Wednesday, October 31, 2007

US Should Take India's Lead On Education

Shikha Dalmia from Reason magazine writes an op-ed for The Chicago Tribune on how to improve America’s deteriorating education school system. Her suggestion: take India’s lead.

But, unlike the United States, the Indian government does not penalize schools that don't meet its expectations. Parents do. India has a robust private kindergarten through 12th-grade market that almost all middle-class and above families use. James Tooley, an education professor in England, found that 75 percent of children even in some urban slums attend private schools. The upshot is that parents can yank their kids out of substandard schools that don't prepare them adequately for the "boards" and enroll them in ones that do. The exams simply put crucial information in their hands to make comparisons.

This might seem counterintuitive to the American teaching establishment given its legendary hostility to school choice, but parental accountability is actually empowering for teachers as well. Because parents in India pick the schools their children attend, they are far less prone to blame teachers when their children underperform -- and far more to prod their kids to take responsibility. Even when a few disgruntled parents do pull their kids, they don't threaten the financial health of the whole institution. This is in stark contrast to No Child Left Behind, where a few failing kids could jeopardize federal funding for the entire school.
As far as I can remember, Indians—those that can afford it—have been sending their children to private schools (preferably English-medium schools). The public education system, like many of India’s government institutions, is decrepit and riven with corruption and inefficiency. And with a growing middle-class, the demand for private schools has grown by leaps and bounds.

The quality of these schools is reflected in the students they produce. They are smart, talented, ambitious, and speak English fluently. No wonder the United States imports thousands of Indians each year to work in jobs natives are, sad to say, incapable of doing because their education system fails them in instilling skills needed for the 21st century: less brawn, more brains.

The article essentially makes the case for vouchers, which I wholeheartedly support.