New initiative offers school choice

Posted: Wednesday, May 30, 2001

President Bush's education bill will pass Congress, but apparently without the voucher provision the president wanted so parents might give their children the best education available, regardless of financial circumstances. Help is on the way, though, but not from government.

It's a new initiative crafted by former Secretary of Education William Bennett called K12. As described on the K12 Web site (www.k12.com), it will "provide a comprehensive curriculum and innovative instructional tools that help caring adults provide an educational foundation for their children at home." The cost will be a fraction of declining government schools ($6,000 a year on average) and private schools (which range from $3,000 to $12,000 and higher). K12 begins this fall for kindergarten, first and second grade children. Additional grades will be added each year until it reaches 12th grade in 2004. The cost is $1,095 per year, with discounts for multiple children and early registration.

What children will get for the money is so much more than what the monopolistic government schools offer. First, the teacher-student ratio can't be beat. The content is superb, as one might expect from Bennett, whose writings on virtue and classical education are best sellers. The materials are designed so students may progress toward their goals at their own pace; one size does not fit all. The courses can also be used as supplements for private and government schools and for students who otherwise might have to attend summer school.

The curriculum begins with phonics, a proven method for teaching children to read. Government schools are turning out too many "graduates" deficient in basic reading skills. After they learn to read, K12 will give them classic children's literature, not the politically correct stuff currently being force-fed to too many students. They'll get a solid foundation in mathematics based on the California Math Standards. An appreciation for science will be developed, with hands-on experience. Children will be taught, as Bennett says, to appreciate that "the world is an amazing place." Real history, not the re-written or Hollywood variety, will be learned, as will fine arts.

K12 sees children as individuals, not as part of an aggrieved group yearning for entitlements that are unable to make it in life without help from others. The old notions that build a nation -- self-control, personal responsibility and accountability, will be taught and reinforced by the parent-teachers.

In addition to the quality of the books and materials and the benefit of parent-child bonding, K12 will free parents from worrying about what their children are being taught, whether it's good enough to help them compete in the modern world, and whether their morals and values are being undermined by people in school with political and social agendas.

The education statistics in the United States should shock us all. As Bennett has written in the latest issue of "Hoover Digest": "The longer a child stays in (public) school in the United States, the dumber that child gets relative to students in other industrialized nations." The purpose of an education, writes Bennett, "is not merely to prepare citizens for work, it is to prepare them for life -- for the eminently practical tasks of living well, thinking wisely, and acting sensibly."

Our colleges and universities receive the intellectual products of the government schools. They are spending less time on what used to be called "higher learning" and more time on remedial education. Bennett says that roughly one-third of college freshmen were enrolled in remedial courses in the fall of 1995.

K12 offers a less expensive and more effective educational product with numerous "fringe benefits." It also offers parents a way out if they're disgusted with the monopolistic government education system that costs more and delivers less. Challenging monopolies is always difficult, but breaking the education monopoly will tear down the intellectual equivalent of the Berlin Wall and give our children one of the greatest of all human rights: the right to know.

Cal Thomas write for Tribune Media Services.



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