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Monday, February 27, 2017

School Choice Will Restore Our Competitive Edge

Global competition is fierce, but when it comes to education, the United States is mediocre at best.

In his inauguration speech, President Donald Trump asserted, “We must protect our border from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.”

There’s just one problem with Trump’s Carrier deal: the jobs are not actually staying.

Throughout his campaign, Trump made it clear that manufacturing jobs have been leaving the U.S. for far too long, while the politicians who betrayed middle-class Americans in favor of offshore production watched from the comfort of Washington.

Trump noted that as president and “Dealmaker-in-Chief” he would engender a second golden age of American manufacturing.  

President-Elect, Donald Trump put this fanfaronade into action, making a very visible deal with Carrier to save jobs from leaving Indiana for Mexico.  

There’s just one problem: the jobs are not actually staying.

Where Are the Jobs?

Carrier announced that it would begin investing in automation to keep costs down, ultimately leading to fewer jobs. With increasing labor costs in China, expansion and continuation of offshore production has become less appealing to U.S. companies, thus prompting a return of manufacturing to the U.S.

However, as the cost of technology decreases, the use of automation has begun to increase. If more plants open in the U.S., it will be robots performing the bulk of the labor, not humans.

Manufacturing will not return to previous levels. With jobs in other sectors also ripe for automation, government policies intended to protect workers against this trend will most likely be unsuccessful and Luddite-inspired.

When it comes to global academics, the U.S. education system is mediocre at best.

It’s no doubt that many Americans have felt the effects of increased globalization; the disappearance of good-paying jobs combined with the disastrous consequences of the 2008 financial crisis have left many people feeling angry and marginalized. Thus, Trump’s call to “bring jobs back” has been met with praise by his supporters.

But, in the words of Milton Friedman:

“If all we want are jobs, we can create any number — for example, have people dig holes and then fill them up again, or perform other useless tasks… our real objective is not just jobs but productive jobs — jobs that will mean more goods and services to consume.”  

On that account, attempts to reverse current trends will not only prove ineffective, but will harm the U.S. economy in the long run.  

So how do we prepare for the continued effects of globalization and job-displacing technological advancement? Education is the answer, but not in its current form.

Global competition is fierce, as the rest of the world races to catch up with the American innovation engine. However, when it comes to education on a global level, the U.S. education system is mediocre at best.  

It’s expensive too, with the U.S. ranking fifth among OECD countries in per-pupil spending, but ranking 27th in mathematics. With many school districts arguing that increased funding will improve educational outcomes, they need only look to the fact that many countries outpacing the U.S. in student achievement spend considerably less than the U.S.

If we want the U.S. to compete academically, we need to open it up to what we do best: innovation.  

Bureaucratic red tape keeps qualified and creative teachers out of the classroom.

Yes, this means school choice.

Let Good Teachers Teach

Unfortunately, school choice has become a highly politicized term, but underpinning this term is the concept of market competition.  

School districts across the country continue to have ballooning administrations. In many districts, the number of non-teaching staff is approaching the number of teachers. Such is the case in Wake County Public Schools, one of the largest school districts in the country.  

Bureaucratic red tape continues to not only hamper innovation in the classroom, but also keep qualified and creative teachers out. Take for instance teaching certification, which acts as a barrier to entry to the profession.  

An individual with a master’s degree or PhD in the subject he or she wishes to teach (as well as experience as a teaching assistant at an undergraduate institution) would not be “qualified” to teach at a high school before moving through the costly and time-consuming process of procuring a teaching certification.  

This is something I learned quickly, as I made the decision to change careers and become a teacher; in the current educational regime of my state, I was quickly told that I was “unqualified” to teach without a certification, despite having an advanced degree and formal research experience in my intended teaching subject.  

The excesses of bureaucratic red tape are not only present in the employment of teachers, but in the delineation of curriculum as well. In-classroom discretion has been removed, as standards and educational goals are directed by a top-down approach via Washington. This approach is hardly one that moves quickly or in-line with a rapidly evolving global environment.  

The Market of School Choice

School choice opens education to the market forces that have fostered innovation and propelled the United States forward as a world leader in technology development. In the same way one shops around for any other goods or services, one may pick a school that presents strong evidence of providing the educational outcomes needed to be successful.  

If unhappy with the education provided, a parent simply has to vote with his or her feet. Perhaps in this regard, a parent may choose a school that will not only provide benefit through a strong program in math, science, and technology but also through the development of employer-coveted critical thinking and writing skills.  

Perhaps more programs will arise that will allow students the opportunity to learn skills in such areas as coding and telecommunications repair. Not only may innovation through school choice promote increased competitiveness of our youth, it may also foster within them a love for learning about the world around them.  One thing is for certain, though; the wheels of government turn too slowly to prompt a change on its own.  


  • Tyler is a teacher at Thales Academy, a classical school in North Carolina.