Given our still-sputtering economy, Americans have grown used to their public schools facing tight budgets. This fiscal squeeze has drawn out a hidden crisis in public education: How do we keep our best teachers in the classroom? The short answer is, we don't.
When government unions engage in labor disputes, they use their power and monopoly to remind the public of the value of their service. However, schoolchildren should never have to bear the brunt of the union’s grievances.
Martin Luther King Jr. believed that, "unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality." If correct, then no stronger love or enduring truth can personify his dream than between a caring parent and their needful child.
Recent Blog Posts
Last week we highlighted a California judge who ruled that laws enforcing teacher seniority and tenure were unconstitutional and violated students’ rights to a quality education.
But here in Pennsylvania, public school union leaders still defend these laws. While legislation is moving through the state House—with bipartisan support—to implement the commonsense reform of considering teacher evaluations in furlough decisions, union lobbyists are pulling out all the stops.
The PSEA’s latest lobbying push features the scary headline “Your job security is at risk.” Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has its own lobbying effort, talking about how the bill is “anti-teacher.”
Current seniority and tenure rules hurt younger teachers, regardless of their performance, and undermine the quality of education. Yet union executives continue to cling to the status quo—despite the fact that at a recent hearing, the president of the PSEA admitted he didn’t know how teachers’ themselves felt about the issue.
Indeed, union leaders rarely ask for member input on issues, since they use taxpayer resources to collect their political money rather than collect it directly from members.
Pennsylvania education spending is at at all-time high and ranks near the top in dollars spent per student among the states. But all of that extra spending isn't helping kids succeed.
In fact, SAT scores have declined while spending has soared. According to a new Cato Institute analysis, Pennsylvania students perform worse, on average, on the SATs now compared to 1972, despite an almost 120 percent increase—adjusted for inflation—in spending per student. See the chart below.
How are we spending so much more without improving education outcomes? The answer is simple: There is no correlation between spending and achievement. How the money is spent is more important than how much money there is to spend. The Cato analysis finds the correlation between state spending and academic achievement is not significant:
Correlations are measured on a scale from 0 to 1, where 0 represents absolutely no correlation
between two data series and 1 represents a perfect correlation. Anything below 0.3 or 0.4 is
considered a weak correlation. The 0.075 figure reported here suggests that there is essentially no link between state education spending (which has exploded) and the performance of students at the end of high school (which has generally stagnated or declined).
The answer to our education woes is not more spending, but smarter spending. Education reform should also mean protecting high performing teachers, embracing different education models (themed public charter schools or public cyber charter schools) to serve different learning styles, and reforming the archaic student funding formula.
School choice and competition is the key to saving students, not never-ending spending increases.
Philadelphia schools have long battled declining student achievement, sky-rocketing violence, and unsustainable spending levels. Yet, several turn-around schools have managed to overcome this bleak educational trajectory and should serve as a model for further reforms.
Pennsylvania Independent’s Maura Pennington examines the striking consequences of Philadelphia School District’s 2010 experiment in reforming its lowest performing schools. The district employed two models: district-managed Promise Academies and privately-operated Renaissance Charter Schools.
The outcome? In short, things worsened for district-run schools, but the Renaissance Charter alternatives are showing improvement.
The latest report shows that the district’s Promise Academies lacked proper oversight and clarity as they sought to hire new staff and enforce a uniform dress code. One major hurdle they could not overcome was seniority requirements, which led to major staffing problems. And the district’s fiscal mismanagement led to funding decreases that severed the cornerstone of the reform—greater student instruction time.
At this point, three district-run Promise Academy high schools have closed, and in those that remain, academic performance sits below the district average.
Renaissance Charter Schools—free from seniority requirements and other bureaucratic restrictions—managed to surmount the same obstacles and forge a path to success. When implementing new policies and procedures, they were governed by specific missions and goals and, consequently, achieved, according to one Renaissance Charter parent, “more order, organization, safer learning environment and a mutually agreed upon commitment from the staff at all levels.”
The benefits are tangible:
- Decreased violence. At Young Scholars Frederick Douglass Charter School, serious safety incidents plummeted from 23.86 per 100 students in 2008-09 to .61 in 2010.
- Increased academic achievement: Grover Cleveland Mastery Charter School gained 10 percentage points in reading and math proficiency one year after the change.
With such stark results and parental support, Philadelphia should look to the charter model of reform to take its failing schools to the next level.
Who are We?
The Commonwealth Foundation is Pennsylvania's free-market think tank. The Commonwealth Foundation crafts free-market policies, convinces Pennsylvanians of their benefits, and counters attacks on liberty.