Mike Klein Online

Jay Greene: School Choice Battle Nearly Over and Choice Won

Mike Klein

There is a tendency here in Georgia to consider that school choice is an open question.  This is particularly true because of the high stakes – you might want to call it angst – on both sides of the charter schools commission constitutional amendment question that will be decided by voters in November.  Another view suggests the national battlefield has already begun to move.

“This debate has been won to a large degree,” says University of Arkansas economist and education policy analyst Jay Greene.  His school choice preference is at odds with traditionalists who would put four walls, a ceiling, a floor and locked doors around public school students.

“There are still dinosaurs walking the earth who say NO, choice is bad but politically that is becoming unacceptable,” says Greene.  “Both political parties in their national platforms embrace parental choice, embrace the idea of competition.  You hear this from (U.S. Education) Secretary (Arne) Duncan and from President (Barack) Obama.  That war is over.  Now the debate is over choice under what conditions and what regulations.”

Milton Friedman 1912 – 2006

Greene brought his pro-school choice message to a Georgia Public Policy Foundation audience last week in Gainesville.  The education policy briefing honored the legacy of Milton Friedman, the earliest champion of school choice, who was born 100 years ago this month.

“Milton Friedman wasn’t just an articulate defender of the moral case for freedom.  He was a rigorous economist,” said Greene.  “The pursuit of freedom in education helps produce better outcomes just like the pursuit of freedom in our economy and in our personal lives.”

Using his trademark deep data and lots of power points, Greene relentlessly outlined why he believes the problem with public education today is not investment – he noted that per pupil spending has increased 131 percent nationally and 220 percent in Georgia during the past 40 years.  “We’ve been hiring an army of teachers,” Greene said.

Nor does Greene believe there is a significant difference in students today and decades ago.  “Kids aren’t dumber than they used to be or less capable than they used to be.  They’re just about the same and if you think 1970 skills are fine for a 21st Century economy then we’re doing just fine other than the wastefulness of spending a lot more money to get the same outcome.”

There is ample evidence to suggest public schools have failed America.  The nation has slipped way down virtually every chart that compares students from industrialized nations.  The 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment of students worldwide ranked U.S. students 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math.  The Obama administration described that study as “an absolute wake-up call for America.”

Jay Greene, Education Reform Policy Analyst, University of Arkansas

States including Georgia have littered the landscape with tests that attempted to show student progress.  No state test anywhere has as much credibility as NAEP – the National Assessment of Educational Progress exams that have measured reading, math and science performance since the early 1970s.  NAEP scores over four decades show virtually no educational progress.

Nationally, 17-year-old students scored 285 on the 500-point NAEP reading test in 1971.  They scored 286 in 2008, no improvement.  Mathematics scores improved just two points from 304 to 306 during the same 37-year period.  National science tests showed similar flat performance.

How did this happen?  “Spending more money didn’t give us the outcomes that we wanted,” said Greene.  “The truth is we don’t know what to do for everyone.  We have ideas about what to do for different kinds of kids in different kinds of circumstances but there is no single solution to our instructional needs.”

In The World According to Jay Greene, public education should mirror how we live, work and play.  Much of what we do in every day living is done by choice.  We can choose preschools.  We can choose universities.  But between kindergarten and through public high school most students attend schools based on where they live.  No choice.

“The idea of choice and competition is pervasive in our society,” Greene said.  “The burden really ought to be on supporters of a bizarre system that is so totally different from other aspects of our lives.  There may be historical reasons why we started that way but it’s very hard to justify why if we’re starting from scratch today we would build that public school system that we have.

“The real debate is not should we have choice or not.  We are already comfortable with the general idea of choice in education, particularly residential choice (choosing a school by purchasing a house in a new district).  Different kinds of choice schemes will produce different regulatory schemes and could produce different outcomes.

“Our public schools can rise to the occasion,” Greene said.  “They respond to competitive pressure.  Achievement rises in schools when they face competitive pressure.”  Click here to watch Jay Greene’s presentation on the Foundation’s YouTube channel.  Click here to read Jay Greene’s education blog.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

July 16, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Would You Invest In Public Education If It Was A Business? Probably Not!

Mike Klein

Kids are getting smarter every day.  We know this is true because test scores are rocketing, graduation rates are soaring, parents are thrilled, teachers have never been happier and the return-on-investment is absolutely off the charts.  Kids have become learning zealots and this is happening because the more money we spend on education, the better our results.  So, let’s just go ahead and declare it:  Education is fixed; time now to move onto something else.

Okay, you can blink now.

