Is $600 Billion Enough?
Today’s new austerity may have an upside if it prods schools to embrace new technologies that cut costs and improve learning.
It is crunch time for public education. Several storms are converging to create a hurricane of educational instability: sharply declining revenues, intense international competition, outdated approaches to teaching and learning, and a significant achievement gap between white students and their African-American and Hispanic peers. Seemingly unable to get to the root causes of what is plaguing the schools, we keep spinning our policy wheels while also spending a great deal of money—$600 billion a year.
The National Center for Education Statistics reports that the nation’s per pupil expenditures have doubled in inflation-adjusted terms since 1970, while scores on standardized assessments of student achievement have remained essentially flat. In 1971 the average reading score for nine-year-olds on the National Assessment of Educational Progress was 208 (on a scale of 0 to 500); in 2009 it was 221, an improvement, yes, but still mediocre at best. Moreover, it appears that the longer students stay in school, the smaller the learning gains. Seventeen-year-olds averaged a score of 285 on the NAEP reading test in 1971; nearly 40 years later, they scored only three points better.
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Peter W. Cookson Jr., a sociologist and educational consultant, is the former president of TC Innovations at Teachers College, Columbia University, and the author of several books, including School Choice: The Struggle for the Soul of American Education (1994) and Sacred Trust: A Children’s Education Bill of Rights, published earlier this year.more from this author >>
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