Competition and choice in education

Media scenes with marching mobs of screaming street activists holding signs demanding government favors and expressing hatred toward opponents they consider enemies typically represent American fascism—and they often include public school unioneers.

Behind their demands for non-meritorious pay and perks unavailable to private American employees lurks the problem of monopoly. Charter and private schools are accountable for results, government schools are not. Why?—because they operate under taxpayer charity and political mandate with little incentive to provide better service to students.

Activist public employees hate the idea of competition because they function by bureaucratic rules and regulations designed to protect their positions and further self-serving administrative projects. Individual employees justify their positions based on how well they satisfy the personal interests of their supervisors—that help make them look good to their superiors.

The profit motive and beating the competition drive excellence in private enterprises.  With no institutional incentive in government to strive for excellence against competing services pay and perks depend on political pressure rather than merit. Fortunately, in the education business alternatives to government education exist.

In the April 25, 2017 print issue of FORBES magazine Amity Shlaes describes what she calls “academic ubers” now operating that can provide improved education to our children.

Ms. Shlaes is a scholarly author. She wrote several books and is chair of the Coolidge Foundation Board. Shlaes wrote a wonderful biography of President Calvin Coolidge and a great history of the 1930’s depression and the Roosevelt administration titled, “The Forgotten Man.”

Shlaes describes “private, independent or charter schools…just waiting for customers so they can disrupt, and improve the petrified sector of K-12 education.” She notes that parochial schools “stand ready to accept public vouchers…But there are plenty of lesser-known” education systems that can compete with government schools:

CLASSICAL CONVERSATIONS is a home-school curriculum available at about $1500 per year for high school students. The lesson plans restore Western civilization, memorization, recitation and strong science and math subjects. The program has more than 100,000 registered students.

BASIS school projects– founded by economists Michael and Olga Block; operate as charters and private schools in Arizona, California, New York, Texas, Virginia and Washington, D.C. Basis has 30 campuses but, according to the founders could have 1,000 without regulators and if Americans “had an inkling of the type of truly excellent education they’re missing.”

GREAT HEARTS ACADEMIES– Arizona and Texas; charter schools with waiting lists.

Here is North Carolina entrepreneur Robert Luddy has set up his own school system without federal support, including charter, Catholic and private schools. Mr. Luddy has more applicants than seats for his schools. Luddy is also a fellow trustee at the Calvin Coolidge Foundation.

Although not nearly enough of them, it’s good to know that these improved nongovernmental school systems are available to some of our children. Unfortunately, for practical purposes, the better schools are not available to all because parents can’t afford to pay extra to subsidize the government schools—often costing much more per student than private or charter schools.

Currently, massive amounts of tax money at all government levels is distributed to school districts to be spent by, and for, huge bureaucracies. If cash vouchers or tax credits were given directly for each qualifying school-aged child in a family to be used as the parents desired, real choice and better education would result.

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About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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