Government failure

For the Children: Break Up the Corrupt Government School Monopoly System!


School failure
Credit: Dreamstime

In today's Washington Post, columnist George Will has a terrific column indicting the diversity propaganda complex in government elementary and secondary schools, but the most disheartening part of his column is his recitation of these facts:

Today, the school systems in 20 states employ more non-teachers than teachers. The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice reports that between 1950 and 2009, while the number of K-12 students increased 96 percent, full-time-equivalent school employees increased 386 percent. The number of teachers increased 252 percent, but the number of bureaucrats — including consciousness-raising sensitivity enforcers and other non-teachers — increased 702 percent. The report says states could have saved more than $24?billion annually if non-teaching staff had grown only as fast as student enrollment. And Americans wonder why their generous K-12 financing (higher per pupil than all but three of the 34 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development nations) has done so little to improve reading, math and science scores.

Consider also the fact that per pupil spending has increased (in real dollars) from $4,600 in 1972 to $10,700 in 2009. On the other hand, SAT scores have not budged:

Sat scores
Credit: AP

And it's not just poor American kids whose academic performance lags. A new report released earlier this week compares U.S. middle class student achievement with that of other developed countries. The news is not good:

America Achieves today released new data showing that America's middle class schools have a long way to go to be best in the world.  The report is based on new analyses of math and science data disaggregated by economic and social advantage from the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).  U.S. students in the second to top quarter of socio-economic advantage lag behind their international peers—significantly outperformed by 24 countries and regions in math and 15 in science.  Previously published results show that U.S. students in the second quarter of economic advantage lag significantly behind 10 other countries in reading.

Although those countries also run government school monopolies, they are not yet strangled by the sort of bureaucratic overgrowth cited by Will.

Transparency International defines corruption as…

Generally speaking as "the abuse of entrusted power for private gain". Corruption can be classified as grand, petty and political, depending on the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs….

Political corruption is a manipulation of policies, institutions and rules of procedure in the allocation of resources and financing by political decision makers, who abuse their position to sustain their power, status and wealth.

Not only are students and parents being betrayed by the politicians who maintain the system of government monopoly schools, but so too are the hard-working teachers who are coerced into conforming to the corrupt norms of that system. For the Kids—break up the government school monopoly.

NEXT: Rick Perry to Speak at Memorial for Slain Texas DA, Wife

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Breaking up the government school monopoly will be like breaking up the state liquor monopoly in PA. There’s no question that a majority want it, but the politicians are pussified by unions.

  2. Using mean SAT scores over time is a pretty crappy tool. There’s a huge selection bias. As more people apply to and attend college, the pool of people taking the SAT gets worse on average because you’re dipping deeper and deeper in the talent pool. If SAT scores are flat with a higher percentage of high school seniors taking it, it’s actually a positive sign.

    1. Good comment. I’ve wondered if they’ve ever accounted for this. When I was in high school, about 65% of us took SATs.
      I hear it is now about 85%, as every kid is encouraged to take it “just to see how you do, and don’t forget there is all kinds of financial aid available should you qualify for admission.”

    2. Doesn’t the College Board adjust the difficulty based on the previous year’s scores? I’m pretty sure they target a certain distribution.

      1. If that’s the case, then the average score is an even more meaningless measurement because scores would stay relatively flat by design.

        1. Yes the SAT is a tool is designed to give a standard distribution of students (I.e percentiles) it is not a sound way to compare students over time as it makes constant year to year adjustments to maintain their distribution.

          1. The results are similar for standardized reading and math tests. Stagnant. I don’t think that these are statistically adjusted in the same manner.

            1. Well the high school dropout rate has been steadily dropping as well. That may have an effect. Chances are, ceteris paribus, dropouts staying in would have an effect of lower test scores.


          2. The interesting thing to look at would be the standard deviation from year to year. If it has increased over the years, then the “deeper in the talent pool” effect you’ve identified is real.

    3. So you don’t like SAT scores because of your hypothesis secular trend in selection bias affects mean scores? Okay, that’s a reasonable hypothesis.

      Then consider the NAEP, which doesn’t have that selection bias.…..tab1#chart

      High school graduation rates have actually declined since the 1970s. Applying the same selection bias reasoning regarding SAT scores, the selection bias in NAEP reading results for 17 yo students since 1970 should have increased average NAEP scores. Instead they have been flat: they started the 70’s at 285; peaked in the late 80’s at 290; and fell back to 70’s levels at the turn of the century. Most recent result: 286.

