• The Public School Disaster

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    my state, in the coming weeks, there are going to be a great many
    columns about the failure of the Texas legislature to finance the
    public schools. 98% of what will be written will be irrelevancies
    about money.

    public school system has problems that money can’t cure. This will
    not be discussed. Despite its support by a mandatory attendance
    (required for 13 years) and taxpayer financial support that is also
    mandatory (averaging $9,000 per year per student), our public schools
    now produce high school graduates with less than an 8th grade-level
    education. Nationwide, the costs for this academic and social failure
    are $536 billion per year (www.ed.gov).
    And costs are going up.

    principal reason for this situation is that educating our children
    is no longer the primary purpose of the public schools. Today their
    purpose is to employ six million people – not to deliver quality
    education to our children, and certainly not to save money. It has
    been this way for at least 20 years.

    Shanker, President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT),
    had a penchant for telling it like it is. Back in 1985, he said
    “When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll
    start representing the interests of school children.” Legislators,
    the media, and the public may be confused on this issue, but the
    teachers’ unions are not.

    you gave all the money in the United States to the public schools,
    they would not improve – they would simply cost more. The system
    is tenaciously committed to expanding its work force, and paying
    every teacher the same salary – whether that teacher is world-class
    and deserves $200,000 per year, or whether that teacher is incompetent
    and deserves to be fired.

    is no question that much higher quality education can now be delivered
    at a small fraction of current public school costs. But because
    today’s public school mission is to employ people (not to educate
    our children), these schools are never going to have lower cost
    – and are unlikely ever to deliver even marginally better education.

    our public school system has dominated K-12 education for almost
    100 years, most Americans can’t even conceive of how children could
    learn to read and write if it weren’t for the government-run schools.
    They ask, “Isn’t the education of our children too important to
    be left to the uncertainties of the free market?”

    we accept this rationale, logically we should put government in
    charge of supplying our food. After all, we can go years without
    education – and still survive. But food – we need food every
    day, multiple times every day. How is it that the market can handle
    this more essential and more difficult function – but not handle
    education? Why is it that the nations that let government take over
    the supplying of food have all ended up with widespread starvation?

    1989 Albert Shanker again spelled it out clearly, “It’s time to
    admit that public education operates like a planned economy, a bureaucratic
    system in which everybody’s role is spelled out in advance and there
    are few incentives for innovation and productivity. It’s no surprise
    that our school system doesn’t improve; it more resembles the communist
    economy than our own market economy.”

    of money is not why our schools cost so much and perform so poorly.
    Instead of desperately trying to fund the nonfunctional public school
    system, our legislators should be working to empower parents and
    children to break free – to make the choices that are best
    for themselves.

    1990 Shanker told us, “95% of the kids who go to college in the
    U.S. would not be admitted to college anywhere else in the world.”
    Maybe our legislators can also debate the question: why is it a
    good idea to let our children be educated by the government?

    16, 2005

    Ford is a retired businessman living in Austin, Texas. See his website,
    a non-partisan project to obtain for Texans the right of direct
    binding initiative.

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