the research and policy institution where I work, The Heritage
Foundation, we have a vision statement. It is this: The Heritage
Foundation has a vision for an America where freedom, opportunity,
prosperity, and civil society flourish. We recognize, immediately,
that this vision is not necessarily unique to our organization and
that its sentiments are shared by others, not only in and about
America, but also in and about other nations and communities around
the world. I suppose that is part of the reason that Heritage's
200,000 contributors have made it the most broadly supported
institution of its kind in the world.
is a humbling responsibility to be the steward of a lofty vision,
but it is a challenge that is exciting every day. It is good to
look across this great audience and see, from your very presence
here, a shared commitment to expend your energies in a truly noble
don't believe anyone here would be willing to say that they are
seeking anything but success. We strive for success in virtually
all areas of life. No one says: "Well, I don't know about you, but
I sure hope I fail today!" No. Success is the prize we seek, and in
particular to this conference, success in education.
what do we mean by "success"? In particular, with all the
innovations we can discuss at a conference such as this, in the
end, how do we know we are actually achieving success? I want us to
give some thought today to what I believe are four critical
principles for education success.
course, when we think about education, we normally think about
children. As you may have picked up in the introduction, my wife
and I have a number of children. I guess that's a little like
saying Burger King has "a number" of hamburgers.
love children. Perhaps that's obvious. But I would safely say that
all of us care deeply about children: yours and those who surround
you everyday. They are, indeed, the reason most of us are here
today. You care about children, about what happens to society when
good things happen with, to, and by our children. They are our
legacy, our one opportunity to slide a foot inside the door of a
place called "the future" and perhaps even to stroll about a bit in
the possibilities that live there. In fact, it's a place we often
prefer to call "hope."
you have heard, my particular area of responsibility at The
Heritage Foundation is to work with the state governors, senior
elected officials and cabinet secretaries and advisors, and state
legislators across the United States. We like to believe this is
important work, and of course it is. It is important because,
unlike what most people believe, state and local laws often impact
the daily lives of citizens in our country more than those things
that happen in Washington. Just as an illustration: 93 percent of
the funding for all public education in America comes from money
raised and spent at the state and local levels--only 7 percent is
have had the opportunity, over a number of years working with these
state and local officials, to observe and discuss with them many
policy issues--but few more important than education. I have
noticed that numerous efforts, experiments, and innovations in
education are, though valiant and well-motivated, not always rooted
in any discernable and sustainable principle. As a result, they are
less like pinpoint solutions and more like stabs in the dark.
the early 1980s, I was asked to fill in for a history teacher in a
local junior high school in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. At the time,
some education guru somewhere had gotten the bright idea that
classrooms should not have walls. I don't know why.
here we were in a large room; four classes of 25 to 30 students
each, one class having a lecture on history, one mathematics,
another science, and so on; a virtual smorgasbord of education, all
proceeding at the same time in the same room. It was insane.
Eventually they put the walls back up, and I suppose the guy who
thought it up lost his job as a consultant--then again, maybe
few weeks ago, I met a particularly flaky British fellow who
actually suggested educators launch a program to recruit really
good-looking female teachers in order to increase the attentiveness
of young male students. I'm not making this up. This fellow has a
popular television program in the U.K. Certainly, other
ideas--innovations if you will--are much more serious and duly
studied, and no one questions motive or good intent. What is
needed, though, is a foundation--a core of "first principles"--upon
which any number of ideas can be built, yielding the best and most
so, in this context, let me offer for our consideration four
principles, though not exhaustive, that I believe simply must be
followed if we are to achieve success in our efforts to educate our
children and help them step into a hopeful future.
PRINCIPLE: Remember that our goal is success, not
have to always keep in focus that what we are seeking is student
success. Let me quickly say, though, that I'm not referring to a
frequent stopping point on the way to success, that of
"satisfaction." In the education arena, we often hear of student
satisfaction, teacher satisfaction, and even parental satisfaction,
but these are byproducts, not the ultimate goal.
good friend and college classmate, Dr. Jerry Pattengale, has done
some of the world's best work in this area of student success, but
he also has some creative ways of talking about it. Let me relate
just one of his true stories--this one from his own life. This
story is about basketball, but I think you can easily relate it to
soccer if you'd like. He begins:
As I swished my long jump shot, the packed
gymnasium roared. Suddenly I was very alone. They were the wrong
fans, and that was the wrong basket! There was nowhere to hide. It
was a highly promoted [Indiana] basketball tournament. My team
lost, but I won legendary status. I retired as a freshman.
