Polling data reveal that we consider education a major concern facing America. Its no wonder. Consider the following:
- By most measures of performance, American schoolchildren today learn little or no more than their parents, despite soaring educational spending;
- Average per pupil costs of private schools in America are markedly lower than those in public schools, even though most evidence shows higher performance levels in private institutions;
- American kids do poorer on standardized tests in math and geography than those from Hungary and Slovenia;
- Americans are voting with their feet: private school enrollment has risen faster than that for public schools since 1991, and probably a million Americans (proponents say more) are home-schooled today, compared with negligible numbers a decade ago;
Concern about public schools is not new: in 1983 in A Nation at Risk; a federal commission argued that the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people.
Like the old Soviet economy, our public schools are largely government monopolies that can ignore the discipline of the market. Competitive private firms increase profits by cutting costs and/or by increasing revenues by making customers happy. Monopolistic schools, however, can deliver shoddy products because their massive subsidies shield them from the forces of demand and supply. True reform would empower parents (consumers) to choose between schools in the same way that we decide which goods to buy in the supermarket.
Affluent families can beat the system, by sending their children to private schools or by moving to upscale suburbs with good public schools. Even public school teachers in the big cities disproportionately send their own children to private schools.
The poor, however, have little choice. That explains their support for GI Bill for Kids programs that would allow them the chance to attend private school with public support.
Just as the Communist apparatchiks tried to thwart reform in the old Soviet Union, so the teacher unions and their allies want to stop attempts to end their domination of American education, with the power, perks and income that it provides.
Yet the American people can take only so much. As voter frustration passes a certain threshold, even the money of the National Education Association (mostly from deductions from taxpayer-funded paychecks) will not stop fundamental reform of American schools, as politicians will feel compelled to give parents the choice in education that they have in acquiring goods and services far less important to the future of our nation.