Five Biggest Problems: Public Education

Five Biggest Problems: Public Education September 19, 2011

Part of a series on the Five Biggest Problems Facing America:


5. Unnecessary wars

4. Inequalities in public education

3. Corporate tax loopholes (Tuesday)

2. Medicare (Wednesday)

1. Money in politics (Thursday)

Conclusion (Friday)

I am very, very privileged in that I went to one of the best public school systems in the world — that’s right, I’d say the world, not just in the U.S. And my children now attend this same school system, which is showered with awards and accolades regularly.

But many kids in America do not get this great educational start. Instead, they are at schools that have well-meaning but overworked and undervalued teachers.

What’s the difference? Of course, it’s the fact that I live in a suburb that’s full of relatively wealthy people. We have a strong property tax base, and we have a population that demands top-notch schools, as much for property values as for the good of our children.

There are other problems with public education, like the myopic focus on test scores. But I think that the inequalities of funding, and therefore teaching and resources, is the root cause of our struggling educational system.

Here’s the deal: If we’re going to have a public education system, we need to fund it robustly, and across the board. There’s no point in having public schools if they don’t have money. And there’s really no point in having a public education system if families can take the public money earmarked for the education of their children in the form of a voucher and pay for a private school. That undercuts the entire system — it does not increase competitiveness, as its advocates claim.

We’ve got enough experience as a country now to determine what things the government does well, and what things it does not do well. Our government has done a good job at educating us and our children for generations, though we seem to be slipping in that regard. If we’re going to keep offering public education, we cannot do it half-assed. We either need to go all-in, or fold and get out of that game.

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