Throughout my [growing up years], I would often pretend in my
backyard to hit the winning shot. I hit the long jumper at the
buzzer. I experienced the applause. Well, that day on the court
with my team, for a few euphoric moments, I lived out that
childhood dream. For a lifetime, though, I've relived the
nightmare. With a few seconds left, the coach had inserted two new
players. They immediately ran to the wrong basket and yelled,
"We're open!" As the shooting guard, I shot. The only consolation,
in retrospect, is that there was no three-point line. The throbbing
noise of laughing foreign fans somehow became muted. An out-of-body
experience ensued. I wanted to pull my knee-high gold-striped socks
over my shaggy head and disappear. All three of us--the majority of
our team--had run to the wrong end. I had taken the shot. I spent a
decade on the court that day. It seemed never ending. It's a
disheartening feeling to discover you've shot at the wrong
well-meaning educators are working hard. They're yelling for the
ball. They're sweating the details just like they should, lost in
the process--and the process is necessary--but they've lost sight
of the fact that the goal is student success and achievement, and a
marriage to the process may often get in the way of that goal.
me just cautiously interject here an important sidebar: Success,
student success, should not be defined too narrowly; that is to
say, we are often tempted to make sure that someone is funneled
to--and trained in--one skill in order to hold down a job and be a
productive member of society. A job and productivity are worthwhile
endeavors indeed, but success should be called such when a person
has a broad education, with as many tools as possible at their
disposal, which they in turn can use to secure the maximum number
of opportunities as adults. Obviously, educators are called on for
career counsel and direction, but we should never be in the
business of being too quick to categorize someone as less than
capable or limiting opportunity; rather, we should be about
expanding opportunity and encouraging full potential.
me illustrate this "process vs. success" challenge. My automobile
is frequently in the repair shop. Perhaps you know what I'm talking
about in this regard. Let's say you took your car to the repair
shop, and not just any shop--this was the nicest repair shop you'd
ever seen. The mechanic had his tools all lined up perfectly
according to size and function; he cleaned each one after its use.
The floor is so clean you could eat off of it. Great music playing,
unlimited coffee and donuts, a velvet cloth to make sure your auto
body doesn't get scratched, and all the latest electronic
gizmos--it was great!
Now... you're all done. You get in your
freshly deodorized car and drive away. But the car still isn't
running right. In fact, it flat out quits in the middle of the next
intersection. Tell me: How much do the neat and shiny tools, the
coffee, music, and condition of the floor mean to you now? It
matters not at all!
friends, let's not get wrapped up in the process, even the process
of making sure the students or teachers are satisfied and that the
process is meeting its specifications, only to forget our true
goal. Someone once said, "It's not the destination that matters;
it's the journey." I'm here to tell you that if you don't have a
destination clearly in mind, the journey becomes pretty pointless
after a while. Sooner or later, no matter how interesting the
journey, you finally want to get there.
our goal is success, not process.
PRINCIPLE: Reform and education innovation must be addressed in the
context of universal principles of human nature.
desire for freedom, self-determination, personal dignity, choice,
equality, and respect for people and for private property are not
the sole domain of one country or people, but are those things that
stir in the heart of every person simply because they are human,
and these values beat within the breast of all people. History
demonstrates that these are values that lead to societal and
personal success and satisfaction. I watched yesterday--perhaps you
did as well--as citizens in Iraq mobbed the statue of Saddam
Hussein in the center of Baghdad and toppled it to the ground in a
symbolic celebration of an end to oppression and a new birth of
freedom and opportunity.
interesting thing happens when people have more real choices in
their lives, whether it involves education or other matters. A
dynamic marketplace appears, a marketplace fueled by people acting
in the exercise of their freedom and determining what is best for
them. Competition between providers in a marketplace begins to
bring higher and higher quality for a lower and lower overall cost.
The intrinsic human values of freedom, self-determination, choice,
and respect must not be resisted in our education innovations, but
embraced, since to ignore them is to beg for failure.
