Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New Choices in Education Will Drive Broader Reform BREAKING A CLASSROOM MONOPOLY

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New Choices in Education Will Drive Broader Reform BREAKING A CLASSROOM MONOPOLY

Article excerpt

EDUCATION reform as it is being implemented across the country has four main threads: money, equity, decentralization, and standards. Within the context of the established structure of public education, these have generated reasonable attempts to improve student outcomes. Unfortunately, it is the structure of public education itself that is in greatest need of reform. To break through the status quo we must dismantle the monopoly structure of public education through deregulation, independently managed schools, and choice.

More than 90 percent of school-age children attend public schools. With a few recent exceptions, children and parents have only one source for public education: their local school district. Local school departments are harnessed together by similar state departments of education and a web of federal laws governing public schools. Of equal importance is the pervasive presence of collective-bargaining agreements between school districts and local affiliates of the two national teachers unions. Even though there are thousands of nominally independent providers of public schooling, these separate entities do not compete with one another.

OK, so public education is a monopoly. So what? Well, like all monopolies the public education system has fallen into stagnation, if not decline, and it is marked by a preoccupation with politics and bureaucracy, rather than customers and quality. As has been well documented, scores on tests such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) have declined over the past 30 years and are now stagnant. This decline in academic performance took place during a period of substantial real spending growth. Some insight into the cause of this educational stagflation can be gleaned from the fact that less than 45 percent of all employees in the US education work force are teachers. In 1950 more than 70 percent of the work force were teachers.

Bureaucratic influences

Underlying these numbers is the growing influence of politics and bureaucracy. Increasingly, resources are directed toward those programs with the most vocal political organizations, the most adept legal advocates, and the most entrenched bureaucracies.

Educational improvement will happen because of what goes on in schools and homes, not because of government actions. But policy changes are needed to make improvement possible, specifically through the creation of a real education marketplace that will free educators and parents to take direct responsibility for what they do best, namely caring for and teaching children.

There is a long list of laws and regulations governing education that should be repealed or rewritten, but for the sake of brevity I will focus on only two: special and bilingual education. There is a simple concept behind both of these laws: All children have a right to a free and appropriate education. …

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