Tag: education

Monday Podcast: ‘The Push for Universal Pre-K’

The evidence is weak that Pre-K education improves the long-term prospects of public school kids, says Adam Schaeffer, Cato education policy analyst.

In Monday’s Cato Daily Podcast, Schaeffer explains why the push for universal preschool is really all about money, monopoly and misdirection:

The scale problem is a massive one and they haven’t really addressed it. State programs run into these problems as well. As they scale up the program, we see that there is no overall change in outcomes for the children in the state. Their test scores don’t go up.

This Is System Failure …

The Democratic Congress recently signed a death warrant for the DC voucher program and we witnessed some in the center-left media come out swinging in defense of the policy.

Support for school choice is mainstreaming. And while we have seen serious setbacks on voucher policy in recent years, supporters of private schools choice should not be discouraged.

Education tax credits are making huge strides, with new programs multiplying and old ones expanding. And the support is increasingly bipartisan.

So congratulations and thanks to South Carolina State Sen. Robert Ford, the latest high-profile Democrat to support education tax credits:

State Sen. Robert Ford is lending his voice — a black voice rooted in the African-American struggle for equal rights — to the S.C. fight over school choice. To the dismay of his African-American Senate colleagues, the Charleston Democrat is hawking a bill that would give students [an education tax credit or scholarship supported by credits] to go to a private school.

Ford, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor … is making the case that the students who would benefit most from a [tax credit] program in South Carolina are African-Americans who attend poorly performing schools.

“All of us have been defending the system,” Ford said. “It’s time to stop. I’m not pussyfooting with this anymore.”

Ford might be a bit lonely at first in South Carolina, but he stands in good company across the nation.

Florida’s donation tax-credit program became law in 2001 with the vote of a single Democratic legislator. Last year, a third of statehouse Democrats, half the black caucus and the entire Hispanic caucus voted to expand that program.

New or expanded tax-credit initiatives were signed into law by Democratic governors in Arizona, Iowa and Pennsylvania in 2006. That same year a Democrat-controlled legislature in Rhode Island passed a donation tax credit and a Democratic governor and legislature in Iowa expanded the tax-credit dollar cap by 50 percent in 2007.

Last year six states moved a school choice bill through both chambers and five more passed a bill through one chamber. Georgia passed a universal donation tax credit program, and Louisiana passed both a voucher program and an education tax deduction.

Ford is right that the public school system has failed children and taxpayers for decades. Now the system is failing to maintain the only thing that matters to it; political support.

Education Journalism. Another Epic Failure

This weekend, the Washington Post took education secretary Arne Duncan to task for claiming that DC’s public school system has ”had more money than God for a long time.” Post education reporter Bill Turque notes a January 2009 study showing “that D.C., ranked against the 50 states, is 13th in per-pupil expenditures ($11,193).” The study he cites is the January 2009 edition of Education Week’s Quality Counts publication, which used “Department of Education data from 2005-06 (the latest year available).”

Is this finally an example of the investigative journalism I recently noted has been sorely lacking in education? Not exactly. The Post and Ed Week are reporting a figure that is less that half of what DC is actually spending on k-12 education this year.

Their first error is to imagine that the Dept. of Ed.’s 3-year-old data are the most recent available. As a few seconds of Googling demonstrate, the current year education budgets for the District are available on the website of DC’s Chief Financial Officer: here, here, and here.

What difference do 3 years make? Consider that total spending on education in DC has gone up in real terms over that period while enrollment has fallen from about 59,000 to fewer than 49,000 students. That alone has led to a dramatic rise in per pupil spending.

Next consider that Ed Week appears to have ignored capital spending (e.g., on building renovation and construction) from its calculations. So its “per pupil expenditures” are not the total per pupil figures that readers would naturally assume, they only cover part of the district’s spending (the part normally referred to as “current operating expenditures”). What difference does that make? Nearly $5,000 worth.

As I noted last year, “current operating expenditures” for DC were $13,466 in 2005-06 (Ed Week’s figure is lower because they applied a regional cost-of-living adjustment). DC’s total per pupil spending in that same year was $18,098. [Note that we have to infer that Ed Week excluded capital spending based on the numbers they report, because their table inexplicably fails to say what figures it is reporting.]

