The Idea Mag - Issue 22 - October 23rd, 2005 - Front Page


Solving the School

My dad works in a public school so I get to hear all of the horror stories of the public school system. While we may have a high literacy rate and still are better than most countries, our school system has some issues. I don’t think I need to convince anyone that our current system is ineffective and inefficient but I want to focus on efficiency. We live in a free market system, yet are schools are public. Many people pay property taxes, that go to provide computers for kids and buildings for schools – yet these same people may never have any kids. Others – such as my parents – wouldn’t let me go to public school for many great reasons, and yet still have to pay for others’ kids to learn, in addition to my schooling costs. What is the solution? Vouchers? Private schools?

The first solution that I hear from many of my friends and people of like political persuasion is vouchers. I have even pleaded the case for vouchers myself, but let’s think this through. First, the government gives vouchers equal to the cost of educating one child to each family for each child. They can now either home school their children or send them to a private school. Everyone can now send their children wherever they want, right? The public schools now are poorer and the quality of education goes down. Since the average person – who pays property taxes at least – decides to send their kids to the now booming private school “industry.” One of two things will then happen. If the government allows people to spend money above and beyond the voucher, people who have more money and decide they want to give their kids extra education, send their children to the “better” schools. Coincidentally, these people would have done that anyway. On the other hand if no “extra” money is allowed to be spent, than all schools get the same amount of money per capita. Where is the incentive then, for the schools to be better? Can you “recruit” students? Do you offer them “incentive packages?” People who are alike will end up at the same schools and the schools that get the good “reputation” will get all the smart students. Since no one can pay more for better schools, they can only move to where the good schools are. Those who can’t afford to live in those areas will go to the “less smart” schools. The purpose is defeated.

Another possible solution is one that really appeals to me at first sight. Privatizing schools would make the product (education) cheaper and better for the customer – either the student or the parent. The problem with that is the free market “price” system works on the principle of value. Whoever values the product most will be willing to pay the most for it. Remember those people who wanted to pay over and above the voucher? Their kids will benefit as the parents spend gobs of money on their children’s schooling. There are many problems with this, namely that those who buy lower on the demand curve will decide that they just don’t want to be educated – resulting in a lower, uneducated class of people. We don’t need to revert back to the middle ages. You could, however, force people to not only pay for their education, but also force them to go to school. Unfortunately, to make it affordable for all, you have to lower the standard to lower the price – or infuse it with taxpayer money, but then you have socialism and the system would look surprisingly similar to what we now have.

Ok, so maybe there isn’t a solution. All I can give you is what worked for me. I did not go to public school, and after a short time at a private school, we went to home schooling because it was cheaper and safer than the public school alternative. I had a 4.0 in high school and did very well in college. Home schooling worked fine for me because I was motivated to learn. My parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles all encouraged me strive to learn as much as I could. Unfortunately, not everyone has that luxury – and therein lays the solution. You see, children that have a normal family – you know, one father and one mother, and at least a few relatives at holidays – seem to do better at school. Families that encourage reading and studying instead of watching TV and playing video games seem to get accepted at major colleges.

There are exceptions, but you won’t fix the public school system by taxing us more, you won’t fix it by giving everyone vouchers, and you won’t fix it by letting it float freely in an open market. You can make a difference though – by making your family one in which children are more likely to learn instead of wasting time, practice instead of being lazy, and become good citizens instead of committing crimes.