Saving America’s Education System

header-hoover-institution-fellows1-1by Jeb Bush

Traditional schools and classes will be just one part of the mix as parents take control of their kids’ learning.

jeb-bush-education-school-reformAs another school year ends and another $620 billion has been spent, it is a good time to consider the state of education in America.

Despite our spending more on education than almost any other industrialized nation in the world, wide achievement gaps remain. More than a million students languish on waiting lists for the chance to escape failing schools. And according to a recent study by The Education Trust, only 8 percent of U.S. high-school graduates are truly college or career ready.

Our struggling education system has produced results that see American students ranked 24th internationally in reading and 36th in math. That is an alarming result, especially since innovation has created a competitive global economy in which knowledge has become the chief commodity. Many workers don’t have the skills to compete in the 21st-century job market. A report out last November by McKinsey & Company forecasted that nearly half of the jobs American workers are paid to perform — representing $2 trillion in wages annually in the U.S. — could be automated in some way using current technology.

To put it bluntly, a baby born into poverty today, without a quality education, will never be able to secure a good job in his or her lifetime. Education should be the great equalizer in our society, one that provides the opportunity for every individual to rise, yet sadly, the divide has gotten bigger and bigger.

It’s truth time: We must massively disrupt our education system if we want to ensure our long-term national and economic security.

Let’s look ahead 20 years to the education system that must evolve from continued transformational reform to keep our nation exceptional:

There are no more assigned schools. Parents of all income levels are able to choose from a robust marketplace of options, including traditional neighborhood schools, magnet schools, charter schools, private schools, and virtual schools. Information on their performance is readily available, and they are held accountable to parents and communities.

We must massively disrupt our education system if we want to ensure our long-term national and economic security. We have a system that rewards success, replicates it, and weeds out failing schools. It is a system based on the simple premise that all students can learn, and that it is up to us to figure out how.

In this new school system, the current model of funding bureaucracies has been replaced by a new regime in which the money follows the child, guided by the decisions of parents.

The power of choice would go beyond just selecting a school. In the digital world, the absence of an A.P. Calculus teacher at a particular school no longer prevents its students from taking the class. Families simply choose from a menu of courses and successful providers, which are available to traditional schools as well as home-school families.

Classrooms no longer adhere to rigid, arbitrary schedules. They operate on a timetable that allows students to move through coursework at a pace that accommodates their abilities. They don’t tolerate social promotion. They assess student mastery of coursework throughout the year, allowing for quicker course corrections.

Academic standards aren’t dumbed down to make schools or states look better. Students are tested based on standards aligned with college expectations, results are reported transparently, and as a result, our higher-education system saves $1.5 billion annually on remediation courses.

And, finally, teachers are held in high esteem, treated like professionals, and rewarded for hard work and results. Great educators aren’t held back by poor ones. Excellence isn’t collectively bargained away.

We can see pieces and parts of this school landscape of tomorrow scattered about our nation now, led by state leaders who are unafraid to challenge the entrenched education establishment. But achieving widespread adoption of these innovative reforms will require a radical shift in the conventional thinking about how we educate our children.

First, we must move as much power out of Washington as possible. Education is a national priority, but it shouldn’t be a federal program. States have a much better understanding of how to serve their own students than anyone in the 202 area code, and parents are the very best judges of how their children will be best served.

Second, let’s rethink every antiquated education governance or funding policy that exists at every level of government. Sunset the policies that don’t apply to 21st-century schools; eliminate roadblocks to choice and accountability; adopt funding models that place the success of students ahead of bureaucratic largesse; and wholly embrace the power that technology has to positively reorder the failed system.

Finally, it is time to move past the tired partisan fights over education policy. Wholesale restructuring of our education system won’t happen without greater bipartisan agreement on the path forward. Let’s let data — not special interests — drive decisions so we can continually improve how we serve children. More Education Kansas District Mulls Policy That Would Allow Kindergarteners to Be Expelled for Microaggressions Bad History Is Killing Us The Very Model of a Modern English Major?

The challenge is unprecedented, but there is reason to be optimistic. Confronted with escalating costs and mediocre results, more and more states are embracing daring reforms. They understand that their future is sitting in their classrooms today.

This new generation confronts a historically competitive global economy while also inheriting responsibility for our debt and entitlement programs. To succeed, for our nation to succeed, they will have to be the best-educated and most skilled generation of Americans in our history.

Allegiances to the past must give way to an education system relevant to tomorrow.

Jeb Bush is the former governor of Florida.

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