The Insanity of Keeping Education Status Quo

In a guest opinion in today’s Lebanon Daily News, I make a case that keeping the status quo in education isn’t helping children, parents, taxpayers or teachers. Insanity? Judge for yourself…

Education choice means a new chance

Einstein held that insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

If he were able study the current state of Pennsylvania education system, I believe he’d come to the same conclusion.

Here’s the formula he’d be looking at: Despite Pennsylvania taxpayers spending $26 billion annually on education and more per student than 39 other states ($13,000 per child); and despite a decreasing student enrollment of nearly 27,000 student since 2000 while adding nearly 33,000 faculty and staff to help students, we failed to deliver anything other than stagnating returns on that investment.

In fact, notwithstanding dramatic increases in spending and adding more personnel to “help students,” Pennsylvania’s performance on the National Assessment of Education Progress exam has remained relatively unchanged for years. Moreover, for all of its investment in the current system, Pennsylvania can show only 40 percent of its eighth-graders score at or above proficiency on the NAEP reading and math exams, and it ranks among the worst performing states in SAT college-entrance exams.

What’s insanity here is that many Pennsylvanians continue to capitulate to the special interests and unions like the Pennsylvania State Education Association and Pennsylvania School Boards Association who perpetuate the myth that by giving them more time and more resources we will get better results.

We’ve done that. We’ve given them more time. We’ve given them more money. We waited for results, and the results are not acceptable.

While I realize these words will offend many of my cherished friends and family who work as educators in and around the Lebanon Valley, I mean no disrespect to their passions, efforts or abilities. Our teachers are not the problem.

Ultimately, this isn’t an indictment of teachers’ ability to reach students or an assault on their character, but an attack on the status quo, which failed to give them what they need to succeed and threatens to jeopardize the future of our children and nation by it’s refusal to do so.

True, this monopoly of mediocrity has never failed to provide our teachers, parents and students with more rules and resources in an illusion of reform. Certainly, few educators and parents would deny that imposing current national and state testing has only widened achievement gaps, frustrated teachers and produced little benefit to our students.

Moreover, few taxpayers would deny constant increases in funding, new textbooks, new brick-and-mortar facilities, wiring schools for Internet access, renovating or updating school facilities, reducing class sizes (more teachers per pupil) and other measures that require greater financial resources has not produced desired results either.

So if more resources and more rules aren’t answers that please parents, teachers or taxpayers, what can we do?

Very clearly, we have failed to vector from the status-quo monopoly and embrace the opportunities presented by incentives. This new dynamic compels schools to either improve or risk going out of business. In a limited manner, incentive-based reforms include public-school choice through charter schools and public “schools-of-choice” programs, while more expansive programs include choice among private schools, as well as public schools, through vouchers or tax-credit-funded scholarships.

In a bipartisan effort to incentivize education and produce desired results, senators Jeff Piccola, a Republican, and Tony Williams, a Democrat, recently introduced legislation (Senate Bill 1) that would dramatically expand school-choice options of low- and middle-income families through tax-funded vouchers and tax-credit-funded scholarships – paid for with the $26 billion Pennsylvanians already spend on K-12 education. Joining this fight will be Lebanon County Sen. Mike Folmer, who has co-sponsored the bill.

These legislators and those who will join them are to be saluted for these herculean efforts needed to reverse the insanity foisted upon us by the special interests that will stop at nothing to keep us on our current course. These legislators and many of their constituents realize that at the heart of this legislation is simple formula: Failing schools equal failing citizens; failing citizens equal fiscal crisis; and choice equals a chance.

And a chance is certainly more than what doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results has produced.