Sadly, my own country, the United States,
has provided a glaring example of this truth, in a negative way, by
ignoring it. Don't get me wrong: I love my country, but just look
at this as an example.
U.S. has spent decade upon decade surrounded by a school system
that is, for all practical purposes, a "one-size-fits-all" system.
All families are forced to send their children to the government
school assigned to them, usually by neighborhood. You don't have
any choice whatsoever unless you are rich and can afford to pay
twice to send your children to school--once with the taxes you are
forced to pay to fund the public system and a second time in
private school tuition.
course, you can always move to a different house, in a different
neighborhood, to be able to go to a different school. But if you
are poor, or even middle-class in many cases, you do not really
have these choices because of cost. What results is a continuing
battle to improve the current system while certain entrenched
special interests are fighting the very thing that would make it
better for everyone: freedom of choice and opportunity for all of
Let's go back to our automobile for a
moment to paint this picture clearly. If the government assigned
you an auto repair and gasoline shop, based on where you lived, and
told you, "This is your repair shop. This is the only one you can
go to," you would, of course, go there because you had no choice.
It's "take it there or walk." Yet the quality of the work begins to
suffer. Why? Because there is no incentive for them to do a better
job. You have to come back to them no matter what. Without freedom,
and a free market, the costs will continue to rise, and the quality
will continue to be stagnant or decline.
is exactly where schools are in my country. The United States
spends more and more money on education; in fact, we spend 422
billion dollars--that would be roughly 1.26 trillion pesos--each
year on elementary and secondary education. Yet the results of the
most recent national assessment tests are deeply disappointing.
Nearly six in 10 high school seniors do not have a basic knowledge
of American history, and more than half of the nation's low-income
4th graders cannot read, even at the basic level.
you're lucky, you get a great teacher who takes her job seriously
and does her best, but the system that surrounds her best effort is
still flawed because the consumer cannot exercise the freedom to
find another. As a result, even the good work isn't good enough
because the standard has gradually been lowered, and even the
once-complaining consumer feels they are powerless.
mother named Cassandra, from the state of Florida, pointed out the
problem with a gradually lowering standard. She said, "In third
grade, my son Jonathan was making A's and B's on his report card,
yet when he was tested, he could not read. My son was on the honor
roll, and he could not read." We can so easily see the value of
freedom and choice and competition when it comes to automobiles,
but up to now, many have been very afraid to allow the same common
sense to apply to our children's education
Thankfully, the recognition of freedom in
this area by educators and leaders in Sweden, Denmark, Australia,
Germany, Belgium, Spain, and many other countries is now finally
being pursued in small but vigorous steps in the United States, by
state after state, in one way or another. Five states are using a
publicly funded voucher program of some sort. Six states are
offering tax credits or similar help for poor students. Thirty-nine
states have enacted charter school laws. Nine states are now
offering statewide public school choice, and over 40 proposals to
further authorize parental choice in education have been introduced
in state legislative bodies across the U.S. Even Congress is
considering some legislation.
April 2002, Harvard University Professor Caroline Hoxby found that
increased school choice raises school productivity and student
achievement within the public school system. Her report found that
competition from charter schools in Michigan and Arizona, and from
Milwaukee's voucher program, has compelled public schools to raise
their productivity as measured by students' achievement gains.
parents agree. A letter from a man named Tony, whose daughters
attend schools of choice in the Milwaukee voucher program,
The Milwaukee program has let me choose
schools that I think are best for my girls.... [M]y daughters are
excelling. I believe both of them will have a choice to go on to
college because of the voucher program. Before, I thought that
wouldn't happen. People who once felt they had little or no voice
in their children's education now have a choice.
Eulanda, whose daughter Ebony receives a
voucher through the Cleveland Scholarship and Tuition Program, is
I care about my child's education. I would
do anything, whatever it takes, to get her the best education
possible. When I got the letter saying she got a voucher, I was so
happy I didn't know what to do. It was like someone coming to my
United States, in the several states, will gradually get this right
because our leaders are slowly realizing in education what we can
see almost every day in the news around the world: People want to
be free, and they want to determine their own path. Education
innovation that recognizes that will more likely succeed.
Innovators who do not recognize it will fail.
