In order to have effective K-12 education reforms we first need to identify the problems. As noted on the Education Funding page there is no correlation between funding and achievement in a state-by-state comparison. Nor are there any significant long term achievement gains credited to smaller classroom sizes. What then are the major problems in education?
Much has been made in academic discussions about “Achievement Gaps”. The achievement gaps most discussed are the academic performance differences between whites and minorities. The scores of white students tend to be greater than those of black and Hispanic students. What causes these achievement gaps? There are 4 possible answers and only 3 of them are worth investigating.
The cause without credibility is genetic inferiority of blacks and Hispanics. There are simply too many academic standouts among black and Hispanic students for this to be credible.
Poverty is the cause given the most consideration by educators. They say the economic condition that these students grow up in put them at a disadvantage that cannot be overcome without additional resources (i.e. funding). As discussed in the Logic pages of this site a hidden agenda can be spotted when you look for the statement not used in an argument. In this case the missing component is the academic performance of Asian students.
Though many Asian students come from homes where English is rarely used, live in crowded conditions, and do not have money for luxury items, these students tend to perform at or above the performance level of white students. If poverty was really the root of the problem poor Asian students would have academic performance levels similar to blacks and Hispanics. Exposed then is the hidden agenda that educators are fishing for more money for themselves.
Schools with the highest levels of poverty receive additional funds from the federal government under the Title programs (especially Title I), and often more funds from state, local, and private foundations. Yet these schools, despite their significant advantage in funding, continue to have low scores and minor academic improvements over time. Poverty and lack of funding then are not the root cause.
Culture seems like a great candidate for the root cause of achievement gaps and there is some validity to this option. Many Asian cultures value education very highly and see it as a means to ensure that the next generation will have a more financially successful future.
Hispanic culture tends to value having family members begin working as soon as possible to help support the family. Young low educated workers usually have to take less skilled blue collar jobs. Young Hispanic women are often expected to marry and begin families at a young age. Since entry level blue collar jobs and child rearing do not require high levels of education they are not valued highly in the broad Hispanic culture.
Many blacks come from single mother families who are dependent on government assistance. Education is often not emphasized and the dropout rate among black students is far greater than other students.
However not all Asians are great students and many black and Hispanic students go to colleges, service academies, and graduate schools. There has to be something other than poverty and culture that makes a difference for these students.
That difference is parent involvement. Parents who tell their kids, “School is important!” tend to have higher performing kids. As the Asian students demonstrate it doesn’t matter what language that message is given in. This is the common denominator among high achieving white, Asian, black, and Hispanic students.
In the book “Freakanomics”, a study of poor Chicago high school students who entered a lottery to go to higher achieving schools demonstrates the importance of parent involvement. Both the students who “won” the lottery and went to higher achieving high schools and the ones who “lost” the lottery and stayed at the lower achieving high schools had nearly identical academic achievement. Both the “winners” and the “losers” outperformed the students whose parents did not enter them in the lottery. The only significant difference between the students was the level of parent involvement.
It will be a much better use of funds to help black and Hispanic families understand the value of education and to show just how simple their part can be in order to have their students perform at higher levels. Using simple rewards for student improvement (a classic Economic principle) will go a long way toward making significant strides in erasing achievement gaps.
Reforming the Educators
Unfortunately teacher unions and many administrators have pushed an agenda in which education is exempt from significant accountability. Teacher unions make it hard to get rid of bad teachers and almost impossible to eliminate mediocre teachers. Teachers who follow the minimum effort negotiated by their unions will almost never provide a year’s worth of academic growth within a school year to their students.
Teacher salaries are based on their education levels along with time in service and never on the quality of their student’s performance. The best teachers and the worst teachers are paid the same if their education levels and time in service are identical. As we learned in the Economic Rewards page it is difficult to get great results when great performances are not rewarded and poor performances are not punished. We need a new system that is responsive to the students and the taxpayers. Luckily for educators we have developed just such a proposal.
Click this link to see our Blueprint for Teacher Union Reform. This blueprint offers incentives for better teacher performance, allows districts to get rid of underperforming teachers, provides accountability to taxpayers, and all for no additional cost. The only ones who will lose are the ineffective teachers who have to hide behind the union’s skirts to protect their jobs. Since they are a large part of the problem they will either have to seek employment in another field or resign themselves to putting forth a much greater effort. Those who persevere in the education field and make themselves into much better teachers will see their job satisfaction reach previously unimagined levels. There are certainly items in the blueprint that will need to be tweaked but it offers a great starting point and could be very effective if the key incentives are kept in place. Since the blueprint benefits effective teachers, students, and taxpayers we believe this is a win-win-win proposition.