Brandon Dutcher | January 23, 2015

How to fix public schools

Brandon Dutcher

The question is often asked, “How do we fix public schools?”

Dr. Jay Greene, an education professor at the University of Arkansas, has an innovative answer: “We can fix schools by going around them.”

“We can expand access to other educational options, including charter schools, voucher schools, tax-credit schools, ESAs, digital schooling, home-schooling, and hybrid schools,” he says. “We can also expand access to enriching non-school activities, like museums, theaters, historical sites, summer camps, and after-school programs.”

“Reformers should concentrate their energy on all of these non-traditional-school efforts and stop trying so hard to fix traditional public schools.”

Stop trying to fix traditional public schools? Why would he say such a thing?

Well, “the main reason we should stop focusing on fixing traditional public schools is that, for the most part, they don’t want to be fixed,” he says. “The people who make their living off of those schools have reasons for wanting schools to be as they are and have enormous political resources to fend off efforts to fundamentally change things.”

Professor Greene, who earned his Ph.D. in political science at Harvard, argues that “trying to impose reforms like merit pay, centralized systems of teacher evaluation, new standards, new curriculum, new pedagogy, etc. on unwilling schools is largely a futile exercise. They have the political resources to block, dilute, or co-opt these efforts in most instances.”

The best way to fix traditional public schools is to give parents more educational options. Because the truth is that school choice improves public schools. Repeat: school choice improves public schools.

Dr. Greg Forster, who agrees that we should fix public schools by not fixing them, recently surveyed the empirical research on school choice. He found that “23 empirical studies have examined school choice’s impact on academic outcomes in public schools. Of these, 22 find that choice improves public schools and one finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found that choice harms public schools.”

Giving parents more options really shouldn’t be controversial. After all, as Professor Greene has perceptively noted, in a free society the government rightly defers to parents when it comes to raising their children. And since education is simply a subcategory of parenting, the government should defer to parents when it comes to educating their children.

In the end, “public education” is not about propping up a monopoly. The goal of public education is an educated public — regardless of where that education takes place. Oklahoma parents should be empowered to choose among various delivery mechanisms.

Professor Greene acknowledges that his recommendation to fix schools by not fixing schools “sounds like abandoning the millions of children who remain in those schools” — but he says that is not the case.

“Just as starving children in Africa are not helped by our finishing all of the food on our plates, our futile efforts to impose centralized quick-fixes do not actually help those millions in traditional public schools. The measure of a desirable reform should not be the extent to which it makes us feel like at least we are trying, even if those efforts are counter-productive.”

In the end, it is parents—not government officials—who have the moral right to determine a child’s path. Let’s empower parents with educational choices, so that every child has an opportunity to receive an effective education that prepares them for life.

Brandon Dutcher Senior Vice President

Brandon Dutcher

Senior Vice President

Brandon Dutcher is OCPA’s senior vice president. Originally an OCPA board member, he joined the staff in 1995. Dutcher received his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Oklahoma. He received a master’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in public policy from Regent University. Dutcher is listed in the Heritage Foundation Guide to Public Policy Experts, and is editor of the book Oklahoma Policy Blueprint, which was praised by Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman as “thorough, well-informed, and highly sophisticated.” His award-winning articles have appeared in Investor’s Business Daily, WORLD magazine,,, The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World, and 200 newspapers throughout Oklahoma and the U.S. He and his wife, Susie, have six children and live in Edmond.

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