If there has ever been proof that the government should not be in the education business, it’s the latest results from standardized tests and government officials’ reaction to them.
The new numbers show only slightly more than half of Idaho public school students scored proficient or better on the English literacy part of the ISAT test and only 42% passed the math portion. Yet state Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra told us this is “great news” and called the results “encouraging.”
If that wasn’t enough, additional mediocre results released days later from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) brought out a statement from the Idaho State Board of Education President Kurt Liebich who called the results “a testament to Idaho’s efforts to keep schools open and in-person learning happening throughout our state.”
While true that Idaho’s test scores are marginally better than peers in other states, our peers aren’t doing well. Roughly a mere third of Idaho fourth and eighth graders are proficient in reading and math, according to NAEP. The national average is between 25% and 32%, depending on the subject.
Imagine running a business of any kind in which fewer than half of your customers didn’t get what they came for. And not over the course of just one day of lousy service and disappointing results; it’s years of it. Most businesses would close under such conditions.
So why does this go on? It’s because politicians get a lot of money and support from a cabal of education special interests whose sole priority is to keep the existing failing system in place. Public education is a multi-billion dollar business. Labor unions, school administrators, transportation companies, and businesses selling everything from software to textbooks to cafeteria food all benefit from the status quo.
Republicans and Democrats both promise a lot of money to public education under the pretense that it helps students. All that money is really doing is helping politicians stay in office. But no one wants to say that out loud. It’s considered an affront to parents who like their local schools because they’re fed a steady stream of bullshit about their quality.
Accordingly, parents feel content to subject their children to an environment that resembles a prison more than it resembles the real world. Just as prison inmates live under guard, move about according to a bell schedule, eat mass-produced food on plastic trays, get a set amount of recess time, are transported to and fro on buses, and are commanded to behave under a set structure or risk penalties, so do school students. The only reason government schools are not called prison camps is because the former have sports teams and mascots and students are "released" home at the end of the day. Plus, it would just be unseemly to willingly ship a child off to prison each morning.
It’s important to remember that government schools are just taxing districts for mascots and sports teams and loads of PR people whose job it is to sugarcoat bad results.
Truly, government can only stay in the business of education because they can force people to pay for the "service" through taxation, regardless of whether parents and students are actually happy with the product they're receiving. Opening up the education market to allow for more competition and allowing parents to have more say in where their education dollars are being spent is the most expedient way to improve educational outcomes across the board.
Parents deserve to have as many options as possible when it comes to the education of their children. Idaho lawmakers and governors have historically been reluctant to open opportunities for more education options, but not because doing so would harm students. It’s because it would harm the adults — the politicians and educrats who need the system to remain as it is for their own sakes.