Would you trade your brand-new car for an Edsel? Or your iPhone for an antiquated mainframe computer the size of your living room?
Most people wouldn’t dream of making such a choice — at least not unless forced to do so. But many American children face a similar situation each day when they head to school. For while some children in our nation’s schools do receive a quality education, many do not. Archaic obstacles — a tenure system first developed early in the last century, and an education bureaucracy in Washington created as part of the Great Society five decades ago — often stand in the way of progress.
We need to create a modern educational system for the modern challenges future generations will face — a competitive, interconnected global economy, where students from Charleston and Baton Rouge will compete with those from Chengdu and Bombay. Creating that system involves reforms large and small — but three guiding principles.
First, give parents choices. Simply put, that means allowing education dollars to follow the child — to the best options parents select for their children. No one cares more, and knows better, about children than the parents who bore and raised them. We should restore parents’ rightful place in education by empowering them with more choices and better choices. Charter schools, private school scholarships, online learning, educational savings accounts, vocational education, partnerships with businesses — we need them all. Every child has unique skills, interests and abilities, and we should provide parents with as many good choices as possible to maximize their children’s talent.
Second, limit government involvement. Over the past half-century, Washington has built an ever-sprawling bureaucracy, attempting to impose its will on local school districts through a growing series of financial carrots and sticks. Common Core represents Exhibit A of why federal control needs to revert back to states — and ultimately to local school boards wherever possible. We should also eliminate unnecessary government programs and protect student privacy while we’re at it.
Third, liberate educators, allowing teachers to teach. Too often, qualified individuals find entering the teaching profession difficult — while tenure grants lifetime job guarantees to teachers with as few as three years’ experience. Right now, education policy has it backwards — instead of high barriers to entry and low barriers to retention, we should remove impediments to entry, but make permanent retention a tougher bar to achieve. Reforming training, preparation and certification requirements would also attract talent from other professions while restoring a focus on the ultimate goal — creating effective teachers in the classroom.
These three steps sound simple — and in many ways, they are. Implementing them has proven difficult. The forces that have created our current education bureaucracy over many decades fight hard to preserve the broken status quo. But children only grow up once, and the next generation can’t afford to wait years, or decades, until we enact the reforms they need to receive a great education.
The good news is that we’re making progress and slowly changing the conversation. In Louisiana, we passed tenure reform and doubled the number of charter schools. Fully 70,000 students now attend charter schools across the state, and our Recovery School District has 100 percent charter school enrollment.
We also expanded a scholarship program created for New Orleans to the entire state. As a result of these efforts, the graduation rate in New Orleans rose 18 percentage points since 2004, while the percentage of failing schools plummeted from 67 percent in 2005 to 17 percent. More than nine in ten parents are satisfied with the statewide scholarship program, and little wonder: From 2008 to 2013, proficiency among scholarship students rose 20 percentage points in third grade English language arts and 28 points in math.
And in South Carolina, the state has recently implemented a scholarship program for children with special needs, ensuring parents that their children have the opportunity to attend a school with the resources to help them reach their potential.
These results provide some inkling of what true education reform can bring if extended to every school, teacher and child across our land. We are gaining momentum, from victories in states like to Louisiana and South Carolina, to growing support for Sen. Scott’s CHOICE Act in the Senate.
The principles outlined above, and the specific proposals in the America Next paper released Monday, will bring our nation’s education system into the iPhone age once and for all. We hope educators, parents and policy-makers of all political stripes will embrace the solutions we offer; America’s children deserve nothing less.
Bobby Jindal is the governor of Louisiana and Tim Scott is a U.S. Senator representing South Carolina. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions for editorials, available at this link.