Monday, October 25, 2010

Is campaigning for the dissolution of the Department of Education Extreme?

Juan Williams mentioned today on a Fox TV program that Christine O'Donnell's suggestion that we dissolve the Department of Education is 'extreme.' That is about the tenth time I have heard that statement regarding that suggestion in the last week. Is getting rid of the Department of Education an extreme position?

This past year a charter school program in Washington DC which drastically increased test scores and graduation rates for poor minority children was scrapped. Its cost per pupil was less than public schools. Is that extreme?

The connection between spending per pupil and test scores disconnected in the 1970s. Since then, spending has quadrupled in today's dollars while test scores are flat or slightly down. Is that extreme?

Of the thousands of research papers exploring the connection between class size and student performance, only one test in Texas has ever shown a statistically significant correlation.  Even in that study, the results do not support fundamental change.  Do you believe a market in education would still be arguing this issue after 30 years?  Do you believe a market in education would have long ago established by trial and error the mostly definitive answer or answers? Is it extreme to see the whole discussion as an incredibly expensive and bureaucratic boondoggle, kept alive and generally unresolved by committee, self-interest and academic theory untested in the real world?

Managing almost 900 schools and more than 650,000 students is a huge task. But a Daily News review of salaries and staffing shows LA's education bureaucracy ballooned by nearly 20 percent from 2001 to 2007. Over the same period, 500 teaching positions were cut and enrollment dropped by 6 percent. Is that extreme?

Though Cleveland (an award winning high school) has a budget of $20 million, Marks (the principal) has discretionary use of about $200,000. Even those funds have restrictions. One could hardly find a better example of extreme hierarchy and lack of empowerment to deal with local issues. Is that extreme?

We do not need to 'fix' public education. We do not need to figure out how to make public education work. We need a free market in education, where funding follows the child.  Even socialist Europe has adopted such practices for decades. Their costs have gone down while their test scores have gone up.  Is it extreme to expect any different?

Is it extreme to suggest, like O'Donnell, that privatizing education would yield significant benefit?  Not to me.

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