Thomas Sowell

FOR many years now, American students have been coming in at or near the bottom in international tests of mathematics. Meanwhile, our schools have been entertaining themselves with "new math," "fuzzy math" and everything other than old-fashioned hard-work math that other countries use.

If you want to test your own knowledge of math, here is an example for you. If a school district spends $8,000 per pupil and pays $4,000 for a voucher for each pupil who leaves the public school system, will the total cost of educating all the students go up or down when more students begin using vouchers to transfer out of the public schools?

Take all the time you want. I'll wait. You can even use a pocket calculator if you want to.

If you said that the total cost of educating all the students goes down, then you are a lot smarter than those people who have fallen for the teachers' union argument that vouchers will cost the taxpayers more money. If you went even further and said that the amount of money left to spend on students remaining in the public schools would enable the spending per public school pupil to rise, you are probably in the top one or two percent.

Unfortunately, the dumbing-down of American education has been going on so long that it may now be impossible for many people to see through such flimsy arguments that are made in defense of the status quo in the public schools. These schools' own educational failures in the past may insulate them from the changes they need to make for the future -- but which an under-educated public does not realize they need to make.

Seldom, if ever, do students who receive vouchers get more than half of what is spent per pupil in the public schools. Moreover, both voucher schools and charter schools have to provide their own classrooms, while school buildings are provided free to the public school system. So the real disparity in resources is even greater than two-to-one in favor of the public schools.

Despite the deck's being stacked in favor of the public schools, students in voucher schools, charter schools and home schooling almost invariably do at least as well, and usually better, by whatever tests are used.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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