Modern Education Failed Us

A blog for stories, research, and activism for educational choices. One-size-fits-all mass education is harmful for many children. There are many educational models - homeschooling, secular private schools, one-room schoolhouse, charter schools, virtual schools, specialty schools, religious schools, and many more. All deserve respect and equal protection under the law. The government should not discriminate nor dominate! Centralized monopolistic public education should be a thing of the past.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Let a Thousand Choices Bloom

Great article! It is subtitled "Debating the Future of Education Reform"

The money quotes:

Any reform that directly attaches money to the backs of children and allows them to choose any school, without regard to residential restrictions, holds promise. The actual choice mechanism—tax credit, charter school, or voucher—is less important than a child’s having substantial purchasing power and an open system that allows many different types of schools to compete for the child’s funding.

One significant barrier to more school choice is the implicit acceptance of our archaic system of residential school assignment. Changing the cultural and institutional structures that reinforce school assignment is one crucial element for expanding the number of choices available to students and their families. -- Lisa Snell

The greatest barrier to reform is that, when it comes to education, Americans have lost sight of the distinction between means and ends. Our state-run school system is no longer recognized as just one possible tool for pursuing universal education; it has come to be misperceived as an ultimate goal in and of itself. The term “public education” has come to refer to both the institution of public schooling and the ideals that the institution is meant to advance. Many Americans can no longer even imagine a world in which education is delivered other than via a government monopoly. And criticisms of state schooling are often misconstrued or misrepresented as attacks on the idea of universal access to good schools. -- Andrew Coulson

Given the tenacity and power of those who have a powerful stake in the status quo, freedom advocates cannot afford to oppose anything that meaningfully expands parental choice. Tuition and scholarship tax credits entail the least government regulation, but vouchers are more concentrated and can drive systemic public school reform. Let a thousand school choice flowers bloom, and we can see which variety works best.

Ultimately, we need to redefine “public education,” focusing less on where education takes place and more on whether it takes place. A child learning at home in front of a computer or in a religious school is advancing the true goals of public education; a child trapped in a crime-infested public school with little prospect of learning is not.

If we were starting today a system of public education from scratch, with all of the technological innovations at our disposal, would it look anything like the ossified, hidebound, bricks-and-mortar, command-and-control, homo-genous, bureaucratic, bloated, inefficient, special-interest-dominated monopoly that represents the biggest socialist system west of China and south of the U.S. Postal System? Of course not. We would create a system that is tailored to the individual needs of every child.

Government should be a funder rather than a monopoly provider of education; local school boards should be providers of educational services, not ideological politburos; and public school principals, teachers, and parents should all have greater autonomy.

The greatest institutional obstacles to systemic education reform are teachers unions, school boards and administrators, and schools of education. Good teachers have nothing to fear from competition—indeed, they obtain more power over their classrooms and sometimes even higher pay. -- Clint Bolick

The people who support the status quo are much more politically powerful at this point than people who are supporting reforms such as parental choice. It’s the teachers unions, of course, but also the administrator organizations, school board associations, and in many instances schools of education. That’s not to say no one in these sectors wants children to succeed; the vast majority probably do. The question is whether they’re willing to have structures, processes, and power arrangements that will allow that to happen. -- Howard Fuller

Anything that brings more choice to parents, especially poor parents, is likely to create a constituency for choice. Once you’ve got a constituency, you’ve got more political power and more ability to resist any kind of step backward.

Political power is the obstacle. There are reformers who are concerned about what’s best for kids, but the vested interests that arise are more concerned with protecting the status quo; that’s their livelihood. The unions in particular are extremely powerful and want to prevent any kind of threatening changes. And I don’t know that there’s an answer to that other than to amass power on the choice side. -- Terry M. Moe

Ultimately, the case against public schooling is a moral one. Under what moral authority does the state take control over the educational decisions of the family? Under what moral authority does the state take one person’s money in order to fund the educational expenses of other people’s children, either to attend public school or, with a government welfare voucher, to attend a private school?

The biggest hurdle we face in achieving full educational choice is a lack of confidence in the free market when it comes to education. -- Jacob G. Hornberger

Getting the government out of schooling may be optimal, but there is little chance of implementing that without a long intermediate stage where the government stops providing school through government-owned facilities staffed by government employees, but still subsidizes K–12 schooling through vouchers or tax credits. That subsidy-only stage—ending the present discrimination against private school users—is absolutely necessary to fully harness market forces, and it’s the most promising politically.

The largest obstacle is inertia reinforced by economic illiteracy. The differences between political and market accountability are poorly understood, and the present system’s failure to teach basic economic principles helps it survive withering criticism. -- John Merrifield

There are two major barriers. One is the swarm of adult vested interests that benefit from the current arrangements and feel threatened by any serious change. They all have lobbyists; kids and parents don’t. The other, alas, is the vast population of complacent Americans, especially middle-class suburbanites, who have already exercised school choice of one sort or another and who now believe that their own kids’ schools are doing well enough. Usually they aren’t. -- Chester E. Finn, Jr.

When it comes to education most people somehow believe that the rules should be different. We shouldn’t allow choice, they argue, because people might make bad choices. Schools don’t need competition to perform better, they argue, they just need better resources. And assessing performance to compensate educators is fraught with error, they fear. Besides, teachers don’t do it for the money; they do it because they love children.

These arguments for education being exceptional do not stand up to scrutiny. The government does not assign people to doctors, even though it is possible that people may choose poorly—and health care is an area where the cost of failure can be catastrophic. And while we understand that almost everyone who works with kids, from doctors to babysitters, loves children, we also recognize that financial rewards for excellent performance inspire better service. -- Jay P. Greene

Compulsory attendance laws absolutely have to be changed. It’s so difficult to actually educate oneself under these prison regulations. We had a time without compulsory attendance in American history, and we did quite well with a variety of schoolings. Then waves of immigration caused a revulsion effect among nativist Americans, and the idea of locking up the children of immigrants away from their parents and traditions and cultures seemed very appealing and “Americanizing.” (Of course, that’s a meaningless term. Given the meaning of this country, that would be un-Americanizing them.) -- John Taylor Gatto

Read it all at


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