ALEXANDRIA, VA — American public education is clearly in decline.
A recent study by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)
found that only one-third of American students demonstrated proficiency
in science and technology, and only 3 percent of students are classified
An independent task force launched by the Council on Foreign Relations
warns that the U.S. educational system is heading toward a “national
security crisis.” The chairs of the report — former New York
City school system chancellor Joel Klein and former Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice — say that education failures threaten our economic
growth and competitiveness, as well as our physical safety.
According to the not-for-profit testing organization ACT, only 22
percent of U.S. high school students met “college-ready” standards
in all of their core subjects. The figures are even lower for Hispanics
and African-Americans. The College Board reported that even among the
narrower cohort of college-bound seniors, more than 50 percent of college-bound
students need to take remedial classes in one or more subjects.
Economist Veronique de Rugy explains that a lack of accountability
in our educational system has led to stagnant scores and complacency,
despite the fact that we are second in the world in per-pupil spending.
She explained, “We have tried spending more money and putting
more teachers in classrooms for more than a generation, with no observable
improvements to anything except the schools’ bottom lines.”
Since the monopoly that public schools now hold for all but the affluent
has proven inadequate to the needs of a 21st-century, high-tech society,
what we desperately need is competition in the area of education —
and free choice for all parents with respect to where they send their
children to school.
The District of Columbia Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp.
has administered a program through which more than 1,700 Washington,
D.C., students will get the chance to attend a private school this
year through a federal voucher program. Congress established the program
in 2004, a first-of-its-kind program for the city’s parents who
want to send their children to Catholic schools or other private facilities
instead of the struggling public schools.
President Obama had not included any funding for the scholarship
program in his fiscal 2013 budget proposal, part of a trend by his
administration since 2009 to phase out the program. But House Speaker
John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (Ind.-CT) — two supporters
of vouchers — announced in June that they had struck an agreement
with the U.S. Department of Education to carry out the program with
no specific cap on enrollment, so both new and existing enrollees can
apply to the program.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has vowed to expand
Washington, D.C.’s, school voucher program as part of a nationwide
push for school choice. He declared: “Here we are in the most
prosperous nation, but millions of children are getting a third-world
education. And America's minority children suffer the most. This is
the civil rights issue of our era. And it’s the great challenge
of our time.”
As president, Mr. Romney would seek to overhaul the federal government’s
largest programs for kindergarten through 12th grade into a voucher-like
system. Students would be free to use $25 billion in federal money
to attend any school they choose — public, charter, online, or private
— a system, he said, that would introduce marketplace dynamics into
education to drive academic gains. “I will expand parental choice
in an unprecedented way,” declared Romney, adding that families’ freedom
to vote with their feet “will hold schools responsible for results.”
The Obama administration has reluctantly permitted some approaches
to education that Republicans have long supported, including charter
schools and teacher evaluations tied to student results. “There’s
not much left for Republicans to be distinctive about,” said
Chester E. Finn, Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute,
an education policy group. “The one line the Obama folks have
refused to cross is the voucher line” — that is, allowing students
to use taxpayer money to attend any certified school, public or private.
One recent study of a Florida program offering private school vouchers
to low-income families found that test scores at public schools facing
competition went up. A Gallup survey found that 61 percent of Americans
were somewhat or very dissatisfied with the state of public education.
Hispanics in particular ranked access to education as a critical issue,
even above immigration. School choice clearly benefits students with
low income and high potential.
Diana Furchtgott-Rothof of the Manhattan Institute points out, “Teachers’ unions
have consistently used their power to protect poorly performing teachers
and schools, to the detriment of children. They’re against merit
pay, they make it difficult to fire incompetent teachers, and they’re
against allowing parents to choose the best schools for their children.
By sending their kids to Sidwell (Sidwell Friends School, a private
school in Washington, D.C.), the president hasn’t allowed teachers
unions to control his educational choices. He should not be stopping
other parents from having the same opportunity.”
In a recent Gallup poll, only 29 percent — an all-time low — of
Americans express “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of
confidence in public schools. In a poll conducted last year in New
Jersey by the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers
University, 54 percent of African-Americans expressed support for school
vouchers. Hopefully, this presidential campaign will focus attention
on the need for serious educational reform, an essential element of
which is a voucher system.
The Conservative Curmudgeon archives
The Conservative Curmudgeon is copyright © 2012
by Allan C. Brownfeld and the Fitzgerald
All rights reserved. Editors may use this column if this copyright information
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which
is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has
been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and
the U.S. Senate Internal Subcommittee.
He is associate editor of The Lincoln Reveiw and a contributing
editor to such publications as Human Events,
The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle
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