And finally, reporting old figures without adjusting for inflation understates how much was actually spent unless readers know to perform the inflation adjustment themselves.

So what happens when you add up this year’s total spending on k-12 education in DC and divide by this year’s actual enrollment? You end up with the real per pupil spending figure of $26,555.

So, secretary Duncan: you were right all along.

Any journalist or public official wishing an explanation of the current-year total per pupil spending figure cited above for Washington, DC  is welcome to contact me at acoulson(at) cato.org

NEA to Dems: HEY! We Paid Good Money for You!!!

Here’s an interesting letter penned by Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association – the largest union in the country (hat tip to Cato’s own Neal McCluskey). It reads, in part (boldface added, ALL CAPS “shouting” in the original):

Letter to the Democrats in the House and Senate on DC Vouchers

March 05, 2009
Dear Senator:

The National Education Association strongly opposes any extension of the District of Columbia private school voucher (“DC Opportunity Scholarship”) program.  We expect that Members of Congress who support public education, and whom we have supported, will stand firm against any proposal to extend the pilot program.  Actions associated with these issues WILL be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 111th Congress. 

Vouchers are not real education reform.  Pulling 1,200 children out of a system that serves 65,000 doesn’t solve problems - it ignores them.  Real reform will put a qualified teacher in every classroom, keep their skills up to date with continuing education, and raise pay to attract and retain the best teachers.  Rather than offering a chance for a few, we should be ensuring that every child has access to a great public school.

Opposition to vouchers is a top priority for NEA.  Throughout its history, NEA has strongly opposed any diversion of limited public funds to private schools…. 

According to his bio, president Van Roekel used to teach high school math, so I assume he is an able number cruncher. But as someone who used to be a computer software engineer, I think an old comp. sci. adage is apropos: “Garbage-in, Garbage-out.” It doesn’t matter how good your number crunching is if the numbers you crunch are nonsense.

As I have previously pointed out, enrollment in DC this year is nearly 20,000 students lower than Van Roekel imagines. The “limited public funds” he seems to think are allocated to k-12 education in DC amount to $26,555 per pupil. The DC voucher program’s enabling legislation actually increases funding to DC public schools by $13 million per year, and the average tuition charged by voucher-accepting private schools was $5,928 last year.

So the DC voucher program is 4 times more efficient than DCPS, and gets far more positive reviews from parents in the bargain, according to the Dept. of Education’s own study of the program. If it were expanded to serve every student in the district, it would save on the order of half a billion dollars, even allowing for a higher average tuition.

Now let’s see… what other reasons might president Van Roekel have for wanting to kick 1,700 poor kids in DC out of schools they love?

RAND: Charter Schools Raise Ed’l Attainment

I am not a particularly avid fan of charter schools. As I’ve previously written on this blog, I see reason to fear that their long term result will be the growth rather than the contraction of the state schooling bureaucracy. That said, RAND has just published a relatively positive new study about their short-term effects.

While the RAND study finds no significant difference in achievement gains in charters versus regular public schools, it finds that charter students for whom they have the necessary data are 7 to 15 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school and 8 to 10 percentage points more likely to enroll in college, after controlling for student characteristics.

While this is wonderful news, it will be a Pyrrhic victory if charter schools gradually succumb to regulatory encroachment and stultifying unionization, as seems likely.

Fortunately, as I blogged a couple of days ago, there is no need to run this risk. Truly market-like education systems show the same or better effects on students educational attainment, and show significant positive effects on academic achievement, school efficiency, parental satisfaction, eventual student earnings, and other outcomes. Access to such marketplaces can be made universal through tax credit programs that are significantly more apt to resist regulatory encroachment than are state-funded school choice policies, as I document in a forthcoming book chapter for Clemson University.

Matt Yglesias on School Choice in Sweden

Following up on Dana Goldstein’s American Prospect blog post, Matt Yglesias calls the Swedish system and U.S. charter schools better education policy models than education tax credits.

