Archive for the ‘School Choice’ Category

Tar Heel School Voucher Victory

July 29, 2015

School vouchers may be the most effective anti-poverty program around, yet they’re fought tooth and hammer by the teachers unions. Late last week the North Carolina Supreme Court awarded a victory to poor kids by protecting vouchers from another union attack.

Two years ago Tar Heel Republicans passed a modest reform offering low-income students $4,200 scholarships to attend qualifying private schools. The law requires, among other things, that private schools report graduation rates and test scores. It also mandates an annual report comparing the learning gains of voucher recipients and public school students.

Taxpayer plaintiffs backed by the union argued in a lawsuit that vouchers accomplish no “public purpose” because private schools don’t have to adhere to such state educational standards as teacher licensing requirements. You have to admire the gall of a union to argue that private schools are “unaccountable” when only one in five black fourth-graders at North Carolina public schools scored proficient in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2013. According to the Institute for Justice, which represented voucher parents in the case, five of six low-income students fail the state’s end-of-grade math or reading tests.

North Carolina’s high court ruled 4-3 that vouchers serve a public purpose, and we’d say an urgent one. Last year about 4,500 qualifying low-income families applied for 2,400 slots in the state lottery, though only 1,200 vouchers were awarded because of a court injunction. Now that vouchers are out of legal limbo, some Republican legislators hope to expand the program and raise income eligibility limits. Good idea.

While the ruling is a victory for poor children, the case is a reminder that the unions will do everything possible to preserve their monopoly control over the lives of millions they fail to teach. It’s the greatest scandal in American public life.

Parent-Trigger V-Day

July 21, 2015

Alexander Hamilton said an independent judiciary is essential to guard against “serious oppressions of the minor party in the community.” Last week a California judge reaffirmed this wisdom by overruling local school district officials who tried to thwart parents from using the state’s parent-trigger law.

In January parents filed a petition to convert Palm Lane Elementary in Anaheim into a charter under California’s 2010 parent-trigger law, which allows a majority of parents in any failing school to force changes. Palm Lane had made the state Department of Education’s list of underperforming schools since 2003. Fewer than 40% of students scored proficient in English in 2013. About 85% are Hispanic, and most are low-income.

School district officials and the teachers union tried to stymie parents at every turn. The union even complained that signature gatherers were bribing parents with free iPads, a false allegation that the district superintendent repeated in a cautionary letter to parents. In February the school district rejected the petition on dubious grounds, which included claims that parents had made paperwork errors, such as failing to “submit a separate document that identifies the lead petitioners.”

Though more than 60% of parents signed the petition, the district threw out dozens of signatures that could not be “verified.” That is, the parents could not be reached between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. to confirm that they signed the petition. Maybe that’s because they were working. This left parents 12 signatures short of the 50% threshold, so they sued the district for improperly rejecting the petition.

Last Thursday Orange County Superior Court judge Andrew Banks ruled in favor of the parents on all counts and rebuked the district’s conduct as “unreasonable, arbitrary, capricious and unfair.” He also scored district officials for violating their obligation under the trigger law to work in good faith with parents—a responsibility many other districts have disregarded as well.

Judge Banks has ordered the district to accept the petition and allow parents to immediately begin soliciting charter school proposals. Palm Lane will become the second school in California where parents have successfully triggered large-scale reform. There would be more if unions working with district officials hadn’t intimidated parent organizers.

Palm Lane parents were assisted by the trigger law’s author, former state Democratic Senator Gloria Romero, who helped seek outside legal counsel. The case shows how far the union and administrative bureaucracy will go to preserve their monopoly, even breaking the law. Palm Lane’s parents are heroes for fighting back, but the scandal is how hard they had to fight to fulfill a basic legal right.

 

All Arne’s Children

July 14, 2015

Arne Duncan has had his good moments supporting charter schools, but the Education Secretary continues to fight vouchers for private schools. So it’s worth noting that he has decided to send his own children to a private school in Chicago.

