ABC correspondent John Stossel's recent "Stupid in America" special and his related TownHall.com editorials  should be a wakeup call for all Americans that public education must be reformed in the United States.
It is absolutely deplorable that American students at age 10 score eighth of 25 countries on a standard test, but by the time they reach age 15, they finish 25th of 40. What happened in those intervening five years? They received five years of American public education.
There is no excuse (but there is a reason) why American students don't consistently score at the top of standard international tests, especially considering how much is spent per student on public education. Stossel reported that using Department of Education figures, U. S. spending per student is about $10,000 per year. This figure is higher than spent in the majority of countries that beat the U. S. on international tests and is, frankly, obscene.
Despite the fact that the U. S. spends far more money per student than other countries, we get worse results. Results that get progressively worse the longer the student attends public schools. Despite this, the public education "establishment" continually cries that more money will fix everything that ails the public school system.
Only a fool can believe that throwing more money at the American public education system will achieve better results. Fortunately for the education establishment, the electorate contains more fools of voting age every year.
The reason that public education in the United States stinks? The public education establishment, notably the teachers' unions, are only concerned about what is good for the teachers, not the students. Sure they talk about how they only have the students' interests at heart, but the results suggest otherwise. Teachers' unions, like unions in other industries, exist to serve only their membership. In this case, the union does not reward excellence, protects the incompetent and really does nothing but promote an agenda that demands more money.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have received what I consider to be a quality education in the public school system. There are several reasons for this. First, my years in the public schools were spent in the 60's and 70's, before the precipitous decline in public education outcomes. Second, I attended school in a small community where the best teachers tended to remain for many years, often teaching the children of former students, and where they were accountable to the community.
Things have changed at my school since then. Consolidation for one and the teachers that taught me retired. A couple of them told me that the ever-increasing intervention of government into local education hastened their decision to put down their chalk and erasers.
As Stossel reported, public education in the United States is lousy overall because it is, for the majority unable to buy their way into private schools, a government monopoly. Government monopolies always waste resources, i.e. money, and always produce mediocre, at best, results. Even those that are able to afford private schools for their children must continue to pay through the nose to fund the failing public schools.
While I don't hold many of the countries of Western Europe in high regard in terms of government policies and economics, these countries do have one huge advantage over the United States when it comes to education. The norm in those countries is that the government funding of education is tied to the student, not the school. That frees the student to attend whatever school his or her parents choose. The best schools are in demand; the worst schools go out of business.
We need to open up primary and secondary education to real competition before it is too late. It isn't as if this concept is foreign to educators and administrators. After all, most of them went to college and they had a free choice of which college to attend. The free market works well for American universities. As Stossel reported, a Chinese ranking of the top 500 universities in the world had American universities in eight of the top 10 positions.
The best teachers should welcome opening up the educational system to competition because they would be the winners. Just as the best schools would be in demand by parents, the best teachers would be in demand by the best schools.
It is time to quit throwing money at a failed government monopoly. Competition made America great and it can make American education great too. All we need to do is to get those that favor the status quo, the teachers' unions and the politicians in their pockets, out of the way.
Jan A. Larson is currently employed in private industry in Texas. He is a staunch supporter of honesty in government, fiscal conservatism and equal opportunity for all. He holds a bachelor of science degree from the University of Nebraska, a master of science degree from the University of Kansas and an MBA from Colorado State University.