He doesn’t say why, and I’d be interested to hear his reasoning. As I documented on Cato-at-Liberty in response to Goldstein, the econometric evidence shows that the greatest margin of superiority over state-run schooling is enjoyed by truly market-like education systems. By that I mean systems that are minimally regulated with respect to content, staffing, prices, etc., and which are funded at least in part directly by the families they serve.

Yglesias also claims that choice supporters want to “eliminate public education.” On the contrary, choice supporters are fundamentally more committed to public education than anyone who refuses to consider the market alternative.

“Public Education” is a set of ideals. It is not a particular institution. It is the ideal that all children should have access to a good education, regardless of family income; that schools should prepare students not just for success in private life but for participation in public life; and that our schools should foster harmonious relations among the various groups making up our pluralistic society – or at the very least not create unnecessary tensions among them.

School choice advocates are more committed to those ideals than is anyone wedded to the current district-based school system, because that system is inferior in all of the above respects to a universally accessible education marketplace. This is documented in the literature review linked-to above, in my book Market Education: The Unknown History, and in the work of James Tooley, E.G. West, my Cato colleagues, and many others.

The education tax credit programs my colleagues and I have proposed would ensure universal access to the education marketplace, while leaving essentially intact the freedoms and incentives responsible for the market’s success. I know of no other policy capable of achieving this. Certainly charter schools and the Swedish system fail to do it.

American Prospect Strikes Mother Lode of Falsehood

Dana Goldstein of the American Prospect blogs that “research clearly shows that students using vouchers perform no better academically than their socio-economically similar peers in public schools.” This is flamboyantly false.

I recently reviewed the literature comparing public, private, and truly free market school systems, and an expanded version of that study is forthcoming in the Journal of School Choice. The JSC version tabulates the findings of 65 scientific studies (including every U.S. and foreign voucher study I am aware of), collectively reporting 156 comparisons of educational outcomes. What does the research “clearly show”? It shows this:

Summary of Findings Comparing Private and Government Schooling,
by Result and Outcome Category

 

Total

Ach

Eff

Sat

Ord

Fac

Ear

Att

Int

Sig Priv. Advantage

106

46

25

11

5

2

5

11

1

Insignificant

37

28

1

0

0

0

5

3

0

Sig. Gov’t Adv.

13

10

3

0

0

0

0

0

0

 

The above table summarizes the results of the scientific literature, showing the number of findings favoring the private sector by a statistically significant margin, the number that are insignificant, and the number favoring the public sector by a statistically significant margin. It does this for all eight available outcome measures: academic achievement, efficiency (achievement per dollar spent per pupil), parental satisfaction, the orderliness of classrooms, the condition in which facilities are maintained, the later earnings of graduates, the highest school grade or degree completed, and effect on measured intelligence. And it incontrovertably shows that private sector outperforms the public sector in education across all of those measures.

But there’s more. As I note in the conclusion: “It is in fact the least regulated market school systems that show the greatest margin of superiority over state schooling.” When the above results are winnowed down so that we compare only free markets of private schools that are funded at least in part directly by parents to public school monopolies like those of the United States, the findings are even more starkly divided:

Summary of Findings Comparing Market and Gov’t Monopoly Schooling,
by Result and Outcome Category

 

Total

Ach

Eff

Sat

Ord

Fac

Ear

Att

Sig Mkt Adv.

59

20

17

6

4

1

3

8

Insignificant

13

7

0

0

0

0

3

3

Sig. Gov’t Adv.

4

4

0

0

0

0

0

0

 

Note the staggering overall results. Findings favoring free market school systems outnumber contrary findings by a margin of 15 to 1. They also outnumber the combined insignificant findings and the findings favoring monopolies by more than 3 to 1. Most tellingly, when we look at efficiency we find that there are NO results in the literature that favor government schooling and NO results that are statistically insignificant. EVERY study that compares academic achievement per dollar spent per pupil between market school systems and public school systems finds a significant market advantage.

Goldstein and The American Prospect should obviously print a retraction. But if they are interested in the truth, they might want to do something more. They might want to ask themselves why they continue to cling to a monopoly system that has been overwhelmingly discredited in the scientific literature….