Hey, Newark! Time to Separate School & State!
by Jacob G. Hornberger
A fascinating insight into the statist mind, specifically in the context of public schooling, came in the form of an op-ed by Ras J. Baraka, the mayor of Newark, New Jersey. Baraka’s op-ed, entitled “A New Start for Newark Schools,” was published in last Sunday’s edition of the New York Times.
Baraka beseeched the state of New Jersey to relinquish control over Newark’s public schools back to the city of Newark. He says he has a plan that will finally make Newark public schools succeed.
Why are Newark’s public schools under the control of the state rather than a local school board? Because 20 years ago, the schools were such an enormous mess under local control that the New Jersey State Department of Education had to step in and take control, in the process disbanding the local school board and installing a state superintendent.
As Baraka points out in his article, the move was supposed to be temporary. Instead, the state became the permanent operator of Newark’s public schools.
So, Newark’s public schools must be an absolutely fantastic success story, right? After all, New Jersey state officials have had almost 20 years to implement their plan for educating Newark’s students. What a great opportunity to show the state, the country, and the world what state officials can do when they’re free to implement their educational plans.
Alas, not so! In fact, Baraka is now trying to save Newark’s public schools from state officials, who apparently have made an even bigger mess than what they inherited 20 years ago.
Baraka’s op-ed provides excruciating details on the horror story that Newark’s public schools have been under state control, apparently an even bigger horror story than they were under local control. He even shows how $200 million in donations by Mark Zuckerberg to the public school system were essentially frittered away.
So, Baraka wants state officials to relinquish control over the public schools back to the city of Newark, whereupon he plans to appoint his own school superintendent and establish another locally elected school board.
Do you see something wrong with this picture? If so, go the head of the class and get a gold star!
At the risk of asking an obvious question, why would the situation be any different than it was back in 1995? If the schools were a mess then under local control, why wouldn’t they be mess again under local control?
There is an important lesson to be learned here: The reason that public schooling was a mess under local control and has been a mess under state control is that public schooling is an inherently defective system. When you’ve got a defective system, it doesn’t matter who’s in charge of it or who’s working in it. It’s still going to be a mess. That’s the nature of defective systems.
Why can’t these people see that?
We begin with the proposition that public schooling is government schooling. That should give you a clue as to how things are going to turn out right off the bat. But it’s worse than that. Public schooling is a socialist system. That’s in fact why public schooling has long been a core feature of Fidel Castro’s educational system in Cuba.
By now, we all know what socialism always produces — chaos and crises.
Whether the public school is owned and operated by a locally elected school board or by a state bureaucrat, the fact is that the system constitutes central planning, one of the variations of a socialist system. A government board, whether at a state or local level, is planning, in a top-down, command-and-control fashion, the educational decisions of thousands of students.
Funding is by taxation, which includes forcing people to pay for the system even if they don’t have any children in it.
The books and curriculum are established by the state.
Attendance is mandatory under compulsory-attendance laws.
The system is run like an army-lite. Memorization, conformity, and deference to authority are inculcated into every kid, just like in the army. Independent thinking is not welcome, especially if it calls into questions the “My government, right or wrong” concept of “patriotism” that government officials love to inculcate in young people.
Thus, why does it surprise anyone that Newark’s public schools are a mess, whether they’re run by the state board of education or a local school board?
There is only one solution to the education morass: the free market. The free market produces the best of everything. It would do the same in the field of education.
What the people of New Jersey and everywhere else need to do to achieve the best education for their children is separate school and state, just as our ancestors separated church and state. That would mean no more government involvement in education. No more compulsory-attendance laws. No more school taxes. No more government curriculum. No more army-lite. No more conformity, regimentation, and indoctrination.
In a free-market educational system, families would be in charge of the education of their children, and countless entrepreneurs would be vying for their business. Parents would be free to treat their children as unique — special — one-of-a-kind — rather than the cookie-cutter mold that the state uses in public schooling. Parents would be free to construct the educational program best suited for each of their children.
There really is no other way to save children from the educational morass in which they are mired. What better proof of that than what is happening in Newark, New Jersey?