    4. As Mr. Bailey ought to know, using declining SAT scores as an evidence makes an argument immediately suspect.

      Simpson’s paradoc explains how SAT scores (and the NAEP) as aggregates have declined, while every individual group’s scores within the tested population have increased. The percent of each group within the population taking the tests changes.

      When the population taking the test drops from roughly 70% affluent whites to less than 50%, the scores decline, even while individual group scores all increase. Affluent whites, blacks, hispanics, all have had increasing scores.

      Google “simpsons paradox SAT scores” if you are looking for evidence.

  3. Although those countries also run government school monopolies, they are not yet strangled by the sort of bureaucratic overgrowth cited by Will.

    Why not?

    1. A citation for this along with a list of which countries are ahead of us would be nice. I would find it hard to believe, to say the least, that European countris would have less bureaucratic growth in any area than us.

  4. “On the other hand, SAT scores have not budged:”

    But the demographics have budged. As anti-science blank-slatists, Reason must not mention it.

    PISA 2009 reading:

    Asian Americans outscored every Asian country, and lost out only to the city of Shanghai, China’s financial capital.

    White Americans students outperformed the national average in every one of the 37 historically white countries tested, except Finland (which is, perhaps not coincidentally, an immigration restrictionist nation where whites make up about 99 percent of the population).

    Hispanic Americans beat all eight Latin American countries.

    African Americans would likely have outscored any sub-Saharan country, if any had bothered to compete. The closest thing to a black country out of PISA’s 65 participants is the fairly prosperous oil-refining Caribbean country of Trinidad and Tobago, which is roughly evenly divided between blacks and South Asians. African Americans outscored Trinidadians by 25 points.

      1. Are the numbers wrong or you just don’t like taking demographics into account?

        1. Maybe it’s cause he accuses reason of being anti-science and blank slatist?

    1. I would love to also see a comparison across schools with foreign schools or countries with similar income/standard of living levels. This is would shed more light on where the deficiencies really are located.

  5. From the America Achieves link:

    The report also has some good news — highlighting individual U.S. schools that are global leaders. These include U.S. high schools that literally outperform — on average — every country in the world. For example, Woodson High School in Virginia and BASIS Tucson North in Arizona outperformed most other nations on this assessment.

    It turns out that the BASIS Tucson North school is a charter school. Woodson in Virginia appears to be a public school based on what I could find through google.

    Meanwhile, a middle class school serving a similar student population was outperformed by 29 countries in math, 21 in science, and 35 in reading. As it turns out, under its home state grading system based on their state assessment, this globally lagging school earned an “A” in 2011-2012.

    And the name of this mystery school is??? Come on, name and shame! That’s probably the only way to get them to improve. Although I’d be willing to bet the school in question is located in a state with no charter schools, vouchers, open enrollment, or any other school choice policy to speak of, so it may not make any difference but it would be nice if parents knew how shitty their kid’s school is.

  6. but the number of bureaucrats ? including consciousness-raising sensitivity enforcers and other non-teachers ? increased 702 percent.

    The problem I have with these numbers is that they do not tell the story related to Special Education. Observationally (no I don’t have a study in my back pocket), this seems to be where the bulk of the non-teaching resources have been added. It’s not like schools now have 49 Assistant Principals and 73 Secretaries. It’s that they now have an abundance of “support” staff related to Special Education.

    And this is always the sticking point I hit when I talk to teachers about competition. It’s the cost burden that Special Education imposes on public schools, that would likely be avoided by non-public schools, which really tends to stick in their craw.

    1. Actually it is equally likely that non public schools catering specifically to the needs of those special needs students would be created, and with the flexibility of catering their curriculum to their students individual needs rather than trying to shoehorn them into a standard curriculum then adding dozens of support staff to help them get by would be far more efficient.

      1. Very true, but that would only occur in a truly free market.

        And I think the challenge of rural schools escapes a lot of School Choice proponents. Many areas simply don’t have the density to support a full service public school and an array of private schools. But until you do away with full service public schools altogether, they’ll exist in low density areas and be burdened with all of the regulatory overhead that has caused their costs to explode in the last 30 years.

    2. Actually a lot of it IS 49 assistant principals and 73 secretaries… the local high school where I live has a student pop of ~900 and 10 assistant principals. That’s an assistant principal for every 100 students–nope nothing to cut here.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.