Limited Taxation
Post Office Box 408     Peabody, Massachusetts   01960     (508) 384-0100

Barbara's Column
Friday, April 30, 1999

The Salem Evening News

The Meaning of MCAS
By Barbara Anderson

MCAS is short for MoreCASh.

If the billions of dollars spent on public education aren't enough to guarantee an educated public, then the solution is MoreCASh. If that doesn't work, then we do MMCAS: MoreMoreCASh.

Pretty soon we will have MMMMMMMMMMMCASh, and will still be wondering Why Johnny Can't Read. But that won't prevent our politicians, who for some reason have been placed in charge of education, from adding another M at the front and getting re-elected because they "care" about education and "did something" called "education reform."

So who is dumb here? The kids who can't read? The teachers who can barely pass their own competency tests? Or the voters who re-elect the politicians who "did something," and the taxpayers who keep paying MoreCASh without complaint?

All right, I do know that MCAS really stands for the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. A few years after one of the last "education reforms", some people wanted an assessment to determine if all the extra money spent had resulted in any improvement.

No one knew. Because no one had bothered to test the students for whom education reform was deemed necessary, there were no baseline test scores from which one could determine progress. So the politicians did another "education reform" law, and didn't test the baseline students again.

However, they did begin devising a test that they could use the next time someone aske  for evidence of improvement. Several years later, test-makers finally agreed, more or less, on some things that students should know at different grade levels. They then tested students on these things so that future reformers could either, a) teach what the students aren't learning or, b) revise the test.

The revised test is being taken by students this month and education officials are predicting that next year scores will improve. All we really need is MCASh.

Let me do a Comprehensive Assessment here. Public education in general doesn't work because it doesn't have to work. No matter how badly it flunks its own tests, no matter how many children it fails to teach, it will still be funded, it will still get MoreCASh.

Teacher unions will force through payraises for its dues-payers, the good teachers and the bad. Administrators will keep their jobs or get glowing references for the next one just to get them out of town. Politicians will send tax dollars along with a publicity photo of themselves caring about children. Taxpayers will still vote for those politicians and will sometimes even vote for overrides to send more tax dollars to the failed system.

No one will be held accountable, and no one will admit the obvious: a system that does not suffer from failure -- which in fact gets even more funding from failure -- will continue to fail.

The Comprehensive Solution is this: LessCASh for the existing system.

Take the tax dollars away from the politicians and the public school committees and give them in equal amounts to the parents, guardians or sponsors of the children to do their own education reform. Let them choose a charter, religious, home or neighborhood school. Cut their taxes so they can afford transportation or a more expensive school than the basic model.

Let the parents, guardians and sponsors test their own kids at regular intervals. If they perceive that a child doesn't seem to be learning much, let them choose another school until they find one that works for that particular student.

Stop fighting about sex education, school prayer, school uniforms or political correctness in the classroom: let there be a varied marketplace from which to choose, based upon the values of the parents themselves. Stop fighting about teacher testing: let some schools advertise that they test, and others that their evaluators drop by the classroom each day instead.

And what about the children whose parents don't care? With the new system, these will be readily identified. Supplement their education vouchers with state human services dollars. Choose for them schools which specialize in kids whose parents don't care. Staff them with teachers who hug and nurture as well as teach.

My Comprehensive Solution will still be publicly-funded, with the same Jeffersonian goal of making every child an educated citizen. Because of the magic of competition and accountability, it should cost taxpayers less. Even if it doesn't, the restoration of parental responsibility through choice in education will be worth the money spent, which is more than can be said about MCAS and all the years of failed education reform.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. She writes regularly for the Viewpoint page. Her biweekly syndicated column also appears in other publications around the state.

Return to Barbara's Columns