What we call "the public school system" consists of buildings and people, and much more. The system features:
1) Compulsory attendance (truancy) statutes (age 6 to age 18, September to June, Monday through Friday, 0800 to 1430) applied to children.
2) Compulsory education (educational neglect) statutes, applied to parents.
3) Tax support of school.
4) "Public" (i.e., government) ownership of school facilities.
5) Constitutional provisions (in many US States) and laws or policies (in most US States) which restrict a parent's options for the use of the taxpayers' K-12 education subsidy to schools operated by State (government, generally) employees.
6) State-mandated or school district-mandated curricula.
7) Collective bargaining for State (government, generally) school employees.
8) Child labor laws.
9) Minimum wage laws.
Numerous lines of evidence indicate that overall system performance improves with enhanced parent control. Parent control is critical, as parent control places decisions in the hands of those who know children best and are most reliably concerned for their well-being. While charter schools, school vouchers, and education tax credits are steps in the right direction, I prefer a policy I call Parent Performance Contracting.
Parent Performance Contracting
1. Your legislature mandates that school districts --must-- hire parents, on personal service contracts, to provide for their children's education, if the parents apply for the contract.
2. A child is eligible if:
2.1 S/he is at or above age-level expectations on standardized tests of reading vocabulary, reading comprehension (any language) and math as of August 15, the start of the contract year, and
2.2 S/he has not been convicted of any felony or misdemeanor crime against persons or property in the previous calendar year.
3. Make payment equal to some fraction 1/2 < a/b < 1 of the district's regular-ed per pupil budget.
4. Make payment contingent on
4.1 Performance at or above age-level expectations on standardized tests of reading comprehension, reading vocabulary (any language) and Math and
4.2 Remaining conviction-free of crimes against persons or property.
5. Count students educated under this program as enrolled in the State (i.e., government)school which they would otherwise attend.
6. Administer the GED at any age.
7. Allow children who test out of school before age 18 to apply the taxpayers' K-12 education subsidy toward post-secondary tuition or toward a wage subsidy at qualified (e.g., has filed W-2 forms on at least 3 adult employees per sub-adult employee for at least the previous four years) private-sector employer.
Parents could then homeschool, hire tutors, extend daycare to age 18, or supplement the contract amount and send their children to an independent or parochial school.
Parent Performance Contracting (PPC) has several advantages over school vouchers and charter schools.
1. Districts already hire consultants on personal service contracts, so PPC requires no new administrative machinery.
2. PPC includes all currently available options (e.g., homeschooling, charter schools, independent schools).
3. PPC provides greater financial and performance accountability than do school vouchers.
4. PPC requires less intrusive oversight than tuition tax credits.
5. PPC poses less of a threat to the autonomy of independent schools than do school vouchers.
6. PPC is less respectful of current institutions, and so will more likely promote more rapid evolution of the education industry than will school vouchers or charter schools.
7. Since children educated under PPC remain enrolled in State (government, generally) schools, PPC elides the whole Church/State separation argument.
8. Since children educated under PPC remain enrolled in State (government, generally) schools, PPC is immune to the rhetorical attack that it "takes money from public education" or "from public schools".
9. PPC allows incremental implementation, which reduces the financial shock to the current system, and which allows continual assessment and modification.
It's progress when system defenders recognize systematic failure, even if they oppose workable reform options.
EdWahoo writes: " I think that it's going to take a holistic effort: a deep understanding on part of every actor (teacher, parent, administrator, legislator, bureaucrat, voter, community, etc.) that such change is utterly necessary. That at some fundamental levels, Our. System. Is. Broken. And then on top of that there is going to have to be a generalizable, scalable alternative that is unimpeachably superior to the status quo. Then, with some fervered willpower and a little luck... well, who knows, maybe you can conquer the curse of incremental change."
This is a formula for, not failure, but resignation. Too many insiders make a good living from the current system for this imagined unified will to coalesce. Radical change does not require such a consensus, however. It only takes a few success stories to produce a proof of concept.
Updated 2008-12-28-0525 Zulu: "Three adult employees"=>"three adult employees per sub-adult employee" and "five years"=>"four years" in condition #7.