Originally Published: February 2, 2017 6:01 a.m.
For decades the education of our children in public schools has declined. Not in all schools, but in many, if not most. Test scores decline and politicians of both parties discus, debate and pass legislation.
Because schools in affluent areas usually continue to have high student test scores, while poorer school districts have continuing lower scores, the most common solution, by both political parties, seems to be to throw money at the schools. Whether it is proposing more money for the school districts, passing state laws that a certain mandatory percentage of the state budget is earmarked for education or spending more money to reduce the number of students in the classroom, the politically correct response always involves spending more of the taxpayer dollars.
The fact that all of this money has had little or no effect on falling student test scores hasn’t put a dent in the relentless attempt by most politicians and most educators to continue to request more money. Those officials who oppose tossing more funds at education are painted as anti-education, regardless of any reasonable arguments for their opposition.
Every few years the government/educational complex keeps coming up with fresh programs that are touted as the new pedagogical panacea. For a long time, reduced class sizes were pushed as the new, best way to increase student learning. A late 1990s study by Eric A. Hanushek found little or no correlation between student achievement and class size. Other studies have shown that smaller classes may be of some benefit for grades K through third grade.
Smaller class sizes, No Child Left Behind, Common Core, or whatever the next miracle prescription to raise test scores will be, they all require a greater monetary “investment.” Since these investments never deliver a return of higher test scores or smarter students, why do we and our elected officials keep doing it? There is much evidence that there is a policy that really works by increasing students’ knowledge and test scores. It is called school choice.
Like practically every human endeavor, competition improves the product, and usually lowers the price for the consumer. Whether the product is cellphones, automobiles, restaurants, businesses or education, competition almost always is the precursor of progress and improvement. For example, a recent comprehensive study at the University of Arkansas found that students in school choice programs had their reading scores improved by 27 percent and their math score were up 15 percent. When conscientious parents are given a choice, they will put their children in the schools that have the best record of turning out high achieving students. When they don’t have a choice, their children have to go to the school that the educational bureaucracy chooses for them, regardless of its academic deficiencies, student safety, discipline or crime area.
When there is competition, all schools will eventually run more efficiently. Those that don’t will have to close for lack of funding. School choice works this way: each student is allotted a certain amount of money. Whatever school the student attends receives that money, whether it is a public, private, charter school or if the student is home schooled. Without a choice, public education is a monopoly. The money goes to the public school and since there is no competition for this money, it is not always spent in an effective way.
Here’s an example: according the National Center for Educational Statistics, since 1970 school attendance is up 5 percent yet school employment is up 95 percent during that same period. It’s true that many school boards have succumbed to the pressure of leftist culture warriors and have mandated classes that promote the LGBT or other radical agendas. Even so, that doesn’t account for the huge discrepancy between the small increase in school attendance and the nearly doubling of school employees.
Our public school systems are not working well for a large percentage of their students. The competition for education dollars that school choice provides would increase learning, test scores, efficiency and student safety. In a school choice system, those public schools that are producing good results will continue to receive taxpayer money. Any school, public, private or charter, that doesn’t produce results that parents want, will eventually close.
President Trump believes that our educational system must improve. The proven way to do that is by giving parents the choice of which school would provide the best education for their children. By naming Betsy DeVos, a longtime school choice advocate, as his nominee to be Secretary of Education, President Trump is fulfilling yet another of his campaign promises. (Many of the statistics used in this column come from the PragerU website in a video titled, “Why Good Teachers Want School Choice”).
Buz Williams is a retired Long Beach, California, police officer who has lived in Prescott since 2004.