By Daniel V. McClain
If even the possibility of a better education for yourself or your child existed wouldn’t you be inclined to at least explore those opportunities?
Many options now exist including private, charter, magnet, and your run of the mill public school. A brief look at the history of public education in the United States reveals that the first free public school wasn’t established until 1820 in Massachusetts, yet most states had compulsory laws by 1900. And even though the Constitution doesn’t list education as a fundamental right the Supreme Court has ruled that in individual states, since public education is offered, the 14th amendment extends equal protection to “anyone, citizen or stranger.” So in some ways education is recognized as both a requirement and a right. However, there are financial, geographical and aptitudinal barriers to students getting the same quality of education.
Our education system is still based on Horace Mann’s version of universal education or “common schools” which focused on creating a moral, literate and civilized society where kids learned the same things. The beauty of the U.S. Constitution and subsequently the U.S. education system is that different states did things in slightly different ways. This allowed districts to improve by learning from the success and failure of others, and accelerated the development of our system. But, while federal standards can help bring lacking schools up to par it can also hamper the innovation that keeps raising the bar.
The free market has responded to barriers to quality education and the slow down in educational performance with alternatives. The question at hand is whether or not federal funds should follow a student no matter which school choice they make. Private schools may or may not like this as more federal money will surely increase federal regulation over time. Public schools fear the idea since most kids go to public school, and the change would certainly result in them losing students and thus funding. The idea is that if funds follow the student it will create more competition which will entice schools to perform well to attract more students.
The solution lies in the problem. Is the goal of public education to make sure that students learn the same basic skills needed to make a living as an adult? Or, is it to coerce students to complete a curriculum based on their aptitude, location, and financial situation, which prepares you for a higher public education, which you may or may not have to pay for by yourself, which may or may not get you a job in the field you studied. See, public education as a whole has continued to be a social engineering project striving to perpetuate the institution rather than a government service to its citizens.
Indulge me here. If we assign the same dollar amount and same goals to each kid. The faster learners will reach the goal quicker, thus completing their education cheaper. The slower learners will take longer to reach their goal if ever, thus costing more to educate. If we streamline education for students who learn faster it would free up time and money for schools to dedicate to slower learners. Instead of teaching a group of children who are the same age the same thing and progressing them by age, teach by level and progress by level. Allow for independent learners to be in bigger classes. There are plenty of things we can do to make public education better, but I contend that rather than making better outcomes officials are focused on creating better institutions. I don’t think that a traditional public education is better or worse than a private or neo-public education. I just think that rather than coerce children and their parents to choose between institutions the government should improve the education it provides or get out of the way.