Public education, like virtually every other government program, costs more and delivers less. It doesn’t get a passing grade, at any level. One out of three students entering high school doesn’t graduate. Minority students are twice as likely as whites to drop out. Even students who get their diploma have the reading and math skills expected of middle school students in other nations.
Establishment politicians say that the solution is more money and higher taxes. Yet private institutions, which spend half of what public schools do per child, graduate a larger percentage of their students with higher levels of academic achievement.
The solution to restoring America’s educational excellence is a complete separation of education and State. Education, like any other service, is best provided by the free market, achieving greater quality and efficiency with more diversity of choice. While other aspects of our lives have been revolutionized by technology in the last century, K-12 education looks a lot like it did in the early 1900s. Innovation has especially lagged under the stifling top-down government bureaucracy of the Department of Education, a cabinet position that was created in 1980.
Instead of taking orders from Washington D.C., schools should be managed locally to achieve greater accountability and parental involvement. The education of children is inextricably linked to moral values, so we should return the authority and ability for the education of their children to parents, without interference from government. In particular, parents should have control of and responsibility for all funds expended for their children’s education.
“The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all, it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.” – H.L. Mencken
Before government took over the running of public schools and instituted compulsory attendance, the United States was considered the most literate nation on earth. Parents taught children themselves, hired tutors, sent them to neighborhood schools, or to individuals who taught out of their homes. The subject matter varied, and so did the costs. Churches and charity schools helped those too poor to pay. An 1817 survey found that over 90 percent of Boston’s children were enrolled in some type of local school, even though no law mandated it. Education was sought after and tailored to the students’ needs.
Then politicians, special interest groups, and self-proclaimed education experts with the “very best of intentions” decided to make the government responsible for providing a “free education” to every child in America. Instead of allowing parents to use their hard-earned dollars to educate their children, it was taken from them via taxation. Bureaucrats, not parents, decided when children will attend school, how long they will attend, who will teach them, and what they will learn. The result was lower SAT scores, declining standards, more dangerous schools, and generations of Americans who have no basic education in history, geography, the Constitution, mathematics, science, or literature. The educational bureaucracy managed to break something that didn’t need fixing.
We know how to give our children a world-class education quickly and inexpensively. Only our misguided allegiance to a failed, centralized system of public education stands in our way. While restrictions vary from state to state, students generally score higher on standardized tests in states with more educational freedom.
Not surprisingly, the private sector is rescuing children who cannot cope in the current public education environment. Sylvan Learning Centers, an after-school tutoring service, guarantees that students will advance one grade in their chosen subject with only 36 hours of instruction. Sylvan students will learn in two months what they would take 10 months to learn in public school. At the Sylvan learning rate, children would receive 12 years of education in less than three years of study.
Ombudsman Educational Services specializes in educating high school dropouts. Students advance one grade level in about 20 hours of instruction. A whopping 85 percent of enrollees leave with a high school diploma, even though this private school spends half as much as public schools.
How can these two private schools be so successful so quickly and inexpensively? Both tailor their educational program to each individual’s needs, instead of offering a one-size-fits-all program that government regulations demand of both public and private institutions.
Today’s technological advances could give our children even more inexpensive options than our ancestors had. Internet-based schooling can be fun and interactive, while letting young scholars learn at their own pace. Cable networks could provide an entire ad-free curriculum for the price of HBO or other premium channels. Ad-sponsored educational programs like Sesame Street would be free.
Instead of becoming locked into a pay system based primarily on seniority, rather than ability, teachers could own and operate schools, networks, and Internet programs with no ceiling on earnings. Instead of paying $10,000 per student every year for 12 years for inferior public education, parents could pay much less – and children would learn more, and learn it more quickly.
The schooling of the next generation is too important to leave in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats, where it has become a political football that leaves every child behind. Education should be put back into the hands of parents and teachers, who should decide the particulars of each child’s learning program. Instead of paying taxes for the public schools, parents should pay for the educational system of their choice. As the cost of schooling is slashed through the resulting innovation, charitable scholarship organizations will be easily able to help those in need with a real education, rather than the babysitting service that many schools have become.
This is how we became the most literate nation on earth. This is how we will become so again.