American Education has a Big Government Problem

American education is in an interesting spot. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, schools across the country are at the will of state governments as to how they can administer their education. Whether they want to teach in person, online, or in a hybrid system, the schools cannot proceed without their states’ permission.

While these decisions are being played out on a national stage right now, this battle is a microcosm of the government’s influence in education as a whole.

Let’s start with a simple question. What is education about and who is it for?

Education should always be about the student. Every student should be able to receive a quality education tailored to their needs. For far too long in this country, we have let the government come first in education, rather than the student.

Whether it’s national or state standards, the decisions regarding what America’s youth learn is not decided by parents or teachers, the two groups that interact with students on a daily basis. These decisions are made by overpaid people in suits, sitting in a state capital or Washington, D.C.

The problem lies with the incentive. Public schools are not incentivized to ensure their students are ready for the next step in life. They are instead incentivized to ensure the student can pass a standardized test, regardless of their retention of the information.

While math and reading are important and critical skills, they are only two components of a well-balanced education. Much like most well-intended government initiatives, the consequence of placing high priority on these two topics has ballooned into a much larger issue than the original problem.

When these students approach graduation, they are faced again with hurdles created by the government. The practice of occupational licensing creates artificial barriers to entry into the market regardless of where you turn. These barriers can be difficult to break through if all you retain from high school is reading and math. I was lucky to have opportunities to grow as a student in a public high school, but I know that I am not in the majority.

If you choose college, you face rising student loan debt as a result of government established thresholds and industry standards. If you choose a trade school, you face much of the same. If you choose to join the workforce straight out of high school, you will most likely need to acquire some form of certification or training due to occupational licensing. Even barbers are now required to gain certification in some states.

The point of this column is to show the monopoly the government has on the workforce. This is not a free market. From the time you enter kindergarten to the time you finally land your first job, the government writes, and often changes, the rules and regulations. 

This is typical of big government. Big government breaks your legs, then expects you to thank them when they sell you crutches. 

Much like a drug, America cannot just quit government-run education cold turkey. We must slowly begin to move away, or else we will relapse and end up with more government. But we must begin to give the power of education back to parents and teachers. The solution to our education issues is not more government, it is more community.