During his time in Washington, Mr. Duncan’s two children have been attending public schools in suburban Virginia. But his wife has now moved back to Chicago, and come fall their children will study at the University of Chicago’s Laboratory Schools—which he attended and where tuition runs about $30,000 a year. That’s also where Barack and Michelle Obama sent their children before moving to Washington and sending Sasha and Malia to the tony Sidwell Friends.

Mr. Duncan’s choice is all the more striking since he used to run the Chicago public schools. He also stood aside in 2009 when Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin managed to kill the Opportunity Scholarship Program in Washington until Speaker John Boehner and the Republican Congress revived it.

The Education Secretary was also a muted voice when the Obama Justice Department filed a lawsuit aimed at scuttling Louisiana’s innovative voucher program. And he was silent again when the Colorado Supreme Court recently invoked a leftover of 19th-century bigotry—its anti-Catholic Blaine amendment—to stop students from receiving vouchers for private schools.

We wish Arne Duncan’s children every success. Too bad he didn’t fight for similar options for families not as fortunate as his.

The Teachers Union Votes Hillary

July 14, 2015

So much for liberating poor kids from failing schools.

Wall Street Journal

July 12, 2015 6:48 p.m. ET

While the media chase the Bernie Sanders rallies, keep your eye on the political crowds that matter. On Saturday the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) endorsed Hillary Clinton—16 months before Election Day.

This counts in the fight for the Democratic Party nomination because the 1.6 million member union boasts it can make a million phone calls and knock on 500,000 doors. Bernie’s Birkenstock irregulars can’t match that political power and money.

The endorsement is even more notable as another sign of Hillary’s left political turn. Democrats in New York and elsewhere have been debating education reform, but by embracing the AFT Mrs. Clinton is choosing the union status quo that opposes school choice and teacher accountability.

Listen to AFT president Randi Weingarten’s endorsement: “Hillary understands that to reclaim the promise of public education, policy makers need to work with educators and their unions. She’s ready to work with us to confront the issues facing children and their families today, including poverty, wage stagnation, income inequality and lack of opportunity.” Translation: Mrs. Clinton will send unions more money without hassling them on tenure and charter schools.

At the AFT executive council meeting in June, Mrs. Clinton sent the same signal by declaring that, “It is just dead wrong to make teachers the scapegoats for all of society’s problems. Where I come from, teachers are the solution. And I strongly believe that unions are part of the solution, too.”

The AFT wouldn’t be backing Hillary this early if it didn’t expect to be repaid in policy if she wins. Poor children will be the losers.

Nevada Places a Bet on School Choice

June 15, 2015

OPINION | COMMENTARY

Education savings accounts are available to all of the state’s 385,000 public-school students.

By CLINT BOLICK
June 14, 2015 6:06 p.m. ET

Nevada recently became the fifth state to enact the nation’s most systemic K-12 funding reform: education savings accounts. ESAs allow parents to pull their children out of public schools and put the allotted tax dollars toward an education they prefer. This makes the phrase “school choice” a reality.

Unlike vouchers, which make public dollars available only for private- school tuition, the savings accounts can be used for a range of educational options, for private schools or distance learning, tutoring, computer software, educational therapies, public-school classes and activities, and community college classes. Any money left after graduation can be put toward college. This will give Nevada parents more than $5,000 to work with.

Education savings accounts are an innovation; they harness the capacity of modern technology to deliver high-quality, tailored education to every child in the state. Families can mix and match educational offerings to meet their children’s needs and aptitudes, perhaps combining interactive distance learning with a local high- school chemistry lab and a tutor in mathematics.

The savings accounts, first proposed a decade ago by the Goldwater Institute, where I work, weren’t pressed into service until 2009. That’s when the Arizona Supreme Court struck down school vouchers for disabled and foster children under the state’s Blaine Amendment, which forbids the use of public funds in private or sectarian schools. Vouchers violated the Blaine Amendment, the court reasoned, because they could only be used in private schools.

But what if public funds were available not only for private schools but also for a broad array of educational options? The Arizona Legislature enacted ESAs for disabled and foster children, depositing 90% of each child’s state education funds into an account featuring a debit card that can be used to purchase educational services from public or private providers. Local school property taxes remain untouched and available to public schools.

Like vouchers, education savings accounts were challenged in court for violating the Blaine Amendment in 2011. But because the funds were not limited to private schools, the legality of ESAs was upheld. As Arizona Court of Appeals Judge Jon Thompson observed in a 2013 ruling, “Parents can use the funds deposited in the . . . account to customize an education that meets their children’s unique educational needs.” Arizona has expanded ESA eligibility to include children in public schools receiving D or F grades and military families. Legislation sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Carlyle Begay to provide ESAs for children on Indian reservations goes into effect this fall.

Last year, Florida—whose Supreme Court also had earlier struck down vouchers—enacted ESAs for severely disabled children. The savings accounts are especially useful for families whose children have special needs that require individualized approaches that often are not found in public schools. As in Arizona, ESAs were challenged in court and upheld.

This year education savings accounts were enacted in three states where earlier there was resistance to school choice: Mississippi, Tennessee and Nevada. The savings accounts in the first two states are limited to children with special needs.

But Nevada’s program is available to all of the state’s 385,000 public- school students. Most children will receive 90% of the state’s education contribution, or about $5,100. But children with disabilities or in low-income families will receive the full per-pupil amount, roughly $5,700. For the first time since the nation’s first voucher program was enacted in Milwaukee 25 years ago, this year more than half of the states plus the District of Columbia have some form of private school choice. BUT NOT TEXAS (added by poster) 

Teachers unions fiercely opposed the bill. “This is a ploy by those who deplore public education and want to destroy it,” charged Democratic state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse. But that tired argument lost.

The emergence of education savings accounts may mark the beginning of the end for an ossified education-delivery system that is has changed little since the 19th century. It begins an important shift of government from a monopoly provider of education into an enabler of education in whatever form or forum it most benefits the child.

By reducing the need for bureaucracies and capital construction, education savings accounts can reverse the ever-growing costs of public education, even as the accounts provide resources for families to save for college. They can help surmount Blaine Amendment obstacles that appear in about two-thirds of state constitutions. Most important, they hitch public policy to infinite technological possibilities, creating the first truly 21st-century education model wherein public funding follows the child.

Mr. Bolick is vice president for litigation at the Goldwater Institute.

Copyright 2014 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Bad Deal in Baltimore

May 20, 2015

Wall Street Journal
OPINION REVIEW & OUTLOOK
Progressives and unions gut a charter-school reform.

May 18, 2015 6:37 p.m. ET

The Baltimore riots produced national lamentations about urban poverty, but don’t expect much to be done about it. Witness how the Maryland legislature gutted a charter-school reform that could have offered an escape for poor children.
Baltimore schools are some of the worst in the country. According to the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress, a mere 14% of Baltimore fourth graders and 16% of eighth graders were proficient in reading. One in four students fails to graduate from high school. This is a disgrace.

Many states have used charter schools as an alternative to let educators operate without the rules that favor teacher tenure and other protections over student learning in failing schools. But Maryland’s chartering law is one of the stingiest. It makes local school boards the sole chartering authority, and they see charters as competition. The state also limits the freedom of charter schools to innovate and demand high performance.
Baltimore has successes such as KIPP schools among its 31 charter schools teaching some 11,000 students, though those are remarkably small numbers for a city its size. In 2013 New York City had 70,000 students in 183 charter schools, rising to 210 for 2015-2016. More than 11,000 Maryland students are on charter waiting lists. That’s because, even with the state’s restrictions, charter students outperform those in traditional public schools in 4th and 8th grade reading and 8th grade math.
The tragedy is that last week Governor Larry Hogan signed a bill that leaves the city’s relatively few charter schools under the sway of the teachers unions. The new Governor’s original plan would have allowed charters to operate outside union collective-bargaining agreements, given charter operators greater autonomy over staffing and improved the state’s funding formula.
Those goals died at the hands of Democrats who dominate the state legislature, in particular state senator and former teachers union member Paul Pinsky. One of the first reforms killed was a measure to give charters the choice of participating in a collective-bargaining agreement. So charters must continue to answer to unions for work rules, tenure, even pay.
The reform victories that survived are modest. If a charter school has a good track record for five years, it can request exemptions from “textbook, instructional program, professional development and scheduling requirements.” How generous—a mere five-year wait to design a better curriculum. The law also requires the school district to let teachers transfer to charters if they want to go, and gives charters more control over the assignment of school principals.
Meanwhile, the Center for Education Reform notes that the law takes away much of the State Board of Education’s power to review local school-district actions on charters and makes it harder for the Governor to shape policy through appointments to the board. Under the new law, no plan for a charter school “may be construed to take precedence over an agreement of a local bargaining unit in a local school system.”
All of this reflects the power that government unions have over Democrats in Maryland, one of the country’s most left-leaning states. It also reveals the disconnect between the left’s rhetoric on poverty and its refusal to change the policies and practices that destroy economic opportunity. Look for another generation of education failure in Baltimore, and more riots down the road.

President Obama, Are You Listening?

May 2, 2015

The president wants to zero out a program that is saving poor kids from bad schools—the kind of reform that could work in Baltimore too.

Stephen Moore
May 1, 2015 7:19 p.m. ET
Washington, D.C.
Wall Street Journal

The scenes of Baltimore set ablaze this week have many Americans thinking: What can be done to rescue families trapped in an inner-city culture of violence, despair and joblessness?

There are no easy answers, but down the road from Baltimore in Washington, D.C., an education program is giving children in poor neighborhoods a big lift up. The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which George W. Bush signed into law in 2004, has so far funded private-school tuition for nearly 5,000 students, 95% of whom are African-American. They attend religious schools, music and arts schools, even elite college-prep schools. Last month at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, I met with about 20 parents and children who participate in the program. I also visited several of these families in their homes—which are located in some of the most beaten-down neighborhoods in the city, places that in many ways resemble the trouble spots in Baltimore.

These families have now pulled together to brace for a David vs. Goliath fight to save the program. For the seventh straight year, President Obama has proposed eliminating this relatively tiny scholarship fund, which at $20 million accounts for a microscopic 0.0005% of the $4 trillion federal budget.

The parents and students point out that the scholarship program has extraordinary benefits—they use phrases like “a godsend for our children,” “a life saver” and “our salvation.” One father, Joseph Kelley, a tireless champion of the program, says simply, “I truly shudder to think where my son would be today without it.” (He and his son, Rashawn Williams, are pictured at home nearby on this page.)

Virginia Ford, whose son escaped the public schools through a private-scholarship to Archbishop Carroll, now runs a group called D.C. Parents for School Choice. She tells me that “kids in the scholarship program have consistently improved their test scores, have higher graduation rates, and are more likely to attend college than those stuck in the D.C. public schools.”

The numbers back her up. An Education Department-funded study at the University of Arkansas recently found that graduation rates rose 21 percentage points—to 91%, from 70%—for students awarded the scholarship vouchers through a lottery, compared with a control group of those who applied for but didn’t get the scholarships. For all D.C. public schools, the high-school graduation rate is closer to an abysmal 56%.

“If you’ve got a program that’s clearly working and helping these kids, why end it?” asks Pamela Battle, whose son Carlos received a voucher and was able to attend the elite Georgetown Day School. He’s now at Northeastern University in Boston. She says Carlos “almost surely wouldn’t have gone to college” without the voucher. “We send all this money overseas for foreign aid,” she adds, “why not save the kids here at home first?”

Amazingly, these energized parents are opposed by almost every liberal group, even the NAACP, and nearly every Democrat in Congress—including Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the District of Columbia in Congress but opposes a program that benefits her own constituents.

