Sunday, October 05, 2008

How to Really Improve the Public Schools

Peter W. Wickham, Jr

Here in the heart of the Republic, our local kleptomanic plutocracy, otherwise known as the Belton Independent School District, had one of those little elections where a small minority of registered voters got to choose how much more could be robbed from all the taxpayers. Dr. Vivian Baker, school district superintendent and mother of the actor George Eads of CSI fame, was ecstatic over the results and recounted in a local newspaper article all the neat projects she will be able to fund with the extra money and she could also give all her teachers a retroactive pay raise. Absent was any report on how the extra money would be used to satisfy her customers, namely the parents of the students who attend BISD schools.

Now I'm sure just about everyone has worked somewhere where there was an employee who was the boss' pet. This person was sometimes a relative of the boss. No matter how unproductive or how often he actually caused a loss for the company, he got to keep his job and get paid like everyone else on payday. Since this person always got his money, he had no reason to improve or otherwise do what was best to satisfy his customer, the boss. This is how most public schools operate.

Study after study keeps coming out about how the public schools are "failing the children" and some are graduating with "diplomas to nowhere" that the students can't even read. The usual response from administrators is that the study is faulty, that "our" schools are just fine, and you can continue to invest in "us." In other words, "Pay your taxes!" If they do in fact admit there is a problem, they will blame it on a lack of funding and always recommend that they receive more funding so they can fix the problem. In other words, "Pay your taxes!" My suggestion to permanently fix the problem is to take away the public schools' authority to tax and make them earn their money the old-fashioned way by satisfying the customer.

In order to raise funds they will have to collect fees from those who actually use their services. If a parent/customer chooses not to send her child to the school, that school receives no money. When a business fails to accommodate its customers' wants and needs, it loses it customers. When the customers leave, they take their money with them. Without any funds coming in, a business usually goes out of business. The threat of starvation is as good a motivator as the desire for profit and will drive people to improve their service to others. This is what the public schools need and need badly.

When a parent sends her child, and her money, to a school she expects her child to receive an education and not an indoctrination in obedience and obeisance of the state. If the parent/customer thinks her child is not receiving the education she wants then she takes her child, and her money, out of the school and sends her child to another that gives her what she wants. If the first school wants her child, and her money, back they will have to do more to satisfy her. On a side note, there are always some people who can never be satisfied but under this program the schools can still improve. The whiner can be given a refund and told to take their silly problem and their child down the road. In this fashion, disruptive students who cause damage and commit crimes against other students can be permanently removed and never be a threat to good order again.

Want your child to have an education with a particular religious or socio-political leaning? Do you want your child to learn to play the violin along with the other basics? Do you want your child to be protected on the school grounds by trained and armed teachers or would you prefer they go to the school with big signs out front that declare this school is a "Gun-Free Zone" and nobody here is armed so as to protect us? Somebody somewhere will offer that to you at the price you can afford or you can choose to keep your money and educate your children the time-honored way of doing it yourself.

Many studies have shown that public schools spend more to educate their students then some prestigious private schools charge for tuition. This is because so many of them are top heavy with administrative bureaucracy. So as to turn a profit or at least break even and stay in business, these schools will have to streamline and get rid of some the deadwood cluttering the place.

Some politicians have suggested that public schools should be run like a business but since they are government agencies and can always depend on money collected at gunpoint, then they behave more like organized criminal enterprises than a business. Under the system I suggest then they can really be run with a priority of keeping the customer happy.

Will taking away their power to tax and making them dependent on customer payment not turn the public schools all into private schools? Yes and we will all be the better off for it. The children will get the education their parents want them to have and the schools will give the education the parents want if they want the parents' money. There will be no more arguing over required subjects, testing, or Evolution vs. Creation Science because the parents will choose where to send their children and by their paying the tuition, they will voice their approval of the school's curriculum.

Will this program ever see the light of day? I doubt it because there are powerful people who are becoming rich off the system as it currently works and they will fight tooth and nail to keep it the way it is. But I have taken the first step by writing this article and you have taken the next by reading it and hopefully this snowball can gain mass and momentum as it starts to roll downhill.

Peter W. Wickham, Jr.
AKA The Ol' Grey Ghost

For further reading on this subject, I would like to recommend The The Underground History of American Education: A School Teacher's Intimate Investigation of the Problem of Modern Schooli Ng and Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto. For more information on giving your student a classical education at home I recommend The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home, Revised and Updated Edition by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise.
I added the hyperlinks to the books, the rest is all Peter. I'm going to have to give him the spare set of keys to the blog.


Frances Clements said...

I love it. Have you ever visited I would be interested in hearing your opinion of it.

Anonymous said...

