According to the results of a new national survey that cuts across racial, economic and geographic boundaries, almost 82 percent of all Americans believe that parents -- not the government -- should be in charge of their children's education, and nearly three-quarters of those surveyed believe that competition would improve education in America.
The study was released by Parents In Charge, a national non-profit organization that encourages a new debate on the real problems and possibilities of American education. Spearheading the new initiative is Ted Forstmann, businessman, philanthropist, and co-founder of the Children's Scholarship Fund (CSF).
Mr. Forstmann said at a press conference held before the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., "In America, people are free to make all sorts of decisions in every other area of their lives except education. We are here today because we believe that parents should be in charge of their children's education: deciding where their children go to school, who teaches them and what they learn."
Joining Mr. Forstmann at today's press conference and representative of the kind of broad-based non partisan support for Parents In Charge were: Joseph Califano, former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare; Martin Luther King III, President, Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Dr. Guy Doud, former National Teacher of the Year; and Washington, D.C. grandmother, Rose Blassingame, who is putting her three grandchildren through private school with assistance from CSF.
"It's time to let education look like the rest of America. The democratic principles of freedom, competition and choice should be applied to K through 12 education just as they are to our university system, which is the envy of the world," added Mr. Forstmann.
The new study, "American Attitudes on Education," conducted by a joint bipartisan polling group, found widespread dissatisfaction with K through 12 education among Americans of all economic, racial and religious backgrounds. The study also showed that:
* 82% believe parents should be able to choose which school their children attend.
* 69% believe parents -- not the government -- should set the standards of education performance.
* 72% believe our educational system would be improved if there were a multitude of providers instead of a government monopoly.
* 72% believe schools should be selected for children based on their educational needs, not where they live.
* 76% believe that if parents could choose which school their child attends, it would help the child's education.
"The Parents in Charge program announced may well be one of the most important developments in education in decades. The will of the American people, as demonstrated by the new survey results, clearly is with change," said Joseph Califano.
Over the next few months, Parents In Charge will launch a public education campaign, and as a part of the campaign, PIC anticipates conducting a national tour to explore the problems and possibilities of education with parents and teachers.
Martin Luther King III, President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Parents In Charge board member, said, "We must continue the work my father began. Education is the key to freedom and opportunity. We basically have one supplier, the public education system, and it has become a huge bureaucracy. This bureaucracy has to be challenged. Fairness demands that every child, not just the rich, has access to an education that will help them achieve their dreams."
Parents In Charge was established by Mr. Forstmann who, in 1998, co-founded the Children's Scholarship Fund with John Walton. CSF has provided more than $170 million for 40,000 nationwide scholarships for low-income families.
More than 1.25 million applications poured in from across the country for these 40,000 slots. In some urban areas, close to 40% of the qualifying population submitted applications. Mr. Forstmann said the demand for these scholarships and today's survey results show parents want options in education. "Parents want a better way, but until now, the education debate has been focused too narrowly on the status quo. We plan to change that by painting a vision of the possible -- based on freedom, opportunity and the American dream."
11,000 teachers from across the country, including three former National Teachers of the Year, have signed a statement in support of the principles of the Teachers' Advisory Board of the Children's Scholarship Fund including the following principles:
* That competition would improve fundamental problems with American education by incorporating a broader array of education providers to compete with the government-run system.
* That the educational needs of our children must precede the needs of the system.
* That parents, not government, should have primary authority over their children's education.
* That good teachers deserve recognition and compensation based on performance.
* That American education should use a system in which the best new approaches to teaching and learning can emerge from the marketplace of ideas.
"This display of support further proves that good teachers are professionals and are not afraid to take the same risk and receive the same rewards common to other professionals. Many of my colleagues are willing to accept greater responsibility, even if that comes with greater accountability. Increasing the responsibility of both parent and teacher will only help improve the child's education," said Guy Doud, 1986 Teacher of the Year.
For more information at http://www.parentsincharge.org.