The Fate of the Nation Rests on Fixing Public K-12

The latest Nation’s Report Card is out and, once again, it shows the appalling state of government-run education in America.

There will be much hand wringing over the devastating impact of foolish COVID-19 policies on student learning. Don’t believe the B.S. It wasn’t COVID that caused these unprecedented declines, it was the public policy response to COVID that drove this destruction.

The cries that “we must do something!” will soon fill the airwaves—with “doing something” generally meaning writing bigger and bigger checks to the public K-12 educational leviathan. They will do this, despite the fact that no correlation between public K-12 spending and student achievement has ever been found.

But it’s clear to anyone who cares to look that public K-12 education has been doing a lousy job for decades. It’s not really a secret. Every single president since at least John Kennedy has had some plan to improve this country’s K-12 public education system. That’s over 60 years and the problem not only persists, it’s gotten worse.

We’ve had “blue ribbon” panels and loads of smart people telling us what must be done for over half a century.

In 1983, “A Nation at Risk” exposed the failures of the public education system. It was supposed to be a wake-up call:

Our society and its educational institutions seem to have lost sight of the basic purposes of schooling, and of the high expectations and disciplined effort needed to attain them . . . 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. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves . . . We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament . . . Each generation of Americans has outstripped its parents in education, in literacy, and in economic attainment. For the first time in the history of our country, the educational skills of one generation will not surpass, will not equal, will not even approach, those of their parents.

Yet today, most U.S. 4th and 8th graders are still not proficient in reading or math. How can it be that an institution solely devoted to education can’t teach children of average intelligence to read or understand basic math in an eight-year time frame?! 

And the poorer the child, the worse the outcomes. Could it be that educators have other goals than educating your children? Failure of this duration cannot be an accident. That defies logic and reason. 

Whether by plan or by chance, the present education system’s main “success” is turning the country into a class-based society where one stays where one is born—driven primarily by the quality of education provided by the state. 

It is heartbreaking to this proud American, but many countries around the globe, including most of Europe, have far higher social mobility than the United States.

That astute social commentator H.L. Mencken noted:

The most erroneous assumption is to the effect that the aim of public education is to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence, and so make them fit to discharge the duties of citizenship in an enlightened and independent manner. Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States, whatever the pretensions of politicians, pedagogues and other such mountebanks . . . 

But whatever the reasons, we cannot allow the present system to continue.

I have extensive experience in re-organizing businesses and I can attest with absolute certainty that it is simply not possible to successfully reorganize the public K-12 education system via some top-down, command-and-control process. It can’t be done and attempting to do so is a fool’s errand.

And since one is only seven years old once, the solution can’t take decades, unless we are fine with damaging even more generations of innocent Americans.

There is only one power in the world that can fix this and that is freedom. On average this country spends over $15,000 per student per year—it is far higher in most large cities. Rather than continuing to spend this by funding the school establishment, we need to fund students via a process where the money follows the student and is controlled by parents. Of course, all via some sort of state-regulated environment.

And yes, I realize states like California will initially regulate far differently than states like Texas. That is fine as once competition is unleashed, it is impossible to contain. Try as some might—and rest assured they will—their efforts to control and contain this will fail.

This one small change will unleash the wisdom of millions. This one small change—which doesn’t cost an extra dime—will transform public education. Freedom has transformed every product and service around the world, it will work in public education too.

The focus shouldn’t be on the “system.” The focus should be on how to immediately alter the debilitating education that far too many children are receiving. Our nation and the world truly are at risk due to these failures.

The solution stares us in the face. Are we going to act or wait for the next Nation’s Report Card to tell us again what a poor job the schools are doing? 

About John Conlin

John Conlin is an expert in organizational design and change. He holds a BS in Earth Sciences and an MBA, and is the founder and President of E.I.C. Enterprises, a 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to spreading the truth here and around the world, primarily through K-12 education. He has been published in American Greatness, The Federalist, The Daily Caller, American Thinker, Houston Chronicle, Denver Post, and Public Square Magazine among others.

Photo: iStock/Getty Images

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