How To Solve America’s Educational Problems: Two Solutions

“Was putting a man on the moon actually easier than improving education in our public schools?” – B.F. Skinner (Beyond Freedom and Dignity, 1971)

Warning: The following piece may contain irony, sarcasm, or exaggeration. Please read with caution.

I’m not much for businesses with pompous mission statements that call for saving the world. Most of them (and their founders) are full of shit. But I do like Chris Whittle’s current project: Edison Schools.

Whittle’s goal is to reform education in the United States by privatizing it.

For a decade now, this one-time super-successful publisher (who created the still very successful Channel One and ran his other businesses “into the wall,” as he puts it) has been battling angry teacher unions and school boards who don’t like his message: Leave education to private enterprise, and it will be better, cheaper, and more effective in educating all Americans (even the poor, even the minorities) than the public school system.

According to Forbes Small Business magazine, the Edison Schools system educates about 57,000 students in 113 schools, ranks as the 60th largest school system in the United States (out of 15,000 overall), and can brag about rising test scores.

The only problem: It hasn’t yet turned a profit.

Whittle is not giving up, however. He calls it “the most important idea I’ve ever had.” I think he’s right.

Let’s face it. A public education in this country is bad — and getting worse. A high school diploma from a public high school in America means nothing today — not even that the graduate can read. I lived in Africa for two years — in Chad, the third- or fourth-poorest country in the world — and its high school graduates were better educated than their American counterparts.

My own idea is to abolish public education entirely and give parents tax credits or cash for what we are currently paying ($5,000 to $8,000 per student per year, depending on whose numbers you want to believe), which they could spend with any nice lady in the neighborhood who would be willing to set up class in her living room. No rules. No regulations. Let the lady decide.

It can’t possibly be worse. If we are lucky, it could be a lot better. Like in Chad maybe.