U.S. Schools – Underperforming

Published January 13, 2005

Dear Editor,

William C. Symonds (Business Week Commentary, “U.S. Schools: Underperforming”) is right about U.S. K-12 schools being underperforming, but he’s wrong about them being underfunded.

International comparisons show the U.S. to be one of the top three spenders on K-12 education. Current spending tops $500 billion a year–about $10,500 per student per year, or more than $120,000 for 12 years in school. While student achievement has remained flat over the past 30 years, per-pupil spending has doubled in real terms, meaning productivity has fallen dramatically.

As the late Albert Shanker observed, the basic problem with the U.S. K-12 public education system is that “It more resembles a communist economy than our own market economy.”

The solution is to create incentives for schools to pay teachers for performance, and the way to do that is to distribute education funds to parents instead of to school officials: Give a $10,000 voucher to each child and let the parents spend the money at the public or private school they think is best for their child’s education.

It’s not such a radical idea: Social Security funds are paid directly to seniors, and that works. It’s time education funds were paid directly to parents.

George A. Clowes
Senior Fellow, The Heartland Institute
Chicago, Illinois

Editor: Dr. George A. Clowes ([email protected]) is a senior fellow for education policy at The Heartland Institute in Chicago. He is also managing editor of School Reform News.