Government policies are holding back the youngest generation of American students from reaching their full educational potential, so says Manhattan Institute scholars Diana Furchtgott-Roth and Jared Meyer in a book published Tuesday called, Disinherited: How Washington Is Betraying America's Young. In my last job, I assisted Furchtgott-Roth and Meyer with research for the book.
Disinherited is full of stories about governments stifling millennials with policies designed to help special interests over everyone else. In education, it is easy to see how government favors well-funded teachers unions over the needs of students.
Rebecca Friedrichs started teaching elementary school in California in 1987. She told Furchtgott-Roth and Meyer that another teacher would scream at her students — first-graders. "That abusive teacher negatively affected hundreds of children for many years until she finally retired," Friedrichs said.
It did not matter that the teacher's students learned little and were quite possibly scarred for the rest of their lives. Union lobbying strengthened the tenure laws that protect such terrible behavior.
Abusive teachers aren't limited to decades past or other parts of the country. Across the United States, teachers who deserve to be fired are protected from accountability by their unions. In some cases, such as verbal abuse, inadequacy is obvious. But flying under the radar are non-abusive teachers who simply lack the skills necessary to be effective educators.
"The main problem with our public-education system is that it favors older, unqualified teachers over the interests of the young," Furchtgott-Roth and Meyer wrote. "In most fields, if you cannot do your job, you are replaced with someone who can. But not in education."
Thankfully, younger teachers are starting to get the opportunity to teach in more non-unionized schools that don't subscribe to the old-school educational model.
Kimberly Tett graduated college in 2013 and decided to take her teaching talents to a Chicago charter school instead of a traditional public school. Some teachers might complain about the lack of tenured teaching positions or union bargaining in most charter schools. Tett loves the freedom she has with her curriculum.
"I can teach literature that I am passionate about, and that passion shows through to my students," she told Furchtgott-Roth and Meyer. "And if I'm halfway through the year and the next book I have planned won't work, I have the freedom to make the decision to change it based on what I think will work best for the students and myself."
For Tett's school, the benefits of giving teachers freedom is clear. An astonishing 94 percent of high school seniors at Tett's school are accepted into four-year colleges. Meanwhile, in Chicago's public schools, about half of students are accepted into college.
Although poor education policy is most common at the state and local level, even the federal government gets involved.
Furchtgott-Roth and Meyer describe a lawsuit filed in 2013 by President Obama's Department of Justice to block a school choice program in Louisiana. According to the Department, giving families more opportunities to choose the school that is best for them leads to segregation. "At one school, the loss of only five white students to a voucher school was enough, in the Justice Department's eyes, to warrant a lawsuit," Furchtgott-Roth and Meyer wrote. God forbid students have the opportunity to escape failing schools and get a real education.
Although "Disinherited" has content on everything from licensing requirements for work to the unsustainable federal budget, its education chapter is particularly compelling. If America's youth do not have an effective education, how can they be empowered to overcome all the other obstacles that government puts in their way?