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Baumol’s victims and the urgent need for reform (part 3)

• Dr. Matthew Ladner

We could spend some time attempting to explain why this…

…and this…

…led to this:

NAEP Long Term Math Scores, 1971-2008

These three charts, all derived from National Center for Education Statistics Data, should fill all Americans with shame. This is our public education system, and all citizens bear responsibility for the often terrible results despite the infusion of massive taxpayer resources into the system. You can’t surround students with an ever-increasing number of adult employees without vastly increasing spending per pupil in real terms over time. The problem: it hasn’t worked for the kids in terms of improved learning.

Occasionally some will attempt to serve as an apologist for this catastrophic social failure by attempting to argue that children are more difficult to educate today than in the past. In some ways, this is true. In other ways, however, children are easier to educate today than in the past. We eliminated lead paint and gasoline lead, for example, decades ago. Jay Greene and Greg Forster studied sixteen different factors in a Manhattan Institute study and concluded on balance that the “teachability” of children has improved rather than declined. Whether or not you agree with Dr. Greene, resources have increased dramatically.

Who are the primary victims of Baumol’s disease in K-12 education? Without a doubt the answer is: poor and minority children.

Last year I heard Stanford Professor Linda Darling Hammond reference a United States Department of Education study that broke down American PISA results by race and ethnicity. I sat stunned as she drew absurdly false comfort from the fact that American schools with 10% or fewer Free and Reduced lunch children had higher average scores than the highest performing nation (South Korea). It’s all about poverty you see…

Daddy’s private tutor got me over Finland’s average score!

Congratulations 90210! If you pick out the wealthiest parts of America, it turns out that they can outscore national averages. No word yet on how well wealthy Americans compare to wealthy Koreans or wealthy Finns, but I think we know how an apples to apples would wind up.

The far more important data from this study is contained in the next chart: American Black and Hispanic students score closer to the bottom scoring nation taking PISA (Mexico) than they do to American White students or to Koreans.

It goes without saying that Mexico has a far greater poverty problem than the United States. This fact is reflected in the differences in total spending per pupil.

So with a far greater poverty problem and far, far less to spend per pupil Mexico manages to educate their students to almost the same abysmal level that American public schools manage for the average Hispanic or Black student. School leaders in Mexico can only dream of commanding the sorts of resources taken for granted in America, and would gladly exchange poverty problems with us.

Below you see the same catastrophic American failure in the Long-Term NAEP data, showing on average, the average Black and Hispanic student in America has arrived in 12th grade with a level of academic attainment comparable to an 8th grade Anglo. If we were able to factor in dropout rates, this comparison would look even worse.

All Americans of all philosophical backgrounds know that we can and must have a system of public schooling that does far better. American students and taxpayers want, need and deserve a system of schooling that does far more for those starting with the least. The ineffective use of the massive funding in the American public school system has very real victims.

In our next exciting episode, we will explore how we got here, and what we can do about it.

About the author

Dr. Matthew Ladner @MatthewLadner

Dr. Matthew Ladner is the Senior Advisor of Policy and Research for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. He previously served as Vice President of Research and Goldwater Institute. Prior to joining Goldwater, Dr. Ladner was director of state projects at the Alliance for School Choice. Dr. Ladner has written numerous studies on school choice, charter schools and special education reform. Most recently, Dr. Ladner authored the groundbreaking, original research Turn and Face the Strain: Age Demographic Change and the Near Future of American Education, outlining the future funding crisis facing America’s K-12 public education funding. He also coauthors the American Legislative Exchange Council's annual Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress and Reform. Dr. Ladner has testified before Congress, the United States Commission of Civil Rights and numerous state legislative committees. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and received both a Masters and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Houston. Dr. Ladner is a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for Educational Choice. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona.