Productivity or the poorhouse

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.

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  1. Is the golden age of education spending over?

    Yes, because we’ve run out of money. With many states close to bankruptcy and falling bond ratings, cuts in education are inevitable and are already happening.

    This was a squandered golden age. Let’s hope that austerity offers more opportunity.

  2. Like an alcoholic, the school system needs to hit bottom before it can improve.

    Look at what Katrina did to New Orleans? The school system is now dramatically better.

    But it took a Katrina to do it.

    Professors, committees, panels, research and billions of dollars in grants would have come up with a new vocabulary and a few catered feel-good training sessions. Every school would have been renamed for an ethnic role model and every school would be called something else, like an academy. Principals would be called School Site Administrators, the libraries would be called Leaning Centers, the cafeteria would be called the Multipurpose Room, and test scores would have remained the same.

    But Katrina came, And now test scores are dramatically higher.

    May all the schools run out of all their money, go belly up, and start a real road to recovery.

  3. Schools will need to adapt to changing attitudes toward government and spending. The place to start is to stop wasting money on a mandated k-16 system. A transfer to a more competency based system would save millions, as would the establishment of dual credit as a standard, rather than an experiment.

  4. GoogleMaster says:

    I’m waiting for someone with more data than I have to point out the folly of comparing NOLA school performance pre-Katrina with that post-Katrina. The poorest of the poor, who did not have their own transportation with which to evacuate, were given a free one-way bus ride to somewhere else. No free return trip was ever provided, and for most of them there was no home to return to anyway. Many of them never returned to NOLA.

  5. I have family in Houston, and they’ve told me that the schools are still trying to figure how to deal with the massive influx of low-income and low-performing students who evacuated NO.