Thursday, November 8, 2007

Goldwater Institute: Middle Class Melt Down

New book highlights failure of public schools to educate middle class students

By Dan Lips

Pacific Research Institute scholars Lance Izumi, Vicki Murray, and Rachel Chaney offer an alarming wake-up call for parents in their new book Not as Good as You Think: Why the Middle Class Needs School Choice.

The authors tell a troubling story about the quality of public schools in California's middle class communities. Too many students at these schools are not grade-level proficient in English. Too many of these students are not grade-level proficient in math. And too many of these students are not ready for college-level work.

The authors argue the solution is to create more competition in public education by expanding parental choice. Middle class parents in Orange County or Modesto have as much need as poor parents in Washington, D.C. or Milwaukee to take their children out of failing public schools and place them in better-performing private or public schools.

Beyond the traditional proposals reform advocates should consider education savings accounts, which help families save for their children's education expenses.

Today, more than 30 states offer tax incentives for contributions into 529 college savings plans, which are ESAs that help families save for their children's college expenses. In addition, the federal government offers families tax-free saving for both K-12 and higher education expenses through the Coverdell ESA program. But no states provide a tax incentive for contributions made into these accounts.

Offering families the same tax incentives for K-12 education savings that are currently available for higher education would help more families give their children a quality education. A promising student who isn't doing well in the local public school, for example, might benefit from a transfer into private school or from tutoring, summer school, or home instruction.

But beginning to solve the problems in America's middle class public schools won't be possible until more people recognize there is a problem. For this reason, Not as Good as You Think: Why the Middle Class Needs School Choice should be required reading for parents concerned about their children's future.

Dan Lips is an education policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation and a senior fellow with the Goldwater Institute. A longer version of this article appeared in the Heritage Foundation's Education Notebook.

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