It’s been said that knowledge is power and that education is the key to our future. That may be true, but why is it that we, as a country, spend more and more on public education and are seeing less and less return on our investment? The politicians look at the sorry state of our public schools (particularly in large urban areas) and automatically think that we need to increase the budget for public education. We are spending well over $10K per student in America, yet national test scores do not reflect the fact that we’re spending more than ever for education with little or no results.
Why such dismal results from public education? The simple answer is that government is woefully inefficient at educating our children. That’s the answer for everything the government does. Whenever the government gets involved in something, you can rest assured that costs will rise and results will drop. The next question is why do government schools typically fail in educating our children? Here the answer is a little more complex. The factors involved in the failure of government schools include: Lack of fair competition with other education options; barriers preventing more options for educating our children; “one size fits all” methodology for education; teachers unions that prevent the removal of bad teachers and also artificially raise the cost of educating children by demanding higher than market value salaries; corruption at all levels of the education bureaucracy; etc. All of these factors (and more) add to the failure of government run education to adequately prepare our children for the future.
Now I know some of you may say that you like your local public school and your kids received a decent (or better) education. These exceptions only serve to underscore the rule. My kids went to a wealthy suburban school district and received a better than average public education. In fact, our schools often prided themselves on how well they performed on the standardized tests. Many people can choose to “vote with their feet” when it comes to public education by moving from bad school districts to good school districts; in fact, the quality of the school district is what often drives the real estate market. That being said, the general state of public education is bad, really bad; especially when compared to private education and home schooling.
Let’s look briefly at some of those factors that lead to the failure of public education. First is the lack of competition. Sure there are private schools out there that offer alternatives to the public schools, but consider the costs involved. Thanks to the fact that government schools get our money whether we use them or not, many people can’t afford to send their kids to private schools. Because of this forced monopoly on education, some groups have advocated for school vouchers that would allow families to use the money they already pay through taxation to send their kids to the school of their choice. A level playing ground for public and private education would definitely make public education better. Since public schools don’t have to compete for your money, there’s little incentive to improve. That is why public school advocates (i.e., government bureaucrats and teacher’s unions) fight tooth and nail against school voucher initiatives whenever they come up.
Another factor in the failure of government education is the emphasis on a “one size fits all” approach to education. Only a government bureaucrat could think that education standards that are thought up in Washington DC could be equally applicable to children across the nation. We all know that children learn in different ways at different rates, yet public schools are woefully equipped to handle such differences. In a classroom of 30 students, it’s hard to tailor the curriculum to fit the student’s needs. Hence, we need more money to hire more teachers to reduce class size and create more education opportunities for advanced learners and students with special needs. However, all this money doesn’t seem to fix the problem of flat-lining test scores. With more choices in educational opportunities we also need different educational focuses for different students.
Another major factor in the failure of government schools is the teacher’s unions. There have been many efforts to introduce stricter standards for hiring and retaining teachers that have been thwarted by the teacher’s unions. Why are the unions afraid of merit-based evaluations of their teachers? Probably because most teachers aren’t necessarily rewarded for their merits. Unions are notoriously based on time-served; the longer one serves, the more one makes. Unions are also very protective of their members and obstruct any attempt to thin their ranks; if bad teachers are removed for failure to perform to standards, then the unions lose power (the power of a union being in their numbers). Unions tend to artificially raise labor costs and reduce performance and efficiency. Having a teacher’s union hasn’t helped in raising the level of education for our kids, but it has made a few people very rich!
Then you have to corrupt politicians and bureaucrats that also contribute to the failures of public education. Consider this: The teacher’s union negotiates with the government over a collective bargaining agreement, but the teacher’s union also contributes heavily to politicians who appoint the people who then run the education bureaucracy. Isn’t this a bit of a conflict of interest? In this little ‘arrangement,’ who’s looking out for the best interests of the kids? The politicians always say it’s for the kids, but this massive government educational bureaucracy is all about power and control. As a result, the kids suffer in dying and failing schools.
The time is ripe for a radical restructuring of our educational system. The goal is to completely and totally eliminate the government from education. Ronald Reagan campaigned on a promise to eliminate the Department of Education, so did Ron Paul, but both were derided as fools (Reagan won, but failed to eliminate the Department of Education). No one else really talks about this. It’s considered absurd to eliminate the Department of Education. Who will educate our children if the government doesn’t, people often say. Why do people think that kids will go uneducated if the government doesn’t educate them? This is a false dilemma of the highest degree! Not only will our children be educated, they will be educated better! The success of the home schooling movement is a testament to the fact that we don’t need the government to educate our children; thank you very much! We have had public schools for so long that we have abrogated our responsibility to educate our children ourselves! We bring these children into the world and we are responsible for them, yet we leave them for eight hours a day in a government run institution to be educated by people who have no real vested interest in whether or not they succeed. How is that being responsible for our children? I realize that homeschooling is not for everyone. In that case, at least with no government run schools, we could afford to send our kids to the private school of our choice; one that fits more closely with our personal ideology.
Perhaps eliminating the Department of Education and getting the government out of the education business is too radical a step for most. Okay, how about we introduce more competition into the education market. Allow for vouchers and other alternative education options. Force the government schools to improve to compete for your money. This will ultimately fail because there is no way the government schools can compete fairly for your dollars; that’s why they have this near monopoly in education. But if we can get this intermediary step accomplished, we will see that we don’t need government education at all. Let’s face it, the government was never intended to be in the education business in the first place! The State is not interested in creating a well-educated society as much as they are an obedient society. When the government is involved in the education business, they can set the agenda and control the curriculum. The government, especially as envisioned by the political left, has always wanted to serve as society’s surrogate parent. Hence the need to be involved in every aspect of our lives from cradle to grave. They want us dependent on government for everything; that is how they perpetuate their hold on power. We need to resist this with every fiber of our being, and it starts with the next generation of our children!