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Research reflects failure in closing education gap


By Seth Hancock
  During the campaign for the Board of Education in School District U-46, a common refrain among all candidates was a need to close the achievement gap, but new research shows that the national focus may be doing little else except costing taxpayers more money.
  Led by Stanford economist Eric Hanushek, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) in March released a paper that showed there has been no impact on closing the achievement gap between the bottom 10th and top 90th of the socioeconomic status (SES) for over five decades in America. The research used data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the Program for International Student Assessment and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Survey.
  “In terms of learning, students at the 10th SES percentile remain some three to four years behind those in the 90th percentile,” the NBER report states. The research did show that there has been some gain from students 14 and under, but any gains are gone by high school.
  The report states that the lack of results come despite ever increasing costs and an increased focus on developing new programs or initiatives to close the achievement gap. It states that “overall school funding increased dramatically on a per pupil basis, quadrupling in real dollars between 1960 and 2015,” and average class sizes have fallen by over six students a class from 1970 to 2014.
  The National Center for Educational Statistics showed that based in real dollars, per student spending has increased from $4,600 to $10,700 between 1972 and 2009 but SAT scores have not improved.
  The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice reported that from 1950 to 2009 full-time employees in the government school system have grown by 386 percent, 252 percent for teachers and 702 percent in bureaucratic positions, far exceeding any increase in student population.
  Based on those findings, George Will wrote for the Washington Post that “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.”
  The NBER stated that one of the likely factors for the lack of results is a decline in the quality of teachers.
  “Because cognitive skills as measured by standard achievement tests are a strong predictor of future income and economic well-being, the unwavering achievement gaps across the SES spectrum do not bode well for improvements in intergeneration mobility in the future. Perhaps more disturbingly, the U.S. has introduced and expanded a set of programs designed to lessen achievement gaps through improving the education of disadvantaged students, but they individually and collectively appear able to do little to close gaps beyond offsetting the probable decline in teacher quality in schools serving lower SES students.”
  In a 2011 report for CBS News, Lynn O’Shaughnessy stated based on research from the College Board that education majors “enter college with the lowest average SAT scores” but “leave with the highest grades,” a trend that “goes back more than 50 years.”
  The National Council on Teacher Quality stated in 2013 that teacher colleges “have become an industry of mediocrity, churning out first-year teachers with classroom management skills and content knowledge inadequate to thrive in classrooms.” It also states: “A vast majority of teacher preparation programs do not give aspiring teachers adequate return on their investment of time and tuition dollars.”
  In a 2011 research paper out of the University of Missouri, professor and economist Cory Koedel wrote: “Students who take classes in education departments at universities receive significantly higher grades than students who take classes in other academic departments. The higher grades awarded by education departments cannot be explained by differences in student quality or by structural differences across departments (i.e., differences in class sizes). The remaining explanation is that the higher grades are the result of lower grading standards.”
  To improve academic results nationally and to make a positive impact on the achievement gap comes competing ideologies. On one side are those advocating academic freedom through school choice and local control, and on the other side are those wanting to increase the federal footprint on education.
  Lisa Snell, for the libertarian-leaning Reason Magazine, wrote that “healthy competition” is needed stating private and charter school students are largely seeing better results, “especially for the most disadvantaged students,” than traditional government school students. Specifically addressing the NBER findings, Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson wrote: “The national strategy of controlling the country’s schools—through subsidies and regulatory requirements—has prevailed for half a century. It has failed. The federal government should exit the business of overseeing K-12 education…. We should let states and localities see whether they can make schools work better. The grandiose fix-it national plans are mostly exercises in political marketing. We need solutions, not slogans.”
  The nation’s largest teacher’s union, the National Education Association, wants more federal involvement and advocates more programs and resources and a focus on social issues like “diversity,” “cultural competence” and “sensitivity.” To close the achievement gap it states a need for “enhanced cultural competence,” “comprehensive support for students,” “outreach to students’ families,” “extended learning opportunities,” “classrooms that support learning,” “supportive schools,” “strong district support,” “access to qualified staff,” and “adequate resources and funding.”
  The national trends have shown up in U-46 based on the state’s report card, and resident Rick Newton took note at a recent board meeting.
  “While Karl Marx would have endorsed U-46’s social justice practices and ideological biases, if you were truly committed to closing achievement gaps the district should make its focus the optimization of potential for every single student, not by a commitment to identity-based political metrics,” Newton said.
  Spending increased by $40.2 million this year in U-46 despite a drop of 633 students, and the district has lost 1,915 total students since 2014 but spending has increased by nearly $100 million which is over $70 million faster than the rate of inflation according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator. At the same time, academic results have largely been flat or have declined and generally lag behind state averages.
  “Delivering below average academic results without consequences, it is clear that U-46 practices its own brand of collusion, not the contrived game being played in our nation’s capital but the collusion that is constantly in practice between the board, the district administration and the Elgin Teachers Association,” Newton said. “Together they conveniently reward each other while exempting themselves from delivering commensurate value to the district’s true stakeholders, the students, parents and taxpayers.”
  Newton added: “The manifestation of this collusion and indoctrination that is spewing from U-46 and public school systems across the country is evidenced by an overwhelming number of young voters who are now demonstrating a blind but active support for socialism, the very antithesis of freedom. For their role in this brainwashing, liberals whose mind sets have knowingly corrupted academia should hang their heads in shame. Meanwhile, the glaring result of this collusion and indoctrination is the continued net out-migration from Illinois as people are voting with their feet.”

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