No Nonsense K-12 Education

Member Group : Jerry Shenk

School’s out. Grades are in: Too many public schools have failed minority and disadvantaged inner-city and rural area students. Many fail other kids, too. Quality education has become the fundamental civil rights issue of this century.

In plain language, the fault lies largely with government interference, ineptitude and union dominance. America’s political class created and expanded social programs that effectively weakened traditional family units, the logical stakeholders in and beneficiaries of good schools, and then abandoned schools to the teachers’ unions. Greedy politicians and their union paymasters have created a repressive, underperforming public education monopoly.

Unable to name a single aspect of American public education that has improved since unions took it over in the 1960s, public education’s institutional defense is anchored in denial. Solely responsive to their own and the interests of dues-payers, unions use kids as bargaining chips, yet they and paid-for politicians vigorously defend the status quo.

Generally, more-affluent neighborhoods have better schools. Better schools drive up home prices, making it difficult for poor parents to escape substandard neighborhoods and schools. But, contra teachers’ unions’ predictable demands, cash doesn’t improve educational results.

Until unions can explain how Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Cleveland, Kansas City, and New York, failed systems by anyone’s standards, can spend significantly more money per student per year than more-successful suburban districts and still fail, throwing additional money into the existing system won’t work. Their problem isn’t money, it’s quality.

Standards and accountability for teachers and standards for student performance are reasonable starts to improving our schools, but the standards should be set locally where their relevance and integrity can be more-closely evaluated and measured. Standards for classroom discipline should be toughened, the enforcement authority of teachers and principals strengthened, law enforcement engaged and misfits removed so faculty can concentrate on teaching rather than merely struggling to maintain order.

High-quality, logical, content-based curricula presented by professional teachers backed by qualified administrators are vital to quality education. Since not all districts have such curricula, teachers or administrators and because the skills and needs of students differ, school choice and specialization which fills good jobs in niche markets are essential.

In fact, the best chance for improving education and breaking the cycle of school failure is through parental choice, including vouchers, charter schools and tuition tax credits. Results from successful existing programs confirm the moral and civil rights justifications for school choice. Those models should be implemented more broadly, starting in the worst districts.

Add results-based merit-pay plans for teachers and an end to automatic tenure �" the good teachers know who they are and don’t fear losing it; poor teachers should fear it and improve or move on.

Americans have nearly-innumerable choices in how we live our lives and the products and services we choose. The need to survive in free, politically-neutral, properly-functioning markets raises the quality and moderates the costs of every other business and service provision category. Incentives, both positive and negative, work.

Markets will improve public education, too. Open them for the children.