Anti-reform activists push back on giving parents education choice
Today, Rick Hess at National Review Online writes a great article drawing the battle lines in education reform. On one side are voices like Diane Ravitch, whose new book attacks school reformers for supporting school choice, accountability, merit pay and greater respect for parents' role in the education of their children. On the other side are caring school reformers, of both parties, alike, who have signed on to well-meaning, but top-down reforms. Here is an insightful excerpt from Mr. Hess’ article:
“Contemporary reform has unfolded as a grand crusade to ‘close achievement gaps’ in reading and math, with remarkably little attention to the day-to-day concerns of most parents or educators. Conservatives have joined liberals in designing overwrought accountability and teacher-evaluation systems while failing to address the regulatory, contractual and licensure barriers that make it tough for dynamic educational leaders to drive real change.”
Washington Policy Center observes the public school system is a highly regulated monopoly in which top-down reforms have been attempted over and over again, each iteration placing more and more rules and restrictions on teachers, principals and parents.
The research shows adding more and more top-down rules and restrictions does not work. These rules prevent the dynamic educators in Washington’s schools from taking the steps needed to improve education for children. Rules and requirements imposed on all schools is exactly the wrong way to improve what is a quintessentially decentralized, individual, human endeavor- the education of a child by caring, intelligent, and responsive adults. In a real sense, every child's education is hand-crafted, tailored to the individual needs of that child. Unlike, say, a public utility, mandatory, monopoly central planning simply doesn't work well in education.
Besides, in order to protect the continual flow of dollars from public coffers, people who benefit from the status quo will resist making authentic improvements in accountability and governance. Adding new rules merely provides school officials with more reasons to hire even more non-teaching employees to impose and track the effects of these new rules on principals and teachers (less than half the people working in public education are teachers). Is it any wonder less than 59 cents of every education dollar actually reaches public school classrooms in Washington? In private schools up to 90% of funding goes to direct classroom instruction.
Public education today, based on 19th century industrial ideas, operates as a functional monopoly – only the wealthy can afford alternatives. All monopolies, whether public or private, will naturally seek to prevent their customers from having choices. That is why public sector unions oppose and fear what they call "privatization," the ability of ordinary people to make real choices about their children's education.
Real reform would seek to get parents involved. Washington Policy Center recommends legislators offering parents, especially those assigned to failing schools, public education scholarships of up to $3,500 per student, for use at a public or private school of their choice. Most people would choose to stay with their local public school, but just giving parents a role in choosing their children's school would revitalize the system, creating new incentives for innovative educational leaders to provide the best education possible for every child living in Washington.