We’re Failing Our Kids

January 11, 2012

Imagine if professional sports teams paid athletes based on their age; and, once they reached a certain age, they had lifetime tenure.  Imagine if our sports teams were government run and had virtually no competition.  Imagine if they resisted adopting the latest technology, because it might replace some athletes.

We wouldn’t tolerate such conditions in professional sports – yet we tolerate them in our school systems.  It’s no wonder much of the world is outperforming the U.S.

It’s not that our kids are failing, it’s that we’re failing our kids by sticking them into a socialistic education system where achievement is celebrated only on the football field.

The future of our country will be bleak if we don’t do a better job educating our children.  Yet few politicians are willing to take on the all-powerful teachers’ unions.  Even the creation of new charter schools is resisted.

I wrote the article below in 2007 and recently stumbled upon it.  Unfortunately, little has changed since then.

A brighter, saner approach to education

By David P. Kowal

Apple Computer chief Steve Jobs goes to the head of the class for pointing out what most realize, but are afraid to say - that the unionization and life-long employment of public school teachers is "off-the-charts crazy."

Imagine if the rest of the country operated like our public education system. Would anyone tolerate paying professional athletes based on their age, rather than their batting average or their ability to score touchdowns? Would a public company consider giving lifelong tenure to a CEO when the company's stock tanks?

That would be crazy. Yet it's the model followed by our public education system, which rewards teachers for seniority, not for excellence. Because principals lack the power to reward the best teachers and dismiss the worst teachers, public schools are unable to achieve to their full potential - and so, in turn, are the students who graduate from them.

Worse still, public schools operate with little competition. It's a given that our free-enterprise system, which fosters competition, has made the United States the world power it is today. Yet public schools operate as a near monopoly, funded by all taxpayers. Even parents who choose to send their children to private schools are required to pay for public education.

Education, any parent would agree, is our most important industry. It affects our quality of life like no other and has an impact on every industry. The better prepared our children are when they complete their education, the better prepared our country will be to compete with the rest of the world.

Yet we tolerate an educational system that is failing our children. Rather than encouraging competition, our approach to date has been to try to spend the problem away. In my town, as in communities throughout Massachusetts, double-digit budget increases are the norm, even though spending has had little noticeable impact on the quality of education.

For public education to improve, it needs to follow the lead of the private sector and reward based on performance. It also needs to foster, rather than fight competition.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA), school committees and superintendents of schools have opposed even modest competition from charter schools. They support the current system, which is not surprising, since it concentrates power and money in their hands.

Why not instead follow the lead of other regions in the United States and initiate a voucher system, which partially reimburses parents who send their children to private schools? A voucher system would not only foster competition, it would save money, since communities would be paying to educate fewer students.

If the MTA and education leaders in Massachusetts have any better alternatives, they're keeping them to themselves. They're apparently happy with the current system, even if it is "off-the-charts crazy."

David P. Kowal is president of Kowal Communications, Inc. in Northboro, Mass. He can be reached at kowal@kowal.com.


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