Our Educational System

First Published: 2000-01-04

Caught somewhere between the present debate about cutting teachers salaries or not cutting teachers salaries are children that "graduate" from our public schools not able to read or write.

Whatever business we are in we have to make every effort to satisfy as many clients as we can, or eventually we will go out of business. This of course does not appear to be the case with our public school system where an estimated 85 to 90 percent of our children are supposedly "educated."

Consider the following points:

  1. We have teachers that walked off their jobs leaving students unattended and threatening to "work-to-rule" if their salaries are cut for displaying behaviour they would discipline students for.

  2. Schools are awarded certificates for marginal improvement in grades, while the mean grade is reportedly no higher than a D in public schools.

  3. Actual results within the educational system are rarely shared with the public, even though the cost is paid from tax dollars.

A suggestion for improvement

In 1955, Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman suggested the U.S. government issue vouchers to parents for the amount spent per student in the public system. These vouchers could be redeemed at a school of the parent-s choice (private or public), for the promise of better results.

While vouchers were never seen as "an end to themselves" by Dr. Friedman, "they are a means to make the transition from a government to a market system."

Dr. Friedman is correct. Once poor families have the ability to choose where their children are educated, it will force, (through competition) improvement in the results of the government run schools, or they will go out of business, just like the private sector. Sales of a product or service rely on demand. When the teachers who are frustrated by our educational system can open a school of their own, because they believe they can do a better job of educating, the Ministry of Education will do everything it can to improve.

You often get what you ask for

English Novelist William Somerset Maugham said; "It is a funny thing about life: if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it." It is no different in education or business.

Competition within the system should bring the cost of education down. When "market forces" come into play schools with the best reputation will be emulated. This will of course provide better employees and the standards of our work force will begin to rise, because the best interest of students will again be the focus of the largest supplier of education in the country.

Politics and education

Unfortunately, there is little ideological difference between our political elite. They all continue to suggest that by throwing tax dollars at education the problem will be fixed. History disproves this theory.

However, there is very little real public debate on how to get teachers to do their jobs and educate their pupils, solely because the teacher union is looked to for votes, and if their membership is appeased…who cares what the actual results are?

John Fund, a journalist with the Wall Street Journal once said something to the effect that governments will eventually do the right thing…but only after they have exhausted all other possibilities. Hopefully we will not allow the politicians to continue exhausting all the other possibilities at the expense of the generations we will leave behind in the unenviable position of being functionally illiterate.

Demand more from our students, educators and government

The January/February 2001 issue of The American Enterprise Magazine TheAmericanEnterprise.org included a study of "Model Schools – 14 Academies That Teach." In Karl Zinsmeister-s editorial on the story he points out that:

As much as they differ, it-s extremely interesting how many common traits are shared by the successful schools we profile. A remarkably similar basic formula applies in almost all of these places: high demands on students, strict discipline, a strong unapologetic moral component, including a respect for religion, an emphasis on teaching intellectual basics, a preference for time-tested books and curricula, clear standards of dress, grooming, and comportment, and an insistence on politeness, respect and courtesy.

And one other thing: most of these schools are comparatively "hard." They push kids, and demand effort. That alone distinguishes them from many other U.S. schools…

We should expect to get no more than we demand from our students, teachers and government. Our hard earned tax dollars will continue to be spent on education with very little real interest in the results unless we convince them that is what we want.

As Dr. Thomas Sowell noted; "Unfortunately, years of dumbed-down education may have left many people without the intellectual equipment to see through the self-serving propaganda of the teachers- unions."

As usual Dr. Sowell is very prescient, or he has a direct line to our Ministry of Education.

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