1. Learning is vital to maintain American civilization. As the Founding Fathers wrote in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787: "Religion, morality and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged."
Note that they saw education as vastly more than mere knowledge, and note the order they listed it in. We must restore values, discipline and American history to the classroom.
2. America is a learned civilization and every American, including immigrants, should learn American history and the principles of American self-government, productivity and prosperity. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1820: "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Every student must learn to read and much of what they read should reinforce American civilization.
3. The education system that was developed between 1840 and 1960 is now broken. This was stated vividly28 years ago in the Reagan Administration report "A Nation at Risk" (April 1983):
"Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world...[Education] undergirds American prosperity, security, and civility.... the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people. What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur--others are matching and surpassing our educational attainments.
If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves. We have even squandered the gains in student achievement made in the wake of the Sputnik challenge. Moreover, we have dismantled essential support systems which helped make those gains possible. We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament."
4. The collapse of our education system directly threatens our national security.
In 2001, the Hart-Rudman Commission report, "Road Map for National Security: Imperative for Change," listed our failing education system as the second greatest threat after "ensuring the security of the American homeland." It stated:
"Americans are living off the economic and security benefits of the last three generations' investment in science and education, but we are now consuming capital. Our systems of basic scientific research and education are in serious crisis, while other countries are redoubling their efforts. In the next quarter century, we will likely see ourselves surpassed, and in relative decline, unless we make a conscious national commitment to maintain our edge .
The inadequacies of our systems of research and education pose a greater threat to U.S. national security over the next quarter century than any potential conventional war that we might imagine. American national leadership must understand these deficiencies as threats to national security. If we do not invest heavily and wisely in rebuilding these two core strengths, America will be incapable of maintaining its global position long into the 21st century."
5. The current ideologically driven, credentialed, bureaucratic, unionized, tenured system cannot be fixed. A quarter century of effort has left children less educated, America less competitive, and our citizens less informed.
6. We must envision a 21st century system of lifetime learning more flexible, more productive, more individualized and more capable than any bureaucracy could achieve.
7. Learning should be rewarded.
8. Mediocrity should not be tolerated.
9. Parents and learners should choose the systems that work best for them.A locally-funded Pell Grant for K-through-12 would be the ideal model, with a KIPP schools-style parent-student-teacher contract.Charter schools with parental choice are a vital interim step. No child should be trapped in a bad school.
10. Parents who home school their children should receive a tax credit or be allowed to keep the Pell Grant.
11. Individualized, 24/7 learning should be universally available online, with mentors and through other learning systems.The Florida Virtual School (with over 120,000 students) for K-12, and the University of Phoenix and Kaplan are forerunners of this system.
12. Students who graduate early should get the cost of the years they skip as an automatic scholarship, following the model of Governor Daniels's program in Indiana.
13. Unemployment compensation should have a business-training component so we are improving human capital with every payment.
14. Every state should have a work-study college that enables students to graduate debt free, following the model of the College of the Ozarks in Arkansas.
15. Higher education should become dramatically more productive and less expensive.
16. The federal and state departments of education should be dramatically shrunk in size and authority, and the money saved used to pay teachers more within a merit system.
17. Tenure should be abolished. No bad teacher should be permitted to ruin a child's future.