You’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: “American schools are falling behind our international peers.”

We’re not “falling” – we’re already behind (a whopping 14th in the world for reading, worse for math and science) and we’re getting stuck.  This is not because American students are less capable than their peers in other nations; it’s because big government keeps lowering the standard at which students are asked to achieve.

The top five “epicenters of the graduation crisis” are New York City, Los Angeles, Clark County Nevada, Chicago, and Miami-Dade.  It’s no coincidence that they’re all located in Blue States (and all but one – Miami – has a local government controlled by liberals).

So what do lower standards do for our students?  According to a University of Minnesota-Twin Cities professor who has dedicated his career to the study of standardized exit exams,

“The real pattern in states has been that the standards are lowered so much that the exams end up not benefiting students who pass them while still hurting the students who fail them.”

In short:  Dumbed-down “standards” help zero students.  They do help teacher’s unions by releasing teachers of their responsibility to, you know, teach!  What a stunning coincidence that government is harming the taxpayer to help the unions!  I am sure that no one could have possibly seen that coming!

So just how easy are American public schools?  Since 1983, ten million high school seniors somehow entered the twelfth grade without being able to read.  In my home state of Georgia, “what shape is a basketball?” is a question on the state-mandated graduation test.  Unfortunately, these incidents are not isolated occurrences.  Since the founding of the Department of Education in 1980, the national high school graduation rate has declined by about three percentage points.  The creation of this department shifted the responsibility of learning from the student to a government program, creating a channel where students, parents, and teachers – the three crucial ingredients for education – are no longer held responsible for the student’s learning.  Our current system does not hold educators or students responsible for learning and instead shifts that responsibility to Department of Education employees, who spend little to no time in the schools they are supposed to be running.

In addition to lowering education standards, big government has increased funding for education.  Not surprisingly, studies show that an increase in education spending does not actually improve school performance.  Maybe someday, American leaders will recognize that increased spending rarely fixes anything.  President Obama seems to also have ignored the facts, approving an increase in federal spending for education in 2012.

In fact, studies show that schools have the resources they need for better performance; resource allocation is the problem.  Look at Allen, Texas, a school district that spent $60 million on a new stadium and $32 million on a parking garage.  A recent study from the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory says it all: The best way to get a return on an investment in education is to invest specifically in instruction and teaching.  It is heartbreaking to see money that could change the lives of students directed to functions that, while they may be beneficial, are not nearly as crucial to the next generation as learning.  (You could also take it from a girl who knows.  I went to one of the highest-ranked public high schools in the country, and my district spent millions on astroturf in the same year they laid off hundreds of teachers.)

Rational actors continue an action only so long as the benefit of that action outweighs its cost.  When students realize they’re getting a terrible education that qualifies them for nothing and perhaps doesn’t even teach them to read, they will see better opportunities elsewhere and take them.  It’s scary that so many are dropping out, but it is even scarier to admit that these kids may be right to think a McJob will do more for them than remaining in a corrupt, mediocre school system.

We should give everyone an equal opportunity for education – and then let them decide if they want to “purchase” the “service” that the school provides.  Let students be free to drop out at age sixteen.  If you can legally drive a car – putting your life and the lives of others at a higher risk of danger, you should be able to “legally drive” your own education.  However, it should never be too late to learn; anyone who has dropped out should be able to drop back in at the start of the next semester, simply by proving to the principal that he or she does not pose a threat to the safety of other students.  As a result, teachers would spend less time babysitting and more time teaching.

The backlash to this notion is predictable; the more dropouts we have, the more crimes committed.  However, those crimes are already happening, and they’re happening in our schools.  The higher grade level, the less likely it is for a person to be in a fight, dropping to 1 out of 15 students getting into fights at school their senior year.  There are fewer incidences of violence at higher grade levels because those with violent proclivities are dropping out.  In fact, the students who are most prone to drop out are the students we are fighting so hard to keep in school.  Television ads beg kids to be “above the influence,” and a big government drive for low, yet meaningless dropout rates is what keeps “the influence” in their schools.

We need to weed out those who don’t want to learn in order to allow proactive people to prosper.  We need to start a war on education.

Angela Morabito :: Georgetown University :: Washington, DC :: @_AngelaMorabito