The following was written by Mark Bautista, a 15-year-old student residing in Cleveland, Ohio.
Generally, I’m not one to conceal my true political ideology. Although Libertarianism is not too common in my or any other public school, I’m typically able to voice my opinions with mild opposition. However, there is one issue that cannot be mentioned without creating a maelstrom of outrage: the privatization of public schools.
The arguments against this seemingly radical proposition are unchanging. Lower-class citizens won’t get a good education! How do you expect people to pay the outrageous cost of private schools? I believe that my opinion is founded on good reason. Public schools are not getting any better. We’re one of the most prosperous nations in the world, yet our schools hardly reflect that.
According to the Huffington Post, the US received ratings of approximately 500 on an international education rating. The scale goes up to 1,000, putting us on the map as “average” and in some cases “below average.”
CBS reports that among American eighth graders, proficiency rates are as low as 34% in math, 29% in science, and 33% in reading. Considering our influence in the modern world, that hardly seems like where we should be.
The idea of the alleged “great education at a low cost” that public schools provide has been hammered into the minds of students by the state. But is any of this valid? Let’s take a moment to look at the inefficiency of the United States public school system.
The True Cost of Public School
A typical argument against privatization is that public education is available to all at a fraction of the cost of a private school. And according to the cost-per-student presented by public school districts, this seems to be true. However, what the public school districts don’t tell you makes for a shocking revelation.
The Houston School District reported a cost of $8,418 per student in 2009. Yet this official figure is far from the truth. The supposed cost of $8,418 accounts only for basic funding like books and teachers. The district failed to include major costs like funding for classrooms and school buildings, benefits for current and past employees, athletics, and many more. There is absolutely no reason for this exclusion. All of these programs are funded by taxes just the same.
According to the CATO Institute, adding these concealed costs to the official figure makes for a grand total of $12,534 per student. This is completely different from the previously reported cost. And this revealing truth is not exclusive to Houston.
In Los Angeles, the official claim of $10,053 was dwarfed by the actual cost: $25,208 per student. This inconsistency is present in almost every major school district throughout the nation. If this sum of these costs is enough to send students to some of the most distinguished schools in the United States, then why do we continue to pay for schools that are constantly declining in quality? And so we reach a conclusion:There is no logical reason for the taxpayer to do so. But we must ask: Why are public schools producing students of lesser intelligence than those of a private school for about the same price?
One Size Does Not Fit All
Imagine for a moment that you are inside ObaMart, your local state-run general store. You are looking for a dress shirt, as you find them to be more attractive and comfortable. To your dismay, you can’t find one. When you approach an employee and ask where you may be able to locate a dress shirt, he informs you that since 65% of shoppers wear t-shirts, it would be economically harmful to carry both kinds of shirts.
As you are walking away, you hear a man complaining that he cannot find a turtleneck sweater. Leaving the store with your new t-shirts, you begin to think that the government does not care about your individuality. You begin to fathom the idea of stores owned by people. You even go as far to fathom stores that fit needs of particular demographics.
This example is perfectly applicable to the public school system. Because public education is designed to accommodate all students, the students’ individuality is not taken into account. It is a commonly known fact that students learn differently. Some are “verbal learners,” some are “visual learners.” Yet the government provides an education for all the people in the same way, regardless of the children’s distinct differences. This makes for a less than proficient education for a specific student. As we’ll discuss later, private schools avoid this fatal flaw.
The Government Monopoly
Monopolies. Most of us associate dishonest and deceitful businesses with the word. They dominate a specific market and are accountable to no one for the quality of their service or their prices. However, we Americans seem to make an exception for the government.
In the United States, the public school systems enjoy what is primarily a monopoly. The only private schools are not easily affordable to the bulk of American citizens, and present a minuscule amount of competition to public schools. As a monopoly, public schools are easily able to get away with doing only what is required to get by. They have almost no risk of being shut down. If you’re a middle class parent who is unsatisfied with your child’s education, too bad. Where else are you going to go? You likely pay for the equivalent of one public school, another is out of the question.
The Negation of Critical Thought
Public schools are expected to maintain a high level of political correctness, just like any other government institution. This is because public schools are paid for by all demographics people thus making it inappropriate for faculty members to teach in a manner that may seem to emphasize or antagonize a particular opinion. One word that is considered offensive to a particular group can have catastrophic implications for the school and ultimately the state. However, sometimes it is necessary to speak in terms that may be considered politically incorrect.
Consider the Russian Revolution, a major event in history. In a public school, this event may only be presented in terms of fact. Yet this method of teaching leaves a major question unanswered: why? Why were so many people willing to create and support a state that so quickly turned into a violent totalitarian regime?