Well I have now and it is very similar to others that carry the same message. Our Constitution provides for a separation of Church and State and as the authors of the "Well-Trained Mind..." point out because religion is strongly linked to one's mindset, even when one claims not to have a religion, it gets carried over into the methods and subjects that one teaches, therefore I believe that we should also have a separation of State and Education and let the linking of Religion and Education be a decision left to the parents and the parents should be free from shouldering the burden of an educational system they neither want or use. I was very happy to see that Mr. Gatto and Congressman Ron Paul are a part of the great minds that support the message of that website. Keep up the great work...

Frances Clements said...

I thought you would like it. I linked to your post over at my blog. Thanks for getting this message out there.

Anonymous said...

I'm disspointed, I posted a comment and (maybe it was too long) it dissapered before it was ever posted :(

While I am in support of school vouchers - because I do believe ALL education should be paid for via taxes that we ALL have to pay - I DO NOT think school vouchers are the solution to the major education problem our country is facing.
It is not the children of those parents that are involved in their childs educating and fighting for the best (those using the vouchers) that are failing, rather, the children from homes where nobody gives a damn. The first problem that needs to be addressed is the parents. We need programs to more aggresivly educate parents on their role in their childs education. We need to eradicate drug problems in the homes of children, we need more programs to give a leg up to teenage parents. The deed is done and throwing away teen parents reduces two generations!
I think rather than taking away money from failing schools we need to be taking away desicion making. we need top notch consultants to go in and take over these failing schools. Educate the failing teachers and administartion.

There are a lot of problems with the American education system, we need A LOT of solutions. I really hope the next pres., whomever it ends up being, will sit down and devote some time to this problem, or there's no hope for America 50 years form now!

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I ment to mention the Chicago voucher program, the first of it's kind. Several years later, after thousands of families had taken advantage and were able to move their students to "better" schools, there was NO improvemnet on test scores across the board.... It was a good idea, but not a solution. Time for more brainstorming!
I'll find a link form a paper I wrote a fwe months back, I think you'd be interested :)

Anonymous said...

Many parents want to remove their children from the public schools so that they are no longer "taught to the test." Everyone pushing for vouchers and especially those who oppose them because they put too much power back in the hands of parents and not in the hands of government bureaucrats, insist there should be some accountability for those private schools who receive the vouchers which basically means they need to "teach to the test," too. Many private schools will resist this by refusing to accept the vouchers since their priority is education and not warehousing.

"...I do believe ALL education should be paid for via taxes we ALL have to pay..."

A young man with a gun prowls the parking lot of a large department store holding up shoppers and taking all their money before they have a chance to do their holiday/grocery shopping. He then delivers all his booty in the bucket of some charitable organization which has an attendant ringing a bell. Has he done a good thing or has he committed a crime?

Anonymous said...

Are you suggesting that only the richest families should be able to educate their children? That our country as a whole is not obligated to provide the education of it's future leaders, doctors, soldiers, law makers?
These type of elitist ideals were shot down in 1882 by senator Henry Blair, with the Blair Bill securing tax monies for public education.... it would be unintelligent to regress so far back, don't you think??
Do you also think that minorities (those statistically with the lowest SES) or children of single parents should be denied an education? I'm confused?

If we look at the (many) countries that are producing more intellegant, better educated children, whom will go on to get the best paying jobs, they are from countries who have much HIGHER tax rates than here in America.
When was the last time you took some time out to check out your local public school system? It might do you some good to go sit in.

Anonymous said...

"Are you suggesting that only the richest families should be able to educate their children?"

I, of all people, would be the last to ever support a law or other prohibition that denies parents the right to raise and educate their children in any form or fashion that the parents choose, regardless of their socioeconomic status.

"(Are you suggesting) that our country as a whole is not obligated to provide the education of it's (sic) (young people)?"

The only people obligated to provide for a child's education is the child's family.

"These type of elitist ideas..."

I never considered common morality issues regarding the prohibition of thievery and robbery as "elitist ideas."

"...Blair would be unintelligent to regress so far back..."

When a crime is being committed, it is the obligation of honest people to stop it so that they too do not become victims.

"...(D)on't you think??"

All the time ;)

"Do you also think that minorities...or children of single parents should be denied an education?"

Again, I am against any law, regulation, or ordinance that prohibits parents from giving or securing their children an education in a manner chosen by the parents.

"I'm confused?"

Yes, but I can explain. I am a property-respecting anarchist (a proponent of anarchism). I perceive by your responses that you might be a socialist and you think it is okay to rob others at gunpoint to pay for the education of your children and of the children of your friends and family. I consider theft in all it forms to be a crime and I do not consider myself liable or in any fashion responsible to provide for the education of other people's children as they are not liable to provide for the education of mine. I might give to charity to help defray the costs of education but money gathered from robbery is not charity and once I and others are robbed we have less to give.