There is little question what stirs this opposition. The teachers union sees the program as taking away union jobs, and it is so powerful that the Democratic establishment falls in line. “It is so sad that our public schools aren’t doing what’s best for the kids,” laments Ms. Ford, but instead are looking out for “the adults.”

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program turns conventional politics upside down. President George W. Bush created the program and invited several of the parents, including Ms. Battle, to the White House. “I got to meet President Bush and his wife, who was so lovely,” she recalls about the meeting.

Mr. Obama won’t even meet with these parents. A few years ago the voucher supporters held a rally with 3,000 minority and disadvantaged families in front of the Capitol to protest President Obama’s proposed elimination of the program for all new students. Republicans in Congress, including House Speaker John Boehner, one of the program’s strongest supporters, stood in solidarity with the families, while Nancy Pelosi and her Democratic colleagues were nowhere to be seen.

Democrats should listen to these families’ compelling stories of how this educational program is turning their lives around. Mr. Kelley is an outgoing, burly and bearded man of 67 who has reared 11 children—all but one of whom he adopted. Four of his children have won Opportunity Scholarships.

When I ask Mr. Kelly why he chose the private-school option, he replies: “You don’t understand,‎the public schools in my neighborhood aren’t just poor in quality. They are unsafe. The public schools have gotten so much worse through the years.”

He describes a grim scene on his first visit with Rashawn to a middle school in his neighborhood several years ago. “When I walked in the door, outside were two police cars and that was everyday routine for that school. There was violence. Fighting. Disrespect and drugs. No discipline whatsoever, just chaos.” It was, he says, “an awful learning environment.” Then he recalls: “When I complained to the principal about the chaos, she shook her finger at me and lectured, ‘Mr. Kelley, don’t tell me how to run my school.’ ”

Mr. Kelley says he was thinking, “No way can Rashawn go to this school. I’ll eventually wind up in jail because I’ll have to go down there and hurt one of those bully kids that hurts my son.” With parents in poor neighborhoods having no other options, school administrators can afford a take-it-or-leave it attitude. Except there was another option: applying for an Opportunity Scholarship. Rashawn wound up at Academia De La Recta Porta International Christian Day School.

Maritza White, whose son Michael also was awarded a scholarship, has a similar tale: “I decided to pull my son out [of public school] one day when he came home from school beaten up with a bloody nose and no one in the school showed any concern.” While most affluent and middle-class parents worry if their children will make the travel soccer team, or whether the local school is good enough to get their child into a top university, these poor parents worry every day whether their children will come home safely. A 2009 school-safety report from the Heritage Foundation noted that in that year the Education Department “found that 11.3% of the District’s high-school children reported being ‘threatened or injured’ with a weapon while on school property during the pervious year.”

Ms. White’s son Michael, who is 17, has attended the Cornerstone School, a Christian academy, since the third grade. The teachers soon discovered that he is a math prodigy and put him in special programs so he could excel.

Ms. White believes that beyond the improved academic standards, a big plus with Cornerstone was a curriculum the public schools won’t touch: “character development.” These religious schools try to instill basic values like integrity, honesty, hard work and smart behavior like not getting pregnant before marriage. The students are required to wear uniforms, a rule that she believes is “tremendously important to develop self respect.”

Oh, and by the way: Michael scored so high on his college-board tests that he was just contacted by Harvard and MIT, encouraging him to apply.

The most common objection to vouchers is that they drain public schools of resources. But Ms. Ford notes that when the Opportunity Scholarship program was created, the feds gave $20 million for the vouchers and an extra $20 million for the public schools. This meant more money for the public schools—and unionized teachers still opposed the program. “They aren’t afraid that the voucher program won’t work,” she says, “but that it will.”

The left’s rote response to rotten schools is to call for more money, but the D.C. scholarship program shows that a quality education can be had for less money. The Census Bureau reported in 2012 that Washington spent $18,667 per pupil in 2010. The scholarship amounts are $8,500 for elementary-school children and $12,000 for high school. So the voucher program gives kids a better education at about half the cost to the taxpayer.

