For years now, our antiquated, inefficient public school system has been losing its preeminent global position in K-12 education.  America is falling behind, way behind.

Here’s one example:

A recent survey of 15-year-old students in 34 countries showed that American students ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in mathematics.  And only eight of the 34 nations surveyed have lower high school graduation rates than the United States.

And here’s another:

In 2013, only 42% of America’s fourth graders were deemed proficient in reading and just 35% were proficient in math.  Scores were worse for eighth graders…and low-income, black, and Latino kids scored still worse.

Even as the measurable “outputs” of American public education consistently lag behind other countries, the cost burden per student of American public education consistently increases, putting enormous strain on stretched local and state finances.

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice (FFEC), which was created in 1996 by the late Nobel prize-winning economist Milton Friedman and his wife Rose, an equally distinguished economist, had a better idea.

They believe the key to positive change in education rests with empowering students’ parents, not the government.  Specifically, FFEC believes parents should have the primary power and authority over their children’s education, which includes both the power to pick any school they deem best and the control over the type and quality of school they pick.

Ultimately, the power of parents should trump the desire, no matter how well-intentioned, for common standards, especially when those standards are determined by either state or federal education experts, or government bureaucrats.

The key to FFEC’s idea is, instead of requiring tax dollars and students follow a single path to public schools, we separate government’s funding of schooling from government’s administration of schooling.  Instead, the funds earmarked for education and generated by the taxes we all pay should be directed by parents to the schools of their choice.

You see, government does some things pretty well, like collecting taxes.  But government is not good at providing the diversity of educational opportunities and choice that a nation as big as the United States needs in order to compete in the 21st century.  That’s because government’s administration of education follows a top-down, one-size-fits-all model in which students and schools are all treated exactly the same way.

And the government monopoly on directing where public funds set aside for education can go serves as an enormous, even crippling barrier to unleashing American creativity and ingenuity in education.  In America, we don’t let the government tell us where to buy our groceries…so why should we accept the government telling us where to send our children to school?

Here’s how Milton Friedman diagnosed the flaw behind our current education system:

“It is only the tyranny of the status quo that leads us to take it for granted that in schooling, government monopoly is the best way for government to achieve its objective.”  Common Core is only the latest, but may well be one of the worst, example of “the tyranny of the status quo” that Friedman described.

“Common Core is being imposed on American families despite the fact that it is a new program, with no track record.  And, there is a large and growing grassroots and parent movement to reject Common Core altogether.

“Although Common Core supporters like President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan say the Common Core standards have been voluntarily accepted by the states, that simply is not true…states were practically bribed to accept Common Core as a requirement to participate in the Obama administration’s ‘Race to the Top’ program and get a share of the program’s $4.35 billion in taxpayer funds.”

People are realizing that Common Core, just like “No Child Left Behind,” will take our nation further down the road to the creation of bureaucratically imposed educational standards that will inevitably lead to putting even more power into the hands of state and federal bureaucrats and potentially a “lowest common denomination” national curriculum.

Contrary to its proclaimed goal of creating a “floor” for educational achievement, Common Core could actually impose a ceiling on educational excellence for the vast majority of American students who are enrolled in public schools…and that is no way to improve education!

In time, this nationalization of standards and its push to “learn to the test” could mean that American kids register even lower on international assessment surveys and put our nation even further behind other developed nations in creating a competitive and prosperous workforce.

Milton Friedman described his solutions this way:

“A far more effective and equitable way for government to finance education is to finance students, not schools.  Assign a specified sum of money to each child and let him or her and his or her parents choose the school they believe best, perhaps a government school, perhaps a private school…That would provide real competition for all schools, competition powered by the ultimate beneficiaries of the program, the nation’s children.”

In 1996, when the FFEC went to work, there were a total of six school choice program in the U.S.  Not one was a statewide program.  Today, there are a total of 55 different school choice programs available to families in 27 states and the District of Columbia, providing educational opportunities to more than 10 million eligible American students.

The momentum behind school choice today is simply stunning, as just since April this year three new states—Arkansas, Nevada and Tennessee—have enacted their first school choice programs!

As befits a movement dedicated to freedom, there are a wide variety of school choice programs now on the books in America.  Today, choice programs range from broadly available vouchers to Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs), to tax-credit scholarships, to vouchers tailored to help low-income families and families with special needs children.

The goal is…universal school choice.

That means that all American families, regardless of income, should have access to the public funds set aside for their kids’ education to direct as they see fit.  But we should welcome all choice initiatives that empower parents over the government monopoly that forces education dollars into government (public) schools.  As school choice programs expand, we are beginning to see the concrete proof that choice works!

School choice programs increased low-income students’ likelihood of graduating from high school—from 70% to 91%–most of whom were students of color.  Students who were able to use a school choice program were 31% more likely to go to college than students who didn’t win a random lottery to participate in a program.

In Washington, D.C., 85% of the students who participated in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarships program (which is restricted to low-income families) graduated from high school in 2012…while only 58% of students in the D.C. public school system did.

I know we’re afraid some parents as well as some school boards will make the wrong choices…but it can’t be much worse than what we have now.

Time to throw out the status quo!


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