Education Cannot Be Improved by Simply Giving Public Schools More Money

by | Mar 31, 2023

So, what could we do to improve education? Here are some ideas.

Think twice about this.

The American public school system is a mess. Our students, on average, rank way down the list as compared to students from other economically advanced countries. While results differ amongst surveys, the sad pattern is clear: as a country, America ranks low on every international survey (Bendix, 2018).

Public schools are state monopolies, and, as with all monopolies, the teachers’ unions are concerned heavily with self-aggrandizement: more pay, more power, and less focus on the basics, such as reading and writing, than on the latest trends and fads. Schools even decide which fiction books to approve, some of which parents do not approve of. They fight about sex education.

Competent, heroic, public school teachers do exist, but merit pay is hard to come by. Beyond that, unions consistently oppose charter schools because they do not want competition from less unionized or non-unionized schools.

So, what could we do? Here are some ideas.

  1. Forbid all attempts by unions to continue blocking (honestly run) charter schools.
  2. Support opportunities for parents to choose alternative or non-public educational opportunities. This could include calculating the taxpayer dollars that would go to a child’s public-school education and, instead, letting all parents use this money to spend on education as they choose. This would, of course, require some oversight to protect against fraud and parents misusing the money.

Recently, the Supreme Court ruled in Carson v. Makin that religious school kids have the same right to aid as public school kids. One could make the argument that this is a poor idea because of the importance of separating church and state. But one might reasonably argue in response that if by law the state is going to support education through taxation, every child should get the same amount of government aid.

  1. Make more use of computer programs for teaching specific lessons.
  2. Fire any teacher who tries to use the whole word method rather than phonics to teach reading. (The research on this universally favors the latter; the whole word method fosters illiteracy and would represent educational malpractice.)
  3. Adopt the Montessori Method in every school up through sixth grade. I have studied this method for years, and this is the best educational system that I know of. The Montessori Method focuses on the basics, and not on political propagandizing. (I recommend two excellent books by Charlotte Cushman: Montessori: Why it Matters for Your Child’s Success and Happiness and Effective Discipline the Montessori Way.)
  4. Encourage parents to push their children relentlessly to get educated, which includes completing all homework, as well as reading and learning with their parents’ help and on their own. This will determine the types of schools they can attend later, the careers they can pursue, their future income, and even the type of people they will meet.

An important added benefit of these recommendations would be to give parents more choice. Many are justifiably outraged by what they consider to be arbitrary choices of school boards about curriculum (e.g., creating White guilt about slavery—which is not the same as teaching about the history of slavery, which is legitimate—in five-year-olds. Pushing a particular view of sexuality long before young children can understand what is going on, teaching that morality is subjective, selecting books that the school boards like and rejecting those books that parents like). Propagandizing is often done at the expense of teaching core subjects, such as reading, writing, and math, which are essential for thriving in life and represent the areas in which American schools are failing.

This is not to say that parents are always good role models for their children. Sadly, many of them need a good education themselves. Parents may not always pick suitable books for their children (no matter what the topic) but the state has no right to overrule them. Reference books should be written so that the author honestly identifies the theme of the book. More importantly, parents should educate themselves and be encouraged to take their children to the local library every week or more and read to them every night when they are young. Education is too important to be left just to teachers.

Edwin A. Locke is Dean's Professor of Leadership and Motivation Emeritus at the R.H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland. He is a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science (APS), the American Psychological Association, the Society for Industrial & Organizational Behavior, and the Academy of Management. He is the recipient of the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award (Society for I/O Psychology), the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Management (OB Division), the J. M. Cattell Award (APS) and the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the Academy of Management. He, with Gary Latham, has spent over 50 years developing Goal Setting Theory, ranked No. 1 in importance among 73 management theories. He has published over 320 chapters, articles, reviews and notes, and has authored or edited 13 books including (w. Kenner) The Selfish Path to Romance, (w. Latham) New Directions in Goal Setting and Task Performance, and The Prime Movers: Traits of the Great Wealth Creators. He is internationally known for his research on motivation, job satisfaction, leadership, and other topics. His website is:

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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