Sunday, January 15, 2006

Stupid in America

John Stossel is simply one of my favorite op-ed type journalists. His latest, aired this Friday on 20/20 on ABC, was a hour long piece called 'Stupid in America'. He rips up our failing public school systems which, despite spending a record-breaking $10,000 a student a year, still ranks 25th out of 40 countries that took an international standardized test. Ahead of us - South Korea (No. 2), Poland, Latvia - not exactly rich countries. Stossel blames public school monopoly and unions for the mediocre performance.

He's clear to point out that there are great teachers, but our system does nothing to reward them. Teacher unions have consistently fought a merit-based system. In fact, shockingly, in New York, there are school districts with sex offenders who cannot be fired because of union-negotiated contracts, and desperate school districts have a seperate building to house them, paying them for no work because they are so dangerous to children.

I agree wholeheartedly with Stossel's assertion that competition will help. I've seen it in my lifetime in my home country of India, where horrendous goverment-run loss-making businesses have thrived when privatized, or even when private competition has forced a change of the inertia that dominates their being.

Opponents of vouchers will inevitably point to some study that suggests that charter and private schools are not much better. But that's not the point. If a charter school is no good, it will fail, it will have to shut down. The consumer will dictate if the school survives or not. The fact that 70% of charter schools have waiting lists at least as long as their enrollment suggests a great demand exists.

Vouchers will benefit the poorest the most, but help the middle class too. In their eye-opening book, The Two Income Trap Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Tyagi argue that the biggest predictor of bankcruptcy was not wasteful spending using credit cards, but having children. Why, you ask? Parents desperate to put their kids in good schools are forced to try to buy a house in a good school district, overly leveraging themselves in the process. In fact, here's an excerpt from James Glassman in Reason magazine:
Critics accuse charters of "skimming" the best students from public systems, which is often a coded way of claiming they have predominantly wealthy, white students. But the Advantage school's large minority student body is actually pretty typical for charters. A study released last May by the U.S. Department of Education found that 48 percent of charter school students are minorities, compared with 34 percent for all public schools nationwide. In Arizona, the study found that 45 percent of charter students come from families with incomes low enough to qualify for the free or reduced-price lunch program, compared with 40 percent for all public schools in the state. Nationally, 13 percent of charter school students are in special education programs, vs. 10 percent at regular public schools.

It's time to end this silliness, and support school choice. If public schools are better, they will survive and become stronger. If they are failing, we can celebrate the transition of students to better schools.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

finally, your blog has become more interesting. haha...just kidding. anyways, i started student teaching for an 8th grade class. ask me how that's going!