Bill Gates spoke to Congress in 2010 telling them we need to do better at public education in the United States. According to the Department of Labor, there are over three million job openings, but the U.S. does not have any qualified people to fill them.
A study at John Hopkins University showed that there are over 2,000 high schools in America where less than 40 percent of the students do not graduate on time. Test results from the federal “No Child Left Behind” program show that less than 30 percent of students are reading and doing math at their grade level.
In 2009, the Programme for International Student Assessment study put American students twenty-fifth out of 34 countries that were studied. We live in a global economy, which means if we do not produce skilled workers, another country can supply them. If we want to compete in the global economy, we must produce skilled workers – something our current school system is not doing.
There are many different theories about what is the best way to improve students’ educational outcomes, but many of them require vast changes that will put many teachers out of a job, or new schools will have to be built. There is one solution that does not make any of these changes while still improving students’ skill levels and reducing costs. This solution is called School Choice.
The way most school systems work is very strict. Each citizen pays taxes, of which a portion goes to funding public education. Children go to a school located their zip code. Some schools are worse than others, but if a family lives near one of them, they have no choice but to send their children there unless they have the money to pay for private schooling.
Implementing a School Choice system would end this. Each student would receive a voucher worth what the state government spends for each student. That voucher can be taken to any school in the same system and cashed in there. If anyone chooses to go to a private school, they cash in the voucher, and pay out of pocket whatever is left.
By doing this, the playing field is leveled for families of all income levels. Poor families can send their children to better schools without shelling out thousands of dollars. For example, the Wisconsin state budget sets the amount of money that is spent for each student. The amount of money the state spends on School Choice participants is less than other students, but they still receive the same education without paying extra.
Greg Forster released a study in the middle of April 2013 called “A Win-Win Solution” that went through every study that has been done on School Choice programs all the way back to 1998. He found that in 11 out of 12 school systems, School Choice participants did better in school than other students. In one school system, there was no visible effect. Likewise, 22 out of 23 schools preformed better as a whole with one not showing any difference. He came up with similar results for cost savings, racial discrimination and civic values.
There are many other ways to reform the current school system but none that do as little harm as School Choice. Charter schools give better academic outcomes but take students out of public schools. Dismantling teachers unions gives schools more flexibility but takes away job security for thousands of teachers. School Choice simply moves students around to different schools at the discretion of their families.
Our public school systems are not doing their job. If we as a country wish to compete in the global economy, we must change how our schools work. Implementing School Choice is the least destructive and most productive way to do this.