“The schooling system was in much better shape 50 years ago than it is now,” says Friedman, his voice as confident as reinforced concrete.
A big fan of freedom, Friedman objects to public schools on principle, arguing — as he says most classic liberals once did — that government involvement by nature decreases individual liberty. But it’s the decline of schooling at the practical level, especially for the poor, that seems to exasperate him.
Friedman puts much of the blame on centralization.
“When I went to elementary school, a long, long time ago in the 1920s, there were about 150,000 school districts in the United States,” he says. “Today there are fewer than 15,000, and the population is more than twice as large.”
“It’s very clear that the people who suffer most in our present system are people in the slums — blacks, Hispanics, the poor, the underclass.”
When I ask him about the “achievement gap” separating low-scoring black and Latino students from better-scoring whites and Asians, he blames my “friends in the union.”
“They are running a system that maximizes the gap in performance. . . Tell me, where is the gap between the poor and rich wider than it is in schooling? A more sensible education system, one that is based on the market, would stave off the division of this country into haves and have-nots; it would make for a more egalitarian society because you’d have more equal opportunities for education.
Jonathan Kozol, author of “Savage Inequalities” and other books of education journalism, has noted that the parents who whine that “throwing money at education” doesn’t solve the problem are usually those spending $15,000 or $30,000 a year to send their kids to private schools. I ask Friedman about the obvious implications of that.
“In the last 10 years, the amount spent per child on schooling has more than doubled after allowing for inflation. There’s been absolutely no improvement as far as I can see in the quality of education. . . . The system you have is like a sponge. It will absorb the extra money. Because the incentives are wrong.
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