Here are some unintentionally funny–if you like to cry on the inside, that is–snippets from Ted Kennedy's Wash Post op-ed on why taxpayers should fork over even more federal money for public schools under The No Child Left Behind Act. At least, that is, as long as that controversial law doesn't allow students anything remotely resembling the educational choice that Ted Kennedy and every member of Congress exercises without thinking twice about it:
Most of us in Congress know that a retreat to mediocrity is wrong. To meet the demands of the 21st century, we have to expand opportunity for all and keep our commitment to leaving no child behind.
We know the law has flaws, but we also know that with common-sense changes and adequate resources, we can improve it by building on what we've learned. We owe it to America's children, parents and teachers to reinforce our commitment, not abandon it….
We must expand and fortify the teacher workforce. Researchers agree that teacher quality is the most important factor affecting student achievement. Good teachers can make all the difference in closing achievement gaps for low-income and minority students. The same research also shows, however, that our most at-risk students are often taught by the least prepared, least experienced and least qualified teachers. The No Child Left Behind Act made a commitment that every child would be taught by a highly qualified teacher. To reach that goal, a greater federal investment is needed.
Now I realize with Good Friday–one of Teddy's favorite days to go boozing–coming around, Teddy's mind is probably somewhere other than educational policy. But let's note a couple of things which suggest that neither "a greater federal investment" nor a greater state investment is going to really help kids trapped in the crappiest of public schools:
1. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is the generally regarded as the most comprehensive measure of student performance over the past 40 or so years, "At age 17 [i.e., among high school seniors], no measurable differences in performance were found between 1971 and 2004 for any reporting metric."
2. In 1970-71, Americans spent $4,000 per student. In 2002-03, we spent $8,468 dollars per student in public K-12 schools. That's adjusted for inflation, and using 2004-05 dollars. So we're spending more than twice as much, with no change in average outcome. More here.
That strikes me as a pretty strong indicator that there's something systemically wrong with public schools. Where else are you paying twice as much for same product you got in 1971?
As for "fortifying" the teacher workforce: In 1970-71, the average teacher pulled down $44,723 in 2004-05 dollars. In 2004-05, they made $47,750. And that's not including other compensation (retirement, health care, summer school teaching pay), which is almost certainly better than it was back then. And as for "expanding" it, the pupil-to-teacher ratio in 1970 was 22.3 students to one teacher; in 2002, it was 16 to one.
This isn't to say the school debate isn't a weird one. According to Gallup, about 77 percent of parents are either completely or somewhat satisified with the schools their kids attend, which surely explains why so little radical change happens. Yet only 45 percent of parents are either completely or somewhat satisfied with the quality of K-12 education overall in the U.S. Go figure.
And fwiw, a majority of Americans, says Gallup, haven't even heard of No Child Left Behind. Of those who have, it's a split decision as to whether it's worth anything. Which sadly probably makes it more likely to get more spending.