The late 1970’s in the United States was a time of surprising deregulation. It was the beginning of the end for the telephone monopolies. Those inside the regulated industries, and the regulatory agencies warned of doom and disaster if competition were allowed. The doomsayers were wrong. The free market provided solutions that were impossible to forecast. Competition and the profit motive brought out the best that humans can create.
Communications solutions today are employing far more people than the old phone monopolies, and are delivering services never dreamed of in that era. The forecasts of disastrous unemployment and system collapse if the phone monopolies were opened to competition were totally and completely wrong.
K-12 is the phone monopoly of our time
This seems like the best time in years to truly reform K-12. However, the focus seems to be on charter schools, leaving behind thousands of students in poorly performing districts, and most proposed solutions leave out home schooling.
The fundamental problem is the lack of competition. There is a simple way to introduce it.
Instead of pouring money into the local school monopolies, the solution is to simply endow individual students. Open the door to the free market in a meaningful way.
We should create an individual educational endowment fund for each K-12 student. Student endowment funds would pay out annually for students who achieved minimum grade level knowledge, including to the parents of homeschooled students. The determination of minimum achievement would be through testing, with the tests also from free market providers.
Providers for students who did poorly would not be paid, leaving twice the annual amount available next year to educators who could catch them up. Seriously underperforming students would accrue several years of catch-up funding, providing extra incentive for the type of personalized attention that would benefit them. For example, military veteran servicemen and women teaching small groups of students, developing personal relationships, could change lost kids into enthusiastic young adults.
This educational free market would have benefits beyond the K-12 classroom. Opening educational services will allow for practical job related instruction, and college level courses, to be included as providers fight for market share. Furthermore, competition among educational providers will make full use of technology, will provide useful training for actual jobs, and will deliver far more education for the same money. Gamification could keep students involved in ways that existing K-12 material can’t touch.
Instead of leaving dropouts to fend for themselves, the funds could remain on deposit indefinitely, allowing those who get their act together after some time in the adult world to get an education.
Modeling the idea will show that existing school structures and transportation fleets will be used, more than with charter schools. Most school systems will continue as they are, but a new element of potential competition will focus their efforts.
The new providers will be renting space and transportation for their offerings in most cases from existing school districts. Just as with telecom deregulation, it will take several years to see the full impact, but requiring minimum accomplishment for payout will protect students and taxpayers as solutions evolve.
Homeschooling pods will explode, but those kids will still participate on local sports teams, and transportation to practice (and back) will also be rented from existing fleets by their parents. Special needs students would still have extra funding, but at an individual student level. Homeschoolers would be an unstoppable force for reform if a realistic plan to pay them existed. The endowment idea would do it.
There is no way to fix the current K-12 situation beyond radical demonopolizing. I can see a future where school infrastructure is owned by large competitive providers in much the same way Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, etc. operate today, fighting for market share by providing educational services that work and that kids and parents want.
This is a great opportunity to dramatically improve the way we educate our children.