05.14.2010 0

Monopolies + Public Schools = Failing Students, Part I

By Rebekah Rast –

Out of all American high school seniors, only 35 percent are proficient readers and only 23 percent are proficient in math. This is according to The Cartel, a movie released this year exposing how throwing money at America’s education system is not helping anyone — least of all the students.

The U.S. Department of Education reports that about $1.1 trillion is being spent nationwide on education at all levels for school year 2009-2010. This amount includes federal, state and local funds as well as private donations.

Despite that dollar amount and the fact that spending on America’s education has increased 100 percent since 1971, graduation rates and test scores have flat-lined or even decreased over the years. Obviously money isn’t the cure.

How does a country that spends far more than an average of $9,000 per student, give rise to such a poor education system?

It is because the public school system in America is a monopoly. There is no competition and no incentive to better itself. Parents don’t often have a choice of which school their child attends unless they have an option of a charter school, can afford a private school or are able to enroll in a voucher program. And, depending on which state you live in, you may not have an option at all.

This is a bad deal for everyone involved — well, almost everyone. There is one group that greatly benefits from this monopoly, and that is the teachers unions. With competition between schools eliminated, some teachers that are members of a union enjoy a nice paying job, regardless of the performance of students and overall rating of the school depending on the school district and state laws.

In many states, it’s the teachers unions that rule over the majority, even swaying the votes of the politicians.

“Unions give a lot of money to candidates and teachers are politically active,” says Don Todd, who currently serves as Senior Research Director of Americans for Limited Government (ALG) and was the chief union oversight officer at the U.S. Department of Labor from 2001-2009. “That’s why they get what they want.”

Not only do these unions have a voice as the majority, they also make it nearly impossible to get rid of a bad teacher.

In one particular situation in New York, it took six years of litigation before they were able to fire a teacher who sent a sexually-oriented email to a 16-year-old student. Maybe worse, this teacher still got paid more than $300,000 even though he wasn’t teaching anymore during the firing process. The payment was required. It was in the contract. How is this right on any level?

In this kind of environment, it is no wonder America’s students as a whole are suffering in public schools.

“In the long run they will lose,” says Todd about the teachers unions’ self-interest battles. “Everyone I know wants what’s best for their children and they aren’t going to give up on that.”

Every parent wants their child to succeed and do well. Unfortunately many students get lost in the system and fall behind.

In an evaluation conducted in 2006 by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), 15-year-olds from 30 different countries were tested and measured by their understanding of basic science skills. The U.S. didn’t measure up very well — it ranked 21st, with a score well below average.

For a country that prides itself on innovation and technology, it is shameful that future generations may lack the skills needed to keep up with the rest of the world.

The aim of various state laws and teachers unions’ contracts is backwards. And it has been this way for too long.

Albert Shanker, once President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), was quoted as saying, “When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.”

Something is very wrong here.

When asked to comment, the AFT and National Education Association (NEA) did not return phone calls.

It is the parent’s responsibility to ensure their children receive the education they need and deserve.

“People judge the system by personal experience,” says Todd. “It’s a minority population that gets the short shrift and as long as they continue to vote for people that give them this short shrift, they are going to keep getting it.”

Rebekah Rast is a contributing editor to ALG News Bureau.

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