Public school students and their parents were victimized twice in the last month. First, the U.S. Supreme Court, because of the untimely death of Justice Antonin Scalia, continued to allow teacher unions in California to coerce their members to pay union dues, which provides the unions with the liquidity to extort compliance with their agenda from our state legislators and local officials. Second, a California Appeals Court overruled a lower court that had declared the unseemly practice of tenure and seniority to be unconstitutional.
As an eternal optimist, I had erroneously concluded that it was only a matter of time until the public would get fed up with the dismal performance of our public schools and demand reform. Well, I have lived in California for 28 years and I am still waiting. The sad fact is that nothing has changed over all these years.
The huge bureaucracy in Sacramento promulgating thousands of pages of nonsensical rules and the career bureaucrats and craven politicians too timid to confront the teacher unions are still firmly entrenched in their position of power over the public school system in this state. Test scores are still abysmal and too many students are graduating our high schools wholly unprepared to pursue a college education or find gainful employment in our new information-based economy.
In Santa Barbara, the poor performance of our public schools has left us with mostly ethnically segregated elementary schools, because an overwhelming percentage of the dominant demographic racial group has lost confidence that their children will receive an adequate education. Only the very poor and those without alternatives send their children to public elementary schools in Santa Barbara. The precipitously declining enrollment numbers in the district substantiate these trends over the last two decades.
It has now become very apparent to me that the reform we need to change the culture of our schools is never going to happen. Instead of pushing for incremental change, we need to disentangle the government from our schools. In other words, we need to privatize them.
We need to take the entire education budget in California and parcel it out to parents in the form of vouchers. Why shouldn't all the people in Santa Barbara not have the same opportunities as the very fortunate who get to send their children to high-performing schools?
Many very successful charter school companies, such as KIPP, Uncommon Schools, Yes Prep, College Ready Alliance and Green Dot, could surely be persuaded to come to Santa Barbara. The existing school buildings and infrastructure could be turned over to them to house their schools.
Parents can choose their schools like we choose restaurants when we go out to eat. If we don't like the food, we go to another restaurant where the food is more palatable. Similarly, if parents lose confidence in a poorly performing school, they can send their children elsewhere. Like the restaurant that fails to attract customers, the school will go out of business. Let the marketplace impose the discipline to reward success and punish failure.
As the quintessential pioneering innovator and risk taker, Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, said in a 1995 interview with the Smithsonian Institution, "the customers of education are ultimately the parents, and if we went to a full voucher system, you could have 25-year-old students out of college, very idealistic, full of energy. Instead of starting a Silicon Valley company, they'd start a school. I believe that they would do far better than any of our public schools would."
I am tired of waiting for the change we have been promised by our self-serving politicians and the public school establishment. As Einstein said, "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result." Well, I am not insane and our children shouldn't be consigned to a lifetime of failure because our generation failed at what should be our most important task: to equip our descendants with the tools to achieve their greatest potential. How much longer can we afford to wait?
Lou Segal, The author lives in Santa Barbara.
Produced for Lou Segal 2020 - All Rights Reserved.