PJ O’Rourke on Public Schools

June 17, 2010

A must-read and fun, too.

P. J. O’Rourke has outdone himself in a blistering (and, of course, quite humorous) article in The Weekly Standard on the state of public education and what we should do about it. You won’t want to miss it (thanks, Frances, for the heads up). Here’s the link and some excerpts:

End Them, Don’t Mend Them

Excerpts:

Figures in the Statistical Abstract of the United States show that we are spending $11,749 per pupil per year in the U.S. public schools, grades pre-K through 12….

In March the Cato Institute issued a report on the cost of public schools. Policy analyst Adam Schaeffer made a detailed examination of the budgets of 18 school districts in the five largest U.S. metro areas and the District of Columbia. He found that school districts were understating their per-pupil spending by between 23 and 90 percent. …

Schaeffer calculated that Los Angeles, which claims $19,000 per-pupil spending, actually spends $25,000. The New York metropolitan area admits to a per-pupil average of $18,700, but the true cost is about $26,900. The District of Columbia’s per-pupil outlay is claimed to be $17,542. The real number is an astonishing $28,170—155 percent more than the average tuition at the famously pricey private academies of the capital region.

[Article goes on to cite poor test scores and outcomes]

Enough, however, of outrageous statistics. Let’s generate some pure outrage. Here’s my proposal: Close all the public schools. Send the kids home. Fire the teachers. Sell the buildings. Raze the U.S. Department of Education, leaving not one brick standing upon another and plow the land where it stood with salt.

“Wait a minute,” the earnest liberal says, “we’ve got swell public schools here in Flourishing Heights. The kids take yoga. We just brought in a law school placement coordinator at the junior high. The gym has solar panels on the roof. Our Girls Ultimate Frisbee team is third in the state. The food in the cafeteria is locally grown. And the vending machines dispense carrots and kiwi juice.”

Close them anyway. I’ve got 11,749 reasons. Or, given the Cato report, call it 15,000. Abandon the schools. Gather the kids together in groups of 15.4. Sit them down at your house, or the Moose Lodge, or the VFW Hall or—gasp—a church. Multiply 15.4 by $15,000. That’s $231,000. Subtract a few grand for snacks and cleaning your carpet.

What remains is a pay and benefit package of a quarter of a million dollars. Average 2008 public school classroom teacher salary: $51,391. For a quarter of a million dollars you could hire Aristotle. The kids wouldn’t have band practice, but they’d have Aristotle. (Incidentally this worked for Philip of Macedon. His son did very well.)…

“Don’t kids need to experience the full range of human diversity that public schools provide?” No. And if you don’t understand the process by which modern kids become socialized, you seriously need to update your Facebook page. Also, let the Statistical Abstract tell you something about the diverse experience provided by public schools. During the 2005-2006 school year 78 percent of public schools reported “violent incidents,” more than one in six schools reported “serious violent incidents” (robbery, rape, sexual battery, or a fight or attack with a weapon), and 46 percent of schools reported thefts or larcenies. More than 10 percent of high school boys admitted to carrying a weapon to school during the previous 30 days. Among middle schools, 8.6 percent reported daily sexual harassment, 30.5 percent reported daily disrespect shown to teachers, and 43 percent reported daily bullying….

“And this $15,000, is it just going to be available with no strings attached? Won’t there be all sorts of exploitative scams cheating people who are seeking to educate their children?” Unfortunately there will be scams. What’s to keep the District of Columbia Board of Education from going private?