How to Solve America’s Education Problems

This week Wisconsin school teachers, upset that their Governor and state legislature is about to limit their bargaining rights and make them pay more into their retirement and health care plans, decided to take a five day weekend.  Instead of teaching the children that they supposedly care about, thousands of WEA union members showed up at the capitol in Madison.  One protest sign likened Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to Hitler.  Another sign had Walker’s face superimposed on cross hairs.  So much for “civil discourse”;  I thought that only Tea Party members and Republicans acted this way.

Contrary to their well-produced TV commercials highlighting excellent Wisconsin teachers that care about children, the WEA doesn’t appear to give a damn about kids.  Teachers, most of whom are generous and decent people, act far different in a union setting than they would dare to act individually.  For the teacher’s unions It’s not about the kids; it’s never been about the kids.  It’s about wages, benefits, and job protection for ADULTS.

In the mid 70’s unions started to organize in the public sector, including teachers unions.  The National Education Association has nearly 3 million members.  It is the largest labor union that has ever existed in the United States of America.  The Wisconsin (WEA) teacher’s union and the Minnesota (MEA) teachers union each contribute roughly 80,000 members to the NEA.

During the 35 years that our public education system has been served by unionized teachers the results could have been predicted.  Teacher wages and benefits have grown substantially.  Student test scores have fallen, even when tests have been dumbed-down.  America’s high school students score in the bottom third of students taking international math and science tests, scoring below countries like the Netherlands, Iceland, and Slovenia.  American public school teachers, who were universally admired and respected forty years ago, are now sadly regarded as simply another entitled public employee, garnering no more or less respect than the municipal employee that drives a garbage truck.

This past friday President Obama visited Intel Corporation.  He announced new initiatives for his “Race to the Top” program.  Stating that the United States needs to be more competitive, Obama stressed the importance of making higher education more affordable, improving public schools, and making teaching an honored profession.  These increased Federal expenditures in his “Race to the Top” program were touted by Obama as “investments”.  My translation—more deficit spending.

Obama is correct when he says we need to turn our public education system around, make teaching an honored profession, and ensuring that more of our students study math and science.  The problem is, our current public education system, run by the NEA, is not capable of achieving these goals no matter how much money we throw at it.

The solution is a voucher system, which gives parents of school age children the ability to choose which school their child will attend.  Vouchers create healthy competition among schools and teachers.  Bad schools will go out of business and good schools will prosper.  Vouchers will be “kryptonite” to teachers unions, but good teachers will be able to choose the schools and curriculum where they can best demonstrate their abilities.  Teacher job satisfaction should improve greatly under a voucher system.  Once vouchers are initiated, poor urban kids (mostly minority children) will finally have hope for a decent education.  If you don’t think that vouchers can work, look at Western Europe, where the tax money is attached to the kids.  Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby says, “If schools don’t perform well [in Western Europe], a parent would never be trapped in that school in the same way you could be trapped in the U.S.”

Obama and other politicians talk consistently about getting more American kids into math and science.  As a college professor, I can assure you that there are plenty of students studying math and science in our universities.  These students don’t take “soft” majors like history, sociology or journalism; they major in subjects like mathematics, engineering, computer science, and finance.  Most of these students are from India, China, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan!

The K-12 teachers of my South Asian and Chinese students are poorly paid compared to NEA teachers.  They teach in schools with dirty walls and stinky restrooms that no NEA teacher would find acceptable.  These Chinese and Indian teachers don’t have the salaries, pensions or health care coverage that NEA teachers enjoy.  Most foreign teachers are more highly disciplined in their approach to education than NEA teachers.    They push their kids to succeed in ways that NEA teachers (and unfortunately most American parents) would find unpalatable.  In addition, these Chinese, Indian, and Pakistani K-12 teachers are respected by the parents of their students for the best possible reason– they’ve earned it.

Money won’t solve the education crisis in the United States of America—Vouchers will.  Furthermore, vouchers won’t cost us an extra dime.  The NEA is scared to death of educational vouchers, which is why they dump millions of dollars to defeat voucher proposals wherever and whenever they appear on the ballot.  But don’t look for vouchers to appear on your ballot anytime soon.  NEA members vote in large majorities for political candidates (mostly Democrats) who protect them from competition and make their lives easier.  They include politicians like Barak Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Tim Walz, and Mark Dayton.  As long as life is easy for NEA members, education will remain substandard for our children and grandchildren.  What a terrible legacy for the United States of America.

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