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Education Reform that Works

December 18, 2017

 

Designed by parents and educators, not bureaucrats.

 

I believe that the education of our youth is of major importance, and I believe it is severely threatened by bureaucrats making policy from Washington. I think I’ve come up with a great plan to get our education systems roaring again and would love to hear from you on the issue after you’ve read what I’m presenting here.


In the following article I will:

  1. Compare and contrast the education system in America with those of similar countries based on spending and results. Identifying where we fall short, and where we excel.
     

  2. Outline changes that I propose will propel the American education system to the front of the pack such as:

    1. Dissolving the U.S. Department of Education and directly funding the States.

    2. Eliminating bureaucratic hoops that force educators to only “teach the test” in hopes of getting funded.

    3. Fixing education spending to a 5.5% of GDP rate, not to be less than $1T, and allotting the funding based on US Census data.

    4. Bringing back extra-curricular activities, afterschool programs, and broadening STEM. 

 

     One of the most important tasks Congress faces right now is what to do about the state of Education in the United States. No matter where you look our education system isn’t ranked “#1” in any regard. In fact according to some studies our Education system is 14th in the world (The Learning Curve), 24th in literacy (National Center for Education Statistics), 11th in fourth grade math (TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center), 6th in fourth grade reading (TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center), and astonishingly we are 63rd in Education Spending (CIA World Factbook).

 

            In order to better understand education, and come up with a plan to fix it we need to be aware of these figures, as it gives us the roadmap to improve our education system. Some would argue that the last figure (63rd in Education Spending) is damning evidence that we need to put more money into the pot in order to resolve our slumping scores, but is that true? The ranking is based off of the % of GDP a country spends on education, and the US figure is approximately 5%, which equates to roughly $925B (billion with a “B”). The number 1 ranked country in Education expenditures is the African nation of Lesotho, which spends 13% of its GDP there, which works out to $260M. Is Lesotho a world leader in Education simply because of its expenditures? The answer, though hard to find due to inconsistent reports seems to be an overwhelming “no”, as Lesotho ranks 120th in Education, despite their massive expenditure.

 

            Now, comparing a small African country with a population of only 2 million people to the behemoth that is the United States may be a bit of a stretch in this matter, apples to oranges if you will, so lets continue to look at data, but this time from a country somewhat similar in scale to the United States, Canada. Canada and the United States are currently tied for Education Expenditures, at 63rd in the world, both spending roughly 5% of GDP on Education. We’ve already established that in the United States that figure is approximately $925B, and when we take into account Canada’s GDP their figure turns out to be about $75B in education spending, and come in at #7 in the world for education. Adjusting for population differences, we’re nearly neck and neck in expenditures – yet there is a huge gap in what we are getting for our money vs what Canada is getting for theirs. The point I’m making in these past two paragraphs is that expenditure does not necessarily mean return on investment. The highest expending country in the world is one of the worst ranked in education, and our neighbors to the North spend (adjusted) nearly what we do, and yet outperform our students and place in the top 10 list for education.

 

            What, then, is the driving force behind the highest performing countries for educational success in students?  South Korea is currently ranked #1 in the world for Education, those arguing for more money in the US education system might be surprised to find, like in the US and Canada, South Korea spends approximately 5% of its GDP on Education – yet here they are, ranking #1. From this data, first, I would suggest that money isn’t the problem - how we are using that money is. Second, from closer inspection of our long-time ally, South Korea, I would also suggest that culturally we are lacking too.

 

            There are many elements of the South Korean system that simply would not work in America, or anywhere else for that matter, that are culturally specific. However there is a case to be made about the lack of a test based reward system. Education spending in S. Korea is more equitably divided (that is evenly) across all districts of the country, ensuring a more uniform standard of education is achieved. In the US education has been usurped in favor of bureaucracy in the form of funding being awarded based on test scores, not actual outcomes. Teachers bemoan having their hands tied in the United States as they’ve been relegated to “teaching the test” by administrators in an on-going effort to secure “more funding”. While on the topic of teachers, in S. Korea teachers are widely respected, paid much higher salaries, and the profession itself is harder to get into because of the significance that S. Koreans place on ensuring quality education, and graduation, of its youth.

 

            Additionally S. Korea has a much larger mix of both public and private schools, all of which receive funding from the government. Private schools go further as to charging tuition fees and establishing foundations to make up the difference. Competition for these schools is fierce, but not always exclusive – parents can choose to send their children where they will get the best education, but they must earn it. A lot of this nods towards the S. Korean cultural importance placed on education – and gives us a brush to paint the glaring short-falls in the United States with.

 

            From what I’ve discovered in looking at education systems around the world I feel confident in saying that the main problem we face in America when it comes to our quality of education is the same problem that is plaguing many aspects of American life – TOO MUCH GOVERNMENT. Heavy handed bureaucrats have created a vacuum for that gigantic chunk of money the United States tax payers puts towards education (just shy of $1Trillion remember) and have tied the hands of school officials, and teachers, in doing so. While it may very well have been started with the best of intentions the U.S. Department of Education has grown into an insatiable monster that looks to lawyers and policymakers to draft curriculum and distribute allocations from their budget.

 

My Solution

 

            Fixing the funding and policy issue when it comes to Education is the “easy” place to start when it comes to fixing this problem. I propose that we abolish the U.S. Department of Education entirely, and move policy and curriculum decisions back to each State. In doing so we also will abolish the countless and relentless standardized testing used to “earn” funding from the bureaucrats. At the Federal level we lock in an allocation of 5.5 percent GDP that ensures each State will receive adequate funding for educational programs and school funding. Using our current GDP figure of $18.57T that would amount to a little over $1,000,000,000,000 for the 50 States, Puerto Rico, Guam and Washington DC to use for education. Allocations to each State is then based on the number of children, under the age of 18, living within the state – this data would come from the US Census, which puts that figure at roughly 72 million children, in the United States, under the age of 18. Doing some easy math, we’re talking about almost $14,000 per year per child in the United States for Education. The Federal Government’s only role any more will simply be cutting the check to each State every year, and each State would only have to abide by one rule regarding the money – it can not be used, in any way, for anything other than the Education of Children.

 

Let’s create a hypothetical school, in a small rural town as an example. This particular school only enrolls 100 students, the entire population of students in this small town. Using my plan this school would receive just about $117,000 p/month to put toward Educational programs. This hypothetical school would receive $1.4 million per year in Federal funds to teach 100 children.

 

     Could you imagine what a small school, like this hypothetical one we’ve just created, could do with $1.4 million per year in public funding? This doesn’t even factor in private funding, grants, or donations. A school with 5,000 students would be receiving $70 million dollars a year using this system. With that kind of funding, and no Federal bureaucratic hoops to jump through, and no deluge of standardized tests to teach for schools would be able to focus on broader STEM programs, extra-curricular programs like art and music, and higher salaries for our teachers.

 

     Just like any problem in the United States, more government is not the answer – it is the problem. By clearing the way for Educators to do their jobs, with direct access to the funding each student needs in order to receive a higher quality of education, America will see an academic renaissance, and this solves the 2nd problem facing the American education system – culture. As the quality of our programs and schools improve (and they will improve at a staggering rate) the value Americans place on our educational institutions will grow as well. Teachers, who would now be compensated accordingly for their heroic work in the school system would, like in South Korea, be looked upon with respect from parents and children alike, and the teaching profession would become a highly sought after field – which again will make for gains in the quality of education in America.

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