There is no legitimate role for the Federal government in K-12 education and the Department of Education, which was created in 1979 solely as political favoritism, should be abolished. Does anyone think that K-12 education has improved since 1979?
There is nothing that is surprising about America’s public K-12 education to someone who has studied economics. Public K-12 education is basically a monopoly. Monopolies always overcharge and underperform. The fact that the monopoly is in the public sector does not make any difference.
Despite a doubling, after inflation, of the amount that we spend per student since the 1970s, to an amount which is very high by international standards, test scores have barely improved and the ranking of American students in international tests has been consistently mediocre. This is the average result across the entire country, including some excellent public schools, primarily in wealthy areas where the poor cannot afford to live. For many inner-city schools, learning takes second place to survival.
The only solution for K-12 education is competition and parent choice, through things like vouchers, education savings accounts, and charter schools.
There is plenty of evidence that school choice improves education outcomes, provides a safer and more orderly school environment, engages parents and the community, saves money (since most charters and vouchers are funded at lower levels than public schools), and forces public schools to improve their performance through competition. This is why there are almost always long waiting lists to enter these schools, especially by minority students.
Not every experiment in school choice has been a success – this must be admitted. But at least the ability to choose provides a mechanism for weeding out the bad performers and building upon strength, unlike public schools which can continue to ruin students for generations.
The problem in higher education is also a lack of choice. In this case, the lack of choice comes from massive government subsidies for conventional higher education, in the form of grants and student loans.
These subsidies have created multiple problems. They have produced huge inflation in the cost of higher education, one of the major ways that bad policy is destroying the American dream [include cross-reference]. They have also, by encouraging a “one-education-fits-all” system, produced credential and grade inflation, and discouraged alternative education models, which would be more suitable to the academic and career aspirations of many students. By not differentiating between students and courses of study, government loan programs have denied students useful signals about the wisdom of their educational investment. And they have contributed to the struggles of students without college degrees, who are now treated as second-class workers in many sectors of the economy which never required college degrees in the past.
We should remove all government subsidies and loan programs from higher education. Charitable donations to colleges already equal almost $45 billion a year out of total charitable donations of almost $400 billion a year, despite the fact that much of this charity is “crowded out” by the government. There will certainly be money available to support the education of needy students, particularly after the price of school falls when the subsidies are removed. The private sector will also readily provide loans to students whose educational and career prospects merit them.
The alternative favored by many is making college “free.” In addition to the fact that “free” really means “paid for by someone else,” and that the person paying is often poorer than the typical college student, this proposal ignores the First Rule of Holes: When you are in one, stop digging.