Public Schools Have Flunked Out

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Public schools
are brain dead and on life support; so let’s pull the plug
on them, give them a decent funeral, and let better alternatives
take root and flourish.

Education is
what we must save and regenerate, not an obsolete proven flop that
has been in a persistent counterproductive condition for decades.
The time has come to slaughter a sacred cow.

Public schools
are failing and will continue to fail, for the following reasons:

  • Central
    planners of public schools cannot get adequate information to
    make plans that fit students.
  • No one owns
    public schools. No one has any capital at risk in them or a brand
    name to protect; so no one running them has an incentive to cut
    costs to avoid losses and to increase revenues by maximizing customer
  • Public schools
    have stayed in business, in spite of their bad results. Their
    failures have not been punished by bankruptcy or loss of jobs.
    Their failures have been rewarded with more money, which has operated
    as a perverse incentive to fail again and again.
  • Public schools
    can ignore parents, since parents do not directly fund them. Educrats
    cannot ignore legislatures, judges, school boards, or pressure
    groups and their political agenda. So politics rules the roost,
    not parents; and politics has destroyed public schools.
  • Force-feeding
    children the state’s prescription for education is more about
    creating jobs for teachers than about educating students. In any
    event, no one can be forced to learn anything.
  • Compulsory-attendance
    laws, which aim at enlarging demand for administrators and staff
    and at keeping students out of the labor market, generate resistance
    and disruption by captive students, who are not interested in
    ordering from the state’s menu. Such students should be free
    to find other ways to learn how to fend for themselves, including
    going to work. The prisoners should be released.
  • Putting
    more money into a bad plan that won’t work will not make
    it work. That will only produce more of the same bad results.
    We have doubled, tripled, and quadrupled funds per student and
    have gotten increasingly worse results for our money.
  • Many good
    teachers in state schools are being frustrated by an unrealistic
    system that is based on false premises that make it inherently

A free market
in education

We should close
the public day jails and go to a free market in educational goods
and services. Owners of schools would produce results that please
customers or would go out of business. Competitors would scramble
to produce the best results at the least cost for the most customers.

With volume
up and unit costs down, tuition for private education would drop
sharply to affordable ranges, which would create a mass market.
Private scholarships would expand to help students who really want
to learn but who cannot afford even reduced prices. Nonprofits could
carry the ball.

With state
monopolies that block innovations out of the way, educational entrepreneurs
would innovate and produce good education. For example, commercial
outfits that are now producing K–8 reading and math programs
might expand to produce full K–12 curricula, and would adjust
programs and content to meet demand. Entrepreneurs would organize
instruction and interactive computer programs to enhance learning.
New educational enterprises would emerge to compete with existing
programs and entrepreneurs for the dollars of customers.

Who knows what
would develop, as the market worked its magic? Perhaps some low-cost
Internet schools with high volume would arise. They would put courses
by the best educators on computer discs; and customer service would
connect students who have questions on particular points, to home-based
teachers across the land. Maybe a discount chain of All Smart schools
would spread across the country. Franchises of McEd schools could

Just as the
telephone monopoly prevented creation of cheaper and more-efficient
alternatives and diversity in telecommunications, so the public-school
monopoly has prevented creation of cheaper and more-efficient alternatives
and diversity in education. One brand cannot serve all. So let’s
clear the way for entrepreneurs to meet the educational needs of
students with all sorts of talents and ambitions.

In the free
market, people of all races, creeds, political stripes, ideological
stances, and ethnicities would get along, as they independently
contract for and use a variety of educational goods and services;
and they would not have to fight each other, join the PTA, petition,
form pressure groups, vote, file lawsuits, or run for political
office to get what they want. Educators would be accountable to
cash customers, who would get what they want for their children
or shop elsewhere.

Vouchers and
subsidies for private schools should be avoided like the plague,
since they would put politicians in a position to wipe out private
schools. When the god-state funds any kind of education (lower,
higher, or religious), politicians, judges, and bureaucrats control
or strongly influence what is taught, who teaches what, methods
and times of instruction, who studies with whom and where, and other
conditions of eligibility for subsidies. Education is always lost
in the shuffle to stuff ballot boxes.

Also, vouchers
could be milked by fraudulent operators, as cash cows.

We have been
paying two, three, and four prices for “education” and
have been getting political battlegrounds and bureaucracies that
have precluded education. If we want education, the public school
system must be junked and replaced with private schools, many of
which would be nonprofits that would be tax-exempt and that would
attract tax-deductible contributions.

Even were public
schools (and colleges) adequately teaching communications, calculations,
and science, they would still reduce us to third-world conditions
by selling another generation of students socialist swamplands that
consume capital and thus induce mass poverty. Such pink propaganda
mills are destroying civilization.

What is needed
to regenerate education is complete separation of school and state.
Nothing else will result in optimum education. We should kick the
states and the federal government out of education and let parents
gain control of education with the power of their own money.


Several wheels
that are missing from the public school junker are indicated below.

Customers of
private schools can fire managers and teachers, by withdrawing their
children and taking them and their money elsewhere. So managers
and teachers in private schools are immediately accountable to parents
and have incentives to produce.

The alleged
accountability reports by public schools are largely irrelevant
whitewash to divert attention from and to make excuses for incompetence
and failure. Without executive power to fire incompetent teachers
and without the parents having power to withdraw their children,
there is no accountability in public schools. Also, when public
schools fail, the people who are running them do not suffer the
loss. Such personnel are therefore inherently unaccountable.

Heavy school
taxes keep the victims trapped in public schools, so that few students
can afford to escape to private schools. Also, private schools are
backed into charging high tuition, because they are precluded by
school taxes from developing a mass market and thereby reducing
unit costs.

Another problem
with politically managed schools is in various “education”
plans that arise from state judiciaries, legislatures, and bureaucracies
and from the federal judiciary, the White House, Congress, and federal
bureaucracies. The dreamers who grind such sausage to get ballots
in the box and to project their egalitarian mirages into practice
cannot fit their delusions to the educational needs of children.
Their captive “customers” are forced to pay for their
fantastic designs that won’t fly; and school administrators,
teachers, and students without parachutes are compelled to wear
regulatory straitjackets to the inevitable crash. Teachers would
have the opportunity to fly in the free market.

How would private
educational businesses in a free market (without the subsidized
public-school monopoly’s blocking access) work? The only way
that private businesses in a free market can legitimately get money
from customers into their cash registers is to fit their goods and
services to the needs and demands of sovereign consumers. Private
businesses must cut their costs and keep their prices as low as
possible without losing money, to meet competition and to generate
a mass market and high volume. Customers win in a free market.

If we want
optimum education at the least cost, we must close public schools
and go to a free market in educational goods and services. Parents
would rule the roost, with each customer’s money guiding production
by entrepreneurs. Resources would be organized by entrepreneurs
to meet the educational needs of students, just as resources are
organized in the rest of the market to meet the needs of billions
of people for automobiles, computers, recreation, locomotives, appliances,
shelter, information, furniture, food, clothing, wristwatches, aircraft,
firearms, tractors, training, and whatever else there is sufficient
demand for to cover costs of production.

The public-school
monopoly is a dead drag on education, is blocking progress in education,
and should be shut down now.

7, 2006

Erwin Norwood is a freelance writer residing in Texarkana, Texas.

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