Second Opinion by Cliff Slater
March 25, 2002
(1) School Choice 2001:What's Happening in the States. Edited by Robert E. Moffit, Ph.D., Jennifer J. Garrett, and Janice A. Smith. Heritage Foundation. 2001. See also: Greene, Jay P. The Education Freedom Index. The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. 2001.
(2) National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Dept. of Education. Overview of Public Elementary and Secondary Schools and Districts. Table A-2. - Distribution of regular public school districts providing instruction, by membership size and by state: School year 1999-2000. September 2001.
(4) See table below (4A) Data sources for students per district from footnote (2) above. NAEP scores by aggregating the student scores for all subjects listed in Education Week’s Summary of Grades by State . Hawaii was excluded from the calculation of the average size of school districts in the worst ten states since it would have distorted the result; if included the average school district size for the worst ten states would be five times that of the best ten.
Let us shop for education
Hawaii voters wondering how we might reform public education might well consider how we are provided with the very basics of life: Food, shelter and clothing.
Quite wisely, we keep the provision of these crucial items out of the hands of government officials. Instead, we more sensibly rely on providers of these essentials competing for our business. We are then able to choose the best cost/quality compromise for our needs from among competing providers.
In short, we do what all Americans do well—shop. As it stands, for your child’s public education you cannot shop; it is take it or leave it at the school to which the authorities have allocated you.
Our elected officials might well consider passing a bill allowing parents to apply their child at any public school of their choosing without concern for residence.
Consider the implications.
In short, we would have a system where schools would compete and parents would shop. It works for food, shelter and clothing; it would work for public education.
Here are the indicators: The Educational Freedom Index, a project of the Wall Street Journal and Heritage Foundation, has scored parental public school choices in the 50 states. The rating favors states with smaller and less dense school districts, better charter school options, less homeschooling regulation and more vouchers. As one might expect, Hawaii had the worst rating.(1)
A major impact on the rating is the ability of parents to move their homes to another school district while keeping their jobs. For example, the average school district in the U.S. is small with just 3,200 students and parents can easily move from one school district to another.(2)
Hawaii would have to break up our one school district of 185,000 students into 58 separate ones just to be average for the U.S.(3) This would really enhance the ability for Hawaii parents to move their homes to one in a better school district.
The other interesting finding of the Freedom Index study is that there is a clear correlation between a state’s rating on the Freedom Index and its students’ educational achievements. That means, more parental choice; better student outcomes.
In addition, there is also a correlation between a state’s smaller average district size and superior student outcomes. The best ten states for students’ scores have half the average school district size as those of the worst ten states.(4)
So, let’s forget the DOE’s latest deckchair shuffling attempt and decentralize to 58 self-governing independent school districts funded individually by the state. This will only give us an average school district size for the U.S., but it’s a start.
For education: Let our people go; let them shop.
Cliff Slater is a regular columnist whose footnoted columns are at www.lava.net/cslater