Tag: public schools

You Don’t Have to Be a Nuclear Engineer to…

…support market solutions in education, but apparently it helps.

Keith Yost, a grad student in MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering and the Engineering Systems Division, has a great piece in his school’s newspaper. He explains that public schools have enjoyed a dramatic increase in per-pupil resources over the past 40 years, but ultimately failed to improve student achievement. He also explains why: resources are misallocated because of a lack of systemic incentives for their proper allocation — incentives that are inherent in the free enterprise system.

Unfortunately, Yost’s rationalist, systems approach is very different from that of most policymakers — perhaps because so few policymakers were trained as engineers. So maybe one way to accelerate the process of effective reform of American schools is to encourage more of our engineers to go into state politics. Think about it, Keith.

Alternatively, as Mothers’ Day is around the corner, perhaps the trick is for moms to encourage their kids to pursue science and engineering rather than go into that one career field that produces so many of our politicians (apologies to Waylon Jennings):

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be lawyers.
Don’t let ‘em pick gavels or watch 12 Angry Men.
Buy ‘em some Lego and a protector for pens…

Private Schools Save Children Rejected by the System

There were many compelling speakers in South Carolina last week making the case for school choice. This man, Colonel Nathaniel Green, was one of the best. In about two 1/2 minutes, he explains better than I ever could why a top-down system doesn’t work for many children. I liked it so much, I’ve also transcribed most of it below.

“Failing schools” are not failing schools, they’re failing students. Failing students is failing America.

I started out working in the system. The system is broken. I was frustrated. I started a program … The young men that are standing behind me, they represent kids that the system kicked out who are now achieving.

The gentleman in the black shirt, he came from Brentwood Middle School. His parents couldn’t afford [our school]. Contrary to popular opinion [of those who keep saying that private schools are only for the rich], he came for free for six years because we were concerned about him. We sacrificed for him. Get that straight.

When he came to our school, he tested below the fourth and fifth grade level in the sixth grade. When he graduated from Eagle [Military Academy] six years later, he had a 1300 on the SAT, it’s documented. He got a Life Scholarship through the state of South Carolina, and he carriers a 3.4 average in college right now at Trident University.

I can repeat this story over and over again [for other students]. By the way, I went to the public schools to show them my program. They weren’t interested. I went to Dr. Rex [, South Carolina’s state Superintendent of Education]. He wouldn’t call me.

I went to the people to try to get them to work with me to help our young men because we’re losing our young men in our state. And I think it’s time to put aside our partisan politics, it’s time to stop playing games, and it’s time to start helping our young people in this state. Vote for this [school choice bill].

How Serious Is U.S. Ed. Productivity Collapse

A commenter at Joanne Jacobs’ edu-blog wonders “how serious this ‘collapse’ is.” I offered the following response:

How serious of a collapse is it? Total k-12 expenditures in this country were about $630 billion two years ago (see Table 25, Digest of Ed Statistics 2008). The efficiency of our education system is less than half what it was in 1971 (i.e., we spend more than twice as much to get the same results — see Table 181, same source).

So if we’d managed to ensure that education productivity just stagnated, we’d be saving over $300 billion EVERY YEAR. If we’d actually seen productivity improvements in education such as we’ve seen in other fields, we’d be saving at least that much money and enjoying higher student achievement at the same time.

My guess is that most people would consider saving $3 trillion per decade and more fully realizing children’s intellectual potential are both very important.

Another commenter observes that spending has of necessity increased due to the combination of rising salaries and a failure to deploy new technologies to lower costs. This is true to a point, but the total employee/student ratio in public schools has also grown dramatically over the same period. A few years ago I calculated that taxpayers would save more than $100 billion annually if the public schools just went back to the employee/student ratio of 1970. And the savings are still massive even if you account for a roughly 10% increase in teachers for expanded special education services.

Ultimately, though, you have to ask WHY public schools have failed to use technology to lower costs as virtually every other field has successfully done. The answer is that doing so is difficult and so won’t happen without the freedom and powerful systemtic incentives to MAKE it happen. The only system of freedoms and incentives that makes productivity growth the norm is the free enterprise system.

More on South Carolina School Choice Hearing

State Senator Robert Ford is an African-American, Democratic champion of education tax credits to fund school choice and sponsor of the bill under consideration at this hearing. He has a tendency for quotable lines, and delivered one of my favorite last week.

“For 37 years I lied to myself [about education reform],” Sen. Ford admitted. He’s now determined to shine a light on all of those lies that he swallowed … that the public schools are the only way to help the poor, that we just need one more public school reform and all will be right and good.

Sen. Ford has the courage to admit that he was wrong and face the vicious attacks of his one-time allies for choosing children over public school special interests. And he’s not the type to let go on a matter of justice. I look forward to hearing a lot more from him …

Check in here for updates on school choice in SC and videos from the hearing, and in the meantime, here’s my testimony (speakers were limited to 3 minutes …).

The Danger of Charter Schooling

It’s an interesting problem for charter-school afficianados: many want charters to have all the freedom of private schools, but go to pains to let people know that charters are public schools whenever the schools are under fire (or want money). Well I’ve just learned – perhaps before reporters have even been able to write their stories, because I haven’t yet found a news link to it – that New York’s Public Employee Relations Board will force the KIPP AMP charter school in New York City to let its teachers unionize.

This will be a tough pill for KIPP AMP to swallow, especially since an integral part of the famous KIPP model is requiring employees to be available far beyond the normal working hours of traditional public school teachers – not something the United Federation of Teachers is known for loving.  But this is the chance you take when you run a charter school: No matter how much you want to act like a private school, sooner or later the public-schooling powers will remind you of what you really are.

In English Learning Case, Families Will Lose Either Way

The Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments today in a case that will affect how and at what cost English is taught to non-native speakers in U.S. public schools. On one side are Hispanic parents from southern Arizona who sued their school district for failing to properly teach their children English, and on the other are district and state officials who want the courts to butt out and let them teach students in whatever way, and at whatever cost, they choose. I understand what these parents are going through – I grew up in an English-speaking family in the French-speaking province of Quebec – but it really doesn’t matter who “wins” this case: the families will lose either way.

Even if the parents “win,” and the Court orders their public school district to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more on English instruction, it won’t do any good. A 1985 federal court order compelled the state of Missouri to spend an additional $2 billion over 12 years to desegregate Kansas City schools and improve the achievement of African American students. Neither goal was achieved, and even the presiding judge eventually admitted his order was a failure. Extra spending and court pressure do not improve public school performance, because public schools don’t have to show improvement to get the money and because courts can’t dismiss ineffective administrators or teachers.

The real solution is to empower families to _leave_ the schools that are failing them and move their children to more effective ones. Fortunately, Arizona has an education tax credit program that makes scholarships available to defray private school tuition. Whatever the court’s verdict, these parents should be banding together to create a local scholarship fund that can accept tax-credited donations so their children can attend the private schools of their choice. They can then pick whichever schools demonstrate the most success at teaching English instead of spending their time in court.