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What really works for schools – Pacific Research Institute

What really works for schools

Philadelphia Daily News (PA), July 6, 2009

WHEN IT comes to time in school, more is not necessarily better, but more of the same is no solution, either (editorial, “24 Minutes to Better Education,” June 26). The evidence overwhelmingly indicates that increasing school options, not seat time, improves student performance.

Fully 70 percent of the countries that outperformed the U.S. in combined math and science literacy among 15-year-olds had more schools competing for students, according to data from the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Specifically, students in such countries as China, Japan, Hong Kong and Germany, as well as former Soviet-bloc countries like the Czech Republic, Hungary, the Slovak Republic and Latvia, all enjoy more education options than their American peers.

Top global performers are also getting the job done in a fraction of the time and for pennies on the dollar compared to the U.S.

Among the 32 countries participating in the latest OECD assessment, the U.S. has the most teaching hours per public school year – 1,080 compared to the international average of 803. Top international performers have far fewer annual teaching hours.

Germany and the Netherlands have around 775 hours each. Finland has 600, while Korea has roughly 575. With 505 teaching hours per school year, Japan has the least of all OECD assessment countries.

To attract and retain top teachers, many OECD-participating countries offer market-based pay. In several of those countries, schools, not governments, determine teacher-compensation policies. In two-thirds of OECD-assessment countries, schools in disadvantaged areas offer teachers higher salaries, and 10 countries offer higher pay for teachers in certain fields.

Those countries still spend significantly less than the U.S. and achieve superior results. Cumulative spending per student from the ages of 6 to 15 averages $80,000 in the U.S. The average American student’s math score, however, is about 475 out of a possible 1,000. Only Sweden spends as much as the U.S., but students there perform 100 scale points higher.

Countries that offer competitive teacher pay perform better while spending less over a 10-year period. The Slovak Republic spends $15,000 per student and achieves a math score just below 500. Top performer Finland spends about $55,000 per student and achieves a score of nearly 550.

Having a less challenging student population doesn’t explain this superior performance since immigrants represent almost 25 percent of total enrollment in top-performing OECD countries on average compared to 14 percent in the U.S.

The concept of schools competing for students and teachers is nothing new to Philadelphia Superintendent Arlene Ackerman. As head of the San Francisco Unified School District, Ackerman began a multi-faceted reform strategy in 2000 that’s still bearing fruit today.

San Francisco Unified parents have ample time and information to pick the schools they think are best for their children.

Funding is weighted for student demographics and follows children to their schools, which must perform or risk losing students and their education dollars. Since funding largely bypasses the district bureaucracy, there is less waste and more money for the classroom.

Schools, in turn, command more budget flexibility to meet performance targets in innovative ways that work for their students. The results speak for themselves.

A majority of San Francisco Unified students are low-income, and 30 percent are English learners. With a cost of living twice as high as Philadelphia’s, San Francisco’s total per-pupil funding averages about $13,300, compared to Philadelphia’s $11,500. For seven straight years, San Francisco students have improved their math and reading scores on the California Standards Test and outperformed the state’s seven largest districts.

Experts now warn that students nationwide are less likely to graduate than their parents. Yet San Francisco has an 86 percent graduation rate – fifth highest among the country’s 50 largest cities. To end business-as-usual politics preventing success like this, start funding Philadelphia schoolchildren first. *

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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