How was AT&T like the public school system?

February 28, 2015 by

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 by
  • 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.


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

Answer #2 The fixed cost argument

February 28, 2015 by

The fixed cost argument: School choice would lower the revenue to public schools. Since public schools have large fixed costs, school boards will have to raise taxes to cover these costs.

Every business has fixed costs. Managing and controlling fixed costs is part of making a business efficient. There is an easy place for public schools to “cut fat” and reduce their fixed costs: non-teaching overhead.

In 2007 Texas public schools spent only 41% of their operating expenses on teacher salaries. (TEA Snapshot 2012 Summary) I would expect that the non-teaching 59% of the budget could be trimmed somewhere.

That is one of the big benefits of school choice, it will force public schools to economize rather than raising taxes for more administrators and administrative buildings.

Answers to School Choice Objections

February 28, 2015 by

In the next series of posts, I will answer various “problems” with school choice that opponents raise.

1. The “creaming” argument: School choice will allow private schools to cream off the best students, “leaving behind” the poor students in the public schools. Vouchers don’t create ‘choice’ for parents and kids; they create ‘choice’ for private schools at taxpayers’ expense.

2. The fixed cost argument: School choice would lower the revenue to public schools. Since public schools have large fixed costs, school boards will have to raise taxes to cover these costs.

3. No schools will accept the vouchers: Elite private schools are very selective and a voucher would not cover tuition. Many private schools would refuse vouchers if state accountability tests or standards were required.

4. The fly-by-night schools argument: Due to the huge sums of tax money that would be newly available under school choice, fly-by-night schools would open, looking only to make a profit.

5. The First Amendment argument: Spending public tax dollars for religious schools violates Texas state and US federal constitutional separation of church and state.

6. The “No Research Shows Vouchers Work” argument: No credible research shows that school choice raises student achievement.

Taxpayers Savings Grants SB276

February 25, 2015 by

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.


Daniel Henninger Observes Leftist Opposition To Education Reform

February 17, 2014 by

Late last week Daniel Henninger had a really good column in the Wall Street Journal. He was discussing President Obama’s latest faux-concern, the issue of “income inequality.” In a column which was subtitled “The left will never support the solution to income inequality,” Mr. Henninger was looking at the new mayor of New York City, progessive Leftist Bill de Blasio, and he closed his WSJ column this way:

Let’s cut to the chase: The real issue in the American version of this subject is the low incomes of the inner-city poor. And let’s put on the table one thing nearly all agree on: A successful education improves lifetime earnings. This assumes one is living in an economy with better than moribund growth, an assumption no one in the U.S. or Western Europe can make anymore.

If there is one political goal all Democratic progressives agree on it’s this: They will resist, squash and kill any attempt anywhere in the U.S. to educate those low-income or no-income inner-city kids in alternatives to the public schools run by the party’s industrial-age unions.

Reforming that public-school monopoly is the litmus test of seriousness on income inequality. That monopoly is the primary cause of America’s post-1970s social-policy failure. And that monopoly will emerge from the Obama presidency and de Blasio mayoralty intact. So will income inequality.

Congressman Paul Ryan Talks Education In WSJ

January 26, 2014 by

Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin wrote a feature column in the Wall Street Journal this weekend to discuss the “war on poverty” as it turns 50 years old. Congressman Ryan, who worked extensively with the late Jack Kemp in the early 1990’s before becoming a Congressman, is advocating many of the ideals that Kemp spent a career fighting for, such as parental choice in education, and local leadership taking control and solving problems, rather than bureaucrats in Washington far removed from the situation.

The two excerpts below really highlight some smart, innovative thinking when it comes to education. They say sunlight is the best disinfectant, and I think Congressman Ryan shining a light on these ideas in the WSJ is really important. I’m curious to know your thoughts.

One day at Pulaski High School in Milwaukee, a fight broke out between two students. The staff separated them, but one of the students, a young woman named Marianna, refused to relent. She continued to fight—now with the staff—and to cause a stir. Then a call went out over the school radio for “Lulu” to respond. Soon, Marianna began to calm down. Once she arrived, Lulu quickly defused the situation. Of all the people at Pulaski High—all the teachers and administrators—only one person got through to Marianna that day, and it was Lulu.

“Lulu” is Mrs. Louisa, one of five youth advisers in Pulaski High’s Violence-Free Zone program. Along with program head Andre Robinson and site supervisor Naomi Perez, they work as a band of roving mentors. On a typical day, you’ll find them walking the halls in black polo shirts. They chat with students, break up fights and help with homework. Most of them are recent alumni who grew up in the inner city, and they have the scars to prove it. They’ve been part of gangs. They’ve seen violence firsthand.

But they don’t have education degrees or state certification. They have something more important: credibility. The youth advisers understand what the students are going through because they’ve had the same struggles. That credibility creates trust, and so the students listen to them. In the two years since the program started, suspensions at Pulaski High are down by 60%, and daily attendance is up by nearly 10%. Fourteen gangs used to roam the school grounds; today, they’ve all but disappeared. The school tried all sorts of things to keep students safe—more police presence, more cameras. But only this program worked.

Mrs. Louisa, Mrs. Perez and Mr. Robinson aren’t just keeping kids in school; they’re fighting poverty on the front lines. If you graduate from high school, you’re much less likely to end up poor. According to the Census Bureau, a high-school graduate makes $10,000 a year more, on average, than a high-school dropout, and a college graduate makes $36,000 more. Ever since that day at Pulaski High, Marianna has improved her grades and now she is looking at colleges. Yet for all its professed concern about families in need, Washington is more concerned with protecting the status quo than with pursuing what actually works.


• In education, give teachers more control, and give parents a choice. Some of the most exciting work in education has occurred in Indiana. Three years ago, then-governor Mitch Daniels shepherded through the legislature several bold reforms.

Before the reforms, union-negotiated contracts required teachers to earn compensation based on seniority, not performance, and the contracts dictated all aspects of the classroom experience, from the humidity level in the school to the number of hours a teacher must spend with students. Under the new laws, teachers’ pay is based on performance. In exchange, they have more control over the classroom. Collective bargaining covers only wages and benefits, so teachers can tailor the curriculum to the needs of their students.

Low-income families are also now eligible for tuition vouchers on a sliding scale, and the reforms allow parents unhappy with a low-performing public school to turn it into a charter school with the approval of their local school board.

If You Can’t Get More Public School Money Legislatively, Ask The Courts.

January 18, 2014 by

Kansas Democracy Lesson

A test of whether judges can overrule elected officials on taxes and spending.

Jan. 16, 2014 7:07 p.m. ET

If there’s one certain conclusion from the last 30 years of education reform, it is that more money doesn’t yield better student results. But you wouldn’t know it from the debate in Kansas, where activists are trying to get the state Supreme Court to overrule the legislature and spend at least $500 million more a year on schools.

This is a test of democracy with national resonance. The Kansas Constitution requires that “the legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.” In 2005 the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in a similar challenge that state aid to local school districts was insufficient and must rise to $4,400 per student. This is in addition to the $3,000 state aid per student for special ed and other programs and on top of what local school districts spend.

Eight years later spending has risen but test scores are flat, and now union activists allege that funding under Republican Governor Sam Brownback has fallen. That is only true if you include the one-time infusion from the Obama stimulus in 2010 and 2011. Apart from the stimulus, which was never meant to be permanent, Kansas school appropriations have risen slowly but steadily every year.

Judicially imposed school spending is a familiar strategy when unions lose in the legislature. Courts in about half the states mandated additional funding in the 1980s and ’90s after lawsuits alleged that spending was inequitable or inadequate.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback Associated Press

In 1985 a Missouri judge took partial control of the Kansas City public schools on grounds of insufficient funding for minority schools. The judge ordered the state to spend $2 billion over 12 years. Per student funding more than doubled (to about $25,000 per student in today’s dollars) and the student-teacher ratio fell to 13 to 1.

The state built 15 new schools with computer and robotics centers, Olympic-sized swimming pools, and even a wildlife sanctuary. If money produces student achievement, it would have shown up in Kansas City. But as a Cato Institute study documented, a decade later black student achievement had not improved and even the judge admitted it was a failed experiment.

A study in 2009 by scholars Alfred Lindseth and Eric Hanushek examined public school performance in Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Wyoming—the four states with the largest increase in funding due to court orders. They found that in three of the four states, “notwithstanding these dramatic spending increases, we found that student performance has languished.”

Test scores in these states have “not measurably improved relative to other states that did not have anywhere near the same influx of new school money.” The only improvement was in Massachusetts because its reforms included tough “non-financial” accountability standards.

Kansas school funding is more than adequate, with the state and local school districts combined spending about $11,776 per student on average. The state now spends about 50.5% of its budget on K-12 schools, which ranks fourth among states. If the lawsuit succeeds, the state would have to spend about 62%.

That would leave little for other priorities like roads or higher education unless the state raises taxes, which is probably the lawsuit’s real goal. Mr. Brownback and the GOP legislature cut taxes across the board in 2012, reducing the top income-tax rate to 4.9% from 6.45% and the tax on numerous small businesses to zero.

The plaintiffs claim there would be plenty of money for schools if not for the tax cut. But the Kansas Policy Institute, a local think tank, argues that the lawsuit’s spending could require a 23% income-tax increase or a 20% rise in local property taxes. Mr. Brownback’s tax cut is already attracting business to the state from its neighboring states, and a tax increase would undercut that economic progress.

This is also a test of the state Supreme Court. Four of the seven Justices were appointed by former Governor Kathleen Sebelius, of ObamaCare fame, and nominees are chosen by a commission dominated by the State Bar Association. The commission selects three potential nominees, and the Governor must choose one of the three.

This gives the lawyers’ guild effective control of the judiciary, creating a conflict of interest and pushing the judiciary to the left. Kansas Republicans want to change this selection process and let the Governor nominate state Supreme Court judges subject to state Senate confirmation, following the federal model. If the Justices impose an undemocratic tax increase, the GOP should move swiftly to reform judicial selection.

In 2009 the U.S. Supreme Court in Horne v. Flores reversed a judicial funding mandate in Arizona because “the weight of the evidence” indicates that accountability reforms, “much more than court-imposed funding mandates, lead to improved educational opportunities.” The Kansas Supreme Court should take that logic and precedent to heart.

Copyright 2013 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

National School Choice Week is coming!

January 7, 2014 by
Register for rally today at

Register for rally today at

Louisiana Voucher Assault, Round 2

December 3, 2013 by

Justice’s lawsuit takes a bizarre turn to keep kids in rotten schools.

Dec. 1, 2013 6:45 p.m. ET

The Justice Department campaign against Louisiana school vouchers gets curiouser and curiouser. Attorney General Eric Holder’s troops are now trying to prevent black parents from joining the case by amending their original lawsuit to block the vouchers in 22 districts.

Some Republicans in Washington, D.C., interpreted this motion as Justice dropping its lawsuit, but no one should be fooled. Justice now wants federal courts to establish what would essentially be a preclearance process letting DOJ approve every voucher.

Under Louisiana’s voucher law, only students from families with incomes below 250% of the poverty line and who attend schools with a C grade or below are eligible for vouchers. Black kids received over 85% of the 6,800 vouchers this year, and 93% of their parents express satisfaction with the program.

But that doesn’t matter to Mr. Holder’s prosecutors, who sued in August on grounds that vouchers may lead to segregation under judicial orders dating to the 1970s. The original lawsuit literally claims, for instance, that black kids who use vouchers to attend private schools could leave public schools more white.

This objection has proven to be unfounded. Boston University political scientist Christine Rossell, who has spent 40 years studying school desegregation plans, has analyzed the Louisiana voucher data. She concluded in a study last month that vouchers overall had “no negative effect on school desegregation” and substantially improved integration in St. James and Lincoln parishes.

In September, parents of voucher students represented by the Louisiana Black Alliance for Educational Options sought to intervene in the case. Justice at first argued that parents didn’t have a direct interest in the litigation since Justice was not “seeking to end the [voucher] Program,” though the department was seeking a permanent injunction.

That looked like a loser, so now DOJ says it wants federal Judge Ivan Lemelle to approve a “process to ensure that the State provides necessary information and complies with its desegregation obligations.” The goal here is to put the federal bureaucracy in charge.

Justice wants to review data on all voucher applicants including their race, public school district, whether and why they are granted a voucher and the private school to which they were assigned. And it wants that info at least 45 days before parents are notified that their kids will get a voucher. Why? Because the feds don’t want parents to know if the feds knock their kids from the voucher list.

DOJ is also claiming federal jurisdiction over the entire state, not merely the 22 districts under desegregation orders. Justice says it wants information on all voucher applicants, “including those in school districts not operating under federal desegregation orders, in order to review compliance with this Court’s [desegregation] orders that apply to private schools.” Translation: DOJ is threatening to audit private schools that admit voucher students. Shaking down private schools is another way to stunt the program.

At a November hearing, Judge Lemelle expressed skepticism of Justice’s case. Vouchers are “promoting racial balance in the school system,” he said, and “I don’t want to do anything to thwart that.” The judge has given the state and feds 60 days to agree to a review process. The Obama Administration should take this time to drop its morally offensive assault on the education of minority children.

Copyright 2013 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,793 other followers