| June 2, 2008

Educational Problems Call for School Choice

It’s all too easy for lawmakers to throw cash at a problem. After all, they’re spending somebody else’s money. Take the way they’ve handled (or, rather, mishandled) education policy.

Twenty-five years ago, the National Commission on Excellence in Education released a brutally honest study detailing the failings in our school system: “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

In response, all levels of government declared war the way they usually do: by increasing spending.

This spending would be worthwhile if it gave us the results we need to compete globally. But it hasn’t been doing so. American students still score poorly compared to students from other countries, especially in math and science. The National Assessment of Educational Progress shows 18 percent of fourth-graders and 29 percent of eighth-graders scored “below basic” in mathematics last year.

And far too many students drop out. At least one in four quits high school. Among minority children, the picture is even bleaker. In 2002, only 56 percent of black and 52 percent of Hispanic students graduated, compared to 78 percent of white students.

Our educational system is a national problem—but one that calls for local solutions. One approach is to provide school choice.

School choice gets parents involved, and parents are happier with their children’s education when they can choose their schools. Researchers also have found students who have moved to private schools get better grades.

And because the cost of a private school scholarship is almost always less than what states invest per student in public schools, the school the student leaves has more money to spend on its remaining pupils, who end up in smaller classes. That, plus the competition for students, has driven many local schools to improve.

We have big problems in our education system. But we’ll solve them from the bottom up, not the top down.

Dr. Feulner (Ph.D., University of Edinburgh) is president of The Heritage Foundation.

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