Let's Focus Education on the Brightest and Make Parents Pay

Article excerpt

Byline: Neil Huff

It is time to come to our senses about public education. It's time to look for ways to make it economically efficient. It's time to share costs in ways that ensure that everyone involved is serious and able to work to international standards. We no longer can rely on American exceptionalism to rescue us from the consequences of decades of mishandled public education.

To compete successfully in this new and tougher world, we must concentrate resources on the brightest children. That sounds harsh, but we will find the world is pitiless toward failed states no matter how well-intentioned they may be. The evidence shows we are failing in numerous ways, public education being paramount.

I observed schools in some 12 countries, from Belize to Colombia to Indonesia, where my work took me between 1962 and 1992. In most of those countries, in spite of being underdeveloped, children with access to schools were reading, writing and figuring up to capacity. All students were serious about their education, and so were their parents. Not much dating went on, and if the children played sports - and many did - it was on their own, usually outside of school.

Moreover, educators harbored an old-fashioned and politically incorrect idea that school is for learning, not wasting resources tweaking grades and curricula to achieve an equality of outcomes that is impossible to honestly attain, given the fact of an unequal distribution of ability. Our educators and politicians dislike admitting this.

I noticed a common factor in these countries - a factor that compelled parents to stay involved in all aspects of their children's schooling. This mechanism reduced truancy and damped disruptive behavior. It also tended to root out those parents and children for whom the classroom is a guardian and, for the kids, a waste of time - the kids' and the school's.

The magic solution? School fees! Nothing works so well to focus parents' attention on their kids' schooling as having to pay directly some portion of its cost. Plunking down hard cash for their children's schooling creates an immediate monetary interest in the process. …