(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
The Goldwater Institute released a new study today co-authored by yours truly titled Fortune Favors the Bold: Reforms for Results in K-12 Education.
The study makes the case for robust education reforms rather than incremental tinkering with a fundamentally broken system. Here in Arizona, for example, inflation adjusted spending per capita in the K-12 schools has tripled since 1960, and 44% of our 4th graders in public schools score “below basic” on the NAEP 2007 4th grade reading exam.
The kids are running around with their hair on fire, while we adults wonder whether to use a cup or a bucket of water to put out the flames. It’s time to use the fire hose.
The four reforms proposed:
- A universal system of choice, either through vouchers or a universal tax credit. Despite having among the nation’s most robust system of private and public school choice, choice programs have simply absorbed about of the third of the increase in the public school population since the charter law passed in 1994. Arizona could enjoy substantial academic and financial benefits from passing a far bolder choice program than anything currently on the books, and we would still be building new public schools.
- Reforming Public School Governance. Charter schools make up nine out of the top 10 high schools in the greater Phoenix area, and the 10th is a magnet school. Not a single district school cracks the top 10, with charters enormously overrepresented. The lesson is clear: good schools need a district bureaucracy like a fish needs a bicycle. Schools can and should govern themselves, freeing resources for instructional use.
- Reform of Testing. Standardized testing has jumped the shark in Arizona and elsewhere. We put forward a proposal on how to preserve the transparency and diagnostic value of testing even when states respond to pressure to dummy down their tests.
- Measure Teacher Effectiveness on a Value Added Basis. William Sanders’ path-breaking work on value added assessment shows that students learn 50% more over a three year period with highly effective teachers compared to those stuck in classes with the bottom 20%. Dr. Sanders finds that variation attributable to teacher performance is 10 to 20 times greater than that associated with class size. Further, high-quality teachers are too rare and clustered in the leafy suburbs. Value-added measurement serves as a pre-requisite for rational and just treatment of teachers as professionals and improving learning for children.
Jeb Bush put in what seemed like a radical set of reforms in Florida in 1999, and they have paid huge dividends. The time has come not only for other states to emulate Florida, but to reach further, and do more. Fortune favors the bold and American education reform dithers between being misguided, pointless, and too timid.