George Will once said, “The 3-Rs of education are no longer Reading-Riting-Rithmatic, but Racism-Recycling-Reproduction.” It seems our public school system has morphed into an agent for social change more than an institution that prepares young minds for the global market-place. Consequently, our system is slipping further and further behind. So, how do we fix it?
Some believe we need to increase spending. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), we spent $5k per-pupil in 1970; and by 2010 it rose to $12k per-pupil (both in 2012 dollars). That’s a 240% increase in real dollars, while graduation rates and test scores remained virtually unchanged. Here in New Mexico, a 2012 study by the National Education Association ranked us 25th in national per-pupil spending; just under the U.S. average, and more than all our neighboring states. Today, this amounts to $2.5 billion, or 43% of our state operating budget. Yet, our system consistently ranks at the bottom in national surveys.
Some believe the answer is early childhood development. But, there is no data to support the idea that sending kids to school before age five will help. In fact, Scandinavian countries such as Sweden wait until their children are seven before sending them off to school; and they generally rank near the top in education. Early childhood development will increase costs; and seems like an attempt to provide day-care and employ more teachers, rather than a way to improve educating our kids.
Some believe the way to improve our schools is to hold teachers more accountable through increased evaluation. The proposed evaluations by our New Mexico Public Education Department are receiving a lot of criticism because they are weighted mostly on federal standardized testing. Although the one-size-fits-all solution is never best, evaluations have to be based on something, and tests are as good as any. However, it is possible standardized testing will result in “teaching the test.” But isn’t that better than teachers spending inordinate amounts of time socializing our children? Therefore, as long as the tests emphasize the traditional 3-Rs (that made our ancestors the most productive work-force in the world) let teachers spend their time on subject matter that covers the test questions.
Having said all this, the above solutions are like applying band-aids to a gaping wound. We might slow the blood loss, but we’re still losing. So, let me present my solution to education by first identifying the problem: government and monopoly.
Government is inefficient because of its bureaucracy and red tape. Prominent Democrats admitted this recently due to the travails of the ObamaCare website. Even President Obama said about government, “…generally, it is so bureaucratic and so cumbersome, that a whole bunch of it doesn’t work, or it ends up being way over-cost.” I don’t think anyone would argue that government has a bad track record when it comes to procurement, customer service and IT. But, I would argue the same with education. Now, combine that inefficiency with the power of a monopoly, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Therefore, the best solution is privatization that provides competition and choice. Think about it, why wouldn’t the same system that made us the most productive and successful nation ever, work for our schools? Competition and choice make us work harder, innovate more, and be as efficient as possible. This same system can make our schools better. And the proof is in the private schools.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, private schools outperform public schools on standardized achievement tests; graduation requirements; graduation rates; and advanced degrees of graduates. Additionally, private schools provide a much safer environment to learn. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, crime in public schools is three times higher than in private schools. Lastly, private schools emphasize moral values that provide meaning and purpose to life. A growing number of parents desperately want to choose schools that provide their children these benefits. But the public school monopoly is not capable, nor responsive to their desires.
Now, some argue that privatization is inappropriate because it brings a “profit motive” to our schools. However, a simple comparison of teacher’s pay reveals the private sector spends far less. According to NCES, private school teachers average $13k less annually than their public school counterparts. Additionally, private schools spend thousands less per-pupil. And because of this disparity in costs, the government could afford to offer vouchers to poorer families; giving everyone the opportunity to choose private schools. This would save the government money and put more power in the hands of parents, who care much more about their children’s education than a public school board. All this brings efficiency and choice to our schools, not greed.
Our public schools are a failure; and to point out an example of a good public school today is like identifying the cleanest pig in the pen. Private schools do more with less because of competition and choice. It’s time to break the monopoly of the public schools.