Some Great Pieces by Friends

In case you’ve missed them, there were some great pieces by Andrew Coulson and Bob Maranto in newspapers today.  And the book on Obama’s education policies edited by Bob Maranto along with Mike McShane, one of our graduate students who is now a research fellow at AEI, was reviewed by Nathan Glazer in Education Next.

Andrew’s piece appeared in the Wall Street Journal and made the unconventional but persuasive argument that we probably have too many teachers rather than too few.  Here’s a taste:

Since 1970, the public school workforce has roughly doubled—to 6.4 million from 3.3 million—and two-thirds of those new hires are teachers or teachers’ aides. Over the same period, enrollment rose by a tepid 8.5%. Employment has thus grown 11 times faster than enrollment. If we returned to the student-to-staff ratio of 1970, American taxpayers would save about $210 billion annually in personnel costs….

[NAEP] tests, first administered four decades ago, show stagnation in reading and math and a decline in science. Scores for black and Hispanic students have improved somewhat, but the scores of white students (still the majority) are flat overall, and large demographic gaps persist. Graduation rates have also stagnated or fallen. So a doubling in staff size and more than a doubling in cost have done little to improve academic outcomes.

Nor can the explosive growth in public-school hiring be attributed to federal spending on special education. According to the latest Census Bureau data, special ed teachers make up barely 5% of the K-12 work force.

The implication of these facts is clear: America’s public schools have warehoused three million people in jobs that do little to improve student achievement—people who would be working productively in the private sector if that extra $210 billion were not taxed out of the economy each year.

Bob’s piece appeared in the Northwest Arkansas Times.  The local Bentonville school district recently failed to  pass a millage to build a second high school to alleviate overcrowding in the current one.  Bob proposes that they might consider expanding the range of charter school options to alleviate overcrowding, save taxpayers money, and improve the choices for students for whom the large traditional public high school does not work well.  Here’s a taste:

There is a better and less expensive way to partially relieve overcrowding and serve student needs.

Why not keep a great big high school which works well for most kids, but also permit smaller schools of choice for parents who want something diff erent? Why not allow charter schools?

Charter schools are public schools managed like private schools. Like traditional public schools, charters are authorized by public authorities, must do well on state academic tests, have to serve special-needs students, and cannot impose religion or discriminate in admission.Yet like private schools, charters are self-governing rather than reporting to a district and school board.

Charters earn funding based on the number of parents choosing the school. If nobody chooses a charter, it closes, so charters work hard to please parents. Andif a charter fails financially or academically, the state closes it, making charter schools doubly accountable.

Charters typically serve niche markets with a singular focus such as the arts, vo-tech education, classical learning, or science and math, rather than trying to be all things for all families.

In Arkansas, charter schools must survive on the basic state per-pupil allocation and do not access any of the funding provided by local millage taxes. In Arkansas, and in most states, charters spend about a fifth less per pupil than traditional public schools, offering parents a choice and taxpayers a bargain.

Research shows that charters excel on teacher and parent satisfaction, and generally do somewhat better than average on student level value added (how much a student learns each year).

Approving a charter school in Bentonville could help alleviate overcrowding and enable Bentonville High to stay great rather than split in two. Since charter schools cost the local community nothing and charters are usually quick to open, they would off er more system-level flexibility in meeting demand. Charters could also offer a refuge to students who need a smaller environment, or just want something different.

And here is a taste from Nathan Glazer’s review of Maranto and McShane’s book on Obama’s education policies:

… the program that education reformers have tried to promote now for decades—introduce more choices of schools for students, enable competition among schools, open up paths for preparing teachers and administrators outside schools of education, improve measures of student achievement and teacher competence, enable administrators to act on the basis of such measures, and limit the power of teachers unions—has been advanced under the Obama administration, in the judgment of authors Maranto and McShane….

Maranto and McShane conclude by noting four large forces that will shape the future of education and its funding: the increasing number and percentage of the aged, putting pressure on all other public functions, primarily because of the cost of medical care; the rise of the ”creative class,” as described by urban theorist Richard Florida, as those who work with ideas and demand more from teachers and schools; the new technology for education, rivaling and undermining traditional approaches and structures; and advances in measurement of achievement and competence, making the failings of current schools and educational approaches more apparent. This makes for a sobering future for traditional education: it will not be able to count on more public resources, and ideas will become more important than ever. Clearly, despite NCLB and Race to the Top, we are only at the beginning of an age of reform in education, whoever comes out ahead in the election.

Of course, if Andrew, Bob, and Mike were really hot policy analysts they should have just communicated their arguments in 140 characters.  Don’t they know that all the really cool kids have PLDD?

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