A New Model for Schools in Washington

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I don’t blame anyone for the failure of our schools. I can’t identify anyone in this world who wakes up in the morning with the clear intent to destroy our kid’s education and future. Even radical communists who want to overthrow the system don’t want children to grow up and be stupid—measured, of course, in their own mind.

However, it is clear that when we bring students, teachers, parents, administrators, school boards, legislators, congressmen, and the governor and president together, we get disaster.

If the people can’t be blamed, then the only thing we can blame is the system. We are bringing these resources together in the wrong way. We have set up a system where teachers don’t benefit when students benefit, parents don’t see a need to be involved, administrators don’t work in the interests of the teachers and students, and everything is a disaster.

The Tacoma School District is enacting some mild reforms. These will probably be ineffective in addressing the real problems the black population in our area is facing, just like every other “reform” that came before. I can all but guarantee that ten years from now, the black population will be in an even worse position if we continue down this path.

Let me propose a different system.

In the business world, business leaders identify ways in which two competing businesses actually can work together to both of their benefit. These are called “synergies”, to use an over-used word. This simply means an energy or a benefit that comes from working together rather than apart.

Let me expose one. You local grocer sells stuff to you. You go in and buy it. Both of you, at the end of the day, are extremely happy. You have food, and the grocer made a little extra money that day. That’s a synergy. Normally, grocers and shoppers would be in conflict with each other—you want goods for free, while grocers just want your money. But some ingenious business leader identified how to make you feel good about yourself while you gave up a little cash and got a little food in exchange.

You don’t have to look very hard or far to find synergies in the business world. They exist everywhere a business transaction occurs. Successful businesses constantly identify new synergies and exploit them on a regular basis, making their partners happy in the process.

Why can’t we have the same thing in our schools?

Let me identify a few reforms we need that will allow schools to exploit the same synergy.

First, we need a business leader. This is someone who steps forward, identifies an opportunity, and then organizes people who can help realize this opportunity and at the same time benefit themselves. We need a system where anyone can step forward and start a school.

Once schools are established, there has to be a leader, a CEO of sorts, that keeps that school running. This is likely a principal or someone similar.

These business leaders have to take responsibility, from start to finish, for everything. In exchange, they should be compensated for their work, in whatever form that might take. Let’s say someone puts together a school that everyone wants to go to. It charges $10,000 tuition, but only costs $5,000. I don’t mind seeing the creator of that school take home the extra $5,000 for each kid. He created the school and saw to it that $5,000 was turned into something more valuable than $10,000. He has a Midas touch when it comes to education.

Second, we need students. More importantly, we need parents who send their children to school as students. This is a really important feature of the system. By allowing parents to choose their school, we give the power to choose winners and losers to the parents. Schools which attract a lot of parents will have lots of money. Schools which don’t attract any parents have to close down. The CEO of the school has to create a school that entices parents to send their children to that school and be actively engaged. Otherwise, they don’t get to have a school to be CEO of.

A great deal has been said about charter schools and school vouchers. Both were tried in Washington State, and both failed due to a lack of political will. I don’t think we really need any of those special systems though. We already track school funding based on enrollment. In a way, that is a school voucher system. We simply need to expand the options of the parents.

A great way to do this is to build more schools. Rather than building huge schools that are one-size-fits all, let’s build thousands and thousands and thousands of smaller schools. Let’s have a school on every residential block. Let’s have schools where there are only one or two teachers, and where the teachers are completely in charge. Let’s have schools that teach only a few grades, or several grades. Let’s have schools that focus on math or science or reading or whatever. Let’s have as many schools and as many kinds of schools as we have of restaurants and grocery stores.

The state legislature can do a lot to help this happen. They can make it possible for schools to be built with private funds. They can limit the number of regulations on what schools have to provide so that smaller schools can thrive. They can also limit the power of the school districts to limit competition within their district by sending the money for the students directly to the school where they are enrolled.

If a school is successful, let the extra proceeds of that success be used to build more schools or to build centers to teach people how to build their own successful schools.

I don’t think this reform is very difficult. I don’t think it would cause the unions much worry, either. After all, the unions can negotiate with the schools however they see fit–either one at a time, or all at once. As a bonus, we can even rewrite the law to allow teachers to go on strike and drive the school into bankruptcy as the students flee to other schools.

In short, we need a fundamental shift in how we run our schools, and I believe having small, independently-managed schools is the answer.

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