The key to improved education: put the money back in parents' hands
There was a time in this country, not so long ago, when all education was private. Parents paid the bills for the school house. They hired and paid the teachers. They selected the books and paid for supplies. Although not every child went to school for long, those who did received a far better education that children do today. 19th century letters to lovers at war attest to that, and there was a reason for it: the people with the greatest interest in excellent education outcomes – parents – made the decisions and were in control of the purse strings. In a time when the majority of Chicagos schools fail their children, it may be time to consider that lesson.
It is not necessary to abolish the public school system in order to give control back to parents. The system must only be changed. Here's how it might work:
Step 1: Institute a voucher system whereby the money follows the child. Parents can use this money to enroll their child in a public school of their choice or in a charter school of their choice.
Step 2: When it comes to the public schools, parents who enroll their child in a school are automatically entitled to join the school board for that school. They get one vote for each child they have enrolled there.
Step 3: Each public school board must have its parliamentary rules approved by CPS
Step 4: All public education unions are completely dissolved and banned.
Step 5: Each public school board is given control of the money that has followed its members' children. It is given complete control of hiring/firing decisions, but each of these decisions must be approved by a 90 percent board vote. The board may decide on curriculum subject to very basic requirements stipulated by CPS, such as certain number of hours of math per week, for example, or “by the end of eighth grade, children must have learned these topics: list, list, list, list, list.” But the key is that this allows for the parents to design specific curricula as well as the order in which it is taught. The board may choose books, but it must budget for their purchase just as it does all other supplies. Quarterly or yearly budgets must be approved by CPS.
Step 6: A portion of the money that follows children, say 10 percent, is separated from them and put in to two funds at CPS. One of these funds is for district-wide expenses and schools' capital improvements. The other is separated by school and is for spending on capital improvements associated with the school of each student. These two funds are for projects better handled at a larger level, such as school closures and openings, gymnasium construction, or district facility upgrades.
This is not a model even close to what exists now. It will absolutely require the absence of any unions, but in any case the district is not supposed to serve teachers before students. It can almost be guaranteed, however, that parents vested with the power over the education of their children will use it judiciously and use it well. If the goal is improved outcomes for students then this is a model that ought to be considered. The consequences of failure and the incentives for success cannot be more direct or powerful than they are in this model.
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