Several parents point out that President Obama and his wife Michelle shopped around and chose the prep school Sidwell Friends for their daughters. Several of the Opportunity Scholarship children also go there. Now the president wants to end the program for children who sit next to his own daughters in the classroom. “He lives in public housing too,” says Mr. Kelley, half joking. “Why should he get school choice just because he’s rich and we’re not? If it’s good for your children, it’s good for our children.”

Public education has traditionally been the great equalizer in America. The tragedy today is that the decline of public schools is one of the leading contributors to generational cycles of poverty. Democrats say they want to make the 2016 election about income inequality, but they stand united in opposition to one of the most effective ways of reducing the gap between rich and poor: better education.

The good news is that school-choice programs like the one in Washington have spread to more than 20 states and about 300,000 children. While the programs are expanding, they are still too few to have much overall impact on American education.

Republicans should seize this issue. And when unions mobilize to kill school choice, the GOP should fight side by side with these inspiring students and parents to expand it across the country. The Education Department’s spending for K-12 education will soon reach $50 billion. For what? How about a GOP plan that would take that money from the bureaucracy and distribute five million vouchers of $10,000 each to the lowest-income Americans—like those who live in Baltimore?

For now at least, the Opportunity Scholarship in Washington should be saved and expanded. “I wish President Obama would sit down with us and hear our stories,” says Virginia Ford. “I think it would change his mind.”

Mr. Moore is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

Taxpayers Savings Grants SB276

February 28, 2015

The link below displays a bill that is a very simple and straightforward voucher bill.  It focuses on savings to the State by awarding 60% of the State’s cost per child and leaving the residual 40% with the State. There are no low income or failing school requirements.  In order to assure a savings to the State, students currently in private school are excluded. However, kindergarten and first grade students are allowed to enter and stay in the program. Therefore, after 12 years all students in both public and private school will have access to a voucher. Click the link below to see a copy of the bill.

_TxprSavAcctSB276

How was AT&T like the public school system?

February 28, 2015

School choice advocates believe in the power of free market competition to improve the quality and efficiency of any industry, including elementary and secondary education.

We like to use the example of an industry that used to be a government monopoly, but is now governed by market competition. That is the telecommunications industry. We old-timers remember when AT&T was a telephone monopoly. We all had black phones. We didn’t own our phones; we leased them from AT&T. It was illegal to install an answering machine to your phone line because it was a “foreign device”. Long distance rates were in the range of $.60 per minute. In current dollars it would be well over $1.00 per minute.

Then “poof”! Competitors are allowed to enter the industry. Now we have answering machines, fax machines, and cell phones. Cell phones are so cheap that kids start getting them in elementary school. Cheap telephone lines allowed us to logon to something called the “world wide web”. You get the idea.

Why would you not expect the elementary and secondary school industry to receive similar benefits if market competition were injected into the system?

The Vital Link of Education and Prosperity

February 28, 2015
  • The Wall Street Journal
  • September 11, 2013, 7:20 p.m. ET

Data from 50 countries over half a century reveal how even a small education gain can mean a big economic payoff.

  • By PAUL E. PETERSON
  • AND ERIC A. HANUSHEK

Americans are aware of public education’s many failures—the elevated high-school dropout rates, the need for remedial work among entering college students. One metric in particular stands out: Only 32% of U.S. high-school students are proficient in math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. When the NAEP results are put on the scale of the Program on International Student Assessment (PISA), the world’s best source of information on student achievement, the comparable proficiency rates in math are 45% in Germany, 49% in Canada, and 63% in Singapore, the highest performing independent nation.

The subpar performance of U.S. students has wide ramifications—and not just for individuals. On an individual level, of course, the connection between education and income is obvious. Those with a college degree can expect to earn over 60% more in the course of their lifetime than those with a high-school diploma, according to U.S. Census data. But there is a nexus between educational achievement and national prosperity as well.

