Tuesday, January 24, 2006

How about 100%?

Late last week I read a very short story (2" by 4" to be exact!!) in the Pioneer Press (Minnesota newspaper) with the headline, "College Students Lack Key Skills", which was BURIED deep in the newspaper not on the front page. Now this story caught my attention because during my racquetball dinner the night before the table conversation was focused on how the USA is in trouble competing with China because they are "producing so many engineers........." while my own views on the need for greater school choice in the USA were dismissed at the table.

This article was based on a literacy study funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts which found that (http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory?id=1524660) :

  • More than 50% of students at four year schools, and
  • More than 75% of students at two year schools

lacked the skills to "perform complex literacy tasks. That means they could not interpret a table about exercise and blood pressure or understand the arguments of newspaper editorials."

Given the obvious poor performance of our K-12 education system I did some research regarding education funding to discover:

  • The Minnesota Department of Education (for Fiscal Year 2004) had a budget of US$8.6 BILLION (includes state and federal funding sources)
  • State government budgets -- thanks to my friends at NCSL (http://www.ncsl.org) who told me that when all 50 state government budets are combined together K-12 education spending consumes 33.7% of ALL state government spending in the USA (includes data from 2004, 2005, 2006 fiscal years)

So why don't we call on our state legislators and governors to allocate 100% of state budgets to the current K-12 system since clearly we are NOT spending enough money? Such a solution is equivalent to having a teenage driver in the family who keeps getting in car accidents -- why not buy them a more expensive car after each accident?

Let me advocate some better solutions versus "throwing more money at the problem":

  • Change the mindset of teachers from one of being "trade union followers" to independent professionals like lawyers and doctors who "hang their shingle" and pursue clients. Wouldn't parents love to see 2 or 3 teachers competing to educate your children?
  • Encourage more school choice options -- http://www.heartland.org -- please note their "School Reform News" newspaper or their "Education and Capitalism" book as resources.
  • Apply current "product liability" laws which punish the bad actors in our business community to our K-12 schools. Let's assume XYZ Corporation hires a recent high school graduate from Spring River Public Schools for a welding job but finds out the student can't read and write thus forcing XYZ to spend money on remedial education. XYZ should be able to sue the school that "produced" this graduate for the related costs since the school produced a "defective product." Don't you love the idea of trial lawyers filing class action lawsuits against schools on behalf of parents??
  • Cut income taxes, property taxes, estate taxes, sales taxes, etc. on parents so they can take their money to new, competitive educational institutions.

This drunk sailor that we call the K-12 system does not need another drink.



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