K-12 Disaster Shows Need for Fundamental Reforms

Published September 25, 2017

Many people used to think classes were too large and we weren’t spending enough money on education. Between 1955 and 1991, however, class sizes declined by 40 percent and per-pupil expenditures increased by 350 percent in real dollars, yet student achievement has not increased accordingly. Most of that money never reaches the classroom. Clearly, increasing spending and decreasing class size have not solved our nation’s educational problems.

Government Schools Lack Quality

Young Americans are forced to spend the best hours of their days, nine months per year, for 12 years in institutions that produce a large percentage of graduates who do not even possess basic reading, writing, and arithmetic skills. Remedial classes for freshman entering college are on the rise.

Karen Mathews, writing for the Associated Press in March 2017, reported New York state education officials were poised to scrap a test designed to measure the reading and writing skills of people applying to become teachers in New York, because a large percentage of black and Hispanic applicants were failing it.

This phenomenon flies in the face of the fact that highly qualified men and women seeking teaching positions are routinely rejected out of hand by government schools for lack of a teaching certificate. Apologists for this system—which is controlled by teachers unions—claim they just want to be sure of teacher quality, yet this restriction on entry into the profession certainly reflects their economic self-interest.

Choice, the Great Equalizer

Significantly different test score averages exist among different races in public schools. Such disparities do not appear between races in homeschool programs. There is no significant difference between races in school performance when they are given the same educational opportunities.

School choice programs create competition among schools, and increasing the number and scope of such programs could go a long way toward solving many of the problems created by centralized control of schools and its many layers of bureaucracy.

Teachers Union Resistance

Resistance to choice and local control meets unbelievable resistance from teachers unions. Part of this resistance comes from those who have sought to expand the role of public education into areas once only in the purview of the family, such as instilling moral values and passing on social and political attitudes. These are the clear objective of the Common Core State Standards.

Replacing vs. Reforming

Successfully reorganizing schools at either the district or individual level requires allowing schools to hire and remunerate teachers as the need requires, without union interference. There is no secret to finding and retaining the best teachers. Their benefits must be competitive with other opportunities, as is the case in the rest of the non-government-controlled world.

With the government in near-total control over students and very little competition in education, educators often see parents as bothersome nuisances rather than valued customers. Many of us continue to talk about reforming our government school system, but perhaps we should be talking about replacing it.

Art Robinson (t[email protected]) is a senior fellow for environmental policy and member of the Board of Directors of The Heartland Institute. Jay Lehr, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is science director at The Heartland Institute.