This week is National School Choice Week. Here is our snappy 98-second take on it:
Here is my not-so-snappy 438 words:
Of all things, I am reminded of our family 1962 Ford Falcon. After three years, it was comprised entirely of spare parts.
This was a time when American cars began crumbling at about 20,000 miles and the probability of making it to 100,000 miles wasn’t even acknowledged on the odometer.
Back then, quality obviously wasn’t job #1 on the assembly line.
My girlfriend drove a little car called a Toyota Corolla, sort of an anomaly back then. But it spent far less time at the repair shop. And so my first car was made in Japan.
The Japanese and Europeans made cars more efficiently, therefore producing better products at cheaper prices. The American manufacturers could/would not compete and sought protection through import restrictions. We saw how that worked out with the General Motors and Chrysler bailout.
Protectionism is like duct tape. It only delays the inevitable.
This is where we find ourselves in public education. It was an industry that grew up with little quality control. Bureaucracies became bloated and unaccountable. Unsustainable pension deals were cut with unions.
What little competition existed was in the suburbs, where parents could afford private schools. So those public schools received attention. But schools with captive, low-income students deteriorated and became dumping grounds for novice teachers and teachers other schools did not want. They were the 1962 Ford Falcons.
And then came competition, first through charters and then vouchers. Many offered a more efficient, better product. They were unburdened by massive legacy costs of pensions and infrastructure.
As we are seeing in urban areas such as Chicago and Philadelphia, the customers are opting for the competition. This will result in the shutdown of hundreds of half-empty public schools. The unions are trying to block it to protect union jobs, but keeping open empty classrooms is not sustainable.
We hear corporate schools are out to destroy public education. If public education is being destroyed, it’s from fleeing parents. Forcing people to buy your product is not the answer. Convincing them to buy your product is. That is how we make products better, including education.
Put another way: It’s the consumer, stupid.
Public education needs to become more accountable, flexible and efficient. It faces a growing number of education entrepreneurs with no allegiance to the past. And they are intent on remaking the future. Shutting them down would be beyond foolish. It would be locking in 1962 Ford Falcons.
The better option is for public education to become more efficient, flexible, technologically savvy and customer friendly. I have confidence that it can rise to the challenge if properly motivated. And survival is great motivation.
About the author
Mike Thomas @MikeThomasTweet
Mike Thomas serves in the communications department, writing editorials and speeches. Prior to joining the Foundation, Mike worked for more than 30 years as a journalist with Florida Today and the Orlando Sentinel. He has written investigative projects, magazine feature stories, humor pieces, editorials and local columns. He won several state and national awards, and was named a finalist in the American Society of New Editors’ Distinguished Writing Award for Commentary/Column Writing in 2010. As a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, he wrote extensively about education reform, becoming one of its chief advocates in the Florida media. Mike graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in political science and journalism. His wife is a teacher and he has two children in public schools. Contact Mike at Mike@excelined.org