Some people have certain presumptions — for one, that government is better suited to handling problems than individuals or private entities. And there are the accompanying assumptions that government, for those who have faith in its supposedly superior capabilities, will always produce the desired outcome.
Nowhere has the failure of presumptions to produce results from assumptions been more evident than in public education. In an essay for the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, excerpted from their book "Schoolhouses, Courthouses, and Statehouses: Solving the Funding-Achievement Puzzle in America's Public Schools," Eric A. Hanushek and Alfred A. Lindseth write that many, including courts, accept the assumption that more money will improve performance. "Almost no one has seriously examined the empirical evidence to determine its validity." They have.
They look at four states — Wyoming, Kentucky, New Jersey and Massachusetts — where courts ordered the legislatures to appropriate more money for public schools on the presumption that doing so would improve performance. Their conclusion: Court-ordered funding does not necessarily improve test scores and African Americans, in fact, are even worse off.
The authors write that, "Even when judging the effectiveness of their own previously ordered remedies, courts rarely examine the remedy's effect on student achievement." They cite the Wyoming Supreme Court's dramatic 1995 ruling that the state's education funding system was unconstitutional, ordering the state to spend whatever it took to make its education the "best."
"Despite these unprecedented increases in school funding," write Hanushek and Lindseth, "the achievement of Wyoming's students has largely failed to keep up with the nation or even with its much lower-funded, although demographically similar, neighboring states."
In Kentucky, the 1989 Rose decision resulted in a court order for certain structural changes and increased funding. The structural changes were implemented, but they produced no improvements in classrooms. The National Assessment of Educational Progress scores, often referred to as the nation's report card, showed little or no progress in Kentucky public schools. And the authors found that black students, who comprise 11 percent of the state's public school enrollment, "have fallen even further behind the nation."
New Jersey has been wrestling with court orders to fix its schools since 1970. Of the 600 school districts in the state, 31 are known as "Abbott districts," named after the court case that resulted in $1.5 billion in additional education spending (per pupil spending in the state topped $20,000 last year). Those districts contain about half the black and Latino students in the state. What's the result of all this new spending? The authors write, "The picture we find is a mixed one, with little evidence that the state's black students have progressed much, if at all, relative to black students nationwide." They do note that Latino students have made "significant progress," but fail to see a direct connection between spending and achievement.
In Massachusetts, education spending has increased from $3 billion to $10 billion over the last decade because of a court order, but it has been accompanied by major structural changes that include "a rigorous regimen of academic standards, graduation exams, and accountability."
The argument for school choice is supported by the data and conclusions by Hanushek and Lindseth. African American parents, especially, should protest in the streets because too many of their children are being denied their right to a good education.
Politicians who care more about campaign contributions from the education lobbyists than they do about children should be replaced by people who put children first and allow them and their parents to choose better schools for a better future.
TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES