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In 1983 a special report prepared by President Ronald Reagan’s administration noted that “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.” Sadly, in the 30+ years since the release of A Nation at Risk, little has changed, particularly for the poorest and most vulnerable of students.

Modest gains made in early years of learning largely disappear by the time students are preparing to leave school and enter the world of work or head off to college. High school seniors do little better in math and reading than 12th graders from decades ago, and low-income students and most minority children fare poorly compared to others. American students overall are in the middle of the pack when compared to students in other nations, although they do tend to score well on measures of self-esteem.

Creating an education system that prepares students for life, including being able to compete in the global economy and be contributing members of society, requires innovation and upending decades of union obstruction, bureaucratic sclerosis, and educational malpractice.

K-12 education reform should be centered on the principle that it’s the needs of students that matter above all else, not teachers, administrators, or particular schools or programs. Funding should be tied directly to students, and educational institutions should compete for students and their funding.

Policies that accomplish this include vouchers, education savings accounts, or tax credits allowing students to use public funds and private schools, including those that are religiously affiliated or for-profit. Charter schools, magnet schools, and concepts such as Weighted Student Funding also can be effective ways of ensuring schools compete based on delivering a quality education. Policies that support or at least don’t interfere with homeschooling must also be promoted.

Federal involvement in education should be scaled back to ensure states and local communities retain effective control of education and bureaucratic red tape is minimized. This means the No Child Left Behind law should be repealed or dramatically reformed to be less intrusive, and other federal programs should be eliminated or funding and freedom to innovate given to state and local communities.


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