student's fund would then be programmed to release additional funds upon the successful completion of coursework. So successful completion of a class allows you to obtain more credits (which have real value) to continue to pursue your education.
  1. Students would sign up for classes similar to how college course enrollment goes. Teachers would offer courses they want to teach and use curriculum that they want to use, and could choose to either teach live in-person, remotely, or do a hybrid model. Note: this model is fundamentally school-less. Decentralization necessarily removes the administrative middlemen that run (read: ruin) education.
  1. Let's take an example then of a second grader: he would likely have the option of ~15-20 teachers locally that he could join, and thousands of remote choices. From this, he (or rather, his family) could pick an environment that would suit him well. Does the teacher specialize in STEM or Humanities? Will they teach programming or not? A second language? Et cetera. There would be a bevy of options that would evolve each year to match the demand.
  1. At the end of the course, the teacher would record the student's grade and an evaluation letter onto the blockchain. This would serve to release funds for further education as well as provide the third grade teachers with a) context on prerequisites that would be needed and b) to use as a selection criteria if a teacher's program is too popular.
  1. To handle cases where, say, a student's choice for third grade is doing intermediate programming where the student has not yet had any programming, an array of microcourses could be offered beyond the traditional schoolyear programming. So a student could go and take the beginners programming course and then be ready for intermediary programming as the new school year begins.
  1. Payments - the base payments for a course need to be transactional: that is a student pays a teacher upfront for their semester or year of learning. They need to operate this way so that teachers have direct access to those funds and can make a living. However, this presents a misalignment of the teachers and the students. Students are optimizing for long-term success, teachers would optimize for chugging out a large class. This needs to be addressed, and will be with point eight.
  1. A teachers retirement fund would be added to as new students come through with a small fractional share of that student's future earnings. Basically this would work like an income share agreement: each teacher would get, let's say, a 0.1% multiple of that student's future earnings. So if the student in their first year of work makes $60,000, then $60 is added to that teacher's retirement fund that year. Thus, a class of, say, 30 students would contribute $1,800 per year to a teacher's retirement fund. If that teacher teaches for 30 years, they then would have $54,000 being contributed in a year (and this is assuming the student's are only making $60k that whole time!). Along with interest, this would pay successful teachers incredibly well and allow them to move to part-time instruction and being even more selective with who they spend their time teaching.
  1. Thus, incentives would be aligned between the students and the teachers: the student's long-term success would drive a teacher's success and both would be incentivized to build toward strong outcomes for themselves and society as a whole.
  1. Meanwhile, the teachers would use their income from actual classes as an income, but also to cover business expenses: a classroom, a curriculum/content for their courses, et cetera. Presumably, many of the in-person teachers would rent classroom space from school buildings, which could be turned into private enterprises providing space and services for teachers. This would make it easy for students to mix-and-match teachers for live education in a high-school like scenario where it'd be too difficult to have the same teacher for, say, Math and English.
  1. Lastly, this kind of system would make it easy to enable further grants to students based on merit. Say each student starts with 2 million Satoshis and that that's enough (in the future) to pay for a base K-12 education. Grants could be made available, say, at a high tier for the top 1% of students to cover the equivalent of a PhD, medium tier for the top 10% of students to cover the equivalent of an Masters, and lower tier for the top 25% of students to cover the equivalent of college. Of course, students or parents could add funds into their education account directly and have that be tax-deductible.
  1. How would merit be determined? This is hard, as people will undoubtedly have different perspectives on what constitutes merit. Of course, we already have such a semi-meritocratic system like this: college admissions! It is a mix of test results, grades, and personal appeals that a shadowy committee use to decide who gets into each school. But if we try to do better, these incentives too could be aligned to the student's long-term success. Rather than having one committee, a whole bunch of committees could be formed that bid for the right to offer these scholarships and in return get a small cut of that student's future income. These "merit committees" could choose to interview students, focus on different specialties, and look to generate a return on their investment.

What's Next?

There would be a lot more details to figure out, but the base of this system is doable with today's technology. It would however require a huge shift culturally and politically.
Tactically, this starts with funding students, not schools. My case relies on that being a cryptocurrency, but in traditional fiat money this would be the equivalent of vouchers and school choice. If those two rights are able to be gained, then a vision like this one can follow. Some states are working toward this, and even if such a system could take hold in one state, the progress would eventually be undeniable and more would follow.
Undoubtedly, teachers unions would oppose such a system. That by itself should be an advertisement in favor of the promise that this holds. But this kind of system would be incredibly beneficial to as a whole and especially above average teachers. Education spending has skyrocketed over the past two decades while teachers salaries (and student outcomes) have remained flat. This is because schools at all levels have taken to building up an administrative shitshow around every school. The money has all gone to the administrators to the detriment of teachers and students alike. A student-focused decentralized education system would reward top teachers with 3-4x the salary while keeping a livable wage for any teacher who consistently provides good instruction.