Last week, The Gazette featured an article by Gene Budig and Alan Heaps titled "Any education reform faces significant hurdles." Readers who might have expected some exciting, cutting-edge proposals were disappointed because all they heard from these two highly credentialed educrats were the same old tired, failed bromides.
After announcing the earth shattering news that our schools are failing, they shared findings of a recent Pew Research Group poll that "two-thirds of the public say that our education system needs to be completely rebuilt or that it requires major changes." Really? Colorado voters already figured that out when they loudly and clearly rejected Amendment 66, the billion-dollar package which certainly failed to offer "major" systemic changes.
Disappointingly, Budig's and Heaps' prescriptions included no real, substantive reform. First, they call for a plan from "a broad coalition of practicing educators." Huh? Aren't these the people who gave us what we have? But then they exposed their true agenda when they advocated "the nation needs to dedicate the resources ," giving us yet one more set of champions for spending more money without fundamentally changing the way it is spent.
Some of us offer a far better approach. Rather than looking for new initiatives coming from the top, from the "smartest person in the room," how about doing just the opposite; empower parents with the information and resources to choose whatever school or other educational deliverer that they think is best for their children. Converting parents into education customers and putting them in control will force educators to figure out how to best meet their needs. Sound radical? That's the way America's higher education system works, which explain why it is the best in the world
There is no mystery about why our public schools trail 20 to 25 less developed countries in student performance, while dramatically outspending them all. Public education's delivery system has not materially changed in more than 100 years, retaining the old industrial, one-size-fits-all teacher in front of a blackboard, union-dominated model while trying to compete in today's high-tech, new information, fast changing, highly competitive world.
Clearly the time has come to emancipate all of our children, most particularly those in low socioeconomic circumstances who are assigned to the worst performing schools, by empowering their parents to choose whatever school they think will best educate them, be it traditional public, charter public, private, magnet, online or even home. Then all providers would need to compete and convince parents of the superior attractiveness of what they offer. Not only does doing so make sense, but it gives highest priority to the interests of children rather than the adults employed by the system that should be serving them.
Amendment 66 was a union, educrat system protector initiative that attempted to extract more taxpayer dollars, without conditioning the release of them upon improved results. It lost by a 2 to 1 margin after outspending its opposition 10 to 1.
Had Amendment 66 included more choice, parental empowerment, and commitments to improved outcomes (not empty, unenforceable promises), Coloradans might have been more receptive and encouraged that true reform could be forthcoming. Alternatives to the traditional delivery system, including charters, privates, online, etc., have proved that better results are possible, even with fewer dollars.
Genius will not be found in the hands of so called experts, but rather in the collective wisdom of individual parents making responsible and enlightened decisions on behalf of their children.
Yes, it is called a marketplace and yes, it is time for our public education system to become one.
Colorado Springs businessman Steve Schuck is the co-founder of Parents Challenge, which provides scholarships and grants to disadvantaged kids in public and private schools.