Measuring School Productivity
are spending an unbelievable amount of money per pupil these days on things
that never used to be associated with K-12 schooling: powerful laptop
computers, geothermal systems, all kinds of health insurance and personnel
benefits . . . and yet the more they seem to be spending, the less satisfied
the public seems to be getting. How on earth can we taxpayers see if this riot
of new kinds of spending is cost-effective?
Education is peculiar in that it is
a defineable service but it has no profit to gain and no loss to fear. Why?
Because it's a government service. Unless
we privatize K-12 schooling overnight in this country, we will never be able to
tell how productive schools really are, purely, because we will never be able
to link wages and "profits" to the net results of what services schools give to
our children. Test scores? Dropout rates? Graduation percentages? All of these
are just indicators. But they're the best we have, and so data-driven
decision-making and more statistical transparency with the public are both good
things in public education today.
Ironically, there's ample research
on school productivity that is apparently being ignored. Examples:
increases both teacher pay and student achievement while actually driving costs
per pupil down.
size has no effect on student achievement, except for ridiculously small or
ridiculously large class sizes.
presence of teachers' unions is a negative correlate to student achievement.
reading methods are the most cost-effective ways to teach reading, but they are
in use in only a handful of schools around the country.
Isn't it odd, then, that so many
people within and without public education are adamantly FOR keeping the
government monopoly on schools . . . and FOR huge increases in school costs by
reducing class sizes for no apparent reason other than to bring more money into
the school revenue stream . . . and FOR granting the unions still more money
and power through increasingly lavish fringe benefits and employment contracts
. . . and educators can't seem to "get it" that they are the ones creating this
epidemic of expensive learning disabilities because they are teaching reading
How productive is it that so much of
our education system is based on PR, hooey and self-serving deception? Not
Public education has seen huge
increases in capital expenditures for buildings and grounds, and for technology,
in recent years. Largely because of safety and health concerns, there is more
square footage per child in today's schools than ever before. It has to be said
that largely because of pride or a keep-up-with-the-Joneses mentality, more
money is spent on landscaping, luxury carpets, expensive cabinetry, cappuccino
machines, and other nonacademic goodies in schools than ever before in our
nation's history. As far as technology goes, federal regulators have practically
forced the Internet into classrooms at enormous expense, and kids in many
districts get free laptops that are more powerful and have more software than
even adults who work in computers and communications get to use on their jobs.
Naturally, costs have
skyrocketed as a result. Have the additional expenditures been productive in
terms of student academic development? Most observers would have to say no.
Meanwhile, class sizes in most
schools have shrunk dramatically in the last 30 years. They have fewer students
to teach, and yet they are making far more money per hour than they used to. That
means that as costs have gone up, teacher productivity has reduced, along with
class size. At the same time test scores have stayed mostly stagnant, with only
a few areas showing any improvement. And observers say that the tests have been
significantly "dumbed down" to conceal declining literacy, numeracy and
So you have to ask: what free-market
sector has seen 30 years of declining productivity despite a massive investment
What free market sector has seen
declining productivity as measured by output?
What business could continue
providing raises under these conditions?
It's hard to see how the
public will go on much longer granting still more huge investments and salary
and pension increases for school staffers if schools won't change their way of
doing business. Defending the status
quo and stating that teaching must continue to be increasingly labor intensive
is not a long-term solution.
The solution? A lot of people
say it is in privatizing the education system instead of letting it continue as
a bureaucratic government service.
That might be a pipe dream. But
continuing to educate yourself and others about how well our schools are using
our tax dollars is a good idea, no matter what.
good source of information about school productivity is Harvard economist
Caroline Minter Hoxby. Read this interview with her: http://heartland.org/Article.cfm?artId=10212