The Case Against Publicly-Organized Schools
For some time now in the United States a great debate has raged over whether society ought to provide parents with a voucher that would subsidize the ability of parents to send their children to any school of their choice. Already in many communities arou nd the country some 30% of all children of school age attend private or parochial schools, without direct subsidy provided in the form of vouchers. And, in fact, administrators within the public (i.e., government-funded institutions) admit that they would not have the resources to provide schooling for these children if, for some reason, the private and parochial schools disappeared. Yet, there is enormous resistance on the part of the educationist establishment to the dismantling of the existing system i n favor of a competitive market for schools. A favorite argument is that vouchers will permit parents of moderate means to pull the better students out of the publicly-funded schools, leaving these schools as the repository ! for the poor and learning disabled. This position is, even on the surface, foolish. That said, I argue agaisnt the mere introduction of vouchers into a system that is from top to bottom in need to substantive improvement.
The central problem with schools as they now exist is that they are virtually all hierarchically-directly institutions. There are almost no examples of teachers who share a common philosophy of education coming together to form a school, who advertise the ir services and who succeed or fail on the basis of how good a job they do in preparing children (and older students) for citizenship, for scholarship and for the challenges of life. What is wrong with our schools is that they are not associations of prof essionals, with teachers deciding on policy and on curriculum and hiring administrators to work for them. Whether one looks at the publicly-organized schools, the private academies or the parochial system, the structures are the same: a board of trusts, d irectors or an elected school board set policy; they hire administrators, who hire teachers in the same way they hire janitors or maintenance personnel. What is extraordinary, in my opinion, is that under such a structure st!udents manage to learn as much as they do. This is clear evidence of the ability of human beings to somehow thrive in spite of the absence of common sense nurturing.
IF government is to play a role in the process of education, then using publicly-collected revenue to distribute vouchers to parents is the common sense approach to public policy. I would go further, however.
Many of us realize that the amount confiscated from us in the form of taxes is an unjust "taking" of our legitimately earned wealth. I, for one, am absolutely certain that the amount I pay in taxes far exceeds the rental value of the piece of land I hold title to underneath my home. If we had a truly just system of law, I would, therefore, have far more disposable income with which to to pay tuition at any school of my choice. Given that the citizens of our country have as yet not come to our senses and o verturned the existing tax system, an interim measure would be to make vouchers means tested.
Conventional wisdom is that because society has an obligation to educate the young, all adults who work and own property ought to pay taxes to support the publicly-organized schools. Under this approach, people who have no children in the publicly-organiz ed schools pay the same "school tax" as those who have one or two or five children enrolled. Parents of children enrolled in the parochial schools are paying tuition plus paying a school tax based on the assessed value of whatever real estate they own. Th us, parents are penalized for choosing to send their children to a school not sponsored by the State. A more rational approach is for the community to appoint a commission to establish minimum standards for schools to be eligible for voucher support. If t hese standards are not deemed reasonable, the courts are available to pursue remedy.
The existing method of raising revenue for publicly-organized schools is also highly regressive, as the tax has little direct association to "ability to pay" -- unless by ability to pay one accepts the obligation to borrow funds from a bank using the equi ty in one's home as collateral. Should people who are no longer working and living on a reduced income be forced to contribute a far higher proportion of their disposable income to school taxes than, for example, a two-income family with much higher annua l income?
In summary, much of what is wrong with our schools is directly related to what is wrong in our society as a whole. We talk about liberty and about the individual, about cooperation and markets, but in practice we continue to fear these things and fall bac k on hierarchy, privilege, government-control and mandate and coercion as the basis for public policy -- in education and many other areas of societal concern.
As the saying goes, we get what we pay for!