America’s Dysfunctional Public Education

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America’s public education faces many problems. But how did we get here, and more importantly, how can we fix it? To understand how to fix anything, we must first understand the core problem. The core problem begins with today’s view of rights.

Is Education a Right?

The short answer is yes. Education is a natural right. A right is that which can be claimed on moral or just grounds—it is righteous and emanates from virtue.[1] Natural rights are those based on man’s nature as a part of God’s creation. Man was created differently from the rest of creation. As a part of that difference, there are things that God asked man to know and do.

Natural rights are also almost exclusively negative. They direct what you are not to do, rather than what you are to do or what you will receive. These are not the same. In terms of education, this right does not mean you are entitled to an education, bur rather that no one can prevent your receiving one. The focus is on you, your decisions and actions, rather than entitlement.

These things matter as God’s sovereignty as creation’s creator is absolute and He alone is inherently good. Proof of the latter lies in this, that we both exist and His creation provides us with the things necessary to live. This article’s purpose is not to go into detail about the things we are to know and do,[2] but instead how education fits into why we are to know and do in a specific way.

Natural Rights are Timeless

God’s requirements are timeless, because God alone is eternal. He resides outside of time. Therefore his requirements were spoken one time for all time. Only man tries to change by ‘enlightening’ himself. We have a specific purpose to fulfill, but we cannot know or do effectively without knowledge—knowledge coming from education because we are not born possessing it.

Knowing requires at least three things. First, understanding knowledge’s source. Second, accepting what is taught through belief. This requires faith accompanied by respect and obedience for the teacher. In this case God. Third, testing what we learn through practice. This entails learning to discern between good and evil. We are not to judge people, but we are to judge ideas. Our media, academics, and many politicians today have it backwards. They attempt to state that by judging ideas, one is judging the people who hold them. But nothing is further from the truth. Instead it is evidence of the false path they have chosen—a path they chose based upon the ideas they hold. Falsehoods. Lies.

What are We to Learn?

We are to learn who God is, so that we can have a relationship with Him and fulfill our purpose. The core of that learning revolves around two ideas, love and discerning good from evil. Our works do not fulfill our purpose. Actions alone are not enough. Instead they must be performed out of love of God and our fellow man. This is agape. The intent, means, and actions all matter, not just the actions alone.

Some might think this is just about theology, but they would be wrong. It incorporates everything we do. Science used to be done with the thought that by understanding creation better we could understand its creator. Some of the greatest works of art and music were undertaken to glorify God. If we approach life as being surrounded by answers, we just need to figure out the right questions to ask. The advancements made during the Middle Ages set the stage for the Industrial Revolution. The latter could not have happened without the former.

Who’s Responsible?

The short answer here is that each one of us is responsible. We are responsible for teaching ourselves,[3] and parents responsible for teaching their children.[4] Even the alien living among us is to learn.[5]

Why? Because natural rights are gifts of love, freely given to us by our creator. When we accept those gifts we incur a moral obligation to return that love as an acknowledgement. Therefore each right we receive comes with a moral obligation—that is, a duty. In this case when we learn, we incur a duty to obey. If one learns and begins to understand who God is, how can man reasonably choose not to obey?

We have the free will to choose otherwise, but that choice is not right—it is not virtuous—and is therefore contrary to man’s purpose.[6] This duty of obedience is at two levels: first, as individuals for the decisions we each make every day; and second, as a people for the common set of requirements we recognize and the shared commitment for the common good we are to show.

Our Public Education

Public education in America has a different foundation from what was just described. Public education’s initial goal was to teach basics such as math, grammar, and writing. Its purpose was to create foundational skills within its students to enable them to find employment in the factories. In short, to make them better workers—better at taking orders. It is little different today. The only change is that government now provides the same basic requirements in order mold its citizens—to improve their ability to follow orders. Underlying this notion is the idea that people exist to serve the state, a notion contrary to our purpose and America’s founding principles.

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Proof of this is easy enough. The Bible and prayer, God, were removed from public schools in the 1960’s. This was done to separate church from state. Today we have the forced teaching of sex education and the LGBT agenda. We also have the incorporation of Islam through the teaching of Arabic, Islamic prayers, and Qur’an recitations into public school curricula. These are only examples, and both are corruptions of Judeo-Christian beliefs and our founding principles. So how well has public education done?

How Well has it Done?

Much of this work comes from an analysis I did for Collectivism and Charity: The Great Deception[7] several years ago. If public education is in accordance with our purpose and nature, then it should be a rousing success. From a financial and economic perspective, we only need to look at three things; (1) the population being served, (2) the resources being consumed, and (3) the results obtained.

Improvement can come about by;

  • Increasing output using the same level of resources,
  • Consuming fewer resources to produce the same output, or
  • Shortening the process (timeframe) while maintaining an output’s quality.

In terms of education these could come about by using the same or fewer resources (facilities, staff, etc.) to educate the same number or more students. It could also come about by increasing the graduation rate or by producing better students as indicated by the math and reading testing we’ve historically done. Finally, the education process could take less time while maintaining the test scores just mentioned.

Resource Use

Between the year the Department of Education was created (1970) and 2012, the number of students in America increased by only 8%. During this same time period the number of teachers increased by 60% and non-teaching staff by 138%.[8] One byproduct of this change has been that teachers in 2010 comprise only 50% of the total school staff versus over 70% in 1950.[9]

This shift in resources has helped fuel the increased costs for a K-12 education. In 1970 the cost for a 13-year public education was only about $50,000. By 2009 the cost for that same education increased to about $149,000 in real dollars, an increase of almost 200%. America is second only to Switzerland in its per student spending.[10] So we’ve increased our spending by billions of dollars for a student population which remained largely unchanged. What about the impact on the final product?

