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East County Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011 6 years ago

Our View: Fatal flaws of public schools


Last week provided great political-media entertainment in our little part of Florida. It also brought to light — again — the fatal flaws of public education.

Gov. Rick Scott visited the Observer Group office last week in Sarasota. And during a one-hour interview with editors — a session he later repeated with the editorial board down the street at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Scott said he wants to funnel more of our university tax dollars toward science, technology, engineering and math to help push his agenda of adding 700,000 private-sector jobs in seven years. And then, in a short breath after expressing that strategy, the governor added, “… While anthropology is really interesting, there are no jobs” in it.

When Scott said the same thing to Herald-Tribune editors, what followed was predictable. The pundits and anthropologists went blooey. Just imagine the clucking you would hear if you threw that proverbial fox into the chicken house.

The clucking went on for seven days, culminating with five letters to the editor in the Sunday Herald-Tribune and 15 letters from University of South Florida anthropology majors, all ripping into Scott.
But one of the letter writers, Deborah Landes, had it right. She wrote:

“Clearly, if the governor is sincere about wishing to create employment and foster entrepreneurship in our beautiful state, not to mention saving the taxpayers a bundle, the solution is to close down the entire state university system.”

She then said she was being satirical, a writing device she learned in a liberal arts college.

Fact is, she is right.

No matter how much more tax money the governor funnels into educating more engineers and scientists, the effects will be marginal at best. That’s the history of Florida public education over the past three decades. In truth, Florida’s public-education system — from pre-schools to the universities — needs to be blown up and wiped out. All education should be private-sector driven. No government involvement whatsoever.

Stick with us on this.

Public education is so flawed that, in spite of Scott’s intentions and efforts to change the university system’s focus (and we would urge him to stay on his course), the likelihood of his achieving dramatic effects are slim. Public education, at every level, is simply destined to mediocrity at best.

Sure, there can be and are pockets of excellence in Florida’s public education systems. But because of the constitutional mandate to provide “a uniform” system of free public schools; the fact 160 legislators control and manage the tax dollars and operations of Florida’s public schools; and the fact individual taxpayers have virtually no control over how their educational tax dollars are spent, you get what we have.

No matter how good some of Florida’s universities may be in certain disciplines, the perception and reputation of Florida public schools and universities nationally are not those of being among the country’s best, not by a long shot. And for deserved reasons; they aren’t.

Part of the fatal flaw is constitutionally requiring a “uniform system.” Every school is required to provide the same resources and levels of instruction to every child — essentially a form of collectivism.

But this can never work. A uniform public-school system can try, but it can never adequately meet the needs of every child. Nor would taxpayers pay what would be required to meet every child’s special needs.

To make matters worse, every year 160 legislators in Tallahassee micro-manage Florida’s schools and universities, dictating every aspect of how the schools must operate and how much money will be spent and where it will be spent. Imagine your business taking orders on how to operate from 160 legislators. What a nightmare.

In this structure, individual taxpayers are virtually powerless over how their money is used. Just consider Gov. Scott’s “STEM” initiatives. If, say, your college-age student has the passion and skills to be a great anthropologist, you would want him to have the same resources afforded to state-university engineering students. So who is Gov. Scott or those 160 legislators to decide what is the best way spend your educational tax dollars?

So letter-writer Deborah Landes was right — even though she wasn’t serious. The best way to improve education in Florida would be to turn all of it over to the private sector. Eliminate school taxes, and let parents, grandparents, educators and business people decide on their own how to educate Florida’s school-age and college-age children.

The power of the free market would be astonishing. Schools and universities would pop up to serve every level of need and specialization and every level of ability to pay. Just as we have cars and clothes that range from affordable to expensive, so it would be with schools and universities.

Competition would drive up the quality of education and drive down the cost. Accountability would be instant. If a school failed to meet its customers’ needs, it would go out of business. Teachers would be compensated on the basis of skill and performance. No more guarantees of tenure or union collectivism.

The use of technology would explode, revolutionizing how children are taught. And parents would have control over how their money is spent.

Think about the freedom and educational entrepreneurism parents would experience if the $22 billion a year that is spent on Florida’s public education were left in the hands of individual Floridians.

Give Gov. Scott credit for trying to initiate educational change. But Florida needs more than that. If Floridians want a different economic and educational destiny than what they’ve had for the past 30 years, they need more than change. They need an educational revolution.

The real Rick Scott
It happened several times last week after Gov. Rick Scott visited The Observer Group office. Readers asked us: “What was the governor like?”

They said they read about his official pronouncements and legislative agenda, but they wanted to know what he was like as a person.

The accompanying photo pretty much says it all — Gov. Scott laughing with young Alex Mahadevan, son of Kumar and Linda Mahadevan of Siesta Key and a recently hired writer/editor at the Gulf Coast Business Review.

Dressed in a business-casual shirt with a Florida emblem on his chest, carrying a “grande” cup of Starbucks, Scott was at ease, relaxed and friendly.

When he entered the Observer office, he walked around the entire floor, shaking hands to meet and chat with every staffer in the room — roughly 30 people at the time. He asked each staffer’s name and what he did for the company.

And in many instances, he engaged in conversation, the highlight of which had to be his encounter with 23-year-old Mahadevan. Ever the un-politically correct comedian, young Mahadevan made the governor nearly guffaw when he introduced himself by saying to the governor: “Hi, I’m Alex Mahadevan, the company’s token minority.” When Scott realized Mahadevan was joking, the governor broke into a grin and started chatting about Saturday Night Live skits that reminded him of Mahadevan’s sense of humor.

By the time the governor left the building — an hour after his arrival — the common refrain among Observer Group staffers was: “He’s just a regular guy.”

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