What if we just cut through the morass of programs and take all the money being provided at the federal and state level and put it into individual student endowment accounts?

The late 1970s in the United States was a time of surprising deregulation. It was the beginning of the end for the telephone monopolies. Those inside the regulated industries, and the regulatory agencies, warned of doom and disaster if competition were allowed. The doomsayers were wrong. The free market provided solutions that were impossible to forecast. Competition and the profit motive brought out the best that humans can create.

Communications solutions today are employing far more people than the old phone monopolies, and are delivering services never dreamed of in that era. The forecasts of disastrous unemployment and system collapse if the phone monopolies were opened to competition were totally and completely wrong.

K-12 is the phone monopoly of our time.

This seems like the best time in years to truly reform K-12. However, the focus seems to be on charter schools, leaving behind thousands of students in poorly performing districts, and most proposed solutions leave out homeschooling.

The fundamental problem is the lack of competition. There is a simple way to introduce it.

Individualised investment

Instead of pouring money into the local school monopolies, the solution is to simply endow individual students. Open the door to the free market in a meaningful way.

We should create an individual educational endowment fund for each K-12 student. Student endowment funds would pay out annually for students who achieved minimum grade level knowledge, including to the parents of homeschooled students. The determination of minimum achievement would be through testing, with the tests also from free market providers.

Providers for students who did poorly would not be paid, leaving twice the annual amount available next year to educators who could catch them up. Seriously underperforming students would accrue several years of catch-up funding, providing extra incentive for the type of personalised attention that would benefit them. Military veteran servicemen and women teaching small groups of students, developing personal relationships, can change lost kids into enthusiastic young adults.

Opening educational services to the free market will allow for practical job-related instruction and college level courses to be included as providers fight for market share.

Competition among educational providers will make full use of technology, will provide useful training for actual jobs, and will deliver far more education for the same money. Gamification will keep students involved in ways that existing K-12 material can’t touch.

Instead of leaving dropouts to fend for themselves, the funds should remain on deposit indefinitely, allowing those who get their act together after some time in the adult world to get an education.

Modelling the idea will show that existing school structures and transportation fleets will be used, more than with charter schools. Most school systems will continue as they are, but a new element of potential competition will focus their efforts.

Essential pruning

A major early effect might be defunding some inner-city school systems, with the carry-over of endowment funds providing an incentive to corporate providers. These districts are a disgrace, but there is almost no way to change them now. Defunding poor performance in a way that will bring new providers could work.

The new providers will be renting space and transportation for their offerings in most cases from existing school districts. Just as with telecom deregulation, it will take several years to see the full impact, but requiring minimum accomplishment for payout will protect students and taxpayers as solutions evolve.

Homeschooling pods will explode, but those kids will still participate on local sports teams, and transportation to practice (and back) will also be rented from existing fleets by their parents.

Special needs students would still have extra funding, but at an individual student level.

Let’s end the monopoly. Let’s open the door to competition.

Unleash technology, but pay only for results.

Homeschoolers would be an unstoppable force for reform if a realistic plan to pay them existed. The endowment idea would do it.

Stark contrast

I was radicalised on this issue by an experience with a black tow truck driver. When I was in the Army during the era of the draft, my platoon had a bunch of black guys from inner-city Detroit. Our off-duty pastime in Germany with no English language TV was reading paperback novels. They were traded over and over, and it was common to see everyone on his bunk with his head propped up reading. The black guys read effortlessly.

Recently I needed a tow, and a black tow truck driver did a good job hooking me up and handling his equipment. He was a solid guy, the same type as the guys I knew in the Army. As we rode to the destination, he said he had graduated from one of the big inner city high schools.

When we got to the destination, he asked me to help him do the paperwork, and as we worked through it, I discovered that he could hardly read. This is ridiculous. These schools are a disgrace. Here is a guy who will probably never be able to read effortlessly because of terrible, crappy inner-city schools he was stuck in.

The black guys in my platoon from inner city Detroit went to schools that didn’t have unions in the 1950s and 1960s. School management was adequate at that time to produce acceptable results. They became the Motown generation that led to ending segregation and providing great music that I still enjoy.

Preference falsification among Democrat voters on K-12 has created a situation where explosive change can occur. The Overton Window can suddenly shift. K-12 seems to be that issue.

What is needed is a practical method. Endowment Accounts provide that method.

There is no way to fix the current K-12 situation beyond radical demonopolising. I can see a future where school infrastructure is owned by large competitive providers in much the same way Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, etc. operate today, fighting for market share by providing educational services that work and that kids and parents want.

This is a great opportunity to apply technology and dramatically improve the way we educate our children.

Richard Illyes

Richard Illyes is a retired electronic designer and programmer in rural Texas south of Houston. He is an active pilot and flight instructor and flies off a grass strip at his place outside Alvin, where...