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« Black Swans and the Future | Main | The ABI – Grupo Modelo Antitrust Charade »

Can the 21st Amendment be the model?

The 21st amendment to the Constitution repealed the 18th Amendment, the failed experiment called Prohibition.  But it did something else of equal importance.  Rather than attempting to decide and dictate all of the issues related to alcohol laws and regulations, the amendment simply stated that alcohol regulation was to be decided at the state level.

There was genius in this decision.  It greatly increased the odds of the amendment actually being ratified. Attempting to dictate every aspect of alcohol regulation for the entire country would simply have insured the amendment would never become law.

The 21st Amendment allowed states and their citizens to craft laws and regulations that fit their unique desires and situations.  It built on the reality that an individual’s consumption of alcohol is a local issue.  It allowed effective control of beverage alcohol while creating a framework where competition and the marketplace would still flourish.  It has been a tremendous success.

I believe a similar model should be used to transform the K-12 public education system.  End The Education Plantation, www.EndtheEducationPlantation.org is a single issue, non-partisan organization which has only one goal:  Passage of federal legislation requiring any state or school district that accepts any federal education dollars to offer Education Freedom Accounts to every child attending school in that state or district. These Freedom Accounts would have to equal at least 95 percent of the total per pupil spending of that district or state.  Other than that, we defer all other decisions to the states on how/where these funds can be used. This only demands that parents control the money spent on the education of their children.

In effect, this legislation would force states to create a state-regulated market for K-12 education (and pre-K and higher education if they desire). Just like the 21st Amendment, we use federal power to force Federalism in the education of this country’s youth.

This will unleash the wisdom of millions and is guaranteed to improve the educational outcomes of rich, poor and middle-class children alike.

Obviously different states will decide different things. Regardless of your political beliefs, some states will make decisions you agree with and others you disagree with. Guess what. That’s happening right now.

The public education system of this country is failing far too many children.  Seventy percent of all eighth graders are not proficient in reading.  It’s worse for minorities.  And, sadly, the future of most kids is somewhat set by the eighth grade.

The vast majority of these non-proficient children will NEVER become good at reading.  Think of what this means for their job prospects, their cultural activities, and how they will raise the next generation.  Most fourth and eighth graders are also not proficient in math. This does not bode well for any of us.

ACT reports 75 percent of all incoming freshman are not prepared for college. Only four percent of African-American high school graduates are ready for college.

And few students wake up the day before high school graduation and decide to attend college. Most of these students have been preparing for college for years. Yet only 25% are ready?

And what of those who didn’t take the more difficult classes and don’t plan to go to college? Do you think their educations are any better? A recent article talked about a small manufacturer who was looking to fill some entry level positions. Out of 100 applicants with high school diplomas, only three could pass a simple math test!  And of those three, none knew how to read a ruler.  This is simply wrong.

Yet the country spends more money per pupil than every other country on the planet, save one -- over $12,000 per student per year.  In most parts of the country you can attend a pretty good private school for that amount.

Our country is filled with dedicated and loving teachers, administrators, para-pros and volunteers.  It is not the people who are failing.  It is not that we spend too little money.  It is that the top-down, expert-driven system is simply failing.  And the only way to fix a failing system is to CHANGE it.

We don’t claim to know the answer to every question.  We don’t have to.  Rather we know the system that will find the best answers for the lowest cost -- freedom and competition.  Our proposed legislation would, in effect, force states to create a marketplace for K-12 public education.  Let us unleash the wisdom of millions and let them discover and create better schools for all of our kids.

The future of today’s children and in a very real sense the future of the country depends on it.  The genius of the 21st Amendment, which has served the country quite well for 80 years, can be the model for transforming this country’s K-12 public education system.  Raise your voice. 

Regardless of your wealth or education, no one is immune from these failings.  We will either collectively solve this problem or we will collectively watch this problem destroy our country.  If not us, who?  If not now, when?  Please step to the plate.  50 million children and the very soul of this country are pleading for us to do something.  Join us.

Here’s what Milton Friedman wrote in 2004…

Government is committed to assuring that all children receive a minimum education. It currently does so by setting up and running schools, assigning students within a designated catchment area to each school. Students are thereby deprived of choice. They go to the designated school or else they do not benefit from the government commitment and their parents must pay twice for their education—once in the form of taxes, again in tuition.

Equally important, government is deprived of the benefits of competition. It is as if the government decided that the automobiles it uses must be built in government factories. What do you think the quality and cost of government cars would be? Or, to take another example, it is as if recipients of food stamps were required to spend them in a specified government-run grocery store.

It is only the tyranny of the status quo that leads us to take it for granted that in schooling, government monopoly is the best way for the government to achieve its objective.

A far more effective and equitable way for government to finance education is to finance students, not schools. Assign a specified sum of money to each child and let him or her and his or her parents choose the school that they believe best, perhaps a government school, perhaps a private school, perhaps homeschooling. Let the schools in turn, whether government or private, set their own tuition rates, and control their own operating procedures. That would provide real competition for all schools, competition powered by the ultimate beneficiaries of the program, the nation’s children.

That’s all we are trying to do.  I hope we can count on you.  If you agree, please spread the word.

 

 

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