Friday, August 24, 2012

Education Spending Doesn't Deliver

When a presidential candidate decries education cuts he's probably not serious about education. He's serious about winning elections.

The Obama campaign didn't waste time before attacking Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., on education, stating in its response to Ryan's being named Mitt Romney's running mate that Ryan proposed "deep cuts in education from Head Start to college aid." The campaign hit education even before Medicare, illustrating just how much they must think voters will recoil at any diminution of education spending.

"But hold on," you're thinking, "isn't education vital? And if so, shouldn't we invest as much as possible?"

Those are reasonable questions for people with jobs, families, and not a whole lot of time to research education policy. After all, with most things, if you pay more you get something better.

But President Obama employs lots of people who assess education policy, and he must know what the statistics reveal: Washington spends huge amounts in the name of education but gets almost no educational improvement in return.

Begin with Head Start, a nearly $8 billion program that's politically untouchable, not only because it deals with education, but it's for preschool kids. It's almost tailor-made for demagoguery, with anyone who'd dare trim — much less eliminate — the program practically begging to be declared a rotten so-and-so who hates even the littlest of children.

But the fact is there's no meaningful evidence the program does any good. In fact, the most recent federal evaluation found that Head Start produces almost no lasting cognitive benefits, and its few lasting social-emotional effects include negative ones. Only the people employed by Head Start money — and the politicians who appear to "care" — are really benefiting.

This is repeated in elementary and secondary education, only with a bigger bill. In 2011 Washington spent almost $79 billion on K-12 education, and the latest federal data show inflation-adjusted federal outlays per pupil ballooning from $446 in 1970-71 to $1,185 in 2008-09. Meanwhile, scores for 17-year-olds on the National Assessment of Educational Progress — the "Nation's Report Card" — have been stagnant.

Oodles "invested," no return.

Lastly there's higher education. Once again, someone who hasn't had much time to study policy might reasonably think the key to improving and expanding higher education would be for the federal government to spend more on it. But again, reality differs: federal aid fuels tuition inflation and encourages massive waste.

The connection between aid and prices is somewhat intuitive if you think about it. Basically, if you give people $100 more to buy something, sellers will raise their prices $100. The buyers are no worse off, the sellers are better off, and the only losers are the people who furnished the money. With college aid, we call these losers "taxpayers."

Of course there's more to college pricing than aid, but the effect remains.

Studies have found that private colleges raise their prices a dollar for every extra buck students get in Pell Grants, and schools often reduce their own aid when government assistance rises.

Then there are the dismal outcomes that go with giving away college money.

First, only about 58 percent of first-time, full-time students finish a four-year degree within six years at the school where they started, and most who don't finish by then likely never will.

Next, a third of people with bachelor's degrees are in jobs that don't require them.

Finally, the National Assessment of Adult Literacy suggests serious watering down of a college degree. In 1992 about 40 percent of adults whose highest degree was a bachelor's were proficient in reading prose. In 2003 — the only other year the NAAL was administered — only 31 percent were. Among people with advanced degrees, prose proficiency dropped from 51 percent to 41 percent.

Again, spending hasn't translated into better education.

To someone who doesn't know about these sorry results spending federal money on education probably seems rational. But President Obama must know the facts, which means when he decries cuts in education spending, it can't be about what's educationally best. It must be about what's politically best for him.


Hundreds of British schools facing closure over stalling High School  results

Hundreds of schools face being closed or taken over as GCSE results stall for the first time in the exam’s 25-year history.

Results for nearly 700,000 pupils this morning are expected to show little or no improvement on last year and grades falling in some subjects.

Ministers are also driving up the minimum GCSE performance target for secondary schools.

Heads must ensure that at least 40 per cent of pupils achieve five GCSEs at grades A* to C including English and maths – up from 35 per cent for the past two years.

Schools which miss the target risk being closed or converted into academies – state-funded schools outside local authority control.

Last year’s GCSE results suggest that more than 250 schools are below the tough new floor target.

If hoped-for improvements in results fail to materialise today, a similar number could find themselves falling short this year.

Moves by exam watchdogs to contain ‘grade inflation’ are expected to end the era of large year-on-year increases in results.  In addition the number of pupils sitting easier vocational qualifications has been cut and science exams have been toughened.

Last week, for the first time in more than 20 years, A-level results showed a drop in the proportion of A grades awarded.


Australia: Empty education promises from the Federal Left

Who could ever deny our children the best education possible? It is of critical importance and Australia can offer no greater commitment to ensure the prosperity of the nation and its next generation.

But in this week's blizzard of words over the future of the Gonski report into education funding, the government is pulling a cruel hoax on Australia.

The government does not have the $26 billion required over a forward estimates period to cover its airy promises of better teachers and no school being left worse off in real terms.

All we have is a government addicted to making big announcements and locking in spending like there is no tomorrow, when in reality, all it is offering is false hope.

Recent history in Britain is a prime example of such false hope. The former Labour government led by Gordon Brown left David Cameron's government a crushing legacy of unfunded commitments with a series of unachievable promises.

Labor here are following the lead from their cousins on the other side of the world. Take, for instance, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, promised Labor would deliver. What Gillard and Labor have actually done is announce four NDIS trial sites. This is a long way short of committing the $8 billion that will be required to adequately service the NDIS every year.

If the government has really launched the NDIS, as it claims to have done, then the cost is not accounted for in its budget. Labor's only financial commitment is $1 billion for trial sites.

The best we get from the Prime Minister is an admission the government will have to make "substantial savings" to achieve her outcomes.

It was hard not to laugh when she said on Sunday "you've got to be prudent with every dollar, and we are". This is a Labor government that has made waste and mismanagement an artform, such as in the failed border protection policy that has incurred a $4.7 billion blowout or the $50 billion national broadband network that is a massive drain on the nation's resources.

The truth is that Labor will have no choice but to raise taxes to pay for its gargantuan promises. The Labor senator Doug Cameron said as much a fortnight ago when he said it was "inconceivable that this amount of government expenditure on building a good society could be funded from existing revenue".

In effect, the Treasury Secretary, Martin Parkinson, and now his predecessor Ken Henry are in agreement; Labor cannot continue checking expenditure against the nation's credit card. In the end, someone has to pay the bill.

With an election not due for possibly 15 months, the Coalition will not be making promises it cannot keep.

If a Coalition government is elected we have pledged, based on present information, a budget surplus in our first year and each year after that.

Unlike Labor, the Coalition is not hiding from funding its promises. Savings measures such as a reduction in the number of public servants have already been announced, with many areas of policy already costed and ready to deliver at the appropriate time. And if we are elected, a commission of audit into government finances will immediately begin a top-to-bottom review of government administration, identifying areas for immediate cuts to put an end to government waste and mismanagement.

Labor wants us to believe it will deliver a budget surplus in 2012-13 - a wafer thin $1.5 billion or just 0.1 per cent of gross domestic product. Contrast that with their record; just a year ago they forecast a $23 billion deficit for the 2011-12 financial year, which then turned out to be $44 billion. Four programs alone - schools funding, the NDIS, border protection and new submarines for the Australian navy - account for almost $75 billion in unfunded government promises.

Much rests on what will be revealed in the mid-year economic fiscal outlook due in November, and more importantly the budget in May.

Labor has introduced or increased 26 taxes since it came to power - including a carbon tax that was never supposed to happen.

Now the public has to suffer the indignity of a government providing nothing but false hope, for genuinely needed government programmes that have been promised but remain unfunded.


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