Inside: The decline of public education, school vouchers, democratic complexes, district bureaucracy, et al. |
I wasted 30 minutes writing it, so you can waste 5 minutes reading it. No skimming :P
During the past 40 years, funding for primary education has increased dramatically, in terms of constant dollars; yet standardized testing scores show little to no improvement and sometimes even deterioration. Nor does empirical evidence show any marked signs of improvement in education. |
It's disingenuous to blame the tests, since other countries are able to outscore the United States, as are certain localities able to outscore the U.S. national average, without "teaching to the test."
It's not a problem of funding. It's a problem of bureaucracy at the Federal, state and district level and more importantly, it's a problem of teachers.
The bureaucracy exhibited in public education is truly astonishing. The U.S. Department of Education, with a budget of $50 billion a year, gives money to states, localities and special programs in the form of grants, but does not fund education directly. But this money does not come with no strings attached. To receive it, schools must implement all manner of wild and crazy programs, such as Title 9.
Take a looksie at this funding chart, plotted against reading test scores. Interesting?
The money schools get from the U.S. D.O.E. is entirely wasted, because it never goes to a school district's general fund, where it might increase the wages of teachers or be put to actual useful purposes, decided locally. It goes to specific programs with specific goals with specific strings attached. (Not that the specific goals are ever met). The school district has to hire an entirely new layer of bureaucracy just to manage all the new rules imposed upon them by the D.O.E.
The problem with teachers is not that they are paid too much or too little, but that they're all paid according to a standardized sliding scale, weighted by seniority. This system rewards poor teachers with pay increases, but punishes good teachers by only providing the same mediocre cost of living-type increases provided to all teachers.
There's a reason private schools students consistently score better than public school students. And it certainly has nothing to do with the genetics of the privileged children attending private school. Nor does it have to do with resources to maintain better buildings, better equipment, better textbooks or air conditioners. It's the teachers.
Teachers at private school compete for pay. Good teachers are rewarded, while poor teachers are let go.
Teachers' Unions everywhere loudly proclaim the importance of school teachers - and I couldn't agree more. But the irony is that it is the Teachers' Unions which have hurt education so dearly, by negotiating standard contracts for every teacher.
A good teacher can open a student's eyes to new and wonderful things, excite them about their work and inspire them to truly think, create and improve them self. A poor teacher teaches out of a textbook, encourages the same student to skim the textbook to look for the answer and scrape through the class with a B+ (in between naps and spitball fights).
Unfortunately for public education, good teachers aren't paid well enough and either leave public education for a private alternative, or stop teaching altogether. (Save the few good teachers who actually stick it out, apparently for reasons other than compensation. When I was in high school, out of 30 or 40 teachers, I recall only 2 as having been truly inspiring).
What's the solution? School vouchers.
The reasons for school vouchers go above and beyond the problem of bureaucracy and poor teacher tenure, though.
School vouchers are hardly an 'elitist' idea. It's an idea to expose the same principals that served the rest of our country so well to education. (Namely, the free market).
Society has decided that a free public education is beneficial to everyone. Primarily, it serves to educate citizens enough that they can make informed voting decisions. Secondly, it increases the productivity of society. Studies have shown the more education one receives, the lower the likelihood that person will commit a serious crime. Etc, etc, etc. The list goes on and on.
But the state has shown itself to be completely and totally inept at nearly everything it does. Such large bureaucracies are inherently inefficient (Which is why corporations split themselves up into smaller, self-managing subsidiaries).
School vouchers provide a choice to the parents of a child. Since society as a whole gains so much from education, society will give each child XXX dollars per year for education (probably around $5,500). The parent can spend that money in any way he or she wants, provided the entirety is devoted specifically to educating a child.
It is fairer to parents who already send their children to school, since they will no longer be forced to pay twice for their child's education - once when they pay taxes and again to the private school. (Okay - I know someone is going to complain this is a tax break for the rich. That's stupid. Because the rich obviously don't care about the $5,500. So if you want to set a cap on who gets the voucher, say if your household income is above $120,000/year, perhaps, I could care less. It's about quality education for all children, not quality education for the rich. By the same token, I expect someone will reply that school vouchers help rich kids to the detriment of poor kids still stuck in public education. I don't propose that we offer public education as a choice. I propose we /only/ offer school vouchers (after a phase-in, of course)).
Once all schools are private (but largely financed by public money, through vouchers), the schools will be much more free to hire and fire teachers as they will, set their salaries and generally retain good talent while dismissing the poor. It is in their interest to do this, because parents will choose to take their children to the better schools.
Without the layers and layers of bureaucracy present in the current school system, more money will be available to fund things that are actually important - like the salaries of teachers.
If society is not happy with the quality of education being received, it would be much, much easier to show exactly where all the money is going and what can be done to improve education (by increasing the amount paid by a voucher).
Some will inevitably argue that school vouchers lead to a tiered-system of schooling. Of course it will. But I'd suggest you look at today's system - it's already tiered, and the public schools are right smack at the bottom. They could hardly be worse, so we needn't worry about lowering the quality of education. I'm not sure how it'd be possible.
School vouchers are freer; if parents don't want their children to be taught evolution, now they don't have to be. They can go to a school that teaches creationism (as long as it meets other basic educational standards. Also, I definitely don't like the idea of students being taught creationism in lieu of evolution. But I like the idea of the government deciding what to teach them a lot less).
If you won't accept school vouchers as a solution, I hope you'd at least accept this:
Basically a twist on charter schools/SCBM, etc. Education is still entirely publicly funded. But the district is entirely cut out of the equation. Money is deposited directly to the account of a 'democratic complex.' The democratic complex is a group of schools in the same general area. The complex would get a standard amount of funding directly proportional to the number of students attending the complex.
The complex has one Complex Principal, who has authority to hire and fire principals of the many schools, as well as ultimate authority over the hiring and firing of anyone in the complex, the management of the complex, etc. Each school still retains a principal, with the right to recommend hiring and firing of teachers to the Complex Principal.
The Complex Principal is elected annually by the parents of the students attending the complex. If the Complex Principal is not doing a good job, presumably the parents would not elect him come next election. Complex-Parent meetings would be held on a more frequent basis, perhaps quarterly, so that parents can judge the progress of the schools, hold votes of no confidence, etc.
The Complex (read: parents) gets to set its own educational standards, as long as they meet a minimum requirement. They get to set the salaries of teachers, they get to hold individual fund raising efforts if they so choose, etc. They're entirely autonomous from the central school district (which would probably still exist as a skeleton organization, taking advantage of economies of scale where useful, such as HR administration tasks, etc).
You could even take things a step further, and allow the complexes to levy additional taxes or levies where necessary, though I'm not sure that'd be a good idea (and may be extremely unfair to poor families which live in a pre-dominantly upper-middle class neighborhood.
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