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Why U.S. Education No Longer Needs the Government

At the end of the 19th century, when most communities in the United States were still built around agrarian economies and the average American spent most of his or her day working in a factory, mill, or farm, government-run public education made sense.

Many rural communities couldn’t afford to create an advanced education system on their own, and private schools were scarce, costly, and largely unnecessary for the day-to-day lives of most people.

The necessity of public education increased as the nation’s economy changed; the United States of the 20th century required a more educated society—a need that has only grown as the country’s economy has become increasingly focused on international trade and providing services rather than manufacturing and manual labor.

At the beginning of the government-run education era, there weren’t any institutions outside of the government that could realistically put together the kind of infrastructure needed to educate the masses, especially the growing class of European immigrants and the children of rural towns. Most parents were uneducated in these parts of the country, so the idea communities could educate themselves without wealth or government guidance is unlikely.

Although the bureaucratic system actually put into place was never really an effective solution, it was better than the structures that had existed before, and it’s reasonable to argue that government-run education may have been necessary.

Now that the overwhelming majority of Americans are educated and technology has made the knowledge of the world accessible to virtually anyone anywhere, what justification exists for the disaster that is the current government-run education system? Certainly communities should still continue to pool collective resources (taxes) so that every child has access to education, but why does education have to be provided locally? Why must parents in failing, decrepit school districts be forced to send their children to these abysmal institutions when productive schools are often located in nearby districts?

The old bureaucratic education model is as outdated as riding in a horse and buggy. In fact, the communities that still utilize that mode of public transportation, such as the Amish, don’t even use government-run education!

Technology is one of the key reasons the nation is ready to move beyond the ancient government-run education model. The rise of the Internet allows the very best educators and innovators to educate millions of people at the click of a button, and for a fraction of the cost of the current government-run system.

In their book Rewards: How to use rewards to help children learn – and why teachers don’t use them well, authors Herbert J. Walberg and Joseph Bast explain in detail the many advantages technology provides homeschooling parents, private schools, and charter schools.

“Digital learning stands on its own or adds great blended value because it can adapt to the capacity and speed of individual learners, provide minute-by-minute feedback on learning progress, and provide rewards suitable for individual learners,” Walberg and Bast wrote. “It is similar to an imaginary inexhaustible, highly skilled tutor.”

Numerous studies show various programs developed by education experts can significantly improve students’ performance. For instance, a recent report from the Texas Education Agency shows Texas’ Think Through Math (TTM) web-based instructional program for grades 3 through students studying algebra significantly improves performance outcomes for students. The average student using TTM experienced an improvement of 17 percentage points.

Government-run schools, contrary to their private and charter school counterparts, are bound to complicated and cumbersome union agreements, and implementing innovative education programs can be virtually impossible as a result. In many states, bad teachers cannot be fired for poor performance alone, and pay increases are typically automatic and based on years worked rather than performance.

As is the case in virtually every other situation, free markets produce better results than government programs. When parents have the power to decide where their children go to school, schools utilize technology and cutting-edge strategies to produce better results and earn a higher reputation. Bad teachers are fired and good teachers are given raises. When an education program built by experts 1,000 miles away is more effective than a local teacher’s lesson plan, the more effective strategy wins out. In short, whatever works best becomes the focus of the school, and schools with nothing to offer disappear the same way a failing business would in almost any other market.

Technology has ushered in a new revolution in how people live, learn, and connect with the world. Why shouldn’t our children receive the benefits of modern innovation? Governments have proven they are incapable of consistently providing a quality education at the same level as emerging technologies and private and charter schools.

It’s time for this antiquated model of government bureaucracy to be abandoned in favor of modern, proven strategies that utilize the numerous technological advancements in this arena that have been made over the past two decades. America’s children deserve nothing less.

Justin Haskins (Jhaskins@heartland.org) is an author, blogger, and the editor of a leading free-market think tank based out of Chicago, IL. Follow him @TheNewRevere.

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