To find out if that’s true, we can look at the “long‐term trends” of 17‐year‐olds on the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress. These 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.
We have already tried President Obama’s education solution over a time period and on a scale that he could not hope to replicate today. And it has proven an expensive and tragic failure.
To avoid Greece’s fate we must create new, productive private‐sector jobs to replace our unproductive government ones. Even as a tiny, mostly nonprofit niche, American private education is substantially more efficient than its public sector, producing higher graduation rates and similar or better student achievement at roughly a third lower cost than public schools (even after controlling for differences in student and family characteristics).
By making it easier for families to access independent schools, we can do what the president’s policies cannot: drive prosperity through educational improvement. More than 20 private‐school choice programs already exist around the nation. Last month, New Hampshire legislators voted to override their governor’s veto and enact tax credits for businesses that donate to K-12 scholarship organizations. Mr. Romney has supported such state programs. President Obama opposes them.
While America may have too many teachers, the greater problem is that our state schools have squandered their talents on a mass scale. The good news is that a solution is taking root in many states.