American Education Imperils American Dream

Published October 1, 1998

If we knew how to cure cancer and didn’t do anything about it, people would be outraged. Why is education so different?

According to Michael Bakalis, Professor of Public, Not-for-Profit Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, education policy makes and academics have known for a long time what it takes to produce high-quality schools. Yet public education in the US is not moving toward what works. Instead, Bakalis said, the public education monopoly is unraveling across the country and imperiling the American Dream.

“The American Dream is that if you work hard enough in this country, you can make it–but now, because of the educational system, maybe you can’t make it,” warned Bakalis in a speech at the July 30 opening session of the Edventures ’98 Conference on Northwestern’s lakefront campus.

An advocate of the promise of public education, Bakalis fears that the reality today is that it serves “everyone except the children.”

“We need to fix the problem of public education because it is critical for the survival of our democracy,” said Bakalis. He quoted Thomas Jefferson’s wry observation: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be.”

The key to better education, he said, is to broaden the concept of choice:

  • Allow individual public schools to become charter schools with performance goals;
  • If a school is failing, allow district voters to establish a local voucher program;
  • Give teachers incentives to perform better;
  • Allow alternate teacher certification, to make it easier for experienced professionals to bring their knowledge to the classroom.