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« A Subversive Idea - The End of Race | Main | Confederate Statues are Just the Beginning »

The Tragic Madness of K-12

It is that most heartbreaking time of year again as the new K-12 school year begins.  Just over 50 million children will be attending that assembly line of mediocracy called the public school system.

According to The Nation's Report Card the following are the percentages of 12th graders who score at proficient or above in:

  • Geography 20% - that’s an 80% failure rate!
  • Mathematics 25% - a 75% failure rate
  • Reading 37% - a 63% failure rate
  • Science 22% - a 78% failure rate
  • Writing 27% - a 73% failure rate
  • US History 12% - an astounding 88% failure rate!

Tragically, for minorities and the poor the results are far worse.  How can one expect citizens to make wise and informed decisions if they, after 12 years of public education, remain so ignorant on such a range of issues, to say nothing of the incredible loss of human potential these results represent?  How long can a free people survive with decades of these results? 

What is so heartbreaking is that it needn’t be so.  Every President since Kennedy has hatched a plan to “reform” the failing public education system as has pretty much every governor during this same time frame.  That’s almost 60 years of multi-level governmental “education reform”. 

That same President called for putting a man on the surface of the moon and 8 years and 56 days later we did just that.  One would think creating and then executing the technology required for lunar exploration might be just a little tougher than teaching children to read. 

Yet most 4th and 8th graders are not proficient in either math or reading.  Ask yourself, how can an organization whose only purpose is education not be able to teach children of average intelligence to read in an 8 year time span?!  Kennedy and NASA got us standing on the moon in a similar span.

Yet the results speak for themselves.  Don’t blame the teachers.   The country is filled with hardworking, dedicated and loving teachers, administrators, para-pros and volunteers.  For the most part they labor mightily to succeed.  But none have the power to unravel the mess the public education system has become. 

Sure the teachers unions are resistant to change but they are not the primary reason for these failures.  Just because an organization might not be part of the solution does not necessarily mean they are the cause of the problem. 

Don’t blame lack of funds.  We spend more per pupil than almost any other country in the world.  For most states, public K-12 consumes around half the entire state budget.

When you have a dedicated work-force, plenty of money, and decades of effort striving for improvement and you still get these results you must look beyond the basic tools.  The problem at this point must be in the very design of the system.  And of course that too is where the solution must lie.

As for guidance on system improvement we need look no further than our everyday lives.  Over these same 60 years we have seen remarkable progress in almost every area of our lives, save government and education.   You would be hard pressed to find a single product, out of hundreds of millions, which hasn’t improved by orders of magnitude in the past 60 years yet the average 9th grader 60 years ago was far better educated than one today. 

So what is the difference?  K-12 public education has been built on a top-down, “we know best” design.  All these other products are built on a system that has been extraordinarily successful throughout the history of mankind. 

And what is this system design?  Free people freely interacting with other free people.  Obviously for K-12 this would occur in some sort of state-regulated environment.  This design has never failed.  It drives the improvement of every product and service that has ever existed.  The facts are overwhelming.

Yet far too many people fight these system changes as they allow their preconceived biases to blind themselves to this mountain of evidence.  Remember that just because we have “government funded” K-12 does not necessarily mean government must also run the schools.

Changing K-12 system design will unleash the wisdom of millions as the power of free people freely interacting with other free people transforms public education.  Every student will gain as will every teacher.  It’s guaranteed to work and doesn’t cost an extra dime. 

What moral and honorable reason is there for not making this change right now?  What moral and honorable reason is there for fighting to keep the same old failing system?   What moral and honorable reason is there for retaining a system which destroys millions of young lives before they have even had a chance?  What moral and honorable reason is there for keeping a system which is putting the very future of this great country at risk?  I can think of none.

John Conlin is an expert in organizational design and change.  He is also President and founder of E.I.C. Enterprises, www.EICEnterprises.org, a 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to spreading the truth here and around the world primarily through K-12 education.

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