Public Schools are Not Accountable to Parents

Our greatest natural resource is not trees or hydrocarbons or fresh water–it’s the human mind and its seemingly boundless power to improve our lives. Be it a new form of energy, or mode of transportation, or cure for a deadly disease, the human mind has the potential to radically improve our lives.

To realize this potential we need an education system that helps children acquire the knowledge and thinking skills needed to find creative solutions to existing problems.

The past several decades have witnessed the systematic “dumbing down” of public education: the curriculum got diluted with non-academic subjects and frivolous activities; proven methods for teaching reading, writing, math, science and reasoning got replaced with unproven, inferior methods; and objectivity got sacrificed to “political correctness” propaganda, such as socialism, environmentalism, multiculturalism and moral relativism.

Consequently, students are not acquiring the academic knowledge, discipline and skills-particularly logical thinking skills-that they desperately need in order to guide their lives toward success and happiness.

Many parents know or at least sense this but feel helpless against the Great Wall of education bureaucracy. Many people want us to believe that the problem lies not in the idea of public education, which they regard as noble, but in the way public schools are managed and funded.

The truth is, however, that public education is inherently destructive.

Public education involves forcing people, via taxation, to pay for public schools. This makes schools directly accountable to government bureaucracies, not to parents. Individual parents are thereby denied the right to choose which school will receive their education dollars, i.e., the right to reward schools for performance.

If parents could pay schools directly, schools would have to earn those dollars by satisfying individual parents. And since parents are primarily concerned with the interests of their children, schools would have to deliver real value to children, which would require focusing on the child’s educational needs.

To succeed, a school must out-compete other schools for students by offering the best value for their money. If parents don’t like what their child is getting, they don’t have to waste countless hours arguing with teachers, principals, bureaucrats and politicians-they are free to take their education dollars and go elsewhere. This creates a powerful incentive for schools to continuously improve the curriculum and teaching methods.

Nobody can predict what new discovery will be made to improve education, but freedom of competition provides the best environment for positive innovation.

Public education poisons this environment. The enormous amount of “guaranteed” (i.e., extorted) cash flow attracts various types of people with various “interests”: empire builders who measure their success and importance by how many people and dollars they control-not by the quality of education delivered; union bosses who want teachers to be paid according to “loyalty”-not performance, education gurus who want their “new ideas” implemented without a reality check, and countless other “special interest” groups-socialists, cultural relativists, environmentalists, etc.-who seek to “dumb down,” socially engineer, and brainwash children as a means of gaining political power.

Parents are forced to compete with all these “special interests,” which virtually drown out their child’s interests. Is it any surprise that our public schools are flunking?

Sure, parents can make phone calls, write letters, attend meetings, make speeches and organize petitions, but all this involves much time with little hope of success. (Parents are busy enough these days trying to overcome the burden of high taxes.) When politicians and bureaucrats get bombarded with all kinds of contradictory demands they become “talking heads” emitting empty assurances, vague generalizations, and blatant contradictions in order to appease as many competing “interests” as possible.

Sure, parents can exercise their vote in the next election, but one vote in today’s chaotic political arena of poor candidates is virtually worthless.

Why not give individual parents a real vote by protecting their right to choose which school receives their education dollars? After all, it is the responsibility of individual parents-not governments-to prepare their child for adult life.

But wouldn’t that create inequality? Sure, but so what? Why should quality be sacrificed to equality? It’s destructive to bulldoze everyone down to some common level. It’s unjust to deny individual parents the right to use their hard-earned resources to seek the best education possible for their child. All children would be better off in a society that rewards good ideas and excellent results in education.

It’s time to start privatizing education. Charter schools, although an improvement, are still accountable to the government, not parents. Temporary vehicles like vouchers or tax credits for private schools would be a positive first step. Eventually, the government should phase itself out of education and let private schools freely compete to offer parents the best value at the best price.

It’s time to start realizing the full potential of our greatest natural resource by making schools accountable to parents.