According to our calculations, raising student test scores in this country up to the level in Canada would dramatically increase economic growth. We estimate that the additional growth dividend has a present value of $77 trillion over the next 80 years. This is equivalent to adding an average 20% to the paycheck of every worker for every year of work over this time period.

Where do such astronomical numbers come from? Students of human capital have long known that a country’s growth rate is connected to the skills of the workers. And it has recently become apparent from our analysis of differences in growth rates among countries between 1960 and 2009 that the skills that count are reliably measured by standardized tests of math and science such as PISA and NAEP.

We have analyzed all the well-vetted international tests given to students since the 1960s in 50 countries for which test-score information is available. Adjusting for a country’s initial GDP (since it is easier to grow fast when you start at a low level), the differences in long-run growth rates are mainly accounted for by differences in cognitive skills as measured by these international tests.

Between 1960 and 2009, the extra-rapid growth of some countries at the top of the achievement distribution—such as Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong—can be readily explained by their students’ very high test scores. Their growth was almost 2% per year higher than would be expected if they had only average achievement. Countries at the bottom of the achievement distribution—such as South Africa, Argentina, the Philippines and Peru—have suffered from the weak growth that their failing education systems predict. Their growth was almost 2% less per year than would be expected had their student test scores put them at the world average.

The U.S. economy grew two-thirds of a percent faster per year for this period than would be predicted by its students’ mediocre test scores. This performance reflects a number of historic advantages. The U.S. economy is built on open markets, secure property rights and generally favorable tax rates; a higher-education system at the top of the world; and favorable immigration policies that permitted highly skilled people to enter. But these relative advantages are declining as other countries emulate our institutions and practices.

In the future, U.S. growth will depend on the skills of its citizens, and currently those skills are not competitive with other countries. This nation can no longer expect to grow by retaining talent attracted to colleges and universities from abroad, as other nations are offering foreign students much broader opportunities and U.S. immigration policies are becoming more uncertain.

Assuming that historic trends in all 50 countries in our analysis apply equally to the United States, its GDP growth rate would be boosted by about three-fourths of 1% a year if student test scores in math rose by 40 points higher on international tests, to the level attained by Canadian students. Three-quarters of a percent a year seems small, but it generates an amount five times our current GDP of $16 trillion.

To get a sense of the magnitude of these numbers, consider that the Congressional Budget Office estimated that $4 trillion of potential GDP was lost between 2008 and 2012 as a result of the recent recession. That’s a big-time number but only a hint of the long-term price of nearly $80 trillion the country pays for a low-performing educational system.

How can U.S. student achievement be boosted? Notably, the average number of years students are in school has little impact on economic growth, once student test-score performance is taken into account. If you aren’t learning anything at your desk, it doesn’t matter how long you sit there.

Nor is more money the answer. The U.S. spends on average $12,000 per pupil in grades K-12, one of the highest amounts in the world. Among U. S. states, increments in spending per pupil between 1990 and 2010 show no correlation with changes in student performance.

In Wyoming and New York, spending levels per pupil climbed at one of the fastest rates without getting any extra gains in student achievement over this time period. Florida was among the most rapidly improving states, even though inflation-adjusted state expenditures per pupil hardly changed. It matters more how the money is spent than how much is spent. Expensive but ineffective policies such as class size reduction, while valued by current school personnel, have not raised achievement. Better accountability, more school choice, market-based teacher compensation and retention policies can on the other hand boost achievement without adding materially to school costs.

Nationwide, the biggest economic gains will come many years after school improvement takes place, a fact that probably helps to explain the reluctance of the political class to commit itself to genuine school reform. Confronting the power of teacher unions and other vested interests is politically costly. But the failure to improve the education system is more costly still.

Mr. Peterson is a professor of government at Harvard and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, where Mr. Hanushek is a senior fellow. They are the authors, with Ludger Woessmann, of “Endangering Prosperity: A Global View of the American School” (Brookings, 2013).

A version of this article appeared September 11, 2013, on page A19 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Vital Link of Education and Prosperity.

Copyright 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,795 other followers