Here We Are, Stuck in the Middle With Latvia?

During his inaugural speech last week, Governor Tom Corbett signaled a shift in state education policy when he said, “Our educational system must contend with other nations and so we must embrace innovation, competition and choice in our education system.”

Under Governor Rendell, the Administration spent the last eight years focusing solely on pumping more money into the traditional brick and mortar public school system as the way to improve student achievement.  Despite incredibly tough budget deficit years, and the need for reductions in other budget items, Governor Rendell called for increased public education spending in every one of his state budget proposals.  A closer look at the results of this educational funding binge produce some startling findings.

During the 2008-2009 school year, the average spent per student in Pennsylvania was approximately $14,400 (in 2010 dollars).  This is a dramatic increase of 133 percent since the 1980 school year when Pennsylvania spent $6,171 per student.  Also, since 2000, enrollment in Pennsylvania public schools declined by 26,960 students while schools have hired and additional 32,937 more staff members.  Pennsylvania public schools actually hired more staff than students lost.

And the student achievement results?  Unfortunately those are not what most parents and taxpayers would hope for either. 

According to a recently released report by By Eric A. Hanushek, Paul E. Peterson and Ludger Woessmann, Teaching Math to the Talented, which looked at how the US and individual states compare to the other countries, Pennsylvania doesn’t rank so well.

The report looked at the number of students that scored at the advanced level of math achievement on the 2009 National Assesment of Education Progress (NAEP) test administered by the U.S. Department of Education and found that only 5.7 percent of Pennsylvania students attained that level of academic achievement.  This puts Pennsylvania 22nd out of the fifity states and the District of Columbia.

But what is more troubling is that Pennsylvania students are significanly behind the mathematical academic achievement of students from 30 other nations around the world.  Pennsylvania students rank slightly behind students from Spain and the Russian Federation and just in front of those from Latvia.

Governor Corbett’s willingess to embrace innovation, competition and choice in our education system will come as a welcom change to tens of thousands of low-income parents who have been watching their children flounder in a neighborhood public school that is failing to prepare them for success.  Allowing parents the power to be able to place their child in a school that will meet their child’s individual educational needs will only lead to greater student success.

18 studies looking at the available empirical evidence conducted since the late 1990s convincingly show that school choice is an effective intervention and public policy for boosting student achievement and graduation rates.

Nine studies, using a method called random assignment, the gold standard in the social sciences, have found statistically significant gains in academic achievement from school vouchers, one study found improved graduation rates. No such study has ever found negative effects. One study’s findings were inconclusive.

These studies show conclusively that school vouchers work.  Pennsylvania should explore vouchers as a way to improve academic achievement and graduation rates for its students.  We cannot afford to loose another generation of children to academic mediocrity.