Per pupil spending in America in 2013 was about $10,000. If you have 3 kids in school, a lot of you could quit your job–if only you could pocket the money the government spends on educating your kids–just to your educate kids.

What if we tried this:

  1. Let’s make standardized tests federally administrated, Common Core aligned, comprehensive with regard to the breadth of knowledge America deems important. And let’s have your child take these tests every year.
  2. If your child passes that year’s test, you can be appointed as custodian of his education money ($10,000) and use that money to education him wherever and however you would like to. This includes remaining in the public system or piecing his education together through private schools, academies, tutors, homeschooling.
  3. If, after being made custodian of his education money, your child fails a yearly test, you must relinquish control of the money back to the State and return to the public school system.
  4. If, you can educate your child for a lower amount than the $10,000 given you by the State, you can keep the remaining balance from year to year.
  5. For every passing student in a public institution, their school will receive a yearly monetary bonus to be distributed to all of the faculty within that school.

Nuts? Maybe. But we have a problem in America and maybe ‘nuts’ will solve it.

We always talk about failing schools. But what, in our schools, is failing? Here’s the obvious answer nobody will say:

Our children are failing. They are literally the ones failing the tests that lead us to say that our schools are failing.

Our children are failing, yet 100% of the liability and blame in our system goes to the teachers. We say “teachers’ unions” and “educational bureaucracy” so we don’t pin it on actual people but these are deflections. In America, our students are failing, and we are blaming the teachers.

Tell me: at a time when you can pull a glorified calculator out of your pocket, twiddle your thumbs, and find out definitively who the second Tenochtitlan ruler was: how is it a teacher’s fault, when your child does not know that we have 3 branches of Government? Does your teacher have access to special knowledge? Trade secrets? Books that aren’t available to the public?

We don’t have a culture that values education (in the sense that it feels LIABLE when education fails.) We have a culture that does not value education, but finds moral expedience in scapegoating one part of the system so that we can go on not valuing education.

With my experiment, both parents and teachers would be liable for our students’ education. If teachers were really failing their students, all a parent would need to do was to push their child for one year:

To pass a test.

And then they would be free to choose whatever educational or para-educational institution they felt would most benefit their child.

Parents would be motivated to help their child achieve proficiency so that they could control every penny of that money and possibly save some of it. Schools would be motivated because, for every student they helped to pass, they would receive extra funding. They could then, either adjust their tuition (due to the supplemented budget from bonuses) or hire more educators to augment their successes for the following year.

Parents and communities that constantly lament being trapped in their “failing school” would have the possibility of scraping together what time and help they could, to foster a passing child so that they could control exactly what school their child goes to. If they remained in their school with no escape, tied to that immobility would be the reality that they have not moved because their child has not learned; not because of some ambiguous claim that: “the school has failed.”

Private, para-educational institutions (subject-specific academies, tutors, private schools) could thrive, become competitive, and offer alternatives to public institutions. Within this diverse framework, actual educators could find institutions that fit their needs and put them first. They could focus on teaching and thrive both financially and professionally.

The financial hurt caused by inattention of the parents or the educator would be immediately felt in that the educator would forgo more money and the parent would forgo control of their money if either did not help the child learn. Unruly students would be shunned from both public and private institutions because the economic detriment they caused to all of the other students in that school would be more readily understood. Either their parents or their school would take more serious action to mitigate the unruly child’s impact on all the other students concerned.

For a more clear explanation of what I mean by this dynamic, let us look at the conversation we are having with regard to inner city schools. Everybody talks about such schools as some failing thing. But a school is made of teachers, parents, and students. Surely the building’s walls aren’t falling down and, even if they were, this would not have a direct effect on the students’ test scores. When one parent laments all of the middle class kids running off to the suburbs and how this is what ruined her school and how she wishes her child could escape, what is she saying?

She is saying that she wishes her child could get out of a classroom of other students who are failing, so that her child would not fail. So do the other parents of the students in that classroom. She wishes her child could get out of a school where so many other children are violent or insubordinate. So do the other parents in that school. But isn’t this an ironic position to take?

Maybe students A and B think that Student C is the problem so, if they could just escape where Student C was…things would be better. Maybe Students C and D think it’s student E’s fault. Point is, in an alphabet of a school, you need at least a third of the letters to be doing poorly in a number of metrics (academics, attendance, behavior) for any in the alphabet to view the school as failing.

In other words: WE are the problem. We are our schools. If our schools are failing, WE are failing. If we see the solution as something that we can grab hold of and keep, instead of something that must be given to us where we are, we will start to move forward, and once we are moving forward, we cannot be stopped.