Previously by Bill Walker: The Antisocial Network on Its ImperialCruise
According to the 2009 OECD figures, the US government spends more per pupil than any nation in the world except Switzerland. The US spent an average of $149,000 for the K–12 education of every 2009 public high school graduate. That works out to $11,461 per year or so.
So the solution is obvious: shut down the schools and invest the money instead. Just let the kids stay home and study on the Internet. Let's even save some money to reduce the deficit, and only invest $11,000 per year. At 7% return, each child would have a $391,000 IRA when they're 18. That way, even if they spend the next 50 years surfing or hiking the Appalachian Trail, they would all retire at 68 with $12,512,000 (assuming the same 7% average yearly return). This solves not only the education crisis, but the Social Security problem (they wouldn't need it) AND the health-budget crisis (how much heart disease could there be, if everyone spent their time surfing and hiking?)
So we are spending a really staggering amount of capital on public schools. How's it paying off for the lucky recipients?
Not so well. While at the top rank in funding, the US is not exactly at the top of educational achievement. In the 2010 PISA report, US students placed 25th out of the 34 OECD countries in math.
Only 77.5% of US students even graduate from high school. If that seems frighteningly low, it is… West European graduation rates are closer to 90%, and that doesn't count the many Europeans that enter industrial apprenticeship programs.
Districts that spend more money don't necessarily get better results. The Washington DC school district spent $28,170 per pupil in 2009. The graduation rate was around 72%, even worse than the national average.
So if throwing in more money doesn't work, what does? Less money…. As long as it comes with more freedom. For concrete examples, I'll use my adopted state of New Hampshire, home of the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance.
Like the rest of the country, New Hampshire doesn't economize on public education. From the NH Dept. of Education web site: "The per pupil amount of all expenditures — operating, tuition, transportation, equipment, interest, and non-K–12 expenditures is $13,914.96." (For the 2008–2009 school year, the most recent published). The 2010–11 figure will be far higher, well over $14,000, if only because interest expense will skyrocket. Much of the state operating budget was borrowed in the last two years… fortunately the legislature which went into debt was largely replaced last November, in part due to the NHLA.
Everyone knows that private school students get better academic scores. So everyone assumes that they must be very expensive. That assumption is wrong. Looking around at how much good private schools actually cost around NH:
The Well School in Peterborough charges $7,360 for grades 1–4 and $8,800 for grades 5–8. Pine Hill Waldorf School in Wilton is $12,160 for grades 1–8. Monadnock Waldorf School costs $7800 for all grades. Here's the fee schedule for St. Joseph Regional in Keene: "Tuition for grades K-8 for Catholics is $3,153, and $4,412 for non-Catholics. There is a 5 percent discount for one-time payment in full, and a discount for multiple children from a family."
The Tilton School charges $17,300 for grade 9–12 students… but they offer an indoor hockey rink, a full size theatre, a Creative Art Center and access to Gunstock ski resort. When do the students have time for math with all that skiing and hockey, anyway? But it's true, if your private school only spends $8000 for grades K–8, you can splurge a little on the prom and the ski lodge when you're a senior.
We NH taxpayers are paying MORE per pupil than many private schools charge. We have plenty of money to give our children great educational opportunities. But we are turning it over to a system with no options for parents or innovative teachers. A system with no competition or choices is a system doomed to fail.
The situation is the same everywhere in the nation. We are spending enough money to give every child a good private education… and if the parents could get the money, no doubt they would do just that. If those Washington DC parents ever actually get their hands on that $28,170 per child, their children will quickly be breaking their legs on the ski resorts too (which will give them plenty of time to study their AP calculus).
Of course the moral and practical solution is to leave education to the free market. Parents would pay for their own children, voluntary charity would pick up for the children of the unlucky or improvident few. There would be as many educational options as there are children.
But the debate today is framed by the Department of Education and the teachers' unions. They constantly shriek that "education needs more money." Fine. As a first step, let's just agree with them. Education does need more money… and the only way to get more money for actual education is to give it to the parents, not the bureaucracy. Let the NEA explain why it's OK for politicians' (and NEA members') children to go to private schools, but the children of working people have to go to some of the lowest-quality public schools in the developed world….
And pay more for it.
Bill Walker [send him mail] is a research technologist. He lives with his wife and four dogs in Grafton NH, where they are active in the Free State Project.