Friedman: Competition drives innovation

Competition from charter and private schools is the key to transforming education, concludes Pursuing Innovation, a new report from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

District school students make achievement gains when their schools are competing with charters or private schools that accept school vouchers and tax-credit scholarships, according to 30 of 42 studies analyzed.
MPCPMPSACTMost educational choice programs result in “modest improvements” at district schools, the report found.

However, in Florida (tax-credit scholarships) and Milwaukee (vouchers), “significant increases in publicly funded educational options resulted in bigger increases in public school students’ achievement.”

Despite significant improvement in Milwaukee’s district schools, the city’s choice students outperform Milwaukee Public Schools students in math and, especially, in English Language Arts. On Wisconsin’s statewide “Badger” tests, choice students did better than similar students in district schools.

“Empowering parents with the ability to choose a school that best suits the child’s needs is working in Wisconsin and resulting in students performing better academically,’ said Betsy DeVos, chairman of the American Federation for Children.

The school staffing surge

Between 1992 and 2009, the number of public school students grew by 17 percent, teachers by 32 percent and administrators and support staff by 46 percent, estimates The School Staffing Surge, a Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice report.

Before and after No Child Left Behind was passed, school staffs grew at more than double the rate of enrollment growth, writes Benjamin Scafidi. Schools hired more teachers — and a lot more support staff and administrators.

Compared to other nations’ schools, U.S. public schools devote significantly higher fractions of their operating budgets to non-teaching personnel—and lower portions to teachers.

. . . For example, Maine experienced an 11 percent decline in students from 1992-2009; however, the number of public school personnel increased by 35 percent. Perhaps more noteworthy during that period is the number of teachers in Maine public schools increased by 3 percent while the number of non-teaching personnel increased by 76 percent.

The staffing sure did not lead to improvements in student achievement or graduation rates, the study found.

If non-teaching personnel had grown at the same rate as the growth in students and if the teaching force had grown “only” 1.5 times as fast as the growth in students, American public schools would have an additional $37.2 billion to spend per year, Scafidi writes. Among other things, that would be enough to give every teacher a $11,700 per year raise, double taxpayer funding for preschool, give $2,600 in cash — or a $2,600 school voucher — to the parents of each child living in poverty. Or the taxpayers could get a break.

Why public school teachers burn out

Public school teachers burn out because of poor working conditions, writes Greg Forster of the Friedman Foundation on Pajamas Media.  He used federal data to compare public and private teachers.

Public school teachers have lower job satisfaction, less autonomy, less influence over school policy, less ability to keep order, less support from administrators and peers, and less safety.

“Public schools get nearly $11,000 per student and private schools charge an average tuition of only $6,600,” Forster writes. Yet public school teachers are less likely to say they have the instructional materials they need to be effective.

Administrators don’t provide as much support or leadership as in private schools, according to teachers. The sense of community is weaker.

Public school teachers are much less likely to strongly agree that there is a great deal of cooperation between staff members (41 percent v. 60 percent), that their colleagues share their values and understanding of the core mission of the school (38 percent v. 63 percent), and that their fellow teachers consistently enforce school rules (29 percent v. 42 percent).

Private schools can get away with paying less money to teachers because the working conditions are better.

In The Widget Effect: Our National Failure to Acknowledge and Act on Differences in Teacher Effectiveness, The New Teacher Project asks: If teachers are so important, why do we treat them like widgets? Good question.

Bailout billions won’t stimulate learning

The stimulus bill may include $70 billion to $100 billion for K-12 schools. “For comparison, after the radical expansion of federal education spending that came with No Child Left Behind, the feds now spend about $40 billion per year on K-12 education,” writes Greg Forster of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice on Pajamas Media. But it won’t improve education.

There have been literally hundreds of empirical studies examining whether educational outcomes are related to spending increases. This body of evidence has consistently found that spending more money bears no relationship with the results we get from schools. In fact, the total amount we spend per student has more than doubled in the past 40 years, after accounting for inflation, while educational outcomes are flat over the same period.

It won’t even stimulate the economy.

To spend money stimulating the economy, government has to get the money first, removing it from the economy through taxes and/or borrowing. And when you remove money from the economy, you lose the multiplier effects from whatever people would have done with that money if the government hadn’t taken it.

But aren’t we borrowing it all from the Chinese?