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Posts Tagged ‘Public education’

My son on his day in public school:

We got to watch videos all day and no learning.

As you might guess, I was thrilled to hear this.  Perhaps he should testify in front of the legislature when teachers claim they are overworked and underpaid?  And I supposedly live in a district with excellent schools!  I know this is one data point, but still.  I really wish there was an affordable private school or Catholic school alternative where I live!  So, hey legislators, how about school choice and a voucher?

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I know I’m late to the game here, but I highly recommend that you see this documentary on the failure of our public schools.  Waiting for ‘Superman’  isn’t flawless, but it is very much worth your time.  It starts a bit slow but ultimately rewards your patience.  The “stars” of the film are compelling people, especially the kids.  The parents show that what James Tooley has found all over the world is true here in America as well — parents, even those without a lot of education, income, or experience with schools, want to do their best for their kids and discerning ones can tell good schools from bad ones.  Caveat: The lottery scene is downright depressing.

Ultimately, I think we have to separate public administration from public funding to drastically improve educational outcomes.   But until then, these model charter schools and the individuals who strive to make them work provide hope to the people essentially trapped in a failing, inefficient system.

The film almost makes me want to run out and start a private or charter school.

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For those of you who are trying to supplement your child’s schooling or wish to buck the entire public/private school system altogether, I’d like to recommend the Khan Academy.  Started by former hedge fund manager Sal Khan, the Khan Academy is essentially a free on-line school that teaches everything from basic addition to the French Revolution to statistics.  Here is a profile on the PBS Newshour:

This might very well be the greatest thing since sliced bread – at least for parents like me who are unhappy with the educational establishment and the local school.  The Khan Academy is a bit lacking so far in the humanities and social sciences, but the math and science offerings are deep.  I haven’t looked at the lessons on the more advanced subjects like the Geithner Plan or the Paulson Bailout – so my enthusiasm could decline as I start to explore the more politically charged lessons.  However, I’m sold so far on the basics and look forward to participating in this very liberating experiment in free on-line education.  I’ve been skeptical of the power of on-line education in the past, but I wonder if we are in for a revolution in education delivery at the K-12 level (and maybe in the realm of higher education as well….gulp!).

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Chart of the Day

From Cato@Liberty.

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I Want a School!

I had one of those Wow! moments a few weeks ago when I came across a new policy analysis by Adam Schaeffer at Cato. The analysis took a close look at actual school district budgets from the nation’s five largest metropolitan areas and the District of Columbia.  Schaeffer found that, on average, these districts spend 44% more than officially reported.

In addition to the fact that the official reports are so wrong, two things are striking about this study.  First, the variance across metro areas is huge.  For instance the DC schools spend over $28,000 per student, Chicago about $16,000, and Phoenix around $12,000.  (The actual and reported numbers for the LA schools are shown in the figure below.)

Second, how in the world does one spend $28,000?  Suppose I were an educational entrepreneur and were given $28,000 per student.  I could start a school for 400 students with the following lavish annual expenses:

* A $10 million dollar building with a 5% mortgage

* 1 teacher per 20 students at $100,000 each

* 5 special needs teachers/counselors at $100,000 each

* 1 aide in each class at $50,000 per class.

* A principal at $200,000

* 10 additional staff members at $50,000 each.

* Medical/pension package for all employees equal to 45% of salary

* A material budget at $2,500 per student (those would be some kickin’ textbooks and lab materials)

* A maintenance budget of $1 million

* Utilities of $500,000

* A $2,000 transportation allowance per student

* Free lunch for everyone!

Every teacher and student in the state would want to go to this school—and I would still reserve 15% of my revenues for profits of over $1.7 million!  My budget surely leaves things out, but there is enormous wiggle room here to cover any hidden expenses.

No wonder the education establishment doesn’t want to face market competition.

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So, I’ve often wondered what is the biggest problem with public education today.

Is it something philosophical –like they are teaching kids to love the welfare state?

Or perhaps it is financial–maybe insufficient resources, or poor allocation of resources?

Or maybe institutional–a number of problems related to bloated educational bureaucracies, to excess regulation, to heavy-handed school boards?

Perhaps it is informational–insufficient knowledge about what makes for sound pedagogy.

But after seeing this quote while reading Marginal Revolution today, I’m thinking the main problem is purely political:

The city will end the practice of paying teachers to play Scrabble, read or surf the Internet in reassignment centers nicknamed “rubber rooms” as they await disciplinary hearings, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the teachers union announced Thursday.

The deal will close the centers, where hundreds of educators spend months or years in bureauratic limbo, costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars a year.

How many terms in office has it taken Bloomberg to figure this out? I think, just maybe, this would make sense.  Brother.

Newsweek ran a (fairly bold for a MSM outlet) cover story a few weeks ago saying that we really need most is the ability to fire bad teachers.  More and more research is showing the importance of teaching quality, and yet the teachers’ unions continue to hold reform hostage since they pretty much own the ruling Democratic parties in the cities and states where educational reform is most badly needed.

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