I write this just in case I’m wrong that America is toast, that the Fat Lady is warming up backstage, and that the cliff toward which we rush at warp speed in now in sight. The subject is government pre-k-through-12 schools.
Here is the best fix to the disaster that is our schools. Get government at all levels out of the education business. Okay, so no one will buy that.
Here’s the next-best fix to the disaster that is our schools. Parents are sovereign vis-a-vis their children and their education. There should be no-nil-nada-zero-zip-zilch involvement by either the U.S. Government or any state government. Counties or locales will collect taxes to fund k-12 education. Some locally-determined amount will be vouchered to parents for each of their school-aged children.
Don’t like how much or how little a locale’s vouchers are or tax rates are? Move to another. Parents are sovereign.
All schools will be either home or charter or private. Parents will apply on behalf of their children to the school(s) of their choice. Those parents will be responsible to pay tuition and fees less the amount of the voucher(s). Yes, the voucher may be used for home-schooling, and may make it all the more possible for many a parent.
A principal or headmaster or headmistress will be the CEO of each school. The CEO will effect the recruitment, screening, and selection, along with the training and development, performance evaluation, compensation, and indeed termination of each teacher. Some CEOs might treat teachers the way they are today in government schools, e.g., micro-managing them, dictating cookie-cutter curricula and methods and tests and schedules. They will in the marketplace benefit or suffer the consequences of the choices they make. Some CEOs will treat teachers as professionals, supporting them and providing facilities and tools, expectations and encouragement. They will in the marketplace benefit or suffer the consequences of the choices they make.
There will be no teacher unions, collective bargaining, tenure, or compensation formulae. There will be no licensing of teachers nor particular required education or experience qualifications. One school might emphasize the arts, another science and math, another a balance across the sciences and math and language and history, etc. One school might offer lots of advanced (AP) classes, while others do not. One elementary school might teach sex ed to second graders while others opt to not do that. One might specialize in teaching students with disabilities or limitations or “special needs”.
I would expect in this environment that a teacher’s compensation would (a) be the determination of the CEO, (b) be based on performance in the classroom and beyond, and (c) also be determined based on the effect of that teacher on the relative attractiveness of the school in the marketplace of competitor schools, and (d) consider the freedom that teacher has to offer herself or himself to another school’s CEO. Tuition and fees are, after all to be set by the CEO.
A county or city or township mayor — whatever the relevant locale is — may personally or delegate the decision to accept or reject an application for a charter school. Those who fund the charter start-up will hire and manage the CEO as per private schools. It will not be difficult for this non-education leaders to evaluate. If the best teachers move out of a school or parents take their children out, if enrollment is insufficient to pay overhead, the marketplace will have spoken and the school owner should heed said.
How can I guarantee that this scenario will result in excellent educational outcomes? I cannot. That said, I’ll bet on the marketplace anytime. In the entire design everyone — children, parents, teachers, principals, charterers, churches, homeschoolers, even mayors — is rewarded by success and punished by failure. And success and failure are correctly defined. The only losers I can see would be substandard teachers, substandard principals, the National Education Association (NEA), the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), union workers at the U.S. Department of Education, and state bureaucracies. I can live with that.