Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Educating The Next Generation

I'm sure that many of you would join me in saying that you feel as though you received a pretty decent primary education with relatively few major disappointments. Grades K-12 most certainly played a vital role in our ability to learn basic skills such as reading, writing, and arithmetic that we use constantly as we go about our daily lives. Like me you also probably find yourself with a very respectable job or career that provides a small, positive, and yet very meaningful impact on the overall daily economy of this great country. But I can't help but ask myself if our education system in the United States is as successful as it should be with the billions of dollars that all of us tax payers set aside for its existence?

So this got me to do a little digging which led to even more questions such as:
  • Why is America ranked as "average" on the latest data comparing science, reading, mathematics, and problem solving skills with other countries across the world? (http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/SurveyGroups.asp?Group=6)
  • Why are we paying for the schooling of foreign children who cross the border on a daily basis in our southern states as was reported on NBC news the other night? (http://video.msn.com/v/us/msnbc.htm?g=1bb3bc1b-8fb4-4743-a9b5-14c46534c3b0&f=00&fg=email)
  • Why is there so many poorly run school systems in a majority of our inner cities across the nation?
  • Why are our greatest assets (teachers) being underpaid and under appreciated so much when they are responsible for molding the backbone of the workforce for our country year after year after year?
  • Why is the United States slipping behind nations like China, Japan, and India in being the next innovators in today's global economy?

The answer to those questions may be complex but I believe there's one key aspect that has led America to it's average ranked primary education system. That key aspect is the fact that we have a monopoly based education system that has no way of holding itself accountable for less than stellar results. Think about it for a minute. Our schools are setup and run by our government. These schools continue to get ample funding year after year from our tax dollars regardless of the level of skills and abilities that our kids leave with every year. Does that sound fair? You wouldn't keep supporting your local grocery store or car dealership if they continued to produce poor products or poor services would you? Of course not. You'd be finding a new grocery store to shop at or a new car dealership to buy your next car from. So why are we settling for a uniform education system with little to no competition?

It's clear to me that a market based education system is far more successful. I've been a big fan of a market based education system ever since I heard that the Netherlands setup their education system in this way. By the way, the Netherlands children consistently kicked our ass in international standardized tests in which you can view the results via the link above. In a market based system every school is owned by a private entity. This forces schools to become competitive not only in the quality and quantity of courses they provide but also in the costs associated with attending their institutions. The end result is an education system that has to answer to its customer base which is the children and parents who send their children to school there. This in turn leads to constant improvements and advancements in the system since schools are vying for more students to remain ahead of their competitors and remain successful in their business practices.

You're probably wondering right about now how this is financially fair to every child out there. Well, unfortunately, the ability for every child to receive the same level of quality in their educational experience is impossible to accomplish in a market based system and it's one of the few downfalls that critics will point out. But that doesn't mean every child can't receive a good education none the less. Besides, our current monopoly based system doesn't provide for the same quality of education for all of our students now. Do you really believe that there'll be schools in as horrific conditions as our worst inner city schools now if we went to a market based system? And if there are schools doing this poorly I doubt that they'll remain open year after year, decade after decade.

We can help curb the financial burden of a private based school system by setting up a similar system that's already in place for our colleges and universities currently. The US federal government provides a very small portion of the total funds used for our current primary education system. This amounts to approximately $17.31 billion from what I could decipher from the Dept. of Education's proposed budget for 2007 (http://www.gpoaccess.gov/usbudget/fy08/pdf/budget/education.pdf). The individual state and local governments account for the bulk of funds used in our current primary school system and Florida's overall 2006-07 budget was approximately $16.92 billion from these sources(http://www.fldoe.org/fefp/pdf/fefpdist.pdf). That's a lot dough! We could take this funding from all federal, state, and local sources and put it in one "big pot" which could serve as financial aid for every child who is a legal citizen of the US. Just like we currently apply for financial aid to go to college we could setup a similar system to apply for financial aid to go to grades K-12. Children would be given a specified amount of aid based on their financial need and the money could be wired directly to the school of their choice to pay for tuition and fees. Parents are completely free to choose which school they want their children to attend and would also be responsible for all fees beyond what financial aid could not cover.

Still a little skeptical of this competition based education system? Then you should look no further than history itself. As they all say history has a tendency to repeat itself and the proof of the superiority and effectiveness of a market based education system goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks. Ever heard of these great philosophers - Aristotle, Plato, or Socrates? They were all products of the Athenian education system which was privately run. And the proof continues as you read through the history of education reform in Germany, England, and France (http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v4n9.html).

I think we owe it to our children, our teachers, and our country to improve our current education system. I've never been one to settle for average. Yes, it gets the job done but I was raised with a vision that I hope every American citizen has - for making a better life not only for myself but for the next generation I leave behind. And this can only be accomplished by discipline, hard work, and pushing ourselves beyond our expectations. A school system responsive to these values will go a long way in helping us get there.