My fellow Americans: good afternoon. Today I would like to speak to you about fundamental reforms to our nation’s educational system, and how inexpensive, common-sense ideas can radically improve the quality of education from kindergarten through college.
Our students are poorly educated today because we do not pay the Public School System to educate them: we pay the public school system to graduate them. Districts, schools, administrators, teachers – all the money that we spend is based on the number of boxes we put on the assembly line and ship out the door. As things currently exist, the money doesn’t care whether what’s inside the box is beautiful, rugged, or well made; the money doesn’t care if the product inside the box is broken. The money doesn’t even care if there’s anything inside the box at all – all the money cares about is that boxes go out the door. Period.
It wasn’t always this way. The American public school system was once the envy of the world. Even as recently as the 1960’s, American students led the world in math, science, and engineering scores. That public school foundation was the bedrock for the American economic miracle: skills and educations that lifted this country, and eventually the entire world, into health and prosperity unimaginable just a century ago. You can see the direct result of a once-great public educational system in the six flags planted upon the moon.
Budgets for the US Department of Education have continued to rise, as educational results have continued to fall. It’s a direct correlation, and I don’t think it is a coincidence. We more money than almost every developed country in the world. And yet we continue to come in 17th, or 23rd, or 27th in various international rankings. It’s unacceptable. We cannot continue to lead the world in innovation in the Information age with students who do not often break the top twenty in relation to other countries.
Therefore, I am proposing that we completely restructure, and radically shrink, the Department of Education – not to deprive students of an education, but on the contrary, to make sure every American gets one, and one worth having.
In place of one Department of Education, imagine fifty of them: each state trying new methods and old ones; each state competing with each other to show what works and what doesn’t. Or imagine nearly 14,000 local departments of education; one for each school district in America. What would the results of such a re-structuring be?
Well, currently, we spend, as a nation, an average of nearly $13,000 per student in America. Now that money, of course, is not attached to the student: it goes to the various school districts. But what if it was? What if we spend the same amount of money, but allowed the parents of the student to decide where to get the best education? What would THAT look like? How would things be different?
First, we would add discipline: we have to face the hard fact that so many of the problems in today’s schools – especially those schools most in trouble – are due to a complete breakdown of discipline. Many of our teachers face not a classroom but bedlam: howling, screaming disruptive children who insult, harass and even assault them. We simply can’t tolerate this. How many children are robbed of their education by the actions of one or two students who face, at worst, a timeout? How much violence is tolerated? How many hours wasted? Every student in America should have an opportunity to get a free high school education… but that doesn’t mean they have the right to deprive other kids of theirs, as happens every day in classrooms throughout America. Suspensions and expulsions of serial troublemakers are not acts of cruelty; they are acts of kindness.
And that discipline needs to extend to teachers, as well as students: too many bad teachers stay in the classroom, or on paid suspension, because of powerful teachers unions that put the welfare and continued employment of bad teachers ahead of the needs of good students.
Second, we need to Diversify. Our public school system is so badly corroded that it simply cannot be repaired in a month, or a year, or even perhaps a decade. Until then, we will need to diversify the means of getting an education: private schools, home schooling and charter schools are existing, parallel structures that are out-competing our public school system, and they are not only not being rewarded for their better results – they are being punished for it. By attaching education money to the student, rather than the school, we get the miracle that gave us the smart phone and the commercial jetliner: competition.
Third, we need to De-certify – to make it easier for a person to become a teacher. We have to do this, because in order to save our dying educational system, we have to connect it to the single greatest untapped resource in America today. It’s not oil, or natural gas, or lumber, or mineral reserves. America’s greatest untapped natural resource is its retired people. Think about it: who would you rather have teaching chemistry to your child: a twenty-two-year-old with a degree in education, or someone with fifty years as a chemical engineer?
Our retired people have earned their rest, and certainly no one is under any compulsion to return to work. But I think just about all of the retired people I know personally would jump at a chance to put in a few hours a week, passing on the irreplaceable skills, and knowledge, and experience wrought from a lifetime of hard work for some extra income. We have, in America today, what may be the worst-educated generation in America history on one hand, and the hardest-working, most successful and skilled retired generation on the other. It’s a crime -- actually, it’s almost a sin – not to put these two things together, and quickly.
And finally, we need to demand accountability. Accountability means test scores – it’s just that simple. It means the kind of academic rigor that competing nations adhere strictly to.
We must demand that schools once again become places of learning. Just as we cannot tolerate our schools being graduation factories, we must also reject those who value indoctrination over education. There is no place for politics or social engineering in our public school system. We have a system in place for teaching values to our children: they’re called “parents.” There is barely enough time in the day to teach children the science, math, English, music, athletics, literature and art in the world as it is: saddling them with partisan ideology is not fair, not productive, and not education.
As with so many of our problems today, the solutions are simple, small, local, and inexpensive. But we cannot hope to be a great nation without well-educated, disciplined, civilized citizens. Getting us back on that path must be our top priority.
My fellow Americans: thank you for your time, God bless you, and may God Bless America.