Real education today is a very different landscape.  We face extraordinary challenges moving kids through middle school, high school and beyond.  Far too many leave formal education without any diploma or certificate.  Far too many are unprepared for futures.  Far too few parents understand why or how this happened.  Far too many good teachers feel beaten down or at war with their school systems and far too many marginal or poor teachers remain in our classrooms.

Education is not fixed.  Just this week U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said 82% of schools could fail to meet No Child Left Behind goals this year, which may say more about the flawed NCLB model than about schools or kids, but it is worth noting here.  Others also see issues.

American public education is in “a productivity crisis because per pupil spending adjusted for inflation has more than doubled in the last four decades while outcomes for students have been flat,” says education myth buster and researcher Jay Greene.  “Kids are not significantly worse off than they were four decades ago, but they are no better off.”

Jay Greene

Greene analyzes gates that open paths to learning and roadblocks that close them.  His hats include University of Arkansas director of education reform studies, George W. Bush Institute fellow, former Manhattan Institute scholar and author for publications too numerous to mention.  His best known title is “Education Myths: What Special-Interest Groups Want You to Believe About Our Schools and Why It Isn’t So.”  Greene takes on all targets; nobody is safe.

This past weekend Greene addressed a Georgia Public Policy Foundation leadership breakfast.  “In very broad terms, the problem is resources that are devoted to schools are unattached to the outcomes,” Greene said.  “It doesn’t matter whether schools do better or worse for them to get resources.  They are entitled to resources and they receive them by right rather than by effort.”

Last month the University of Southern California published a study that compared 2009 U.S. public education spending and academic performance with eleven other nations.  America spent $809 billion and the other eleven countries combined spent $988 billion.  Yet, American students ranked ninth in science and tenth in mathematics achievement tests.

CATO Institute research published in January said federal, state and local per pupil public education spending adjusted for inflation is nearly 2.5 times greater than in 1970, (see what Greene said above!) but there was no comparable increase in academic performance.  CATO said reading and math scores remained flat over 40 years and science scores declined.

Colin Powell

America’s Promise Alliance was founded by retired four-star General and former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his wife, Alma Powell.  Last November APA reported the U.S. national graduation rate reached 75% in 2008.  APA said this was a 3% gain in seven years.  Still, it means 25-in-100 or 25,000-in-100,000 or 250,000-in-1 million do not graduate.  That is scary.

“Anytime an organization spends more than twice as much to produce no more in outcome you have a problem,” says Greene.  “Any industry that was unable to improve its outputs despite doubling its inputs would be an industry that would be gone.  But education doesn’t go away.  Public schools don’t go away.  They just keep going.”

Greene’s presentation included his thoughts on the “fuzzy labels” sometimes used to evaluate learning, such as in Florida where they tried “excelling, progressing (or) meeting goals. The trouble is that no one was quite sure what the different categories were or what they meant and they all seemed pretty cheerful.  Needs improvement is the bad one and that’s not so bad.”

Florida public schools education underwent radical changes within the past decade, extensively engineered by former Governor Jeb Bush.  Greene said Hispanic students in Florida today perform better than the averages of all students in 30 states, adding, “This is a state that went from being very much below average to above average.”

Greene spoke at length about the social vs. test-based promotions.  He noted several studies in Florida and Wisconsin confirmed that marginal students who are held back one year are able to demonstrate better performance the following year, and much better performance in subsequent years than marginal students who were pushed ahead to the next grade.  “The difference wasn’t huge after one year, but after two years, the difference grew to be fairly large.”

The national trend toward smaller class size means we have 3.2 million public school teachers. To see that through another lens, more than 1% of all Americans are public school teachers.  “It’s really hard to have 3.2 million excellent teachers,” Greene said.  “We’ve increased the number of teachers but we’ve decreased their average quality.”

Greene also noted 13% of all public school students nationwide are diagnosed as disabled, more than double the percentage thirty years ago.  He thinks it is largely a money race, schools chasing dollars that are available to support programs for students who are “disabled.”

“What schools do is they see kids struggling and they figure out, ‘How can we help these kids move along?’  Then they realize the state has made money available to us if only we identify the student as having a processing problem.  If we just say we’ve done a bad job or the kid has difficulty at home, we don’t get any extra resources to help the kid,” Greene said.

“Short-term this is a very well intentioned act on the part of people in schools.  But long-term it is very bad because it alters everyone’s expectations about that child who has now been identified as having a processing problem in the brain.  The child has new expectations about himself.  The parents have new expectations about the child.  All the educators have new expectations and this has a very negative effect on the child long-term.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)

March 10, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment