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Government Destroys Education, Thereby Destroying Lives


A Vacant Detroit School

Last week a report was released estimating that 47% of Detroiters are functionally illiterate, meaning that they cannot read. Of the 200,000 Detroit adults who are functionally illiterate*, half of them have a high school diploma or a GED.  The remaining 100,000 of these functionally illiterate adults (age 25 and older) lack a high school diploma or GED, yet most of them attended Detroit public schools through primary school, where basic reading was supposed to have been taught.  So effectively, there are 200,000 adults in Detroit who have been failed by public education.

I wonder how many public education advocates saw this report as an opportunity to demand more money for public education as opposed to considering for a second that the public education model is destroying lives. Detroit, once a hub of innovation, production and prosperity has turned into the poster child for urban decay. Detroit was the richest city in the nation as of 1960, but by 2007 the U.S. Census Bureau declared that Detroit had more people living below poverty level (32.5%) than any other city in the country. In the past decade alone the city has lost 25% of its population. Clearly there’s something very wrong going on in Detroit, and that thing is government. Government policies in Detroit have assaulted business, encouraged sloth, taken money out of the real economy and lavished that money on special interests and public employees while ignoring the rapidly descending quality of life. It also created an education system that is pathetic even by public education standards.

Public school advocates have been telling us for years that if we just gave them more money they’d be able to deliver great education. Well, Detroit gave them plenty of money.  Detroit spends more per student per year on public education than do all but a small handful of cities, yet in terms of results, such as high school graduation rates, their outcomes are abysmal. The problem isn’t too little money to spend, the problem is that the government is the one spending the money. Government is never a good steward of tax dollars. One only needs to look at how they spend our money. For example, in 2010, out of a $910 million budget, Detroit planned to pay $48 million in transportation costs, or $2,800 per student receiving transportation. They budgeted another $117 million to go directly into the Michigan Public Schools Employees Retirement System, $128 million in health benefits, and $22 million on servicing their debt. Since 2010 they’ve been able to justify spending an additional $5.6 million on a new police headquarters and  tens of millions more in technology upgrades. I just listed off a few hundred million dollars of spending that were not spent teaching a single child to read or write.

Detroit teachers, meanwhile, have also had money thrown at them.  While the (2008) per capita income in the city of Detroit was only $15,177, the average (2009) teacher salary at the Detroit Public Schools, paid for by taxpayers, was $71,031.  In addition to those inflated salaries, Detroit teachers also participate in a pension scheme and they get health benefits, nearly $250 million in annual costs to the taxpayer as highlighted in the previous paragraph. Teachers also get time off during holiday and summer breaks. I wonder how much more teachers need to be paid or how many more benefits they need to get in order to get kids to stay in school or learn to read. Perhaps because of the inflated salaries and benefits, the teachers unions in Detroit have been historically aggressive toward competition, such as charter schools. In 2003 a philanthropist offered use $200 million of his personal fortune to build 15 charter public schools in the city in which he would guarantee a 90 percent graduation rate. The local teachers union forced him to abandon his plans because the charter schools would not be unionized, which would have jeopardized the teachers union’s ability to demand fat paychecks for their members.

In a backward, but fortunate way, the terrible failure of the public school system in conjunction with the fiscal ineptitude of local government has forced the hand of the bureaucrats who control the system in Detroit. They recently agreed to cut the number of schools in half while converting a third of them into charter schools. While these actions seem positive, especially relative to their sad history, they don’t address the underlying problem: the government. So long as the government is taking money from taxpayers and funneling that money into the public education system, taxpayers will continue to get poorer and parents will continue to ignore their responsibility to educate their children. So long as parents are limited to district schools, and maybe some charter schools via a lottery, low cost providers of superior education will be locked out of the marketplace. With virtually nonexistent competition for students, the schools have little incentive to improve.

Just as Detroit is unlikely to slash taxes, loosen up regulation, and reduce labor restrictions that would allow its real economy to heat up, Detroit is unlikely to privatize the public school system and give each child a voucher which would lead to better education opportunities for children.  Parents need to realize that while we can point to Detroit as the worst of the worst when it comes to public education, that public education everywhere suffers from the same problems. Parents should not hold out hope that Detroit can inch its way toward the low standard of other public school systems. A worthless education destroys ambition, creativity and intellectual curiosity in children, and by doing so it destroys future opportunities for those children. A worthless education often destroys lives. Parents do not have to accept the sorry state of public schools. Parents can give their children a real education, and lead them toward a real future. Parents can homeschool their kids.

* Functionally illiterate refers to the inability of an individual to use reading, speaking, writing and computational skills in everyday life situations.


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2 Responses to " Government Destroys Education, Thereby Destroying Lives "

  1. If I could share this article in more ways than I already have, I would. I will retweet and share this for weeks, months and years to come. In addition to your wonderful work, and guidance, and in helping my family remain committed to home/unschooling–I am from the Detroit area. I grew up in a suburb. I now sit from my NC home and watch my HS and college friends struggle. I cannot believe what government and union corruption have done to my beloved city and state. Thank you for all you do.

    • Antonio Buehler says:

      Thank you Shannon, I hope you enjoy our other posts as well.
      Hopefully Detroit and Michigan can learn from their mistakes and ultimately rise from the ashes. Unfortunately, I don’t see it happening anytime soon.

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