Back to Issues: Education
While we all follow the horse races of election season, it’s worth turning our eyes now and then to the issues that our elected representatives will decide. Toward that end, consider Bill Costello’s argument against the government monopoly of education:
The current public education system is not preparing Americans to succeed in the increasingly competitive global economy. In the U.S., this will lead to growing unemployment rates, a decline in Gross Domestic Product, unsustainable levels of national debt, and reduced military capability. …
Those who argue that the solution is more money for public schools have had three decades to test their theory. Increased spending has not led to improvement. American test scores have remained flat since the early 1970s even though per-pupil spending, adjusted for inflation, went from $4,489 in 1970-1971 to $10,041 in 2006-2007 — an increase of 124 percent.
No public motivation could outstrip parental incentive to ensure better lives for one’s own children. In other words, individual parents are better positioned and more motivated to choose particular schools and ensure that they provide desirable, beneficial educations. At the very least, parents who choose private schools should receive refunds of that portion of their tax money that goes to public education, with that loss coming directly from the public schools that would otherwise educate those children.
I’ll return to my local example: During this year’s budget battle in Tiverton, the School Committee strove to frighten parents into voting for a massive tax increase by threatening to close one of our brand new elementary schools. The insider rumor mill worked over time choosing the school that was in the target hairs for maximum political effect, transforming a general statement that closing a school “might be an option” to a public sense that it would be unavoidable that a particular school would become an empty building if the district’s budget request failed. Parents began to turn their eyes to private school, and some broke away from the public system even though the schools ultimately got the money they demanded.
The point is that the threat of parents to withdraw their children from public schools is not a threat at all. Until it reaches the point of giving budget hawks political ammunition, if anything, fewer children helps a public school district’s bottom line. They profit by losing customers.
Worse still, under such circumstances, it is sure to be the most motivated parents, who put the most emphasis on and are willing to get most involved with their children’s education, who leave first. That is not a model for success.