The underlying assumption in this argument seems to be that so long as some people are satisfied with a monopoly, all people should be stuck with it.  The same logic might have an East German commissar saying, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, "Only some people would leave if we took down the Wall, so why should we take it down?"  The point is not whether choice is "necessary" or not; the point is that it is everyone's right to choose.  The needs of individual parents and students come before the maintenance of a system that, by many accounts, is not performing well for everyone. 

The Facts:

  • Can government education really improve on its own?  According to Albert Shanker, former president of the American Federation of Teachers union, "It's time to admit that public education operates like a planned economy, a bureaucratic system in which everybody's role is spelled out in advance and there are few incentives for innovation and productivity.  It's no surprise that our school system doesn't improve: It more resembles the communist economy than our own market economy."[133]  The worldwide failure of planned economies supports Shanker's contention that systemic change is needed.

  •  
  • U.S. students are outperformed in international comparisons.  In the Third International Mathematics and Sciences Study (TIMSS), American high school seniors ranked 16th out of 21 industrialized nations in general science knowledge, 19th in general math skills, and last in physics.  William H. Schmidt, an education professor at Michigan State University, remarked, "Put in terms of report card grades, the American seniors earned a D-minus or an F in math and science."[134]

  • Students are failing to learn basic skills.  Since 1983, over 10 million students in the U.S. have reached the 12th grade without the ability to read at a basic level, while over 20 million are unable to do basic math.[135]  In 1995, nearly 30 percent of first-time college freshmen enrolled in at least one remedial education course and 80 percent of all public four-year universities offered remedial coursework.[136]  A 1998 Public Agenda survey revealed that 76 percent of college professors and 63 percent of employers believe that "a high school diploma is no guarantee that the typical student has learned the basics."[137]  A September 2000 study revealed that businesses and institutions of higher learning in Michigan spend more than $600 million per year to accommodate for the lack of basic reading, writing, and arithmetic skills among high school graduates and employees.  Assuming that other states had comparable experiences, the national cost due to the lack of basic skills is approximately $16.6 billion each year.



[133]       Quoted in Richman, Separating School & State., p. 11.

[134]       Debra Viadero, "U.S. Seniors Near Bottom in World Test," Education Week, 4 March 1998, p. 1 and U.S. News & World Report, 9 March 1998, p. 14.

[135]      A Nation Still at Risk: An Education Manifesto (Washington, DC: 30 April 1998); available on the Internet at http://www.edexcellence.net/library/manifes.html.

[136]      David W. Breneman, "Remediation in Higher Education: Its Extent and Cost," in Brookings Papers on Education Policy 1998 (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 1998).

[137]       Reality Check (New York: Public Agenda, January 1998).

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