Do you agree with this story's assessment of American public schools?
Not entirely, no. I another similar thread in the education forum just recently - also lamenting the poor status of public education in the US, but positing almost the opposite solution (that more money IS the solution), I posted this post
, containing a link to the OECD website comparing national education spending and attainment internationally.
The first thing to say here is that the central point made in the article on comparing education spending in the USA and in Belgium is not entirely accurate.
True, Belgium spends $7912 per year per student on secondary level (= high school) students than the US, whose figure, at $8,779, is below only Switerland and Luxembourg.
However, this is TOTAL education spending, not just public sector education spending, and so INCLUDES the fees paid by parents for private education.
When expressed as % of GDP, you get a better sense of the national priority placed on state education (not least because the OECD figures separate out private spending in this category). Here, Belgium spends 5.97% of GDP on public education, with 0.39% going to private institutions. By contrast, America spends 5.08% of GDP on public education, with 2.26% being spent privately.
This still isn't the full picutre, since the GDP % figures don't distinguish between the level of education - since almost all univesrity funding is private in the USA and public in Europe, this will distort the comparison.
Even so, there's nothing to suggest the disparity in funding is so huge. Plus, the voucher system praised about Belgium isn't as ubiquitous in Europe as the article suggests.
A more accruate comparison might be the UK, where spending is lower than the USA, and so is attainment. BUT, the disparity in attainment is marginal at best, whereas the disparity in spending is massive - $5,993 per student at secondary level. Somehow, we Brits are getting far more bang per buck than you are, despite the perceived (domestically at least) parlous state of our state schools meaning that the overall bang isn't quite as big. Is a silver medal that costs 5 cents so
much worse than a gold medal that costs $5,000? What I'm saying is, if the US maintained current spending, but got to the same level of efficiency even as Britain (which isn't all that great), you'd be miles better off than you are. Eat the elephant one mouthful at a time. Is the root of the problem the lack of competition and union domination of a public near-monopoly?Is the solution more competition or "more money" as the NEA claims?
Like others, I think that thinking unions are "the problem", or money is "the problem" is the kind of oversimplification that lends itself more to friendly media (or debate board
) presentation than to making any real difference to educational standards.
Chances are, and forward movement will need more money AND different organisational structures AND levels of innovation AND changes to the role of unions, the balance between local and national control, the status and professionalism of teachers, etc.
What I don't accept is that the ONLY way to introduce innovation is competition, or that the only way to introduce competition is to introduce the rules of the market.
Consumer choice works best when there is more than enough to go around - the FMCG grocery markets everyone holds up as close to perfect only work because vast quantities of the goods provided are never baught and are thrown away as waste.
In a service market, such as education, parents and students can only have real choice if there are more places available to them than they need, which means (if the taxpayer is to continue to fund the sector) that overcapacity has to be funded. If little Johnny could go to either school A or school B just as easily, there have to be enough books, chairs, teachers and so on to be able to accommodate him at both schools, and they have to be just as easy to get to (i.e. equidistant form where he lives).
This could conceivably work in big cities, but once you get into smaller towns where there IS only one high school, what price choice and competition then?
The other problem with competition in education is that schools have to be allowed to fail as well as to succeed. What happens to the kids that are at a school that has to close? Especially if it's in one of those small towns I mentioned earlier. Are they supposed to just wait until another bidder comes into the fray and opens it up again under new management?
And then there's parental choice itself. The idea that we need to move our kids to a better school only arises because the one they are currently at isn't so good. Time and again, parents, when asked for their ideal education system don't WANT choice, they just want their local school to be very good. Choice is only necessary in a system that permits poor quality education to continue. If the focus was on identifying and fixing such low quality, rather than putting up with it, maybe choice wouldn't be
That's not so say that some degree of competition wouldn't be healthy, or that parental choice is a bad idea. But the idea that ONLY competition and parental choice can save public education is as short-sighted and ultimately dogmatic as is the idea that ONLY governmental centralisation and vastly-increased spending can.