Again: Change the Focus to Students and Parents
A subscription is required, but Reihan Salam’s recent article in National Review on education is worth a read:
Earlier this year, the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform published a study assessing Milwaukee’s School Choice Demonstration Project. For many voucher enthusiasts, the results were sobering. Students enrolled in choice schools performed no better on reading and math tests than students attending conventional public schools. Critics such as Kevin Carey, a leading center-left education reformer, suggested that the Milwaukee experiment is therefore a failure.
Yet as Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) noted, students enrolled in the choice program are educated more cheaply than district-school students. As of the 2008–09 school year, the maximum amount Milwaukee’s choice schools received per student was $6,607. In contrast, the Milwaukee public schools spent approximately $14,520 per pupil. While these numbers aren’t directly comparable, it certainly seems that the district schools are considerably more expensive than the voucher program. Moreover, parents were more satisfied with the quality of education at choice schools, which suggests that some of the schools’ positive aspects were not captured in reading and math scores.
In 2006–07, we spent $562 billion on K–12 public education, or 3.9 percent of GDP. Let’s be generous to the education industry and assume that we could trim its costs by only one-fifth. This would save taxpayers over $100 billion.
Salam goes on to suggest retaining that money in education in order to fund:
- Targeted summer programs, because part of the problem that economically and socially disadvantaged students face is that their families habits don’t help them maintain their gained knowledge throughout the summer, as wealthier families’ habits do.
- Add separate instruction for children who represent discipline problems, to allow teachers to focus on students who are eager to learn.
- Student-centric technology that allows, for example, online courses on and off of school grounds.
The overall theme is one on which I’ve been focusing increasingly: Public schools’ priorities must be adjusted to shift the focus to students and their parents — ensuring that they accomplish what society needs them to accomplish, but putting feedback from them (such as their actual desire to attend a particular school) ahead of the bureaucratic feedback in the form of expenditures of tax dollars and union feedback in the form of labor unrest.