PRINCIPLE: Remember that education does not equal
is not to say that education is not critical for success. In fact,
it often is the key factor in turning a life toward productivity
and success. But without a moral framework within the person and
the culture, and a commitment to the development of character
traits such as integrity, responsibility, honesty, respect for
properly established authorities, and charity, we will not really
evil person with a great education is an infinitely more dangerous
person by his education than had he remained relatively ignorant. A
well-educated thief is a much more dangerous thief. Some might say
that he is a "better" thief; that is to say, he can plan better, be
craftier in his trade, and actually reach his full potential as a
thief. And though he may, as a result, never be captured and may
become the subject of legend, we have to ask the obvious question:
Is he successful? Have we, as his educators, done well by him and
by society? Has his education saved him or contributed to the
culture? Of course, the answer is "no."
is difficult for some of us to realize, but education is not the
final answer to every question. Though it is critical and can make
a huge difference, society--and these children--can ill-afford the
messianic notion that if we can only get the education thing
solved, the world and the children will be saved. The story is
bigger than that, and educators and policymakers must be open and
encouraging of other cultural elements of church and family and
community and other character development forces, without which all
of our best efforts will not be ultimately successful.
is both a relief and a challenge. We are not in this thing alone.
There are others who are out there who want to make a difference as
much as we do. But it is also a caution that in raising the
importance of education, we do not try to make it more than it was
ever designed to do. At the very least, we should do nothing to
hinder these other positive influences on our students.
PRINCIPLE: We should always remember to whom we are
Society? Yes, to some extent we answer to
"society." But how do you measure that with any accuracy in the
short, correctable term?
Students? In a sense, yes, in that they
have to live with the blessings or consequences of what we do. But
we cannot consider them an accountability receptor for the same
reason most civilized cultures do not allow people who have yet to
reach maturity to make other choices.
to whom are we accountable? Who is the audience? Who is "the boss"?
The answer is that lovely word that often invokes mixed feelings in
might object by saying that we are actually accountable to God for
our actions, even in education, and they would be right in the
ultimate sense. But interestingly, at least in the case of
education, God specifically charges parents with the responsibility
of overseeing their children's education.
in education special-interest groups say that parents are unwilling
or incapable of being involved in the education of their
children--or, worse yet, are not to be trusted. I would simply
answer that I believe that most parents love their children and
want for them what is best. I have seen an immoral, philandering
man who, when it came to his own daughter, would immediately take
action to protect her virtue and reputation.
Parents, if given the information they
deserve, will make the right decisions that will help their
children and help all of us succeed in our mission. Accordingly,
parents should be included. And if not, they should demand to be.
They deserve no less, since they have entrusted their legacy to us.
Often, parents who are not involved are sidelined because they
don't think it will make a difference, or that we will listen to
them. Give them a chance, and watch exciting things happen.
we are committed to the pursuit of the right goal of success, and
not the politics or the process; if we remember that the human cry
is for freedom and self-determination and we must work within those
values to maximum result, that our work is critical but not all of
the answer to human need, and that parents can be not only our
accountability partners, but our co-workers, we will walk our
students confidently through the door of the future, and I believe
that door will lead to a place of promise and real success.
know you share with me an abiding concern for children and the
future that confronts them. With your permission, I would like to
leave you with one last personal thought.
not sure how it is at your house, but on a given Saturday every
week or two, my wife and I like to get out of bed a little slower
than the usual 5:30 or 6:00. But, more times than not, over the
course of our life, our bedroom has been invaded by one of the
children looking for some morning attention of some sort. I am
thinking of our little Nasia. (Her name means "miracle of God.")
While my wife and I are in that foggy land between slumber and
wakening, more than once, Nasia would slip in, almost unheard, and
slide up between the two adult figures on the bed and reach for one
or both of us.
that moment, when her soft and chubby cheek is up against mine,
when nothing is really said but the world seems perfectly in place,
it is in that moment that I get a glimpse of just what life is
about, why we do what we do. And I realize that there are some
things--some noble causes--worth giving one's life to.
God's help, I hope to do just that, and I know you will do the
same. God bless you, and gracias.
Thomas A. Hinton is Director of State Relations
at The Heritage Foundation. This address, edited for publication,
was delivered on April 10, 2003, at the Third International
Symposium on Innovations in Education, held in Mendoza, Argentina.
Hinton and his wife, Mary Anne, live in Fredericksburg, Virginia,
and are the parents of 10 children.