Free the schools to operate like businesses
In the Information Age, the winning nations will be the ones who have the best educated populations.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t include this country.
We talk a lot about education in this country, and we even pass a few laws like No Child Left Behind. But we still leave our children behind. We pour in more money, but it seems to do little good. We still trail most of our main competitors in the global marketplace.
My daughter Mira will be ready to attend school in a couple of years, and it’s scary to think about the condition of our educational system. I don’t really care as much about test scores and school funding as I do about the incentives for schools to treat my daughter like a valued customer, not some piece of meat to be shoved through the school system sausage grinder.
We live in a competitive world. To prepare our children to live in this world, we need to have competitive schools, too. European countries have discovered this, and their schools systems perform far better than ours, while spending less money.
In contrast, our public school systems have become bloated, top-heavy, bureaucratic monstrosities in need of drastic change. These behemoths simply do not have the incentives to educate individual students.
Many people put forward the idea of school vouchers as a way to do this. I think there is some merit in this concept, but it doesn’t go far enough. In the book “Had Enough” by James Carville (not a voucher fan), he states there are only about 150,000 open spots in private schools nationwide. So going to vouchers would do little to help the approximately 50 million children who need it.
Vouchers can be only part of the answer. The rest comes from radically changing our public school systems into competitive business entities, the same kind of organizations our children will work in one day.
I like the idea of having each public school operating as it own business, owned and run by the teachers, principal and staff, leasing the facilities from the school district. Each child gets a voucher from the district that they can choose to spend on any school they want.
These privatized schools would then have to compete for students. Teachers and staff would have incentives to do whatever necessary to advance each child’s education, and not just in relation to test scores. These aren’t just students, they are paying customers who can pack up and take their voucher money somewhere else. Good teachers would attract the best students, and bad teachers would be weeded out.
Some schools might charge more than what the voucher allows if their education is proven to be superior. Others may charge below that voucher amount, allowing the student to build up a trust fund that can be spent on future education. We might find that competition among schools will drive down the prices we pay now, helping our kids get a better education and still have money left over for college.
I’m sure those invested in the current system will take exception to this radical transformation. They will pick it apart, piece by piece, defending the status quo. But the truth is, our system is broken and there is a proven way to do it better. In this world, we need to compete or die. Our public schools need to operate the same way.
n Kirk Caraway is Internet editor of the Nevada Appeal. Write to him at kcaraway@nevada appeal.com, or comment online at nevada appeal.com.