Public Education Results

First, graduation rates. Work by Nobel laureate Jim Heckman and Paul LaFontaine measuring the number of diplomas awarded indicated that 1969 was a high-point in terms of the percentage of high-school students receiving a diploma. That percentage steadily decreased through the late 1990’s, and only began to approach the high-water mark noted above in 2008. All those billions of dollars got us back to where we were at the beginning, before the Department of Education was created.

So what about outcomes? Maybe they’ve improved. Reviewing the NAEP reading and math test results show no significant changes between 1971 and 2012. The only significant change was a decrease in the bottom 25th percentile scores in 2004 when the assessment format was revised. In addition, America’s PISA scores rank 17th in reading and 32nd in math out of 65 countries. Only one state in the U.S. scored above the proficiency mark for math, and only four had a math proficiency score over 40%.

What I’ve just presented is a shining example of man’s enlightening himself. Sorry, but public education is a failure, and we are responsible because we allowed it to happen.

Is There an Answer?

Yes, I believe there is an answer, and it is not really all that difficult. Although no doubt its opponents would throw up all kinds of arguments as to why it cannot be done. Those arguments will most likely come from government itself and the teacher’s unions. But their arguments can be used to destroy the very things they advocate for. One failure of the modern left is they always accuse their opponents of the very things they do.

This solution is only one possibility. There are others. What’s most important is the principles and ideas underlying the outlined approach.

  • Each unit (county, city, etc.) would create a single public board of trustees for their schools. The board’s purpose would be to see that the trust’s purpose is met by hiring someone to manage the trust.
  • Real estate taxes would still be collected for schools, but those funds would go directly into the public trust. They would not become government funds at any time, nor could government direct their spending. They remain the public’s money.
  • Schools would submit budgets to the trust for their annual needs.
  • The trust would create a per student unit of funding based upon the number of students within the unit and all the school’s needs.
  • Students, with their parents, would apply to the school they wish to attend. Any school within the trust unit would be okay. Schools could be public or private, secular or religious.
  • Schools would accept students based upon their capacity and the type of education they choose to provide.

Advantages of this approach;


  • Government can still raise money through taxes, but they cannot determine its spending. Giving government both the power to tax and spend leads to its corruption.
  • Removing the government from school spending removes many regulatory requirements and the costs associated with them. This provides schools the opportunity to focus more on their teaching staff and its needs, and could potentially reduce costs.


  • Schools could ask for more from the students and their parents if the per unit amount is short, but they would have to justify those increases to the parents and students who would bear the costs.
  • They could choose whether to specialize, such as STEM or magnet schools have done, or just provide a solid general education.
  • Schools would also need to compete for students. They would do this by determining how to spend the money they receive between facilities, staff, other resources, and the curricula they choose to implement.

Students and Parents

  • Students would select the schools they attend, choosing schools best meeting their needs.
  • Schools would have a defined curricula for its market, and there would be a track record for its success or lack of it.
  • Parents are more directly invested in their students success, and students are more responsible for their future.


  • Education improves if students are in control of their future, and a community wins when education improves.
  • If greater competition results in improving education costs, then future funding requirements should go down and result in lower long run education spending needs.

Except for the wealthy, education within early America was provided by the parents or the students teaching themselves. Early schools were the result of parents pooling their resources to hire a teacher. It may sound primitive through today’s lens, but it was good enough to create an economy that has led the world for over one hundred years. That position has only been threatened since government has taken a bigger role in education. I’ll bet on the earlier model every time. It assists us in fulfilling our purpose. What else matters more?

On May 30, the Virginia Christian Alliance and The New American magazine are sponsoring Rescuing Our Children, A Special Report on the State of Public Education in America. I hope you will consider attending and learning more.



[1] Wolf, Dan, p. 3, A Handbook of Natural Rights, Living Rightly Publications, 2018.

[2] Ibid, pp. 55-91 for more on this topic.

[3] Romans 2:21-3.

[4] Psalm 78:5-7.

[5] Deuteronomy 31:12-3, 2 Chronicles 6:32-4, and Ezekiel 44:23-4.

[6] Wolf, Dan, p. 67, A Handbook of Natural Rights, Living Rightly Publications, 2018.

[7] Wolf, Dan, pp. 129-58, Collectivism and Charity, Living Rightly Publications, 2016.

[8] Burke, Lindsey, How Escalating Education Spending is Killing Crucial Reforms,, October, 12, 2012. The Heritage Foundation.

[9] Ibid.

[10]de Rugy, Veronique, K-12 Spending per Student in the OECD,, December 10, 2010, Mercatus Center, George Mason, University.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views the Virginia Christian Alliance

About the Author

Dan Wolf
Dan Wolf is a researcher and analyst; examining complex, abstract topics. His writing’s premise is based on one simple idea. We do not receive the benefits of God’s gifts unless we are turned toward Him. Each generation needs to learn this lesson to pass on what’s important. What are those gifts? Freedom, faith, and grace among others. Our Founders considered education, religion, morality, and virtue to be the cornerstones for any successful society. Success requires an education in both the languages of reason and faith, reason alone is not enough. Unfortunately, our education system today no longer teaches what we need to be successful, so we risk losing our way. But it is not too late. In the end we each have the freedom to choose, and the ability to learn. There are many who have already blazed a trail for us; we only need the will to embrace the challenge and make the effort. Together we will restore the societal foundation that our Founder’s, and many after them, fought and died for. The choice is ours. My goal is to assist you on your way. I can be reached at His site is at: