‘Tis the season for New Year’s resolutions. If you’re a lawmaker, reforming education should be at the top of your list—but not in the way you might think.
Education reform often plays second fiddle to “bigger” policy issues voters say they care more about. For instance, education finished behind the economy, terrorism, foreign policy, healthcare, gun policy, immigration, and social security in Pew Research’s poll of the top voting issues in the 2016 election.
Because voters tend to put education policy on the backburner, legislators do the same. Even when it does comes time to “do something” about our failing education system, lawmakers’ default move is to lazily throw more money at the problem, even though over the past several decades, increased government funding for education has failed to result in improved academic achievement.
While some might lament legislators’ unwillingness to seize even more control of education, there are good reasons to believe getting the government out of the education business is actually the best thing lawmakers can do. After years of wasting billions of dollars on programs that benefit few kids, it’s time, as Monty Python would say, “for something completely different.”
The United States has for decades utilized the ZIP-code-based, one-size-fits-all government public education model, and what used to serve as a mediocre system of educating children has devolved into a corrupt and extremely expensive failure. Reforming U.S. education for the better requires forming it anew, not simply tweaking standards here and there—and certainly not writing increasingly bigger checks that will ultimately get wasted on the same-old, worthless measures. What America needs is fewer bureaucrats and government controls and more freedom for parents, which can best be achieved through a multitude of school choice programs.
In November, Walter Williams wrote about just how disastrous U.S. public schools have become, especially for non-white students. “The educational achievement of white youngsters is nothing to write home about, but that achieved by blacks is nothing less than disgraceful,” Williams wrote. “In 2016, in 13 of Baltimore’s 39 high schools, not a single student scored proficient on the state’s mathematics exam. In six other high schools, only 1 percent tested proficient in math.
“Baltimore is by no means unique,” Williams continued. “It’s a small part of the ongoing education disaster for black students across the nation. Baltimore schools are not underfunded. Of the nation’s 100 largest school systems, Baltimore schools rank third in spending per pupil.”
It isn’t surprising then that Latinos and African-American parents strongly support school choice. Writing in 2016 on the subject of how government schools are failing students who need academic help the most, Thomas Sowell noted the overwhelming demand for school choice in the black community.
“More than 43,000 families are on waiting lists to get their children into charter schools,” Sowell wrote. “But admission is by lottery, and far more have to be turned away than can be admitted. Why? Because the teachers’ unions are opposed to charter schools — and they give big bucks to politicians, who in turn put obstacles and restrictions on the expansion of charter schools.”
It’s obvious the current system isn’t working, and it’s easy to see why: Teachers unions are corrupt and powerful, and they provide millions of dollars to equally corrupt politicians so that they’ll do everything in their power to keep families from accessing the educational alternatives they desperately desire.
America’s education system is facing a crisis. Across the country, teachers’ pensions are sucking state budgets dry at an alarming rate. More and more kids—at least those who manage to graduate—are forced to take remedial courses in college because their high schools taught them nothing of value. Many children in disadvantaged households never get the education required to get a leg up in the world, keeping many of them stuck in a cycle of drugs, violence, poverty, and desperation.
The education choice movement offers a radically different path and something many parents have never had: freedom to provide a high-quality education for their kids, no matter how much money they have or what neighborhood they live in. This is why school choice made great strides in 2017, as multiple states passed reforms giving some parents additional education options. But as important as 2017 was, much more must be done in 2018. Let’s make this the year that future generations remember as the turning point in the education freedom movement!
Teresa Mull (email@example.com) is a research fellow in education policy at The Heartland Institute.
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