George P. Shultz and Eric A. Hanushek
In addressing our current fiscal and economic woes, too often we neglect a key ingredient of our nation’s economic future—the human capital produced by our K-12 school system. An improved education system would lead to a dramatically different future for the U.S., because educational outcomes strongly affect economic growth and the distribution of income. Over the past half century, countries with higher math and science skills have grown faster than those with lower-skilled populations. In the chart nearby, we compare GDP-per-capita growth rates between 1960 and 2000 with achievement results on international math assessment tests. If we accept our current level of performance, we will surely find ourselves on a low-growth path.
Wall Street Journal, May 1, 2012
Liberals and conservatives alike have made "weighted student funding" a core idea of their reform prescriptions. Both groups see such weighted funding as providing more dollars to the specific schools they tend to focus upon, and both see it as inspiring improved achievement through newfound political pressures. Unfortunately, both groups are very likely wrong. Schools will not improve until there are greater incentives for improving student achievement. Redistributing funds across schools or increasing the funding to schools by themselves will not magically put us on this path.
The recent release of teachers' value-added scores in New York City (NYC) has kicked up a lot of dust. Regardless of the merits of publishing such data for public consumption, we shouldn't let the dust obscure the larger issue that our previous attempts to improve teacher quality were so ineffectual.
Even if average teacher quality is the same across middle-class and poor schools, the poor kids in general will score lower because they come with less average inputs from family and neighborhoods—and we have to deal with that as a nation.
Nobody would ever advocate making personnel decisions through public posting of evaluations in the newspaper. The public release of value-added scores for more than 12,000 New York City teachers, set for Friday morning, should not be taken as a model for how to run the human resource departments of the schools. But that is not what is going on here.
Weighted student funding has become a core idea of both liberals and conservatives. Liberals like the idea because, by their vision, it would push funding to schools that served more disadvantaged populations. These schools have traditionally engaged in less actual spending than more advantaged schools because they employ more rookie teachers, who come with lower salaries. Conservatives like the idea because, by their vision, it will push funding to charter schools that traditionally have received less than equal shares of the local funding for schools.
Gov. Jerry Brown made two important statements about K-12 education in his State of the State speech on Wednesday. First, it is very important to have a strong accountability system that makes student achievement the focal point of our schools. Second, within that accountability system, local districts should have discretion to decide how to provide a quality education. Both represent an encouraging move toward improving the embarrassing state of California schools.
Diane comes back to a simple prescription: We should pursue business as usual with a few extensions of current policy. Unfortunately that is not serving us well, because this is exactly what we have done for several decades. We have developed a system that pays little attention to students and their achievement but that supports any adult who has found a job in schools. This policy does not look good by historical evidence on student outcomes. But it is common to defend this basic lack of management by throwing in red herrings whenever any policy change is suggested.
Almost everybody concerned with educational policy agrees on two things: the U.S. has a very serious achievement problem and teachers are the most important element in our school for addressing this problem. Beyond these, agreement breaks down.
The news is full of stories about incidents of cheating on various accountability tests. The Secretary of Education has urged all state commissioners to focus on testing integrity. In response, states are asking task forces to develop new security protocols, are hiring consultants to evaluate erasure patterns on test booklets, and are contemplating how they can change the pressures for cheating.
Eric Hanushek of Stanford University's Hoover Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the importance of teacher quality in education. Hanushek argues that the standard measures of quality--experience and advanced degrees--are uncorrelated with student performance. But some teachers consistently cover dramatically more material and teach more than others, even within a school. Hanushek presents evidence that the impact of these differences on lifetime earnings for students can be quite large.
What is the worst way one could think of to deal with school district budget problems? Of all of the options, reducing the length of the school year must be the absolute worst – at least from the perspective of students. But California, always proud of being a leader, has written into law that this is the preferred option if districts face budgetary shortfalls.
One of the most significant changes in educational policy of the past two decades is the movement toward test-based accountability in the schools. From the beginning, this movement has elicited strongly held opinions about its design, impact, and desirability. We now have another addition to this packed field – from a distinguished panel of experts flying under the banner of the National Research Council. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to clear up the issues. Indeed it is more likely to leave the casual reader with just the wrong impression.
Class size is again in the media across the country, this time because of increases in class size related to fiscal cutbacks. Instead of discussing the achievement gains that would come from class size reduction, the current commentary has focused on the calamity for public schools that will necessarily follow from increases in class size. The discussions, while ever-tinged by politics, ignore the fact that increases are not symmetric to decreases.
The teachers’ unions have put themselves in a difficult position, with Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio demonstrating that the traditional labor stance is untenable. So far, media attention to the union story has focused on the fiscal side—state deficits, teacher-benefit packages, and the like. Without question, these are important issues, but they are dwarfed by the implications for teacher effectiveness and improved student achievement. Now is the time to go beyond the rhetoric and to show that all of us—including the unions—are truly behind ensuring effective teachers in all classrooms.
An expanding list of states has joined in legislative battles over the future character of collective bargaining, a territory that was completely uncharted six months ago. A combination of state fiscal crises plus newly elected Republican legislatures and governors, has emboldened the legislatures in the traditionally union-friendly states of Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. They are joined by states as diverse as Idaho, Alabama, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. But, what is it all about? Or, more interestingly, what should it be about?
Do we really need someone in Sacramento writing three paragraphs in the California Education Code containing 1,132 words that lay out the rules for school field trips? How about state approval of lesson plans for farm labor vehicle training? Of course not. And from these, we see an opportunity to break the gridlock in our state capital.
In this podcast, Rick Hanushek talks with Ed Next’s Paul Peterson about his new study estimating the economic impact of teachers who produce higher than average gains in student learning.
Hanushek finds that the top 25 percent of teachers (teachers in the top quarter of the effectiveness distribution) contribute $16,000 per year in income to the average student (compared to what those students would earn if they had an average teacher). If a class has 25 students, that means that $400,000 in added income will accrue to students because they had a good teacher for one year.
It has now become conventional wisdom that teachers are the most important ingredient in an effective school. It is probably also the case that teachers are the most important ingredient in an ineffective school. The point is that that there are large differences in teacher quality, and these differences are felt in very tangible ways by students and by U.S. society.
State budgets this year face huge revenue losses, thanks to the recession and the end of federal stimulus money. Each threatened interest group has mobilized to try to escape any impact but none as effectively as schools, which have a special weapon: the courts.
The argument in the courts — playing out now in New Jersey and likely soon in New York — is simple: The state Constitution protects us from taking any share of the pain of the fiscal calamity. This kind of logic may indeed spread to other states.