January 27-Feb 2 is National School Choice Week.
The problems of our education system are the problems of a monopoly. The incentives are all wrong, and as a result our system favors the interests of adults over the interests of students. Without any potential loss of market share, the school system can continue practices producing waste, failure or poor service.
The school calendar is for the convenience of adults with many early release days and a shortened school year. Employees who are ineffective or even mistreating students are shielded from consequences. Financial gain flows to those with unhelpful credentials and longevity rather than those who are effective or take on particularly difficult work. Schools pay bonuses for those with large classes rather than using resources to improve teaching situations. Seniority rather than common sense determines where employees work and which ones stay employed when a school scales back. Despite increases in funding, the resources are used for employee wage enhancements while service levels decline and parents are charged.
In the private sector, we actually have laws (anti-trust laws) which protect the citizenry from the problems of monopolies. In the public education sector, we pretend that one size does fit all, and we pretend that if we can just build a big enough factory school, a student’s needs will be met.
It is time to throw in the towel on that kind of thinking. The system is strongest when many providers are able to offer the kinds of services that meet families’ unique needs.
But criticism of the system is not a criticism of the many hard-working, caring employees who have taken the challenge of being educators. They are stuck in a system with all the wrong incentives. Expanding options actually frees professionals to be rewarded for improving their effectiveness instead of locking them into a one-size-fits-all model for educators.
With the recent vote on charter schools, the citizens of Washington signaled frustration with the standard approach to schooling. Let us continue to talk about how competition and customization are of great benefit to our system of education.