To abuse a famous movie line, “we don’t need no stinkin’ school choice.” We don’t need no charter schools, vouchers, parent triggers or any of the other common tools of the school choice movement, either.
These things are only minor improvements on a failing system. In a perverse way, they only further entrench the status quo. As The Who put it: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
What we need is to toss away a failing design and embrace a well-established and quite successful state-regulatory design that will put parents in charge of their children’s education.
Most fourth- and eighth-graders aren’t proficient in math or reading. ACT reports 75 percent of incoming college freshmen are not prepared to start college. Spending on public education has tripled over the past 50 years with little or no progress in student achievement.
The public school system is the only state-regulated industry also run by the state.
I work in the alcoholic beverage industry. It’s a state-regulated industry built on a better design. The state sets boundaries, rules and qualifications for participants, and that’s it. As long as participants stay within the bounds, they’re free to operate as they see fit. This unleashes the creative juices of millions and allows – in fact, demands – participants to compete for their customers’ business.
Effective regulation with dynamic and competitive markets are the norm with this design of state regulation. And the customer always wins.
We propose a similar system for our schools. Give parents control over the money spent to educate their children, provide state-approved standards that schools must meet and force schools to compete for students. Just like in other industries, the ones who do a lousy job will improve or fail. The ones that do a good job will flourish and spread.
Moving to this well-established state-regulated system is simple, straightforward and won’t cost an extra dime. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, this would put, on average, around $12,000 per child per year in every California parent’s pocket.
For the sake of millions of young lives and the future of the country, the public education system must be reformed and it must be done now. Every day’s delay means the destruction of thousands of young lives. Every child in the country, rich or poor, will benefit from this change.
This design works in every other state-regulated industry, it is the norm. There is no logical reason to believe it won’t work in public education, too.
But as we dawdle, let us not forget that the life opportunities of very real children are being destroyed each and every day. As you ponder whether we have the political will to make this change, look in the eyes of millions of young lives whose very futures hang in the balance.
The question really isn’t why to change, but how could any honorable person fight to keep children in this failing system, when a proven better system is simply a small change away?
– John Conlin is a self-employed management consultant and founder of End The Education Plantation in Littleton, Colo.
This letter was originally published in the Orange County Register on October 3, 2013. Here’s the original article.