BOOK REVIEW: ‘The K-12 Implosion’: America’s Traditional Educational Structure is Beyond Fixing

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 
BOOK REVIEW: 'The K-12 Implosion': American's Traditional Educational Structure is Beyond Fixing
In his Encounter 29 Broadside “The Higher Education Bubble” Glenn H. Reynolds argued that the cost of college education has become a bubble as toxic as the U.S. housing bubble that  first surfaced about 2007 and that continues to plague the economy.From my review last year
“For a long time — eons, it seems — the mantra from guidance counselors and just about everybody else to high school seniors is go to college if you want to succeed in America. Now comes Glenn H. Reynolds, a law school professor no less, who says in Encounter Broadside No. 29 “The Higher Education Bubble” (Encounter Books, 56 pages, $5.99) that the nation is facing a higher education bubble.

 “Once a student graduates from a college he or she may not be able to find a job that will enable him or her to pay off tens of thousands of dollars in student loans. The loans are usually not dischargeable in bankruptcy, so they’ll be like the albatross around the neck of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner — an albatross that will last for decades.

“Like the housing bubble, the higher education bubble was fueled by cheap credit coupled with popular expectations of ever-increasing returns on investment, Reynolds says. As with housing prices, the cheap credit has caused college tuition costs to vastly outpace inflation and family incomes. “

Now in “The K-12 Implosion” (Encounter Broadsides No. 31, $5.99 , 48 pages) , Reynolds — citing Economist Herb Stein’s famous saying that something that can’t go on forever, won’t — says that the 19th century structure for primary and secondary education no longer works in the 21st century.

Designed to produce obedient factory workers, the K-12 (Kindergarten through 12th grade)  educational organization steadily produces poor results despite the obscene amount of money poured into American education. Yes, you heard that right: Education costs too much for the poor results we get and the poorest performing public schools, like Washington, DC,  get the most money.
For decades now, America has been putting ever-growing amounts of money into its K-12 education system, while getting steadily poorer results. Now parents are losing faith in public schools, new alternatives are appearing, and change is on the way. The K-12 Implosion provides a succinct description of what’s wrong, and where the solutions are likely to appear, along with advice for parents, educators, and taxpayers.

Reynolds says charter schools and other replacements for K-12 public education produce better results when they depart from the rigid K-12 structure. He says that online education doesn’t get the respect it deserves and cites as an example his own teen-age daughter who learned complicated subjects much faster online, graduating from high school at 16 and accepted into an outstanding “public Ivy” college.

Blocking the dismantling of the K-12 structure are the usual suspects: Teacher unions, educational bureaucrats with a vested interest in keeping the status quo, and parents who don’t question the system. Some experts he interviewed are optimistic, others not so much, but the outmoded structure of K-12 is collapsing before our eyes. Whatever replaces it has to be an improvement, Reynolds argues.

ENCOUNTER BROADSIDES: Uniting an 18th-century sense of political urgency and rhetorical wit (think The Federalist Papers, Common Sense) with 21st-century technology and channels of distribution, Encounter Broadsides offer indispensable ammunition for intelligent debate on the critical issues of our time. Written with passion by some of our most authoritative authors, Encounter Broadsides make the case for liberty and the institutions of democratic capitalism at a time when they are under siege from the resurgence of collectivist sentiment. Read them in a sitting and come away knowing the best we can hope for and the worst we must fear.

About the author

Glenn Harlan Reynolds is the Beauchamp Brogan Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Tennessee. He writes for such publications as The Atlantic Monthly,ForbesPopular Mechanics, The Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Examiner. He blogs at


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