Americans in exodus from lousy state-run schools in major cities

Chattanooga School of the Arts and Sciences serves families in Hamilton County, Tenn.

Dr. Gary North

Parents are pulling their children out of the government schools. This is happening across the USA. In city after city, enrollment is declining. This is not a recent development. It has been going on for a half a decade. It has taken place in half of the nation’s largest districts.The trend looks irreversible.

As the Web offers better programs free of charge, the public schools cannot compete. The inner city schools are catastrophic. They are getting worse. As whites and Asians flee the cities, the inner-city schools get worse.

The tax base shrinks. The teachers union demands more pay and smaller classes. The city governments are trapped. Solution: cut programs, fire teachers, and enlarge classes back to (horror!) 1959?s 33 students.

NOBODY IS SUPPOSED to talk about this. It is time to talk about it. Public education will not recover. The longer the decline takes place, the more parents will conclude that there is only one solution: pull their kids out.

At some point, voters will not pass any more bond issues. They will not consent to higher property taxes. They will let the public schools sink.

The only established church in the USA will find fewer members. The only kids will be those whose parents do not have the money to pull them out.

The New York Times reports: “Urban districts like Philadelphia and Columbus, Ohio, are facing an exodus even as the school-age population has increased.”

The exodus has begun. “Let my people go!”

School financing is on a per-pupil basis. This dooms districts whose student enrollment is falling.
Teachers will be fired. Courses like art, music, dance, and other classes that will not get an inner-city kid a job will be cut.

The rise of charter schools has accelerated some enrollment declines. The number of students fell about 5 percent in traditional public school districts between 2005 and 2010; by comparison, the number of students in all-charter districts soared by close to 60 percent, according to the Department of Education data. Thousands of students have moved into charter schools in districts with both traditional public and charter schools.

Although the total number of students in charter schools is just 5 percent of all public school children, it has had a striking effect in some cities. In Columbus, Ohio, for example, enrollment in city schools declined by more than 10 percent – or about 6,150 students – between 2005 and 2010, even as charter schools gained close to 9,000 students.

Charter schools are not under the thumb of school boards, politicians, and the teachers union.

The old model for schools is dying.

IN LOS ANGELES, the district has dismissed more than 8,500 teachers and other education workers in the last four years as enrollment fell by about 56,000 students. The Mesa Unified District, which lost 7,155 students between 2005 and 2010, has closed four middle schools in the last three years, delayed new textbook purchases, and laid off librarians.

The students left behind in some of these large districts are increasingly children with disabilities, in poverty or learning English as a second language.

Their parents have little political clout. They do not pay taxes. They rent. They are on welfare.
Parents with money will no longer pay for these schools. The districts will have to find ways to get into wallets in the suburbs. That will not be easy. Judges will be the tools of this wealth redistribution.

Such trends alarm those who worry about the increasing inequity in schools. “I see greater stratification and greater segregation,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

You’ve got it, Randy. And your union is doomed. Your members will not get pay raises, smaller classes, and retirement benefits. Cities will declare bankruptcy and thereby escape these huge obligations.

Educators are concerned that a vicious cycle will set in. Some of the largest public school systems in the country are in danger of becoming “the schools that nobody wants,” said Jeffrey Mirel, an education historian at the University of Michigan.

You’ve got it, Jeff. Nobody wants these schools. They have failed. The era of public education is going the way of all flesh.

Who needs public schools when there is the Khan Academy?

A. Duane Arbogast, acting deputy superintendent for academics in Prince George’s County, said he recognized the challenge of persuading families to send their children to public schools.

“We simply have to get better and provide an education that people of all social classes would be proud of,” said Mr. Arbogast, who cited a new health sciences academy and a planned performing arts high school in his district.

BUT YOU CAN’T PROVIDE decent education, Duane. Education is not about new buildings. It’s about vision, self-discipline, future-orientation, and a curriculum that is held together by a deeply religious view. The public schools used to have such a view: the messianic transformation of mankind through public education. No one believes it any more. The money is running out.

Before the Mesa district closed Brimhall Junior High School this year, the school lost teachers in art, music and technology in part because of a declining student headcount. That made it harder for the school, which faces competition from many charter schools, to attract students.

“Education has gotten to be almost a sales job,” said Susan Chard, who taught seventh grade math at Brimhall for 18 years. “You want to provide reasons for parents to bring their children to your school.”

You do, indeed. Brimhall Junior High could not come up with enough of them.

Many more Brimhalls will follow.

(Read more about the story in the New York Times.)

Gary North is the author of Mises on Money and many other books. Visit He is also the author of a free 20-volume series, An Economic Commentary on the Bible. Copyright © 2012 Gary North. Used by permission