Friday, May 08, 2009

The Problem with Public Schooling: More of the same

By almost any measure, the public school system is failing. So what is the logical response to the failure of the system of government mandated and funded schooling?

More of the same!

When you examine the education proposals of the new administration, one thing jumps out: More. More funding. More money for universal preschool. More money for college. More teachers (and consequently more union members and dollars). More and more and more. Many education “experts” have been calling for an extended school day and school year for decades. That is like trying to fix our infrastructure problems by having people spend more time at the DMV.

Is that really what we need? Do we need to trap kids for more time in a failed system? Johnny, the system is failing you now in the enormous amount of time you spend there. So let’s get you to school earlier, keep you later and extend the school year. If nine months of ineffective education are good, think how incredibly wasteful twelve months of the same would be! Why in the world would we think that more of the same would produce improved results? Without a fundamental change to the way public schooling is done, or doing away with it altogether, why would we expect different results? You don’t fix something that is broken that way. If a tractor trailer breaks down on the side of the highway because the engine blew up, putting a heavier load in the trailer and painting the cab is not going to make it run again.

Based on what the administration is proposing, not only are we looking at pumping an enormous amount of money into the system, nothing is being done that will actually improve that same system. So we should expect the same poor quality results but pay more for them (kind of like the car companies). Anything that might actually improve the whole system is done away with, especially when it comes to competition. The one thing that would make a huge difference in education (not schooling, education) would be to have real educational choice available to parents. As it stands now, lower income parents have really only two options: public school or homeschool. Private schools, religious and secular, are too expensive. Charter schools are being done away with. Where you live dictates the relative quality of the school your kids attend, so better school districts are more desirable which means that homes in that district are more expensive and thus become off limits to lower income families which traps kids from lower income families into disastrous schools. Introducing real competition would help this whole process. Poorly run schools would go away and well run schools would thrive in a free market. Unfortunately for kids, that is an uphill battle and especially so in an environment where teachers unions have gotten a huge boost in influence and power. In almost every decision we make for services, we have choices. You aren’t forced to shop at the Wal-Mart down the road because you are in that Wal-Mart’s “shopping district”. You go shop where you want. Even recipients of government food assistance can pretty much shop where they want. Not parents of school aged kids. This quote from a Wall Street Journal editorial captures the grim reality faced by many lower income parents, many of whom are black and supported Barack Obama…

So, does Mr. Obama care more about criminals than kids? Of course not. He just cares most about not upsetting a hugely important liberal special interest group that helped elect him and other Democrats. The raw political calculation is that poor black parents will forgive him long before the National Education Association does.

The problem is not that we don’t spend enough money or that kids don’t spend enough time in the public schools. The public school system IS the problem and forcing kids to spend more time there isn’t going to help anyone but the teachers unions and the Department of Education.

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