05.20.2010 0

An A+ Solution to a Failing Problem

By Rebekah Rast –

A problem in the U.S. education system is money — and not a lack of it. The problem is how the money is spent.

School boards and teachers unions have creative ways of getting the public to think they are in need of more funding. It is quite the opposite, of all the developed nations in the world, education spending in the U.S. ranks at the top of the charts and yet student performance ranks at the bottom. How is this possible?

It’s because the education system has manipulated itself into a money pit for the wrong people. Mike Antonucci, director of the Education Intelligence Agency (EIA) explains it this way: For every $1 given to education, 80 cents goes to people—not students. It goes to teacher’s salaries, support personnel and contractors. Only 20 cents actually makes it to the students—textbooks, heating, plumbing and school infrastructure.

This is a big problem.

“We are spending money on people who aren’t getting the results we want,” says Antonucci. “Either we change the way we pay them or we pay different people.”

So no, America’s education system does not need more money. The money needs to start going to the proper recipients.

One very good solution to this problem: School choice.

“When people are given a choice it fuels competition in the market,” says Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government (ALG). “The education system needs competition to keep the money out of the hands of the wrong people. Children should not suffer because a few benefit from a corrupt system.”

Bob Bowdon directed The Cartel, a film which takes an in depth look into the education system in New Jersey. This appalling journey shows the many things that are wrong with the public school system while giving a sense of hope for reform by opening the eyes of policymakers and parents to school choice. By bringing competition into the education system, all schools will perform better.

“School choice allows power to be distributed rather than consolidated,” says Bowdon. “Give parents a choice instead of just giving more money to the same people.”

Parents are waking up to the deception in the system and are supporting charter schools and increasing the numbers of children being homeschooled.

“There is a complete tipping point coming and the subject is exploding right now,” Bowdon says. “I think people are waking up. The failure of urban public schools is so impossible to defend that even their staunchest supporters are giving up by saying, ‘It’s the best we can do.’ ”

But it’s not the best they can do. No longer can societal decay be blamed for the failure of some public schools. Charter schools teach the same children who face the same societal pressures, yet they work by providing children with a much healthier environment. Soon shady school boards and teachers unions will no longer benefit from this structure of failure.

In February, all 93 teachers at Rhode Island’s failing Central Falls Senior High School were fired. What seemed to be a step in the right direction was even acknowledged by Obama himself.

“If a school continues to fail its students year after year after year, if it doesn’t show signs of improvement, then there’s got to be a sense of accountability,” he said.

Earlier this month, the school board reached an agreement with the teachers union representing these 93 teachers and hired them all back. There is no improvement there. Central Falls Senior High School is one of the poorest-performing schools in the state with only a 48 percent graduation rate. How does hiring back teachers who refused to extend the school day by 25 minutes, spend one lunch hour a week with students and provide after-school tutoring for the children benefit anyone?

There needs to be improvement and it needs to be enforced.

Even those working in private schools understand the need to improve the education system. Marie Powell, executive director secretariat of Catholic Education for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, knows that not all children can attend a private school, so it is important and necessary to mend the system in place.

“It is in the best interest of the country to have good schools—whatever kind of schools they are,” Powell says. “Many Catholics are in public schools, so it is in the best interest to make all schools better. All of us want to make schools as good as possible for the children.”

If that’s the ultimate goal—to make schools better for the children—then why do some school board election votes happen on obscure days so the board can get voted in exactly who they want? Why did Bowdon, when making his film, discover a superintendent who made $400,000 the same year he was fired?

“There’s no intrinsic or personal motivation to help students do better,” says Antonucci.
“Everything is based on seniority. There is no incentive tied to results so no one focuses on it. Everyone is focused on job security. If jobs were tied to students’ achievements, it is guaranteed students would do better.”

Again, school choice is the answer to fix these problems.

“Dunkin’ Donuts got a lot better when Starbucks came around,” Bowdon says. “That’s what’s needed in education. Give people a choice.”

The only people worried about this solution are those who are operating in their own self-interest. America would do best supporting the students not the institutions.

Niger Innis, national spokesman for Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) says it best: “The biggest solution is giving parents the opportunity to choose the best road for their children. Who are we focusing on, the institutions or the children? Are these dollars that are earmarked for education going to the institutions or children? The dollars should follow the children.”

It is not too late to fix this broken system. “The number of charter schools is always going up, never down,” says Bowdon. “This is a reason to feel encouraged.”

Rebekah Rast is a contributing editor to ALG News Bureau.

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