Is the Golden Age of Education Spending Finally Over? In Time, Andrew Rotherham warns schools to adjust to the new reality.
In 1970 America spent about $228 billion in today’s dollars on public schools. In 2007 that figure was $583 billion. True, some of the increase can be traced back to growing enrollments, better programs, and improved services for special-education and other students, but much of the increase is just a lot of spending without a lot to show for it.
School districts pay little attention to productivity, Rotherham writes. While businesses have used technology to improve productivity, public schools are going in the opposite direction.
For example, while the private sector gets more work out of each employee, schools have hired more and more teachers to bring down class sizes even though the research is crystal clear that other reforms pack more bang for the buck. What’s more, schools lowered class sizes a little across the board rather than a lot for the most at-risk students — and in the key early grades — where it does make a difference. And when teachers are laid off because of declining enrollments or funds, it is almost entirely based on seniority rather than their performance. In Los Angeles, the American Civil Liberties Union is suing to change that practice because of its disproportionate effect on low-income and minority students. That case could ricochet around the country.
Productivity innovations are rare, writes Rotherham, but there are a few examples. Rocketship Education, a charter school network in San Jose, uses a blend of traditional teaching and online learning to produce “good results at substantially lower costs.”
With $1 million from the Broad Foundation and $6 million from the Charter School Growth Fund, Rocketship hopes to open 30 new hybrid schools by 2015. The nonprofit charter network is exploring partnerships with cities including Denver, Chicago, Tulsa, Okla., Houston and Phoenix.