Local Is The Answer For Public Education Failures

January 29, 2013

We’re discovering after decades of data that raising performance standards does not necessarily equate to rising student achievement, despite years of federal programs infused with this achilles heel philosophy. Currently, K-12 education is spending more than twice what they did in the 80s after adjusting for inflation but the outcomes are not rising. The last three decades have seen a lot of policies implemented at the federal, state, and local level aimed at improving educational outcomes to no avail. The freshman high school graduation rate has only increased by 1.8% since 1983. Standardized test scores among high school students have also flatlined over the past 30 years with achievement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) dropping by 1 point in reading and increasing by merely 4 points in math since the early 1980s.

The Back Story
Washington’s statutory authority for getting involved actually dates back to the 1960s. It started with Lyndon B Johnson’s effort and the passage of the Elementary and Secondary School Act of 1965. The Act allocates federal funds to schools with a high percentage of students from low-income families in its first title – hence its popular designation “Title I funds.” Reform minded Congressman began tying Title 1 funds to performance requirements and a host of programs ensued; the Hawkins Stafford Act of `88, the `94 Improving America’s Schools Act and the 2001 NCLB Act. President Obama got in on the action with his Road to the Top program.

All of these programs have failed miserably at raising student achievement because the Fed programs all set standards that weren’t tailored to the needs of the individual state.

We have to explore innovative educational reforms and the incubator for great ideas is not at the Federal level, it’s at the State and Local level. These innovations are happening now.

Just a couple of the major school choice initiatives that are the most popular are things like charter schools and opportunity scholarship programs.

Charter Schools

The research shows that charters perform better than their public school counterparts, overall. In the largest meta-analysis on charter schools nationwide conducted in 2006 and again in 2010, charter schools performed either the same or better than their district school counterparts in 44 of 58 studies. And since funding for existing public schools is tied to pupils in attendance and some of the those students will move to a public charter school when it moves into town, the new competition for educational performance has the same effect as it does in the private sector–it encourages better performance as the system competes to serve its customers; meeting the needs of students and parents.

Opportunity Scholarship Programs

These are similar to charters in that they put power in the hands of parents to select their child’s school instead of being restricted by a zip code. The difference is that they aren’t limited to public schools. They can be used for private institutions as well. Right now, there are 12 states and DC that have some sort of program set up. The most popular type of opportunity scholarship program is where the state government gives an allowance of money to a parent for the amount the State spends per pupil that the parent can then spend to send their child to their preferred school.

The results have been great in most cases. One study by Harvard and the Brookings Institute pointed out that college attendance for African American students using scholarships rises by nearly 25% over their peers. The Dept of Ed even discovered that kids in DC schools using scholarships read at a higher level.

Fortunately, the states have started to stand up to Washington’s one-size-fits-all failures, reasserting their constitutional right to
run their public education systems by embracing innovative reforms. While not every state-based reform is flawless, school choice initiatives like charters and vouchers have achieved considerable success.

Watch for our full report coming out later this week.

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