In Vancouver last winter, the United States proved its competitive spirit by winning more medals—gold, silver, and bronze—at the Winter Olympic Games than any other country, although the German member of our research team insists on pointing out that Canada and Germany both won more gold medals than the United
States. But if there is some dispute about which Olympic medals to count, there is no question about American math performance: the United States does not deserve even a paper medal.
There is a simple story that describes our schools and that on the surface just does not make sense. It goes like this: teachers are the most important element of schools; we value high quality schools, and we want to improve their performance; and we are unwilling to permit the pay of teachers to keep up with pay elsewhere in the economy. This piece will build on the salient parts of this history in order to discuss a range of policy options that have been proposed.
An underlying principle of U.S. social policy is that education is the key policy lever for addressing poverty. In the United States and around the world, education is almost always heavily subsidized by government. The justifications for government involvement vary, but increasingly rely on the suggestion that expanded educational investments both strengthen the national economy and improve the societal distribution of income and welfare. Education, for example, had a prominent role in the U.S. "War on Poverty," with many of the programs developed in the 1960s continuing through today.
Maintaining our innovative edge in the world depends importantly on developing a highly qualified cadre of scientists and engineers. To realize that objective requires a system of schooling that produces students with advanced math and science skills. To see how well the U.S. as a whole, each state, and certain urban districts do at producing high-achieving math students, the percentage of U.S.
In 2010 there were many questions about testing students, including how the information would be used. Parallel questions asked whether performance on the existing tests even mattered. After all, the test were narrow and did not reflect either deeper thinking skills or other noncognitive facets that research was beginning to identify as important for job performance and participation in society.
The United States is built on the idea that all individuals should be free to reach their full potential – the “pursuit of happiness” mentioned in the Declaration of Independence as one of the “unalienable rights” all Americans share. And a natural corollary is that society has the responsibility to provide at least the basic tools individuals need to pursue this goal effectively. While many aspects are involved in the accomplishing this goal, our schools clearly have a key role. But it is also clear that the schools have not been doing as much as they could to ensure that all Americans have the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the twenty-first century. As a result, school reform is a topic on many people’s minds today – as it should be.
Proposals to reauthorize No Child Left Behind seek to ensure “equitable” access to effective teachers. The U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top fund rewards state plans for “ensuring equitable distribution of effective teachers and principals” and for “ambitious yet achievable annual targets to increase the number and percentage of highly effective teachers…in high-poverty schools.” These objectives pose a number of challenging questions. How readily can we identify effective teachers?
This article reviews the role of education in promoting economic growth, with a particular focus on the role of educational quality. It concludes that there is strong evidence that the cognitive skills of the population – rather than mere school attainment – are powerfully related to long-run economic growth. The relationship between skills and growth proves extremely robust in empirical applications. The effect of skills is complementary to the quality of economic institutions.
While many nations express a commitment to improved educational quality, education often slips down on the policy agenda when pressures on budgets or other issues arise. Because the benefits of educational investments are seen only in the future, it is possible to underestimate the value and the importance of improvements. This paper uses recent economic modeling to relate cognitive skills – as measured by PISA and other international instruments – to economic growth.
The national educational challenge was most forcefully articulated by the nation’s governors in 1989. As they met in Charlottesville, Virginia, they felt the need of the nation to improve the performance of students—a need articulated a half decade previously in A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education 1983). And they declared that the United States should be first in the world in mathematics and science by the turn of the century (National Education Goals Panel 1991).
Questions of educational adequacy and school spending have long been a point of contention in school reform.Amid the recent economic turmoil and gaping state budget shortfalls, questions of whether court-ordered funding remedies have delivered—and why they have or have not—have taken on particular import. This forum offers two sharply different takes on our experiences to date, and what lessons they offer going forward.
Even before and certainly ever since the 1983 release of A Nation at Risk by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, national economic competitiveness has been offered as a primary reason for pushing school reform.The commission warned,“If only to keep and improve on the slim competitive edge we still retain in world markets, we must dedicate ourselves to the reform of our educational system for the benefit of all—old and young alike, affluent and poor, majority and minority.”Responding to these urgent words, the National Governors Association, in 1989, pledged that U.S.
At the same time, the translation of what is known about teacher quality into effective policy is far from being institutionalized. The simplest summary of research into teacher quality is that some teachers are dramatically more effective than others but that common measures of quality are largely uncorrelated with true quality. Thus, for example, we continue to face problems of insufficient numbers of high quality teachers, or shortages of math and science teachers, and of “out of field” teachers.
Access to education is one of the highest priorities on the development agenda. High-profile international commitment to progress—such as the second Millennium Development Goal of achieving universal primary education—has helped galvanize policy-makers into action. Significant results have already been achieved in school enrollment. Yet care must be taken that the need for simple, measurable goals does not lead to ignoring the fact that it ultimately is the degree to which schooling fosters cognitive skills and facilitates the acquisition
Lawsuits aimed at compelling legislatures to increase school funding have been filed in some 42 states. Courts have found for the plaintiffs in more than half of the cases on the grounds that schools are not “adequately” funded (see Figure 1). These decisions have, in effect, changed the way education appropriations are made, moving decision making from legislatures to the courts.
Eric Hanushek and Steven Rivkin examine how salary and working conditions affect the quality of instruction in the classroom. The wages of teachers relative to those of other college graduates have fallen steadily since 1940. Today, average wages differ little, however, between urban and suburban districts. In some metropolitan areas urban districts pay more, while in others, suburban districts pay more.
Because they are products of circumstance, ideas often become dated. As circumstances change, many ideas lose currency and relevance. Others, however, pick up momentum with time. School choice is among the latter. Over a long period of time, various philosophers, writers, and policymakers have discussed how schools should be organized and financed, but perhaps no idea about schooling is as directly linked to a single individual as school choice is to Milton Friedman.
The recent movement to hold schools accountable for student performance has highlighted a simple fact: Many students are not achieving at desired levels.This simple fact has led people with widely varying reform perspectives to enter into the fray with plans and solutions. And a natural follow-on question is invariably “what will it cost?” To answer this important question, a series of very misleading methods for estimating the costs of an improved education have evolved, but the problems with these methods are generally unrecognized (or ignored) in the public and judicial debate.
Perhaps the most important change in policy discussions about school finance was the introduction of court decision making into the determination of funding schemes. Following the California court case of Serrano v. Priest, begun in the late 1960s, most states had legal actions designed to change the method of funding local schools. This book provides relevant data for the consideration of adequacy court cases. The design is to bring together a series of important “data points” that highlight issues in assessing the adequacy of school finance.
It is becoming broadly recognized that quality teachers are the key ingredient to a successful school. Yet standard policies do not ensure that quality teachers are recruited and retained in the profession. Finding solutions to this problem is particularly important in Florida, where huge numbers of new teachers must be hired over the next few years.