A “Millennial View” On Education

A “Millennial View” On Education

Few would dispute that our K-12 schools are failing our students in some way or another. A Pew report shows where the US ranks for test scores in math and science – in the middle of the pack, behind many European and Asian countries.1.Pew Research And about 20% of students show up to college and have to take remedial courses to arrive at the level they need to succeed.2.edexcellence Even our student loan crisis – loans have hit $1.2 trillion (our GDP is about $17 trillion) – is partly due to the failures of K-12 schools to prep students for the most demanding math and science majors.3.New York Times But more on that in a future post.

Some blame the Common Core standards – but that misses the mark. We need to test in a standardized way; the tests could and should be betterand more uniformly applied, and we need some way to know which schools are preparing students for college and beyond. Instead, the framing for how to think about solving our education problems is relatively simple, rooted in free market economics. The free market punishes bad behavior and rewards good behavior via competition. This doesn’t mean that every private or charter school will be better than every public one (that absolutely isn’t true today, and won’t necessarily follow from greater competition). It just means that by nature, they will be forced to get better or go out of business, unlike public schools (without reform). Here are examples of themes for how to fix our system that follow that core idea – of allowing free market competition to figure out the best solutions:

  • Provide proper incentives (good and bad) for teachers. Public schools struggle to rid themselves of teachers who are not doing their jobs properly. These struggles have been well documented. They also, however, struggle to reward teachers who are doing well with adequate compensation. There’s a reason it’s so hard to get good teachers – few who have options like doctor or lawyer would take such a job: “The horrifically bureaucratic education system repels smart people looking at career options… [and]… Union-dominated compensation and pension systems for teachers work against the individual choices teachers want.”4.Americanext
  • Reduce administrative spending relative to spending on education. The last thing our schools need is more spending on bureaucracy, but the National Center of Education Statistics found only 52% of spending at schools went to instruction, and that had been decreasing.5.Heritage And as the Hoover Institution posited, “Even in the for-profit sector, large multilayered firms falter and fail when their boards and senior executives lose touch with their customers.”6.Hoover
  • Enable choice via vouchers. Choice allows parents to punish and reward, like the hand of the free market. Right now, “Parents often find it impossible to vote with their feet and increase the attendance of a school that’s really good at hiring effective teachers while decreasing attendance at schools they find unsatisfactory.”7.Americanext And studies have found that students with school choice do better – and schools force themselves to improve under choice environments.8.Heritage
  • Enable schools to test and learn from different formats and structures. With real choice between a variety of schooling options, it is possible to know what parents really see as valuable in a school (e.g., are some programs that are required in current schools necessary?). But it’s not just a problem of lack of vouchers. Right now, many school district leaders’ hands are tied; to quote the Hoover Institution again, “Teacher collective bargaining agreements determine… how nearly sixty cents out of every dollar were to be spent; most of the remaining forty cents [are] controlled by state and federal program rules and court orders….District leaders, concerned about school performance… work within many “givens”: a fixed set of schools and teachers, strict salary policies, state mandates to spend exact amounts of money on particular functions, and required central office administrative structure.”
  • Use stricter discipline in public schools. Traditional public schools are often hampered in how they can discipline disruptive students. This makes those who want to learn unhappy and unsafe.9.New York Times
  • Fund private schools directly. It sounds ludicrous at first, but as it happens, some of the best-educated countries in the world have followed such a program. South Korea, India, and of all places, Sweden, saw increases in the competitiveness of their students by funding privately run schools.10.Hoover


Plenty of research has been devoted to the exact formula that can produce excellent schools. We haven’t even scratched the surface of what a good school can do, and no attempt to standardize every school according to such guidelines will succeed. That’s because the way we learn what works is to allow experimentation, the way we do in the free market. What works will succeed; what doesn’t will fail. And no central government can be as creative and open as hundreds upon thousands of school teachers and principals who see students every day. We need to stop relying on one central, controlled approach to our education system.

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