Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Education spending isn’t working: Let’s try something else

In early June, the U.S. Census Bureau issued a report on the state of public education finances in the United States. Among the reports many interesting charts and graphs is the tracking of per-student spending in elementary and secondary schools from 1992 to present. In all but one year, spending has increased, topping out at $10,705 per student. With a trend like that, most reasonable people would expect to see dramatic results reflected in student performance. Otherwise, what are we paying for?

Unfortunately, this is far from the case. While we continue to increase funding for schools, the chorus of voices decrying the deplorable state of public education in this country has only grown louder. Fear of falling behind in international assessments is driving politicians and pundits to ignore the actual evidence that throwing money at a problem rarely does much to solve it.

Ever since Lyndon Johnson proposed his vision of a Great Society and founded the U.S. Department of Education, it has been the tacit assumption of government bureaucrats that more spending will always have positive results. This is not the case. An analysis published by the Cato Institute found that forty years of constantly growing spending on education has had virtually no effect on math scores, reading scores, science scores, or even school enrollment.

President Obama’s Race to the Top program awarded more than $4 billion in federal funding to states that implemented specified reforms. The result led to a lot of compliance costs for states without much to show for it. The Head Start early education program costs around $8 billion a year, despite the program’s own analysis finding that it doesn’t work. The programs keeping getting bigger and more expensive, but the results remain elusive. How long will it take before we admit that it’s time to rethink this strategy?

The problem with government spending on something like education is that it’s an incredibly blunt instrument applied to something that is, by its very nature, subtle and individual. For money to be effective, it has to be targeted in very specific ways, and the best people to do this are those closest to the kids – namely, parents.

With per-student spending topping $10,000, it’s obvious that this money could be spent more wisely. Why not let parents decide how to spend it? The average cost of a private elementary school is considerably lower, at $7,770 a year, with private high schools averaging $13,030 a year. A state voucher system, like the one recently passed in Nevada, would let parents decide the best options for their children, instead of being tied to a particular district based on where they live. In addition to expanding people’s options, the ensuing competition will force schools to improve their performance if they want to retain students.

A familiar quotation, frequently attributed both to Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein, runs, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting it to come out different.” The application of this principle to the United States’ education policy over the last 40 years is particularly appropriate. Rather than improving public education, the policy of ever-increasing funding has not only failed to produce results, but has been so ineffective that it has been driving people out of the education bureaucracy altogether and towards alternative options like homeschooling. This shift has been so dramatic that, in some states, homeschoolers now outnumber private school students.

As the U.S. Senate prepares to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, it’s important to acknowledge that the federal government’s efforts to meddle in education haven’t worked, and that it’s time to start thinking about a new approach.


MI: Study examines free college tuition programs

For 10 years, Kalamazoo, Mich., has been pioneering a remarkable experiment in public education: High school graduates get free or significantly reduced tuition to college.

On Thursday, the city got its first major look at what benefits that brings.

A new study suggests that the Kalamazoo Promise is boosting college enrollment and college success, with about one-third more students earning a post-secondary credential or degree within six years, many of them bachelor’s degrees.

The issue of college attendance and success rates is a priority not only for the Obama administration but also for struggling communities like Kalamazoo, which worry that they might be left behind as jobs of the future require higher levels of education.
Test your knowledge 1912 eighth grade exam: Could you make it to high school in 1912?

The Promise outcomes are particularly encouraging for more than 30 communities around the country that have started scholarships like Kalamazoo’s – called place-based college scholarships. Kalamazoo still has a long way to go to tackle poverty and racial achievement gaps, but the community continues to rally around its students, boosting early childhood and after school programs in the hopes that even more families will be able to benefit from the Promise in the future.

“There’s this feeling in the community that it’s a tremendous gift and it’s our responsibility to make it work,” says Bob Jorth, executive director of Kalamazoo Promise. “More people are volunteering their time and treasure to support students to successfully access college and the Promise,” he says. And he often hears from scholarship recipients about how the gift has inspired them not only to attend college and pursue their dreams, but also “pay it forward” through public service.
How it works

More than 3,800 Kalamazoo students have attended college using about $66 million in scholarships since the class of 2006 first benefited from the Promise, funded by a group of anonymous donors. All Kalamazoo public high school graduates who enrolled in the district before the start of ninth grade qualify for 65 to 100 percent college tuition, depending on how long they’ve been students in Kalamazoo. They can use the money at any public postsecondary institution in the state, and, starting this year, at 15 private ones as well.