"If we look at the many countries..."

Where ever theft is committed, it is always a crime.

"When was the last time you took some time out to check out your local public school system?"

About a week ago. Public schools always remind me of two institutions my past professions have brought me into close association with: military basic training camps and prisons.

"It might do you some good to go sit in."

It would do us all good if they would implement my program and the sooner the better.

Anonymous said...

"Theft: The act or an instance of stealing, larceny" (Websters)

ok... so that's a bit vauge, lets try "steal"

"Steal: to take anothers property dishonetly or unlawfully, esp. in a secret manner."

I'm only 23 years old, but I have had a fair share of jobs. Every time I have been hired at an establishment, I have been required to fill out certain tax forms and documents regarding the taxes that will be taken from my paycheck. When I go to the store, I make a conscious decision to purchase items knowing that I will be paying the sales tax (althoughI could easily purchase most items over the internet tax free).
The last time I went to vote, I had the option of voteing for or against a tax hike to build a new school in my town.
I do not see that taxes are (a) unlawful or (b) secretly taken from me.

In order for it to be unlawful there has to be a law, right?

I'll go out on a limb and suggest that you do not have children? I would be horrified to find out that you were sending your own kids to a tax supported public education system.

If we, as a nation, were to stop taxing the public in order to support our schools, we WOULD in fact be dening the RIGHT to an education for underprivledged people. Just a quick google search I was able to find the cost of public education in SC per child... Lucky for you I am studying to be a (public school) math teacher, so I can walk you through the financing :)

$11,480 per pupil per year.
times 13 years of education (and that is without the now suggested Pre-K)
$148,240 per child.
The typical American family is now nearing about 3 children. To send three kids to school (again with the math..) $444,723. Nearly a half a million dollars!!
Taking away these tax supported public educations would save you a few dollars a year, sure, but how many millionairs do you know that could actually afford to pay for their own childrens basic education?

Oh, and I believe the poverty level in America is having an anual income of $12,000 (just about one year of public school costs per child) and 12.5% of Americans are infact living on that or less a year! (That's 37.3 million people) Of course the rate of African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans living in poverty is higher. But who ares about those kids right??

Maybe you should stick to the second amendment :)

John R said...

Laci, Laci, Laci;

You have just pretty much proven the failure of the public school system. You used your exceptional math skills (obviously a trait you get from your father) to show that we tax payers pay over $11k/year to send kids to schools that have an abismal success rate.

I looked up two local private schools that have 100% graduation rates and very high rates of students who get collage degrees. The average tuition was under $9k/year. So that $148k per kid that we are paying for a substandard success rate is quite excessive.

The federal .gov has absolutly no business tinkering with our schools. Federal dollars should not be used in our schools. Neither should our schools be entirly privitized.

Schools should be local. They should be funded locally, the curriculums determined locally, and the funding achieved locally.

If a state decides to fund schools with an income tax, good for that state. If a municipality wants to pad those funds with a property tax, good on them. If a family does not like the local schools, and they want different for thier children, then they can move to a city that will school their kids as they wish.

Local schools should be funded locally and controlled locally.

One last thought. Somewhere along the way we decided that we were going to educate all children by force of law. There are kids who should not be in school with our kids, you know that. There are kids who do not belong in school with those who want an education.

Anonymous said...

24k will not be personally leaving my pocket, via taxes, every year to send my two kids to school. Neither will I have the opportunity to foot the 18k a year bill for a private school with a 100% graduation rate.

I think it is a horrible thing to think that not all kids deserve a chance at an education. There are a lot of children that come off like they don't want to learn, like they don't want to be in school... but these children most likely have underlying issues, that once addressed, may unlock the door for their education. Some people have a really difficult time in a text book type educational setting.

I'm $40,000 in debt because I am dedicated to helping children, there are a lot of children in the US that don't have people beyond their school teachers, their parents don't care about their schools, or their lives.

And if this disscusion is solely about paying taxes, you have no other opinion regarding the schools outside of the fact that it is tax dollars paying for them I would like for you to try and stop using paved streets (payed for through taxes) don't take your grandkids to the park (supported by tax dollars) and foget about fire fighters and ambulance/emt people to come to your aid if you ever so need them.

Sometimes it's about the greater good.

I know when we were all children you were, undoubtedly appreciative of the public education available to us.

Anonymous said...

Goodness, where do I start?

Crime: To intentionally and knowingly cause direct and measurable harm or loss to another person without that person's consent. Not all crimes are unlawful and not all illegal acts are crimes.

Government is a protection racket and collects taxes at the point of a gun (try not paying your taxes and the government will send some of the best trained and armed men and women to help you write your check). If one does not use government services, then one is robbed to pay for them when others do.

