American education is today so bureaucratized that every increase in tax monies poured into the system produces less real learning. We now spend approximately 33 percent more in real terms ($5,638) per capita on students in elementary and secondary schools than we did ten years ago, but all valid measures show a decrease in learning with each ratchet-up in tax expenditures. Americans are especially anxious and frightened by our students’ plummeting test scores precisely because we are still passionate believers in the value of schooling, and most Americans still believe more money is the answer. But informed observers know this is not so.

Vouchers and tax-deductions for education expenditures are obviously the simplest means, and the most politically acceptable means right now, for beginning a great “restructuring” of American education. Parents can use their tax vouchers or tax deductions to send their children to any school they deem the best. Education entrepreneurs of all kinds, from the dedicated young volunteers who love teaching to high-tech nerds bent on creating “interactive video programs,” are paid to produce the greatest possible learning per dollar and the greatest investor satisfaction—that is, happy learners, parents, and taxpayers. The early experiments in vouchers for elementary education have been promising; in fact, even liberal educationists, the descendants of the Great Bureaucratizers, have grudgingly admitted that vouchers work. These people still hope to limit the vouchers to the public system, but they agree that smaller, competing public schools would be more efficient than the present big bureaucracies.

So far, the school voucher movement has focused on de-bureaucratizing neighborhood elementary schools. But the big bureaucracies, the Factones of Education, are not the elementary schools in your average local neighborhood. The real Frankensteins of Education are our colossal state universities and state colleges. There are no elementary school campuses with ten thousand students milling around in anonymous herds, but there are scores of these colossal state universities processing millions of alienated students. Almost all private universities limit class sizes to from several hundred to several thousand students. Anything beyond that is found to breed unhappy customers who take their tuition money elsewhere. But the bureaucrats of the state universities have continued to build ever more colossal centers for herding ever more unhappy students who learn less and less for ever more tax dollars.

Vouchers and tax credits are ideally suited for higher education. College students would have every incentive to seek out the schools that give them the best return for their vouchers and family tax-credits. The more bureaucratic reformers have already adopted a mass of student tests to hold schools accountable for their expenditures of tax dollars at lower levels, and these tests could be adapted for universities. Any student who falls below a certain academic level would simply lose his vouchers, and any institution with aggregate student scores below a minimal level would lose its accreditation to receive vouchers.

Many other incentives could be built into such a system. Students could be limited to a certain lifetime amount of vouchers, so they would have an incentive to find the place where they could get the maximum learning for the minimum cost. A certain minimum number of vouchers could be limited to general education requirements, which would probably breed an explosion of small private colleges, and others could be used for more specialized career training. If students were allowed to combine their specialized education vouchers with, say, corporate-sponsored training programs, then employers would have an incentive to give more matching funds for education.

Under a voucher system, college students would no longer be forced to “regurgitate” whatever values and ideological “spins” their state Education Factories embrace. Studies, such as the Carnegie Foundation’s The Condition of the Professoriate, show that 70 percent of professors in the humanities and social sciences are self-labeled liberals. Since the majority of conservatives seem to be segregated into the schools in the South and Southwest, most students in this country find themselves subjected to the liberal ideology of these state Factories. Vouchers and tax credits, however, would end this indoctrination by the simple device of granting students “freedom of choice,” which surely no honest liberal could oppose.

Some citizens might worry that this new system of education would undermine research, since one of the ostensive justifications for the Factories is that they allow their faculties time to do research and publish. But only a small number of the highly paid, tenured faculty at American universities publish anything. In the vast majority of Factories the unwritten rule for the highest paid faculty is “Don’t publish and get rich.” Since they also teach less and less, getting paid more and more in real terms for less and less work of any kind, they actually constitute monopolists happy to continue milking the public.

The search for truth and wisdom is the highest and most noble human pursuit, and there are many of us who continue in the quest. But most students and faculty members have been so demoralized by the bureaucratization of education that they laugh in derision at the very idea of pursuing knowledge. The great mass of college students now long only to “escape to the real world.”

In his last article, the late A. Bartlett Giamatti, former president of Yale, noted, “I have never met a parent who has said to me, I’m really delighted with the quality of teaching, the sense of values, the direction the students get.'” I rest my case. Vouchers and tax credits will not usher in the promised land, nor will they transform the quad at State U. into the Lyceum. But they surely will bring an end to the Education Factories.