Choice creates change

Oakland in northern California and Compton in southern California share a history of low-performing schools with primarily black and Hispanic students, note Lisa Snell and Shikha Dalmia of the Reason Foundation in Education Week. But Oakland, which lets funding follow students is improving, while Compton is not.

(In Oakland), kids are not required to attend their neighborhood school, especially if it is failing. Rather, they can pick any regular public or charter school in their district and take their education dollars with them; more students therefore means more revenues for schools. Furthermore, as the name suggests, the revenues are “weighted” based on the difficulty of educating each student, with low-income and special-needs kids commanding more money than smart, well-to-do ones. Schools have to compete for funding, but the upside is that they have total control over it.

Compton has tried to reduce class size, boost teachers’ credentials, adopt a tougher curriculum and clean restrooms. But parents can’t choose which schools their children attend.

In Oakland, high schools offer many more Advanced Placement courses than before the choice plan went into effect. The number of students taking high-level math and science courses, such as physics, has soared.

Compton saw little change.

Oakland kids have shown major improvement on the California High School Exit Examination, which all students must pass in English and math before graduating from high school. Sixty-two percent of high school students passed the English-language-arts portion, compared with 57 percent in 2005 — a 5-point gain — and 60 percent passed math, a 6-point jump from the year before. By contrast, Compton showed no gains in English — staying stuck at 58 percent — and posted a 2-percentage-point drop in math, from 50 percent to 48 percent.

On the state’s Academic Performance Index, Oakland schools improved at every level, while Compton’s scores improved in elementary school but declined in middle and high school.

Even Oakland’s economically disadvantaged and limited-English students have shown major improvements. In 2006, its economically disadvantaged students gained 60 percent more on the performance index than Compton’s, and its English-language learners gained 120 percent more.

Oakland is emulating San Francisco’s weighted-student program, which has helped city students outperform the state average for the last six years. Because weighted funding follows the student, San Francisco’s public schools are developing programs to attract students, “offering dual-language programs, college-preparatory classes, performing-arts electives, and advanced math and science courses.” Oakland schools now are selling their programs to parents.

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  1. If the federal government would get out of the education business, would this result in a stronger economy?

    I hope I am not over-reaching on this point. Your article presents clear anecdotal evidence in support of voucher programs. Capitalism as an education model creates competition. In turn, students are more successful in and out of the classroom, preparing them for a more productive adult life. A more productive adult life leads to lower unemployment, innovation, progress and additional tax revenues.

  2. “If the federal government would get out of the education business, would this result in a stronger economy?”…most education spending is by state & local governments. This is something that “progressives” conveniently ignore when comparing federal spending on education with federal spending on defense.

  3. I’m not talking about spending. I’m talking about regulation. Big government seems to hinder progress. The benefit to the economy is not based on government spending but on better prepared citizens who contribute to the tax base.

  4. Gecko – I’m not sure about where you live, but the overwhelming majority of stupid regulations that tie schools’ and parents’ hands in NY come from the state. The feds have barely any input.

  5. If the federal government would get out of the education business, would this result in a stronger economy?

    As a percentage of GDP, it’s not much. Education spending by the federal government isn’t even much of a percentage of the federal budget. But once the camel gets his nose into the tent…

    Not that I’m saying I support a federal role in public education but lopping it off probably wouldn’t have a noticeable effect on the economy.

    It would have a significant effect on the public education system though. Federal bucks are now factored into most district’s budgets and their disappearence wouldn’t go unnoticed. But the financial handicaps that most charter schools labor under is proof that too much money is being spent in public education.

  6. “If the federal government would get out of the education business, would this result in a stronger economy?”

    I believe you are missing the point Gecko Rock is making. It is not about the spending. It is about the poor job of educating children the public schools are currently doing. What if we spent the same amount on education under a voucher system as we do now? The resulting competion would likely result in better instruction for all children and they would likely make more money during their working years. Resulting in real growth in GDP.