Everyone has a right to the education of their choice just as they have the right to the large screen TV of their choice but they do not have the right to use other people's money to buy it. And educations just like TVs are available at all price levels and there is even charity. One only has to search for what they want, determine what they are willing to pay for, and then make priorities in personal finances to purchase the education.

There is also the moral hazard of giving something away to people for which they do not pay or work and that hazard is increased when what is given away "free" is obtained by stealing from others. They treat the "gift" cheaply and expect everything else in life to be handed to them in exchange for their vote in support for further stealing. There is also the lack of incentive for the schools to improve since they always get their money, which was the original point of my article.

I am the father of three and a grandfather of two with another on the way and all our children are homeschooled so that limb just broke.;) When you insist, at gunpoint, on my family paying for other people's children to get an education, you are stealing from my children.

As for taxes stolen from the people to pay for all those other government services you mention, I suggest you do a little research into what "Anarchism" is and you will have a better understanding of my argument...

Anonymous said...

I guess we will just have to agree to disagree. I am a compasionate person and appreciate that not only can I help my neighbor in need, they can turn around and help me as well.
I consider the greater good rather than my own selfish being. I hope I never loose that.

Public schools may be flawed, but that's no reason to scratch the whole idea, rather, fix it. If you spent 30,000 on a car and the fuel sensor stopped working, you wouldn't throw the car away and invest in a new one, you would pay the $300 to replace the part!

John R said...

The "flaw" in public schools is pretty much due to the loss of local control of our schools.

The federal .gov takes money from some and redistributes it to the school systems. The federal .gov not gets to demand certain things from the school systems and schools pretty much have to teach to the lowest common denominator.

Educating our children is the responsibility of the community. The better educated the children, the better off the community. Businesses will relocate there, the arts will flourish and incomes will increase. Competition between communities for the best teachers will increase teacher pay. Competition for these higher paying jobs will improve teacher skills. We will have successful teachers, and failed teachers. Failed teachers will leave the system and make room for young teachers who have the potential for great success.

I propose that the federal .gov not collect the money in the first place, that money should be collected at the state and local level. It is the responsibility of the individual states, not the fed .gov, to determine how education in that particular state will be funded and what will be taught. Parents should be given the ability to choose the schools their children attend, and these schools need to be held accountable for the education they provide.

Anonymous said...

"I am a compassionate person..."

Obviously and I hope you stay that way though I believe you will be suffering the same burnout that most public school teachers do after about three years on the job when you discover the truth of your occupation. If you were to direct your endeavors more into private enterprise, I believe you will find your career more satisfying.

"Public schools may be flawed, but...fix it."

That's the reason for what I wrote. I did not call for the schools to be closed but only suggested another route for them to be funded which would give them the incentive to fix their problems by becoming dependent on the goodwill, and money, of their satisfied customers.

When a system is designed to provide results that appear to an outside observer as a failure to achieve the perceived mission of that system, then all attempts to fix the problems from within the system are skewed also towards failure. The system must be fixed by solutions coming from the outside or the system must be allowed to languish under its own bloated weight until it completely collapses and how many children will be harmed by that? I am trying to work from outside the system and if you keep reading other columns here that I write you will find I have more solutions for other failing government programs.

"But who (c?)ares (sic) about those kids, right?"

Hopefully their families but that is the other moral hazard of a socialist school system. Parents begin to neglect their responsibilities to their children when they know the government will always pick up the slack. Free schooling, free busing, free lunches...what next? Free clothes? Free computers? Free cable television?

"I guess we will just have to agree to disagree."

But keep your passion, Laci. Your arguments are based heavily upon emotion but I would expect no less from a person who wants to devote her life to helping others and especially children. Live long and prosper and do it with love...

"Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for yourself with government off your back."

Anonymous said...

Okay, last post, I promise :)

Aired tonight on PBS, how appropriate. Much discusion on charters, accountability, lower SES school districts and actual federal funding (turns out education IS a state issue and only 10 cents per dollar in funding comes from federal funding!)

I enjoyed watching this! hope you boys do as well.
(and then bite your tongue, ha)

Anonymous said...

"Okay, last post, I promise :)"


Now for one of my "Andy Rooney" moments...

Have you noticed how this comment program suggests that the word "okay" is misspelled? Webster's recognizes this spelling variation of the colloquialism "O.K." so why shouldn't this program? Instead it underlines the word in bright red which suggest to anyone else looking at your computer screen that they are dealing with an illiterate imbecile. The program does accept the abbreviation, "O.K." without question, though it is in and of itself a play on the term, "oll korrect" which was a facetious misspelling of the term, "all correct" when first used in 1839. Computers are taking over the world and one day they will no longer need us, except maybe to plug in the cord...