Other communities have since followed suit. Some are targeted at disadvantaged students or can only be used at local community colleges. But others are sweeping. In El Dorado, Ark., for example, high school graduates can attend any public or private college in the United States, though the scholarship is capped at the rate of the highest-priced state institution.
Take Action:Reach out to organizations and individuals dealing with literacy, school funding, bullying, technology, social media, and other classroom issues.

Such programs help stabilize public school enrollment and can have a positive effect on housing prices, other research has shown. They can also reduce school disciplinary problems and increase students’ grade point averages. This week’s study was released by the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo.

The Kalamazoo study compared Promise-eligible students with a group of students from before the Promise plus graduates who were not eligible because they had not enrolled in the system by ninth grade. The likelihood of enrolling in any college within six month of finishing high school goes up by about 14 percent with the Promise, while the likelihood of enrollment in four-year colleges goes up 34 percent.

About 48 percent of Promise students complete college or earn a postsecondary credential within six years of high school graduation, versus 36 percent of the comparison group.

The benefits cross racial and economic lines. For black students, the Promise group completed college at a rate of 23 percent, versus 16 percent of the non-eligible group; for whites, it was 43 percent versus 40 percent.

The Promise only addresses one of the barriers to college completion – financial – but the impact is significant, says Timothy Bartik, co-author of the study. It generates about $4 in benefits for every $1 invested, based on the lifetime earnings of students who otherwise wouldn’t have gone to college, the study found. Others have questioned whether the benefits are that dramatic.

In order to truly improve social mobility, Kalamazoo and other communities “need to improve economic stability for families and improve access to well-paying jobs,” and “not rely solely on the education sector as a driver for change,” says Timothy Ready, a sociology professor at Western Michigan University.

Fortunately, Professor Ready says, Kalamazoo officials recognize that need. They’ve been working to boost early childhood education to better prepare students for academic success. And they recently launched Shared Prosperity, a community collaborative to address barriers for people seeking good work, ranging from child care and transportation needs to problems faced by job-seekers with criminal records.


Australian teachers will undergo national literacy and numeracy exams to test skills

TEACHERS will face a new national exam on literacy and numeracy from August, designed to stop universities from churning out graduates who struggle to spell and count.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne will today announce a pilot program to test the first 5000 teaching ­students.

But the first guinea pigs for the new test will be assured that they can still graduate — even if they fail.

The sample exam paper reveals a taste of what teachers can expect, including the style of questions that teachers will be asked on numeracy and ­literacy.

It includes problems designed to test teachers’ understanding of syntax, grammar and punctuation, with graduates asked to spot sentences without errors.

Teachers will also be offered a calculator to assist with some of the questions that ask graduates to determine the percentage of funding remaining in an education budget, and challenges graduates’ ability to calculate a student’s marks.

From next year, passing the test will be a requirement to graduate.

“I want to ensure we get this right,’’ Mr Pyne said. “For too long there have been public concerns about the variability in the quality of teaching graduates and in the effectiveness of existing ­programs in preparing new teachers.

“Testing key aspects of the personal literacy and numeracy skills of aspiring teachers will assist higher education providers, teacher employers and the general public to have absolute confidence in the skills of graduating teachers.’’

In one study, graduates at an unnamed Australian university struggled to spell a list of 20 words including ‘acquaintance’, ‘definite’, ‘exaggerate’, and ‘parallel’.

More than 200 students were tested with not a single teacher managing to spell every word right in a list of 20 words. One teacher struggled to spell more than one word correctly on the list.

Mr Pyne has also written to university vice-chancellors to stress that the new national exam must become core content for graduates from next year.

The test plan follows complaints universities are accepting students to teaching degrees with marks lower than 50 per cent for their Year 12 exams.

But Mr Pyne has insisted that ATAR scores are a “blunt instrument’’ that he doesn’t want to get too caught up on.

According to Department of Education statistics, universities offered 894 places to applicants with ATARs of 50 in 2014. The results were an improvement on the previous year.

The new trial will be available for any teaching student regardless of whether they are in first year or a graduating student.

The tests will be conducted by Australian Council for Educational Research.

Students in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra, Darwin and the regional locations of Albury and Ballarat will be tested.

Mr Pyne said the trial of the first 5000 teachers is designed to ensure that the test is “fit for purpose”.

It will become a course requirement for all initial teacher education students graduating from Australian universities from the end of next year.

New measures will also be introduced to ensure that teachers are provided with greater training on how to teach literacy and numeracy including a focus on phonics.

The decision to introduce a national exam for new teachers was a recommendation of the Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers report.


No comments: