Stephen Moore: It’s now or never for school choice everywhere

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

Steve Moore

This story could bring tears to your eyes. In Baltimore, Maryland, there are 23 schools in which not one single student tested “proficient in math.”

Can we all agree these are schools that aren’t proficient in teaching math — or just about any course, for that matter?

A Fox News investigation calculated that Baltimore spends an average of $21,000 per student. How could the teachers unions possibly spend that much money and accomplish almost no learning?

With a dreadful record like this, it would be natural to think Baltimore must have the worst schools in the nation. Maybe not.

It turns out things may be worse in Illinois.

According to data from the Illinois State Board of Education reviewed by Wirepoints, an investigative journalism center, there were 30 schools last year, 22 of which are in the Chicago area, that failed to lift even one student to grade-level reading.

Wait, it gets worse. The state has more than 50 schools in which not a single student had achieved grade-level math.

Wouldn’t the proper response be to shut down these schools that are robbing children of an education?

Not in Illinois. In fact, the state educators rated the performance of several of these abysmal schools — are you ready for this? — “commendable.” This takes grade inflation to a whole new level of absurdity.

Of course, the decision by teachers unions and education administrators to shut down the schools for a year or more didn’t help. But the test results in many of these schools weren’t much better before the pandemic. And don’t blame a shortage of money. Many of these Chicago schools are spending up to $30,000 per child.

What we have here is a case of widespread educational child abuse.

All over the country, our public schools are delivering failing results. Last year, test scores nationally reached a several-decade low. The schools that had by far superior test scores to the public schools in almost every state were Catholic schools.

Now, think about this for a moment. If we really cared about the future of our children, wouldn’t we just contract out the nation’s thousands of rotten school systems to the Catholic dioceses around the country? Or throw in Jewish schools, charter schools, Montessori schools, home schools — or whatever works?

In most highly populated inner-cities where public schools are especially deficient, the mostly minority children can receive a better education in Catholic schools — at roughly half the cost of the public schools.

If there is a silver lining here, it is that there are some states that have rapidly expanded their school choice programs, allowing the education dollars to follow the students wherever their families choose to send them. Arizona, Florida, Iowa and West Virginia have already done so, with Texas, Tennessee and Utah considering bold moves toward universal school choice for families that can’t afford private alternatives.

Some 40 years ago, a famous national study on the condition of America’s schools warned of a “crisis of mediocrity” in education. Today, things have deteriorated so much that mediocrity would be an improvement and is considered “commendable.”

University of Chicago economists have estimated that the loss of education just from the COVID-19 shutdowns will cost the nation trillions of dollars of lost income and productivity from the diminished earning potential of our children throughout their whole lives.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste. And our public schools are wasting millions of minds week after week while they spend billions upon billions of dollars on Lord knows what. It’s time for bold new approaches. There are thousands of private and religious schools that have proven they know how to teach children, and instead of achieving 0% reading and math proficiency, they reach nearly 100%. Education reform is simple: Put our children, our nation’s greatest assets, in these schools.

Stephen Moore is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and an economist with FreedomWorks. His latest book is “Govzilla: How the Relentless Growth of Government is Devouring our Economy.”


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