Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Time to end the monopoly in education

To boost the economy out of the recession, President Obama has chosen to spend an additional $100 billion on public schooling over the next two years. His education secretary, Arne Duncan, is touring the nation to promote this education "stimulus."

However well-intentioned, their effort isn't just futile; it's also counterproductive. Far from being an engine of wealth creation, the education system is bleeding the economy to death. The U.S. spends 2.3 times as much per pupil in real, inflation-adjusted dollars as it spent in 1970, but the return on this ballooning investment has been less than nothing.

Student achievement at the end of high school has been flat for nearly 40 years, according to a recent study by the Education Department, while the graduation rate fell over the same period, according to a report by James Heckman, a Nobel laureate economist. If the efficiency of U.S. public schooling had merely remained at its 1970 level, the country would enjoy the equivalent of an annual $300 billion tax cut.

The productivity collapse in education is more than staggering; it's unparalleled. Can you name any other service or product that has gotten worse and less affordable over the past two generations? The reason you can't is that no other field is organized as a state-run monopoly. The general argument against monopolies is well understood and accepted. A concrete case study might drive home the point that monopolies are just as harmful in education as in other fields.

Earlier this year, I sifted through the 2008-09 budget for the District of Columbia, summing up all K-12 education spending, not counting charter schools. It comes to just under $1.3 billion. The latest audited enrollment count for the district is 44,681, putting per-pupil spending in the nation's capital at about $29,000. Meanwhile, fewer than half of the students who enter the ninth grade in D.C. go on to graduate four years later.

To put that profligacy in perspective, the private schools serving D.C.'s 1,700 voucher students charge an average tuition of $6,600, according to a recent Education Department. After three years in the program, voucher students read more than two school years ahead of a randomized control group of their public school peers. That is, the voucher program yields substantially better results at less than one-quarter the cost.

For those unfamiliar with the D.C. voucher program, it is the one that President Obama has decided to phase out, despite his stated goal of pursuing education reform that's effective and efficient.

The massive productivity advantage of private-sector education is not unique to Washington, D.C. For the Journal of School Choice, I tabulated the international scientific research comparing public and private-sector schooling. Across time, countries and outcome measures, private provision outshines public in the overwhelming majority of cases. More important, the least regulated, most marketlike education systems show the greatest margin of superiority over monopoly schooling. In literature on education, 59 findings show that markets outperform school monopolies. Not a single study has found a monopoly school system to be as efficient as a market system.

Once upon a time, America could afford to sustain a parasitic school monopoly, fecklessly throwing billions more dollars at it decade after decade despite its failure to improve. That time has passed. Now that the economy is in a deep recession, the perpetuation of that monopoly puts our economic future at unacceptable risk.

Many policy proposals are on the table that could inject market forces back into the field of education, bringing to it the same long-term productivity growth that has been the norm in other fields. Some states already have such programs operating on a tiny scale, such as Illinois' modest tax credits for families' own education costs, and the tax credits in Florida, Arizona and Pennsylvania for donations to K-12 tuition-assistance organizations serving low-income families.

The first states to combine and expand these programs on a grand scale will become magnets for businesses in search of better-educated workers and lower taxes, leading to an economic and educational boom. The states that don't will continue to burn in the budgetary hell created by monopoly schooling, needlessly jeopardizing their children's economic and educational futures. It's time to bring the field of education into the fold of the free enterprise system.


A British Leftist advocating vouchers? Sort of

By Alan Milburn (Alan Milburn, MP, is chairman of the British Government’s panel on social mobility)

The motor force of an open society, in which social mobility is extensive, is education. A good school opens the door to a good career. Today I launch the final report of the panel that I have been chairing on how professional careers can be open to people of talent, regardless of background. A huge expansion in professional jobs in the next decade will bring the potential for a new wave of social mobility. But, as our report makes clear, generations of low and middle-income young people will miss out unless we do more to close the educational attainment gap in schools.

In the past decade the Government has done much to improve results, refurbish schools and raise standards. The number of failing schools is falling. City academies, located in the poorest areas, are helping to improve the GCSE results of children who receive free school meals at a faster rate than those who do not.

Despite this progress, the attainment gap by social position is still substantial. The chance of children eligible for free school meals — roughly the poorest 15 per cent by family income — getting good qualifications by the age of 16 is still less than a third that of their better-off classmates. Poor areas are still far too likely to have poor schools. But, as the large number of appeals over school places demonstrates, it is not just the most disadvantaged who can be caught in the gap between the demand for good schools and their supply. It is also many middle-income families.

Better-off parents can sidestep these problems. They can take their children out of state schools and send them to private schools. They can buy extra tuition or move near a good school to guarantee a place.

When affluence buys attainment it restricts mobility. Some believe the answer lies in academic selection — and a return to grammar schools. But there is precious little evidence that schools selecting pupils does anything to close the attainment gap. The evidence from countries such as Denmark, Sweden and the US is that it is not schools selecting pupils, but parents being able to choose schools that raises standards generally and helps the disadvantaged particularly.

There is a lot of good thinking out there, if it can be brought together. The Conservatives say that city academies should be extended in both primary and secondary schools. They also say, rightly, that the supply of education places could be opened up to greater competition, particularly in areas of underperformance. The seeds of this have been sown: under Labour’s existing legislation 19 new schools have been opened and 37 more are due over the next four years. Undoubtedly, however, new impetus could be injected by new partners, such as chains of state schools or schools sponsored by groups of parents, being invited to take over or work with underperforming schools.

The Liberal Democrats have argued that, in poor areas, schools could receive additional funding or each pupil from a disadvantaged background could attract a premium payment to recognise particular needs. They have a good point, but there are already higher levels of funding for deprivation. The problem is that money allocated nationally is not always handed on to schools by local authorities. The Government’s recent White Paper argued that additional funding for each pupil from a disadvantaged background should be passed on. That is why the Government should aim for 100 per cent of deprivation-funding being passed to schools.

Other reforms could close the attainment gap and benefit pupils from middle as well as lower-income families. Schools could be asked to report on pupils’ outcomes as well as examination results. They could assess the progress made between pupils starting school, leaving school and their destination after school. The Government could then consider how schools could be paid according to the progress their pupils make. That could provide a powerful incentive to drive up standards and improve pupils’ outcomes.

And we could give parents who do not at present have access to a good school the power to get it. I have proposed that parents be given a new right of redress to choose a better school for their child if they live in an area where the schools are consistently performing badly. Parents could be given an education credit worth 150 per cent of the cost of the child’s schooling for a state school of their choice. The extra funding would give good schools an incentive to expand pupil numbers and broaden their social intake.

Each of these ideas is controversial and contested. But my panel believes that the Government should examine these and other reforms as part of a sustained drive to close the educational attainment gap.

It is no longer sustainable for our education system to produce a cohort of youngsters who lack the skills to compete in the modern labour market. For reasons of economic progress, we need a second wave of social mobility. But, more than that, this is a question of basic justice. A talent unfulfilled is not just an opportunity cost. It is an opportunity lost.


Mother banned from British school for confronting bully who used son as 'human punch bag'

School hates to have its failures noted

A mother has been banned from a primary school after confronting a bully who used her five-year- old son as a 'human punch bag'. Christine Hart, 38, calmly asked the pupil to 'please stop hitting' her son Arthur after he endured months of bullying despite several complaints to teachers. But a teaching assistant saw and hauled her off to the headmistress, who told her not to cross the school gates and to attend a hearing with the governors to discuss her conduct.

Miss Hart spoke to the pupil last week when she dropped Arthur off at his classroom at Orleans Infants School, which serves a well-to-do catchment area in Twickenham, South-West London.

She has been warned she could face a further six-month ban for 'verbally abusing' the pupil and interrupting a class. She was also told that causing a 'nuisance' at school could constitute a criminal offence and that any further incidents will be reported to police. 'I am being punished because I stood up for my son when the school appeared to be doing nothing about my complaints,' she said. 'What message does this send to the boy? I don't know if he's ever been told off. Instead, I'm the one who is made to feel in the wrong. 'The message is hit Arthur whenever you like as you cannot be touched. If anyone challenges you, they will be cast out of school and threatened with the police.'

The school issued a statement saying that pupil safety was paramount and all bullying procedures had been followed.

Miss Hart, a journalist, said the bullying began when Arthur started at the school last September. 'He used to come home in tears and say that he didn't want to go back and could I teach him at home,' she added.

Two months ago Miss Hart saw Arthur being set upon by a classmate at a party in the school hall. 'Art was standing alone when one boy ran up to him and started using him as a punch bag, literally hitting him several times on the chest,' she said. 'Other boys then ran up to him grabbed him round the neck and arms and he was being hit. I was rooted to the spot.'

On another occasion Arthur, who suffers from asthma, was jumped on by a group of boys in the playground. 'He was squashed under a pile of them and said he couldn't breathe,' she said.

In an attempt to build bridges, Miss Hart laid on a picnic for her son and one of his tormentors, and they played together. But the bullying began again almost straight away. The night before his mother spoke to the boy in class, Arthur cried and said going to school made him feel scared

Miss Hart said: 'I saw the boy sitting in the classroom so I approached him, knelt by his side, made eye contact and said "please stop hitting Art". 'The boy thought for a moment and said he would stop. I was not in any way aggressive and he seemed to respond positively. 'The next thing I knew was a teacher's assistant came rushing up saying I couldn't do that, and she marched me off to the head teacher's office.'

Miss Hart said that headmistress Pip Utting initially seemed sympathetic. But later she received a phone call saying she was banned from taking Arthur to his classroom, before a letter from the school arrived warning that she could face police action in future.

'I feel I've no choice but to move my child or take him to private martial arts classes himself to fight off this boy and his entourage,' she said.

In a statement, Mrs Utting said: 'We cannot discuss individual cases especially when investigations may be in progress.'


1 comment:

Uno Hu said...

This was an interesting article to me, as I had a little of the same experience and a good friend of mine had a lot more experience with it when our children were in school. In my case, my wife went to school to address the problem of our son having finally decked the bully. She advised the principal that our son would continue to defend himself, and any problems beyond the schoolyard would be in the hands of lawyers. It worked, but I actually like my friend's approach more. He was about 6'3" and a still fairly solid ex-marine. His response, as nearly as I can paraphrase it, was "Very well, Mr. X. I understand that under your rules, fighting at school, even in defense of one's self is not allowed. You make the rules. But as a result of making and enforcing those rules, you undertake a responsibility, in this case for my son's safety. Be advised that henceforth any injury visited upon him on your schoolground will shortly be visited upon YOU by myself or by someone whom I arrange to "handle" the situation. If you ever repeat this conversation I will deny under oath that it happened. But believe . . please believe for both our sakes . . retribution will come to you, personally." As it turned out, his child had no more bullying problems. Probably just coincidence, though, huh?