A Gallup poll released Wednesday shows that only 29 percent of Americans have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in public schools.
It seems American confidence in public schools has steadily declined over the years; after all, it's dropped nearly 30 percentage points since the survey was first conducted in 1973. Meanwhile, the federal government has spent roughly $2 trillion since 1965 on efforts to raise overall student achievement in elementary and secondary schools. So how’s that working out? Well, every year more than 1.2 million students drop of high school – that’s about 7000 a day, according to the non-profit organization Do Something. Even worse, perhaps, 56 percent of students who do graduate high school and attend college cannot attain a four-year degree in six years. This is not encouraging. The American public education system, in short, is clearly failing to adequately prepare students for high school and college-level courses. And throwing more money at a broken system, as we’ve argued time and again, is certainly not the appropriate solution.
Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA), who is Team Romney’s de facto surrogate on education policy, is leading the charge in the Deep South with bold and ambitious reforms to spurn academic achievement. Here’s a succinct recap of Jindal’s measures, courtesy of National Review.
Jindal’s reforms are smart, comprehensive, and innovative, representing the best of conservative thought on education. Rick Hess, director of education-policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, has high praise for the reforms, calling them “both politically savvy and good public policy,” and important both “as an individual event, and part of a trend.” That is, Jindal’s reforms represent a victory for conservative education-reform policies, and represent the growing tide of support for such ideas. The measures are broken down into two bills, and have two major components: significantly increasing school choice, and increasing accountability.
As Hess puts it, Louisiana’s new policies “establish a new standard for school choice, breaking ground for other states across the country.” Jindal has pushed for a huge expansion of voucher programs, which pay tuition for students at parochial or private schools. The state program itself is based on a successful system in Orleans Parish. Four hundred thousand students, almost half of Louisiana’s public-school population, would be eligible for a voucher to pay tuition at a private school (that’s the number of students who are eligible because they attend schools that receive C, D, or F grades from the state).
Jindal’s efforts will also increase support for charter schools. One of the greater controversies of education reform is whether or not school choice, by sending students to private schools or charter schools that lack standards, actually increases achievement. Choice in education is, of course, an intrinsically good thing, but it is a legitimate criticism, and advocates for charter schools have often found themselves overselling their promise in order to justify the concept. At the request of Democratic legislators, Louisiana’s reforms will now allow for deeper assessments of the charter and private schools supported by the state — a solid step forward, but one that only became possible once the battle for school choice had been won.
These bold initiatives, to be sure, are not without criticism. And, of course, it will take years to analyze and evaluate the success of these reforms before they can be supported universally or implemented nationwide. On the other hand, at least the governor is taking decisive action. The status quo is simply unacceptable, especially in Louisiana which ranks 47th in educational achievement. Americans kids deserve a good education now -- and they shouldn’t have to wait any longer.