Point/Counterpoint - No

by Nick Morinigo | 10/18/00 5:00am

Liberals in a traditional political definition are thought of as people looking to change the status quo in order to create a better system, while conservatives are generally defined as people looking to preserve the current system. The major parties' positions on education reform are a glaring example of how, in practice, these definitions have been turned on their heads. Both parties will agree that the level at which American children are being educated must be raised. By thinking out of the box, Republicans like George W. Bush have proposed bold new ideas that challenge traditional notions of the role of public education. Meanwhile, Democrats are hopelessly stuck in the quagmire of a failed education system, afraid to revamp it because of their subservience to teachers' unions.

I do not advocate an elimination of public schools in America. A targeted voucher system would give choice and opportunity to families stuck in schools that have consistently failed minimum standards of learning. But in a competitive environment only those public schools, teachers and administrators who demonstrate a sincere desire to educate our children will survive. The vast majority of teachers are extremely dedicated and do society a great service with little thanks in return. At the same time, unions also protect teachers who are not carrying their own weight, who can negate the positive contributions made by so many, and who turn children off of learning. While countless children are left behind, free riders and bureaucrats are leeches on a system, sucking up resources and creating red tape in order to ensure their future stake in the system. As neo-conservatives like Reagan were able to remove the ball and chain of government regulation from the business world, unleashing the power of competition can only help the American education system.

The money currently spent by the government does not belong to the government and no school is automatically deserving of it. The money is a collective investment in our children made by all Americans. Tax dollars should be thought of as the money of the people, pooled together by the government in order to fund an equitable solution to a societal problem. A fundamental difference in thinking exists between those who would like to use big government as the first solution to every problem, and those who feel that government should only be used to supplement the private sector when solutions can not be reached through competition.

I do not claim to be an expert on the intricacies of our education system. Vouchers may or may not be the long-term answer to a complex problem. But enough evidence does exist to begin to explore its effectiveness. Frankly, the education choices for some children can't get any worse. Leading researchers in the field, like Caroline Hoxby of Harvard University, have found that a competitive system will substantially increase student performance in test scores as well as graduation rates.

Vouchers are not a golden solution to the many problems currently crippling the public education system. Federal funding should emphasize early reading. Extensive testing is needed to track the progress of children and diagnose any systematic problems. Teachers must be held accountable. In some communities, it may be necessary to implement remedial reading programs for parents to give them the skill to help their family build a lifetime commitment to learning. These are just a few examples of the many reforms necessary -- a voucher program is just one piece of the solution.

In an attempt to strip legitimacy from the common sense solution of school choice, many opponents claim that it would be unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has not made this claim, and some decisions suggest that they would uphold such a system of choice. I am not a lawyer and will not attempt to create a proof for its constitutionality. At the same time, the Supreme Court has suggested that, in matters relating to religion, when individuals are making the choice and not the government, the separation of church and state is not violated. College students already take advantage of student loan and grant programs to help finance their education at colleges with a religious affiliation. We are allocating funds for students to learn the basic staples of an education. So long as any school meets the standard set for all schools, they have completed their contractual obligation with the government. The value system fostered by a school is part of the choice made by a parent who selects that school over another. There is no reason to suggest that market demand will not also create wonderful charter schools and nonaffiliated public schools. There are many young bright people who are eager to create new schools. This generation's same new wave of thinking that has sparked success in the e-business world will create innovative solutions to the failures of the education system.

The school choice debate is a classic example of neo-conservative themes of limited government versus the big government inefficiency of contemporary liberal thought. Ultimately it is a question of trust -- Republicans tend to put their faith in competition and the ingenuity of the American people. Democrats do not seem to have this confidence and rely on government for its solutions. It is my hope that as both parties evolve to appeal to an ever-changing electorate, the Democrats will finally rid themselves of their ties to unions which prevents progressive bipartisan solutions to the complex issues facing America's education system. Education should be a right afforded to every child. Right now, the old system is leaving children behind. Many minority religious leaders, tired of the failure of schools in their communities, are beginning to realize that they support Republican solutions on this issue. If Democrats continue to support every whim of the unions, they will begin to see erosion in their other traditional bases.

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