Thursday, September 01, 2005

Why Do Our Public Schools Suck?

As I continue my "higher education week", well, I couldn't say it better myself.

There is widespread agreement that America has the best universities in the world. Foreign students enroll by the hundreds of thousands, and American college professors dominate the Nobel Prize lists.

But virtually no one says we have the best K-12 education in the world. To the contrary, many lament the poor showing of American students on international tests. What makes American universities so much better than our primary and secondary schools?

While many factors are at work, much of the explanation can be summarized in two words: "privatization" and "markets." About a third of four-year college students attend private institutions, and the proportion is growing. By contrast, only one-eighth of K-12 kids attend private schools.

Moreover, even public universities are far more independent of the political process than K-12 schools. Public universities have greater ability to hire and fire staff, pay people on the basis of merit, change curricula, and face far less interference from obstructionist labor unions.