September 8, 2008

September 8, 2008 | Commentary on Education

Why Our Schools Need to Run Like Businesses

Would it make sense to give a Burger King the power to decide whether or not a McDonald's may open next door? How about if we allowed the New York Mets to pay their players based solely on how many years they've been in the Big Leagues? As strange as it sounds, the current educational establishment employs similar faulty business practices. And the results have been disastrous.

For close to four decades, the federal government has been slowly expanding its grip on our nation's education system. That has reduced local authority and autonomy. Although billions have been poured into the system, the federal government lacks the authority to manage the diverse needs of the thousands of American public schools, which teach an estimated 50 million children.

This is especially noteworthy considering a recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center that concludes that Hispanic students account for nearly one out of every five public-school students enrolled in the United States. The study goes on to state that by 2050 there will be more school-age Hispanic children than school-age non-Hispanic white children.

Another recent study, by America's Promise Alliance and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, pegs the graduation rate for New York City Public Schools in 2003-2004 at a paltry 45.2 percent. Think of that: nearly half the students in the New York City public-school system will fail to receive a basic high-school diploma. Yet studies reveal that lacking a high-school diploma effectively shuts an individual off from high-paying jobs.

Those results are simply unacceptable. We ought to call this situation what it is: a crisis.

For some, the answer is more money and more bureaucracy. Many contend that the public-school system is deteriorating because federal mandates aren't being fully funded and teachers aren't being well compensated for their work.

What detractors curiously forget to mention is that thousands of dollars are allotted for per-pupil expenditures each year. New York City alone spends $13,755 per student on education. The result of that investment is the aforementioned 45.2 percent graduation rate.

Meanwhile, the average salary for a public school teacher in New York in 2004 was almost $59,000 per year. And thanks to the powerful teachers' union, many school boards automatically increase the salary of a public-school teacher without considering the achievement level of the students. Even more troubling, many public schools resist policies that would give families options to chose among a variety of public schools, through reforms like charter schools and school vouchers.

If the current public system were a business, it would have failed long ago. But unlike a business, money is not the only thing at stake. And the future of our children is an investment worth doing right.

Israel Ortega is a Senior Media Services Associate at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).

About the Author

Israel Ortega Contributor, The Foundry
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