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Recently, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bob Etheridge declared
that North Carolina "cannot have quality education on the cheap." Is he right?
- This evening NC SPIN will be celebrating the
presentation of their 700th weekly program. Join the NC SPIN gang and special guest Bob
Schieffer, host of CBS TV's Face the Nation, for what promises to be an entertaining
event. The celebration will be held at the American Tobacco Complex (Bay 7) in
Durham and begin at 6:45 pm. To
register, visit the NC SPIN website.
- The North Carolina
History Project would like educators and homeschool parents to submit lesson
plans suitable for middle and high school courses in North Carolina
history. Please provide links to NC
History Project encyclopedia articles and other primary and secondary source
material, if possible. Go to the NC History Project website for further information.
- JLF's research newsletter archive
When Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bob Etheridge declared
recently that the state "cannot have quality education on the cheap,"
I suspect that few people took notice.
For decades, the public has heard many versions of this comment from
politicians and public school advocacy groups.
But as a former N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction,
Etheridge does not get a pass.
So, is he right? In
other words, is it possible to obtain a quality education for less than the
nearly $9,000 spent by North Carolina school districts to educate and
accommodate the average public school student?
Just ask the parents of the nearly 84,000 children that are
homeschooled in North Carolina how much they spend to educate their children
every year. North Carolinians for Home Education estimates that a
typical homeschool curriculum will cost families between $100 and $500 per
child per year. This is consistent with
the national average cost identified by the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), which estimates that the
average homeschool family spends around $500 a year per child. One particularly frugal parent reported that she was
able to homeschool seven
children at a time for less than $100 a year.
Moreover, I doubt that Etheridge was thinking about many of
the 96,000 children who attend private schools.
Pricey private schools like Cary Academy and Charlotte Latin School are
the exception, not the rule. For
example, students who attend any of the three Thales Academy campuses in Wake County
receive a first-rate education for just $5,300 a year. Likewise, many church-based or religious
private schools, which represent seven out of ten private schools in North
Carolina, offer outstanding academic programs for thousands less than the state
average per-student expenditure.
Obviously, Etheridge did not have the hundreds of millions
of children educated in other nations in mind either. According to the latest
available per-student expenditure statistics from the Organization for Economic
Cooperation and Development (OECD), the
United States is at (or near) the top in per student spending among
industrialized nations. Similarly, North
more to educate the average public school student than all but a handful of
nations. On average, the state spends
thousands more than a number of countries, including Japan, Korea, Finland, and
Canada, that routinely outperform the United States on international tests.
So, with the
exception of homeschools, a majority of private schools, and most industrialized
nations in the world, Etheridge is right -- you cannot have high quality
education "on the cheap."
I suspect that
Etheridge (erroneously) uses the word "education" to mean public
schools, so let's take a look at them.
In his book Education Myths,
Dr. Jay Greene of the University of Arkansas points out that the myth that
public schools are underfunded is "simultaneously the most widely held
idea about education in America and the one that is most directly at odds with
the available evidence." (p. 8) Indeed, the vast majority of high-quality research studies conclude that there is no significant relationship between
funding and student performance. In
inflation-adjusted dollars, per pupil spending has tripled over the last forty
years. During the same period,
achievement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) barely budged.
Of course, career
politicians like Etheridge are not always attentive to the research
literature. It is much easier to adopt
the popular notion that less public school funding is bad and more is good. And a popular notion it is! A recent NC Policy Watch/Public Policy
Polling survey asked North Carolinians if their local public schools
should receive more funding, less funding, or about the same amount. Predictably, two-thirds of respondents
thought that schools should receive more funding. Pollsters have received similar responses to
that question since the debut of Kojak.
Rather than asking whether the state allocates "enough"
resources to provide children a quality education, we should be asking "how"
public schools spend their money.
Public school apologists
and their allies routinely dismiss the "how" because it requires them
to concede that educational productivity -- the relationship between inputs and
outcomes -- matters. The research on
educational productivity, from researchers on the Right and the Left, provides compelling evidence that increasing student performance takes
much more than reaching some arbitrary amount of spending. It takes strategic investments (to use the
Left's term) in exceptional people and proven practices.
conservatives too often allow the Left to debate the issue of education funding
on their terms. I, too, fall into this
trap from time to time. As such, the
public has heard a lot of bickering about budgets, teaching positions, and
rankings but little discussion about the lack of clear, convincing, and credible evidence that
certain -- ultimately make-believe -- levels of education funding are necessary
to maintain or raise student achievement.
of Kojak, "Who loves ya,
Bob Etheridge was elected State Superintendent of Public
Instruction in 1988 and 1992.
I would like to invite all readers
to submit announcements, as well as their personal insights, anecdotes,
concerns, and observations about the state of education in North Carolina. I will publish selected submissions in future
editions of the newsletter. Anonymity
will be honored. For additional
information or to send a submission, email Terry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Education Acronym of the Week
HSLDA -- Home
School Legal Defense Association
Quotes of the Week
"In 1988 and 1992, he was elected State
Superintendent of Public Instruction. As superintendent, he introduced an
accountability program that improved our schools by raising standards of
performance and giving parents the information they needed to better understand
what was happening with the educating of their children."
Etheridge for Governor
"However, it also was clear that
Superintendent Etheridge was not involved in the creation of the ABCs [of
Public Education Accountability Program]. Senator [Leslie] Winner stated, 'None
of these ideas were coming from him.' Dr. Jim Causby stated, 'My observation
was at that time that Bobby had nothing to do with it.'"
- Louis M. Fabrizio, "The Creation
and Evolution of North Carolina's ABCs Accountability Program and the Impact of
No Child Left Behind -- A Case Study," Ph.D. dissertation, North Carolina
State University, 2006, p. 54.
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