State lawmakers will surely haggle over education policy this legislative session, but hopefully they will remember the purpose of any education system during their battle over budgets: excellence in education and an equal opportunity for every child to succeed. The term “education reform” has taken on many meanings since its inception, but its foundations are based on educational freedom: Freedom for parents to determine their child’s education; freedom from the teachers unions that cloak ineffective teachers; and freedom from the archaic ideas of what creates a successful individual. It is disheartening that some fight against the idea of educational freedom and even cling to the status quo. After all, isn’t America the land of the free?
Without educational freedom, the United States will fail to develop career and college ready students prepared for a global economy and a successful future. International test scores prove American children can barely keep pace with their global counterparts. As the United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said of the results of the Program of International Student Assessment (PISA), “…[t]he big picture of U.S. performance on the 2012 PISA is straightforward and stark: It is a picture of educational stagnation.”
If America does not break out of the traditional ideas governing education and embrace student-focused, accountable systems of education, America will no longer have a productive society that is globally competitive. Excellence in education is the answer to most, if not all, economic concerns, and is the birth place of innovation. Without respect for the parent and the learner, there will be no one capable of filling an ever-growing and changing workforce. Educational freedom is vital and it needs to happen now.
Some states are instituting legislation that demands excellence in education through educational freedoms, and those states are reaping the benefits of truly prepared, high-achieving students. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the nation’s report card, is the largest continuing and nationally representative assessment of what our nation’s fourth and eighth-graders know and can achieve in reading and math. NAEP is also empirical proof that states with greater educational freedom experience significant gains in student achievement.
Take Indiana, which jumped in NAEP rankings from 17th in 2011 to 4th in 2013 by expanding school choice options, employing high-quality teachers and instituting ambitious academic standards. Similarly, the District of Columbia and Tennessee demonstrated statistically significant gains in all four NAEP tests while at the same time expanding school choice options.
However, not all states embrace educational freedom. West Virginia, for example, holds steady at 50th and provides no school choice options and consequently little opportunity for parental involvement. Likewise, Kentucky provides no school choice and is ranked 42nd by NAEP. Other states ranked at 40th or lower include Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina and South Dakota.
Thomas Jefferson once said, “I like the dreams of the future rather than the history of the past.” These words are as true now as the day he spoke them. All Americans should heed Jefferson’s message, abandon the failing education systems of the past and establish educational freedoms where future dreams are made possible. And there is no better place to cultivate true educational freedom than in the states: States are the true hubs of innovation. State policymakers know best the educational needs of their unique populations and states are the most invested in ensuring they encourage the next generation of leaders capable of filling specific workforce needs.
Charter schools, opportunity scholarships, digital learning opportunities, blended learning capabilities, private schools, teacher effectiveness and educational savings accounts are proven options that expand parental choice and educational freedom. Excellence in education should be every state’s number one legislative priority in 2015 and every year following. If we do not prepare our students with the ability to think critically, solve real-world problems and do so in a way that is competitive with the rest of the world, America will fail. Educational freedom is key to the success of this nation.
Lindsay Russell Dexter is the director of the Task Force on Education at the American Legislative Exchange Council, the largest nonprofit association of state legislators dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism. Lindsay is the editor of the Report Card on American Education, an annual report that ranks states based on education policies. Learn more about the report at www.alec.org/reportcard.