Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Problem With D.C. Schools...and the Solution


In an article entitled, Improving D.C. Schools is a Test for All of Us, Leonard Pitts describes the efforts by Michelle Rhee, who is trying…maybe I should say struggling…to bring some reforms to the public schools of the nation’s capitol;

“You might not know the name yet, but I'm betting you soon will. She is the Washington, D.C., schools chief who has drawn national attention for an audacious attempt to remake some of the nation's worst schools.

“Among the changes she has instituted, or is attempting to institute, is a cash reward for students who meet certain benchmarks of performance and attendance. She also wants to make it easier to fire teachers who do not perform; under her plan, educators would give up tenure protections for a merit plan that would allow the best of them -- i.e., those whose students actually learn something -- to earn upwards of $100,000 a year.

“Many educators told me that high on their wish list would be the ability to reward good teachers and fire bad ones.”

Mr. Pitts reels off the awful statistics documenting the utter failure of the D.C. schools to educate the children, stating that those results are “hardly unique” to the nation’s capitol.

Mr. Pitts goes on to describe how the teachers’ union “has fought Rhee with bitter tenacity, seeking to block her at every step.” He wonders if that union “exists in some alternate universe where everyone is rewarded equally regardless of the quality of their work.”

The teachers’ union, of course, is no ordinary union. It is indeed at the core of an “alternate universe”… a dictatorial political monopoly…the government-run public school system. It is a union maintained by the physical power of the state. Below are some comments I left in response to that article plus another correspondent who took me to task for advocating the abolition of the public schools, and the institution of a free education market. Following that in my next post will be some additional comments.


I am 60 years old, and the same old laments about the poor quality of public education keep surfacing decade after decade, followed by another official with another plan. Not to take anything away from the laudable efforts of Ms. Rhee, but it’s the suffocating educational establishment itself that is the problem here.

The brutally honest fact is that the “experiment” that has failed is government-run schooling itself. Phasing out and ending public education, and allowing a fully privatized, competitive free market to emerge is the solution. The so-called “competitive cut throat environment” of business is exactly what is needed in education, to weed out the inferior teachers, schools, educational methods and philosophies.

A free market would restore the rights of all parents, not just “parents of means”, to seek out the best education for their children, and liberate educators to compete for their business based on quality and price, just as in the “cut-throat” business world.

clarapurdy wrote on 11/17/2008 06:15:08 PM:
ZEMACK...Competition does not promote the teamwork that is needed in public service forums such as law enforcement, firefighting, education, and the military. Can you imagine competitive law enforcement? Jones:"Any leads on that murder case?"Smith:"Yep, but I'm not telling you anything, I need to solve this case to get that big raise." Some jobs are not meant for competition.


Clarapurdy, you are comparing apples to oranges here. The proper role of government is to protect individual rights, which is what the police force and military are for. They represent the retaliatory use of force, to protect us against domestic criminals and foreign enemies.

Public education inverts this role of government. Here, the government violates the rights of people by forcing them to pay for schools that they may not want for their children, to pay for other peoples’ children, or to send their children to a school chosen by a government bureaucrat based not on the child’s needs or parents’ choice, but on where the parents live. And it imposes on educators the text books, curriculum, and so forth.

“Teamwork” is fine, as far as it goes. But we don’t need a government school monopoly for that. What we really need, though, are the new ideas of entrepreneurial, independent thinking individuals. That is what flourishes in a free market.

clarapurdy wrote on 11/17/2008 06:30:25 PM:
If you "privatize education" who is going to want the poverty and "special needs" children? Remember, this is a competition. The school with the highest test scores gets the most students. The more students you have, the more money you make. Where do the children who have learning disabilities go? Shall we put them in their own schools? Segragate kids according to their IQ's? Where do you think the best teachers are going to be, if they get paid according to how well their students do? Are they going to be with the students who need them most, where the test scores are the lowest? Where would you want to teach? You'd want to teach the kids with the highest IQs.


“If you ‘privatize education’ who is going to want the poverty and ‘special needs’ children?”

The answer is, anyone who wants them. A free market means parents and educators are free to act on their own best judgement, and that means “special needs” parents and teachers as well. They are free to seek solutions that are best for their own children and students…just like everyone else.

But the point is, people need to be liberated from the school monopoly shackles to pursue what’s best for all of the children…at all income and intelligence levels…and be free to solve any problems that may arise.

It must be remembered that schooling can take many forms, and the assembly line method of public education will likely come to an end. As many methods of education as there are childrens’ needs would flourish, as people act freely on new ideas.

There is no “we”. There are only individuals thinking and exercising their rights to pursue their educational goals, whatever they may be.

clarapurdy wrote on 11/17/2008 07:34:35 PM:
Zemack...Individual rights are why the public schools were started. To give every child the opportunity to go to school regardless of race, religion, sex, socioeconomic statis etc. The government forces you to pay for schools...If school is not paid for by the government, who is going to pay for it? If students can't afford school then what? Put them out on the street, where they end up in jail and we pay for them anyway? Ofcourse private schools have good results. They aren't under any obligation to take children who are poor, they kick out the kids who don't "make the grade",they send special needs kids to the public schools, they can expell discipline problems, in other words their full of smart rich kids. Take your voucher and your kid with autism to a private school. They'll tell you "Sorry, we don't have the necessary specialists or educational tools to help your child. Your son would be better served in the public school system where they are set up for a child with his needs."


“If school is not paid for by the government, who is going to pay for it?”

Who do you think pays for schools now? We do, as you say, by force. Force is the negation of individual rights. Rights are a sanction of freedom of action, such as freedom of speech, religious practice, association, etc., coupled with the single obligation to refrain from violating the rights of others. In other words, when government forces you to pay for its schools, and forces you to send your children there via compulsory attendance laws, it is violating your (and your children’s) rights…not protecting them, as it should.

Freed from paying coercive school taxes, each of us can then meet our education expenses as we see fit, with our own money. We can even contribute to charitable scholarship funds to help out poorer parents.

The crucial purpose of education is to prepare the child for independent, self-reliant adulthood. Public schools have long failed most children at that.

clarapurdy wrote on 11/18/2008 01:07:12 AM:
Zemack-A "free market" school system just like the business world...what do you get? Agents for the "good" teachers to negotiate terms and conditions of contracts/salaries? "My client Mr. Jenson is demanding 75,000 per year, choice of top students, and room 13 it's closest to the lounge." How about Brokers for the smart kids? " Little Johnny wants a full scholarship, why should he pay you, his test scores help your school keep it's fine reputation." Marketing " Our school was built entirely from green materials. Students are served the very best in organic vegan cuisine." Advertising " Wesley Academy is the best. We only accept children of the highest quality." Smear campaigning." Wesley Academy says it only accepts high quality children, but it is also full of low quality cockroaches. Come to Eastridge preperatory we are free of low acheivers and vermin."

To be continued…


Christine said...

Just read an article about Rhee in Time magazine- very interesting person.

I'll follow your thread with interest.

Sue said...

What this woman also needs to realize is that special needs kids are not always the best cared for or taught in public schools, just b/c they have to take them. I dread the day Kayla has to go to public school. I am so comfortable (as comfortable as I can be) with her at her private preschool. But I know I will have nothing but fights on my hands to get her the special care she needs in our public schools. I know a lot of my trepidition stems from the fact that her preschool does not have to take her, but have willingly taken on her risks and challenges. The public school must take her leaving me with no affordable alternative. Her life will be in the hands of those who's livelihood has no ties to how well they do with her care.