Evergreen Libertarian: Let’s put the teachers in charge

Michael H. Wilson at Evergreen Libertarian:

The standoff between the Republicans and the Democrats in Wisconsin over the unions has managed to capture a significant portion of the news and now is spreading to Ohio, Indiana and elsewhere. Teachers are a large portion of the government employees involved. Caught in the middle of all of this are the students whose schools have been closed in some cases and the taxpayers who have to foot the bill. So far not much effort has been spent on asking why the government is still involved in the education business and since it is what are the results and what are the alternatives. Why, after some twenty years of activism, do we still have government run schools? Can’t we break this log jam somehow?

Separating education from the state should be our goal. How we get there is another matter, one that is worth discussing. Simply put in my mind the freedom to teach is inherent in the idea of freedom of speech. Teachers should not be told by the government what to teach or how to teach. When schools are run by the government they are subject to public and political pressure, which is seldom in the best interests of the students. Wisconsin has two significant things going for it with their school system; Milwaukee was one of the first, if not the first, school system in the nation to adopt a voucher program, and Wisconsin has one of the best graduation rates in the nation. In Milwaukee vouchers now exceed $120 million annually. Early evaluation of the program does not suggest there is any specific advantage with vouchers. However, Milwaukee is fortunate to have a choice program for students that has seen some success. “…research shows a general pattern of growth in Milwaukee graduation rates. From 2003 to 2009 the MPS [Milwaukee Public Schools] rate grew from 49% to 70%. For the MPCP [Milwaukee Parental Choice Program] the rate grew from 63% to 82%.” I am not especially fond of vouchers but vouchers seem to work in Wisconsin and just need to be expanded. Maybe they should be on the menu of alternatives.

Statewide the Wisconsin graduation rates are impressive when we compare them to other states. For the period 2007-2008 Wisconsin graduated 89.6% of their students. This is one of the highest rates in the nation.

Nationwide students and their parents should be able to chose from a variety of schools that fit the needs of the student regardless of whether that need is for a specific subject area or a nationwide system that allows a child from a family that frequently moves to leave a school in San Diego on Friday and pick up on the next page in a Rhode Island school the next Monday.

Lots of different factors play into the quality of education a student receives; from the quality of the teacher to family and neighborhood. Some parents may wish to be involved in their child’s education while others may find that difficult for any number of reasons. We need to keep in mind the fact that people learn through different ways and at different speeds. No one way fits all, which is a significant problem with today’s education system.

If Sweden can do it so can others. In the 1990s Sweden introduced the voucher system and today is seems to be very popular. Some states have tried vouchers, as in Wisconsin, but the effort to expand them seems to be stalled. It may not be the best libertarian solution, but it seems to be a step in the right direction and if they work in Sweden why not support them in Wisconsin with its large Scandinavian heritage? We might find we can sell this one.

By 2004 there were roughly 3000 charter schools nationwide with a variety of results. Charter schools are another alternative that have been successful in some places while elsewhere they have not worked as well as the state run system, and in some cases they seem to have been developed more for the money the government was handing out and to hell with the students. As in with any other service it is buyer beware.

The Libertarian Party needs to become more vocal on this issue. We need to remember that separating education from the state is just as important as separating religion from the state. In the long run that is the goal. Now how are we going to get there? This issue is passing us by. Let’s get on it!

Michael H. Wilson is editor of Libertarian Party of Washington State News & Views. His blog’s mission is to “support the ideas of civil liberties, economic freedom and non intervention. “Let me be a free man…free to travel… free to stop…free to work…free to choose my own teachers…free to follow the religion of my Fathers…free to think and talk and act for myself.” Chief Joseph, Nez Perce… Bring All the Troops Home!”

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