Political correctness dictates that these important lessons be skipped over in order to ensure no one is offended. Yet this process of thought does not teach students to think critically. This thought process does not teach students to look deeply into any matter and find the truths behind it. A private school is not required to adhere to such intellectually harmful safeguards.
Your New Parents, the State
In order for our democratic process to function correctly, we must ensure that citizens are constantly questioning authority and its actions. Yet in a school run by the government, how can we believe that students from public schools will question the very people that had a major role in shaping their opinions?
“Taxes are good and help everyone. The army serves all people and is loved by everyone. A big government is necessary to ensure the welfare of a nation.”
All of these things are subtly slipped into public education. I believe a quote from Lenin will summarize the point I am trying to make:
“Give me just one generation of youth, and I’ll transform the whole world.”
And even today, we see the state continuing to seize power from the parents and put it into its own hands. With programs like sex education and D.A.R.E., the “one-size-fits-all education” is again put into play. While a parent may not agree with what is being taught, the majority will rule.
To quote NPR, “15 percent of Americans say they want abstinence-only sex education in the schools, 30 percent of the principals of public middle schools and high schools where sex education is taught report that their schools teach abstinence-only.”
Forty-seven percent of their schools taught abstinence-plus, while 20 percent taught that making responsible decisions about sex was more important than abstinence.”" This shows the great division in the opinions of parents. Those who disagree with the majority will be left having their children taught ideas contrary to their own.
It seems that American public schools aren’t the best option for our youths’ education. But how could we fix this? More funds? The money spent on education has about tripled since the 1960′s only to see schools decline further. Therefore, I’ll propose a solution accepted by most Libertarians: privatize it.
Competition Creates Accountability
If all schools were to be privatized at this very moment, what would happen?
Let’s look at two of these imaginary private schools. John Doe’s son attends School A. School A has repeatedly cut core courses to redirect the funds toward buying new equipment for the football team. Since this is downgrading the education of the students there, many parents, including John Doe, choose to transfer their children to School B. School B is much more focused on education and better reflects the views of John Doe.
With the great loss that School A has suffered, it has several options. It may attempt to market itself as a primarily athletic school, assuming there is a market for it, it may adjust its academic standards, or it may not change a thing and go out of business.
Competition is a core function of capitalism. Private schools MUST adjust their price and quality competitively or they risk going out of business. Here we see the direct accountability of the school to the parents.
Competition Creates Choice
I’ll now briefly expand on the concept of the plethora of choices a nation of private schools provides.
Assume that you are a Christian. The school that your child attends leans toward a more secular viewpoint. Since this is not consistent with your views, you may choose to move your student to the Catholic school down the street.
Again assume that your child is not learning well with the primarily visual practices of his/her current school. You, being the parent, can choose to send your child to a school that emphasizes a learning process that suits your child.
This example is the same throughout the country. Schools of all kinds of practices and ideas would exist if all schools were privatized. If these schools raise their prices to be too high, customers will go where they receive a better value. Competition and the choice that it provides makes for the best possible education for a specific student. I’d like to propose a simple equation that illustrates the benefits of private schools:
- Privatization = Competition
- Competition = Choice, Quality, and Competitive Pricing
- Choice, Quality, and Competitive Pricing = The best education for and student or family.
However, each time I present this argument, I am told that the poor would not be able to obtain an education. Not true.
In the world of department stores, there does not exist only high-priced establishments that allow the poor to go unclothed. There is Walmart, and then there is Nordstrom’s. Stores are available to citizens at every economic level. Keep in mind that citizens no longer pay the ridiculously high prices of public school.
However, wouldn’t this mean that the poor are left only able to obtain lesser educations? Nope.
Imagine again the example of ObaMart. It is accountable only to the government and may not maintain a high standard of service and products.
However, Walmart is accountable for the products it sells. It will provide a much better product because if it does not provide products that satisfy the people, they will go elsewhere to a store that meets their needs and put Walmart out of business. Therefore, even the schools with lower pricing have a much higher standard of education than that of a public school.
If the United States was ever to privatize schools, I strongly believe that we would see a monumental increase in our national education standards. Our intelligence and promotion of individuality would skyrocket. But with things as they currently are, the majority of Americans must make use of their educations courtesy of Uncle Sam, no matter how flawed the system may be.
Sex Education in America, NPR, 2004.
Libertarianism: A Primer, David Boaz, 1996.
U.S. Falls In World Education Rankings, Rated ‘Average’, Huffington Post, 2010.