The survival of our nation depends on tackling education reform
It is not uncommon to see a couple of really clever bumper stickers around most any town in America that are timeless:
“If you can read this, Thank a Teacher. If you can read this in English, Thank A Soldier.” And, “If you think education is expensive, try paying for ignorance.”
Well, we may not always appreciate our freedoms, and we may balk at paying higher property taxes that support local schools. However, our failing (failed) public education system costs us a lot more than just what we expend in taxes.
In recent years, the cost of educating a child has risen around $14.4K a year (in 2019 dollars). Overall, we expend over $739 billion a year to support our public schools. Yet, because we still have over 3.4 million drop-outs a year, we must pay the social costs associated with the failures of our system that are not accounted for in any other calculations. Here are some of those annual costs:
- Out-of-Wedlock births. Most of the illegitimate births in the country are visited on those who do not graduate from high school (40% of all births, 77% of Black births, over 57% of Hispanic births). Annual cost—$300+ Billion.
- Healthcare. Those who do not graduate from high school create a negative impact on healthcare costs that other must support. Annual cost—$260 Billion.
- Illegal immigration. Americans are on the hook for educating at least 15 million children associated with those who are in the country illegally. The children of illegal immigrants drop out at rates significantly higher than those here legally. Annual cost—$218 Billion.
- Incarceration. Of the 2.2 million (down from 2.4 million in 2011) people in prison today, 68% are high school drop-outs. Annual cost—$124+ Billion.
In just these four areas, the annual unsupported cost is over $902 Billion annually. Reducing these costs by half would mean an additional $4-6K a year for each family. Eliminating these costs could mean a new car, a year’s tuition at a private school, a contribution of healthcare savings account or an additional $500 a month or so to one’s pension plan.
Reforming our public education system has a huge pay-off for the country. Criminal justice reform would help, as well. If we could fix one more thing, it would be mental health reform. Yes, this gives one a great deal to ponder.
Approaches to Educational Reform
There are three philosophical approaches to education reform, and there are four modern reform movements competing for dominance in altering public education in America today. In this section, I will provide a brief description of each. The three philosophies are as follows:
- Essentialism. This approach is characterized by a top-down, national standard structure that emphasizes core curricula (common core) and uniform educational outcomes. This approach is pushed by many in the national education establishment.
- Progressivism. This approach focuses on individual fulfillment and social justice. The social-justice movement is supposedly the main thrust of the woke movement going on in the country right now. As is typical of all things progressive, egalitarianism in outcomes is dominant as is teaching relativism in ethics. This approach, unfortunately, has dominated public education in America for the past two generations.
- Holism. This approach is traditional and idealistic in that the philosophy embraces transcendentalism. Our military academies and many private institutions advance the enrichment of mind-heart-body-spirit. This interdisciplinary approach to education focuses on personal development in all these areas. (I am partial to this approach)
The best of the modern k12 reform movements emphasizes different elements of the total educational experience for students. Those elements are:
- Core curricula (not Core Curriculum). English, Math, Science, Economics, Civics, History—Not social sciences
- Standards (not necessarily standardized testing).
- Accountability. (Students, teachers, administration, district, state)
- Choice. (The full spectrum of choice options)
Like a good energy strategy (“all the above”), education reform must follow the same path. We must take advantage of all possible solution sets to bring education back to the people. The survival of our nation depends on tackling education reform. One would hope for such an effort on the part of our informed citizenry.
The Impact of Progressivism on Education in America
Anyone who has read this or other newsletters I have published will know that I think progressives and progressivism are the greatest danger to liberty in America today. Where progressives have had the most impact and have done the most damage to this country has been in their gaining control of public education. Taking advantage of an evolving culture, progressives have used unionization and collective bargaining as tools for putting a stranglehold on education processes and outcomes. Add to this the intentional, deliberate erosion of the nuclear family, especially among minority populations, and we are faced with a nation dumbed down to the point that young Americans no longer recognize or acknowledge the exceptionality of this noble Constitutional experiment.
Progressives have influenced curricula in nearly every school district in the country. Their approach is insidious and sinister in that they influence how textbooks are written and then influence how textbooks are purchased. When progressive-leaning states like California with millions of children in their public school systems decide on textbooks to support progressive curricula, other states will be compelled to buy the mainstream books from the major publishers or look for less-available and more expensive textbooks from other publishers. Many of these books contain revised American history (Howard Zinn’s history book comes to mind) or have been written to advance particular agenda that are quite contrary to the mainstream values of the citizenry. In an exemplar that came into my possession, a grammar school reading book celebrates same-sex relationships and environmentalism. Add to this books that advance ideas about Darwinian evolution and are void of acknowledgement of all possible scientific theories explaining the development of the human species, and we have a perfect storm where indoctrination hip-checks education right out of the way.
The progressive agenda advanced in the current education establishment mutes any support of American exceptionality and embraces the notion that America is a super-power only because of exploitation of workers who do not get to share in profits of their labor. Further, progressives constantly inculcate the idea that man is the ultimate arbiter in life and that the perfection of man is the goal of government—a government that knows best and is best situated to direct the economy of a nation.
If one thinks back to the Great Society of LBJ, one can find the seeds of the current expansion of progressive thinking in public education. When prayer left our schools, progressivism was given an opening into which was poured the poison that has nearly crippled this nation.
As a professor, I was a witness to the products of our public education system. Many students, unfortunately, were adrift and easy pickings for progressives bent on taking down this nation. Be on guard.
Public Unions And Education
Beginning in 2012, education scholars like Terry Moe from Stanford and other scholars such as Paul Peterson and John Chubb exposed the pernicious effects teacher unions were having on public education (Moe’s research continues to excoriate public education). In the process of updating this newsletter, I found several other academics who have taken up the effort to raise warning flags about what is happening in our largest urban school systems. When the academic community turns on something as progressive as public unions might be, one has to raise one’s eyebrows. Where public unions are doing the most damage is exactly where the nation needs the most help in education reform—large urban school districts.
Teacher unions today have some 4.9 million members who contribute some $600M in dues each year. In 2016, nearly $37 Million was contributed to political candidates or lobbying activities annually. Of that $37M, some 99% went to Democrats or left leaning lobbying groups.
This is how teacher unions disrupt the educational environment across the country. Union members select candidates to run for school boards and then support their candidacies with a flood of funds. These union-supported candidacies are successful some 75% of the time in the larger urban districts. Once the union-selected board members are in place, the unions then collude with these bought-and-paid-for politicians, all at the expense of the district constituencies. Further, these board members then support the selection of textbooks, the design of curricula and the hiring and firing of administrators. Of all the money collected from union members, only 4% actually goes to support educational outcomes in the classroom. The nation is hardly getting its money’s worth when the game is so incredibly rigged against parents and students. BTW, some 40% of teachers in urban districts send their own children to private schools.
If one really wants to change the direction of the nation, one must be willing to find and support board members who will bring accountability back into the education system. Where are the governors and legislators in red states on this?