Skip to comments.Rosen: Education friends, foes
Posted on 12/09/2005 7:28:44 AM PST by A.A. Cunningham
Rosen: Education friends, foes
December 9, 2005
'Mike Rosen is no friend of public education." This assertion was passed on to me by an ally, a lonely free spirit within the public education establishment. It wasn't his view, mind you; it was the opinion of one of his colleagues.
Au contraire, Pierre. That indictment couldn't be further from the truth. Who could possibly be opposed to an educated public? It's the pathway to success in our society. I'm very much a friend of rigorous programs to create an educated public. And I'm also committed to our traditional approach of funding universal education publicly, with tax dollars. I don't, however, believe that the best way to productively educate the public is the way we do it now, through a government monopoly on the delivery of taxpayer-funded education.
Choice, variety and competition have been the bedrock of our free society and the formula for success in most every other field. Why should education be any different? There's certainly no shortage of competition in higher education and that's delivered in large part by private institutions.
The fundamental problem with public education today is systemic. Public school districts have increasingly become politicized, corpulent bureaucracies in tow to their most influential constituent group: teachers unions.
The unions have inordinate influence in recruiting and electing like-minded candidates for school boards. Although individual teachers may be dedicated to the welfare of their students, the first priority and the raison d'etre of the teachers unions - like any trade union - is the welfare of their rank and file. They negotiate tenaciously for expensive benefits packages, pension plans and restrictive work rules. Trade unions abhor competition among their members, and the teacher unions are no different.
That's why they resist compensation policies that reward individual performance or salary differentials for teaching specialties that are in higher demand or shorter supply. The unions prefer rigid pay grids based solely on seniority and post-graduate college credits. These "friends" of the public education status quo are, rather, foes of a better-educated public.
The education establishment is a closed loop. Teachers' colleges serve as the pipeline for labor and the wellspring of bad ideas for curricula and educational philosophy. From "look-say" reading to "new math," one failed experiment builds on another, impervious to complaints from parents. American students lose ground each year to the youth of other countries in math and science. Finite time and educational resources are redirected away from basic academics to social engineering. Young minds are molded to conform to the trendy liberal agenda, including diversity, self-esteem, multiculturalism, environmentalism, situational ethics, sexual reorientation, political correctness, etc. Little boys are to be refashioned to fit the feminist vision.
Teaching methods are dumbed down to accommodate the alleged short attention spans of the MTV generation. (Absurd. Instead, educators should be cultivating longer attention spans in students. The real world doesn't reward short attention spans.) Homework is de-emphasized because students don't want to spend time doing it and teachers don't want to spend time grading it. (So they do "homework" during class time!) Schoolyard games are redesigned to eliminate competition, scorekeeping or "violence" (like dodgeball.) Letter grades are disparaged (too judgmental and damaging to self-esteem).
Is it any wonder that unionized teachers who themselves fear competition are loath to sing its praises to their students?
Dissenting parents are overwhelmed by the establishment. The power of the unions and the politicians aligned with them, combined with the apathy and naivete of too many parents make for an intractable status quo.
I have long despaired of substantive reform from within. What's needed is a virtual revolution in public education. The best way to break the stranglehold of the public education establishment and the vested interests is to empower students and parents as true customers rather than captive wards of the state. And the way to do that is through vouchers providing portable funding comparable to the current per capita cost of education in a government school.
The voucher would be redeemable at the school of one's choice - public or private. That way, the funding would follow the student. Over time, as more private schools come on line to meet the demand of newly-empowered lower- and middle-income parents (upper-income parents have always had the financial means to opt out of government schools), choices would abound. The power of the marketplace would be unleashed to give educational consumers what they want while forcing government schools to meet the test of competition by improving their product and responsiveness.
Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman has advocated this proposal for many years, during which time pubic education has only gotten worse. It's an idea whose time is coming simply because there's no workable alternative.
Mike Rosen's radio show airs daily from 9 a.m. to noon on 850 KOA.