Education reform clips, and “new math” for vouchers


Interesting bunch of clips on education reform.

At Homeland Stupidity, a poster named Dana Hanley wonders if Bush is really proposing that we model our schools after China’s and India’s schools.

Hanley is direct:

There has been a 52% increase in spending on the key provision and an unprecedented amount of federal control taken over education. And all we have to show for it is trends that were evident before the act took effect? It isn’t worth the cost and it certainly isn’t worth the loss of our state’s rights in education.

Hanley writes strongly on the “qualified teacher” provisions of the “No Child Left Behind” Act, too.

Education reform in Massachusetts is still a hot topic, especially with a gubernatorial election this year. Pam Richardson, a member of the Framingham School Committee, in the MetroWest Daily News (Boston?) complains about an abundance of testing coupled to differing standards, which in the end produce confusion about what is going on in the schools:

Finally, we need a clear system of accountability that everyone can understand. The federal No Child Left Behind Act blocks our ability to make progress because of the way Massachusetts has chosen to implement it.

Here we are, the nation’s top state in four major categories of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, but 1 in 3 of our schools are technically “under performing” because of intricate layers of rules that make Massachusetts’ schools the most intensely regulated in America. Educators are shaking their heads about how they can be outstanding in the morning and under-performing in the afternoon.

Take the Barbieri Elementary School in Framingham as a perfect example. It was given Compass School Designation by Mass Insight the very same year it was labeled “under performing” by the state Department of Education using the state’s highest-in-the-nation standards and most punitive system of minimizing success but promulgating sanctions.

Oh, my.

Meanwhile, out west, the Los Angeles Daily News (N.B.: Not the L. A. Times) carried a guest column by Paul T. Hill, a fellow at the very conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford, suggesting that charter schools can contribute to efforts to improve education in Los Angeles, and urging that the mayor make charters a key part of reform efforts. Oddly for a group that usually watches numbers closely, Hill claims that taking money from public schools to put it into charter schools actually helps the public schools, since in some cases it might increase the per pupil expenditures.

Hill might be painted as wholly unfamiliar with what school buildings and other facilities are, though I’m sure that is not so. He’s a member of the Koret K-12 Task Force, which is a Hoover Institution collection of bright lights in education, brought together with funding from the Koret Foundation solely to look at how to make education reform work. The task force includes Diane Ravitch and E. D. Hirsch, and my former boss Checker Finn. These people know education.

Hill’s analysis still ignores economic reality. Taking a student away from a school, even were that act to modestly increase per pupil spending, is always a net drain on school finance. Schools may be funded by the number of pupils, but they do not pay gas, water or electric bills that way. Libraries are not made more effective by reducing the money available for books, and that affects all students at a school. Teachers are not paid on a per pupil basis, nor is any other staff member or administrator. Taking money away from a school always hurts the school. Bills remain high, while funds whither.

Hurting schools is one of the key justifications for charter schools — others from the circle of friends of the Hoover Institute, including most notably, Nobel winner Friedman, have argued for years that a dose of competition will work wonders for public school quality. If the public schools start feeling the pinch — if they start hurting, in other words — advocates of competition say that public schools will reform more quickly. In the past three or four years advocates of privatizing education have become more bold, arguing that public schooling should be abolished altogether, and openly urging people to move kids out of public schools in order to starve the public schools of funding.

One sometimes might wonder whether the right hand knows what the far-right hand is arguing.

In any case, there is little evidence to support a claim that competition makes better education. All of the nations against which U.S. educational attainment is measured have national curricula, not local control. All of them have national standards and national funding. None of them have a competition system anything like charter schools, let alone free market competition as some have asked. Charter schools and other plans to take funding from public schools remain a huge experiment — or gamble, if you prefer.

I would love to see a city or state try a plan where students in underperforming schools get vouchers that they could spend at their underperforming school. I think this sort of competition might lead to some real insights, when students and their parents choose to stay at their local schools and invest in them, rather than move.

Education need not be expensive, but it cannot be cost free, either. Friedman and other free market economists are famous for their observations that “there is no such thing as a free lunch” (TINSTAAFL). It’s surprising, then, to hear a representative of free market philosophy suggest that taking money from public schools leaves them with the same amount, or more. I didn’t know they practiced “new math” at Hoover. Old math suggests that subtracting money from a sum always leaves a lesser sum.

In any case, the debates go on.

One Response to Education reform clips, and “new math” for vouchers

  1. […] Hanley is direct: There has been a 52% increase in spending on the key provision and an unprecedented amount of federal control taken over education. And all we have to show for it is trends that … Posted by edarrellI’ll keep searching for more interesting materialsLink to original article […]

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