Only markets can rescue schools

Editor: If you thought the government schools only turned out collectivist-minded clones, think again. Contributor Jimmy Sengenberger of Centennial, Colorado, a 2008 honors graduate of Grandview High School who's now at Regis University and a national leader in the Liberty Day national movement, proves otherwise in this diagnosis of the educratic system he recently escaped from. A Lesson Plan for American Education

The United States of America is in the midst of a dire situation. Across the country public schools are failing, and attempts by the federal government to remedy the situation only serve to worsen it.

A 2004 study orchestrated by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research found that only 32 percent of high school graduates had the qualifications to attend a four-year college.

The knee-jerk reaction when it comes to education is to either throw more money at it or cede more power to the federal government. But throwing money at the problem has proved itself never to be the solution. According to ABC News' John Stossel, increases in education spending have surpassed a rate of 100 percent since 1971, yet graduation rates and achievement scores have remained stagnant.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) expanded the range of the federal government in matters of education to record-breaking levels. However, the federal government failed to fund the mandates, or new requirements that the states had to meet, of its own program. This consequently resulted in increased strain on the states, which had to reach into their own pockets to fund the federal program.

The role of the federal government, however, is not to run a national school board. Nowhere in the Constitution is it granted authority over education or does the word education even appear. The Department of Education (DE) itself was not established until 1979, and since then its power has expanded to epic proportions.

Time and again micromanagement of education proves to cause problems, not solve them. The farther away the decision-makers are from those that are actually affected by education, the worse the system is. Education needs to be tailored to fit the needs of the students and the wishes of the parents, not government bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.

Education requires fundamental reform, starting with the repeal of NCLB and a substantial shrinkage in the mandates and power of the DE. The federal government should play a minimal role in the system, doing little more than ensuring that when a student changes states his or her grade level is the same, establishing the most basic of standards and providing grants to the states to aid them in enacting their own plans.

When a monopoly exists, competition and innovation are stifled, and the quality of the product or service goes down. American education is a government monopoly; each state should take a lesson from the free-market playbook that has made America the economic powerhouse that it is and enact reforms which spur competition.

As a result of a lack of contrariety between schools, the quality of the service is bound to go down, and innovative styles of education are less likely to emerge. Therefore, it is essential that competition become the foundation of our nation's education system.

Instead of funds being allocated to the schools based upon the number of students they have, the money should be attached to each individual student, a policy successfully instituted in Belgium. Whatever school a student goes to, the money follows. Schools will then have to provide higher-quality services in order to remain competitive, as with a university, or else they will no longer attract students and consequently be unable to sustain themselves.

Many argue, however, that such a free-market system would expand the disparity between schools of higher and lower quality, like the gap between the rich and poor, further destabilizing the parity of education.

The free-market itself, however, does not create this discrepancy; it is, rather, the result of when a given business provides a higher-quality service at a lower cost that beats out the competition. If a school establishes itself as a source of higher-caliber learning, it is only a positive measure of the success of its programs. There will naturally be a progression in favor of those schools superior to the others, but that is the point: opening up the system to spur an increase in quality. And there can always be flexibility in the system to give further aid to those still-failing public schools.

Education is a drastically important issue which requires fundamental reform to improve. Without a good education, a child's future has the potential for ruin. First returning power to the states and then spurring competition between schools is the path to a better system.