As I am sure you know, every year, hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars—federal, state and local—are poured into America’s public school systems. The best estimate we have is a staggering $621 billion! That works out to an average of more than $12,000 per student.
Yet despite this enormous investment, we see consistent underperformance on standardized tests and other performance metrics.
In April 2016, the results of the most recent National Assessment of Education Progress (known as the “Nation’s Report Card”) for high schoolers were released.
Here are some of the report’s highlights:
1. Scores on the 2015 reading test for high school seniors showed a five-point drop since 1992 (the earliest year with comparable scores).
2. High school math scores unchanged during the past decade.
3. While 82% of high school seniors graduated on time, the report suggests that only 37% of them are academically prepared for college coursework in reading and math.
4. U.S. News & World Report reported in April on the status of 4th and 8th graders:
“…the latest results reveal a disturbing trend in which the country’s poorest-performing students scored worse in both subject than they did I 2015, while the highest-performing students posted increases, reflecting a growing gap between those at the top and bottom of the achievement spectrum.”
Troubling statistics like these are nothing new.
One recent Programme for International Student Assessment survey of 15-year-old students in 34 countries showed that Americans ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in mathematics. And 25 of the nations surveyed also had higher graduation rates than the United States.
The danger of continuing on this current path of educational decline was eloquently expressed by one of the founders of EdChoice, the noted economist Rose D. Friedman, when she wrote:
“If you end up with a population that doesn’t know how to read, doesn’t know how to write, knows nothing about history, knows nothing about geography, who’s going to conduct the affairs of the country?”
Money is certainly not the problem, because even as the measurable “outputs” of American public education consistently decline, the per-student cost burdens of American public education consistently increase, putting enormous financial strain on already stretched state and local finances.
Why are the costs of a declining public education system continuing to increase?
One reason can be found here: The U.S. Department of Education has reported that since 1950 the number of K-12 public school students in the United States increased by 96%. At the same time, the number of public school teachers increased by 252%. And the number of “full-time equivalent” public school employees (meaning administrators and other employees who are not classroom teachers) literally exploded…increasing by a whopping 386%!
Yet the larger problem with American K-12 education relates neither to failures inside the classroom nor massive cost increases outside the classroom.
In fact, the underlying problem with American K-12 education today is our antiquated system of harnessing the funding of education to the administration of education in our public school system.
In 1955, Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman first laid out his idea of bringing the benefits of competition and free markets to American education by giving parents control of the public funds designated for their children’s education, so that they can choose the best education for their children.
Contrary to the frequently hysterical assertions of defenders of the educational status quo, Milton Friedman and his wife, the equally distinguished economist Rose D. Friedman, strongly supported America’s historical commitment to using public funds (taxes) to support education.
But the Friedmans parted company with the current system of pubic education when it came to the public administration of schools. Instead of requiring that tax dollars, and students, follow a single path to public schools, the Friedmans believed that the funds earmarked for education and generated by taxes should be directed by parents to the schools of their choice.
“Vouchers” is the word used as shorthand to describe this means of letting parents direct the public funds designated for their children’s education.
Here is how Milton described his idea to supporters of the Friedman Foundation a few years before his death in 2006:
“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.”
Government monopolies in public funded education—which is what our public school systems are—operate like nearly all other government monopolies…poorly!
When the Friedman Foundation came into being 23 years ago, there were a total of five school choice programs in the United States. Today, despite bitter and unyielding opposition from defenders of the failing educational status quo, 62 school choice programs are on the books in 29 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.
A more important statistic is that today approximately 1.5 million American children are making use of a variety of private school choice programs to choose a school that meets their learning needs!