Options. To better prepare kids for the future, we must create and provide them and their parents with options.
Option #1 : Bust-up the education monopoly. Create Competition!
There is great public interest in the state providing a K-12 public education system to ensure that the residents within their community are provided the opportunity to gain, at minimum, a basic education. The community is a stake holder and because of this “stakeholder” relationship, communities play a necessary role. But, parents should then have the option to place their child in the school of their choice, the one that best meets their child’s needs. They should not be forced against their will to enroll their child based solely on their address, wealthy parents shouldn’t be the only ones who have access to private schools, and parents who homeschool also shouldn’t have to forego the benefit of their tax dollars if they chose to opt-out of the “system.”
Competition in the market is necessary to remain relevant and productive, otherwise we risk complacency and apathy. In the article, Competition in Education, John Martin Rich argued that competition “promotes full use of one’s abilities, ensures that benefits and burdens are more fairly allocated, dispels apathy and stagnation, leads to higher standards, protects consumers and others from monopolistic practices, promotes progress, and stimulates advancements in science and other fields.”
We have choices in almost every facet of our lives; countless smartphones, hundreds of brands of televisions, and entire grocery aisle dedicated to toilet paper. The one product we have little-to-no choice? Education…at least not for the majority of Americans. We have boxed them out of the market place, created a government run monopoly, and the consumer is increasingly unhappy. More importantly, the low-income families are being cheated out of a quality education.
The national average spent per year on education per student is around $12,401, based on the latest available data, which covers expenditures for instruction, student support, instructional staff services, operation and maintenance, administration, transportation, and food. If every parent were able to use that money to place their child in the best available educational environment, wouldn’t every student be given a much greater opportunity to succeed? Low-income families would be given similar, if not equal, opportunity to their higher income counterparts. It would close the education-economic gap by creating competition between public, private, charter, and other alternative schooling. Parents would have greater access to much needed resources, even tutors or specialized instruction, that otherwise would never be available.
The argument made by many teachers’ unions (see NEA’s position here) and public school “advocates” is that only the good students will leave and the school will be stuck with only the under- or low-performers. They claim “vouchers” would “encourage economic, racial, ethnic, and religious stratification”. This is an understandable argument against school-choice, if it were true. Currently, schools are very divided by race and socio-economic status. Most low-income families self-segregate based on housing affordability and cost of living. This tends to create schools with mostly low-income families, where the tax base is relatively low. If parents of low-performing, low-income schools were given the school-choice option, diversity would shift into middle-to higher income, higher performing schools, where the tax base is larger and resources are more easily available. It would also give lower-income parents a private school option, one that is generally given only to those families who can independently afford private school. The competition created by school choice also forces these low-income, low-performing schools to address the educational gap, make adjustments, or risk getting shut down.
Option #2: Transition public schools to University Model-type system!
What is the University-Model? It’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s a model of education that allows students and parents control over what, when, and how they learn. Currently, the University-Model schools are private, Christian schools (see the NAUMS for more information), but what if public schools had the opportunity to adopt such a flexible, student- and parent-driven, model.
The one thing that is completely absent from our current system is student control, and parental control is often limited to non-existent. We have this idea that our children should have no control over themselves and no decision-making power until they reach some arbitrary age, 18. What’s the best way to learn self-discipline, self-control, independence, and responsibility? It’s not by being told what do to do. It’s not by force or strong-arming.
According to a recent study published in the ICCTE Journal, “students follow a university-style schedule, attending classes either Monday-Wednesday-Friday or Tuesday-Thursday. Students enroll in rigorous academic courses on a semester basis, taking only the courses they desire. They develop a strong work ethic that will serve them well in college.” This flexible, student-driven schedule empowers them to TAKE CONTROL of their education. The student is responsible for their choices and the parents will be empowered to become more involved in the decision-making, rather than giving all that away to administrators and teachers. The study showed that students’ scored 32 points higher than their peers at other Christian private schools. This could be an indicator that when students are given control of their academic development and given choices in their self-selected learning path, they perform better. (Note: This study only compared UMS schools to other Christian private schools and did not include traditional, public, brick-and-mortar schools.)
It is viewed by proponents “as a balanced approach; teachers and parents are true partners in the educational process.” The teacher is a facilitator in the early years and eventually transitions to course guide by the time the student reaches high school, promoting more self-directed learning. The parents make sure their children are engaged, learning and achieving their own personal goals.
While not all children and parents will be interested in such a nuanced model, and not all administrators and teachers will want that level of change, it is a fundamental change in the way we currently educate our children; one that has a record of success and is growing in the private school market. One that some, maybe many, public schools and their students would enjoy huge benefits.
Option #3 : Revamp the High School Experience: Give students the opportunity to become “Career” and “Life” Ready!
Only about 45% of low-income high school graduates are enrolling in college. What about the ones who gave up and dropped out, or did graduate but didn’t enroll? For those students who decide to either postpone or forego college, what options are they being given? Why are we not partnering with vocational and technical schools to provide them with the opportunity to earn a certificate or degree to prepare them for entering the workforce at the time they graduate high school?
The state of Virginia is currently considering a bill to revamp the entire high school experience. According to a recent Washington Post article, Sen. John C. Miller (D – Newport News) is the sponsor of the Senate version of the bill which “would focus on core academic courses in the first two years,” and the students’ remaining years would be used “to decide whether they would like to go to college and continue on with education courses or if they would prefer the flexibility to try and come up with the skills needed for a career.” Miller stated that this new option would give the students the ability to “earn credits for an array of out-of-classroom activities, such as internships and apprenticeships.”
This bill should go even further by providing these children the option to use their tax dollars to pay for these technical or vocational classes. Technical and vocational schools of higher education should also be required to partner with local or regional high schools to provide the necessary programs for these students to earn the appropriate credits and requirements to, not only fill any graduation requirements, but also any certification or licensing requirements.
These measures, none of which are mutually exclusive, will help further drive down the drop-out rate and will give students the necessary skills applicable to the job market, further reducing the unemployment rate, as well as helping to drive down the poverty rate. Most low-income students have little to no options outside of seeking a college education, but feel they are often faced with too many hurdles to accomplish that. An alternative path and the ability to utilize tax dollars already allotted to their education will give them more options and give them greater control over their education.