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A New Education Focus: Results Matter, Not Efforts!

February 1, 2002


The recent signing of the Bush initiated “No Child Left Behind Act” education bill left more than a few of us conservatives concerned for a couple of reasons: 1. Ted Kennedy was at the signing in Ohio grinning and shaking hands as if he was celebrating a victory and 2. an increase in federal expenditures in what we see clearly as a local issue: the education of our kids.

Before we figure out if or how we should be pleased with President Bush, let’s first look at the problem for a reality check.

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Over the last 30 years, the drumbeat of the tax-and-spend crowd has been that the reasons we are falling behind other capitalist societies in K-12 education is that we are not spending enough to catch up and that we need more teachers so to reduce the pupil/teacher ratio. Because the tax-and-spend crowd and their liberal politicians have pretty much controlled the political agenda on this topic for the last thirty years, let’s first see what results we have had since 1971.

Examine these two charts (on right) using statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics (thanks to the folks at the Heritage Foundation – www.heritage.org - for the nice charts).

These results would have only been worse if Enron executives had been running American education over the last 30 years! There is a simple conclusion here: the 17+% constant dollar increase in education expenditures of the last 30 years has produced virtually no improvements in test scores. The increase in spending did meet one goal of the tax-and-spend crowd: a decrease in pupil/teacher ratios. Today twenty-three states have pupil/teacher ratios between 10-15; twenty-five have ratios of 16-20; and only two have ratios over 20. But again, this has produced virtually no improvements in test scores.

While we are in the process of destroying the expenditures-per- pupil-as-an-indicator-of-quality-education myth, let’s go ahead and destroy a non-sensical corollary to that argument. That corollary says that if your state is in the bottom half of the states ranking of expenditures per pupil, then your state has an education problem. This does not make sense because at any one time twenty-five states will be in the bottom half of expenditures per pupil. So that barometer is meaningless. For example, Tennessee is 45th in expenditures per pupil but is much higher than that in test score rankings.

So what does the President’s education bill do? Let’s look at the good and the bad.

One thing it does is make Ted Kennedy smile. No matter the reason, that is not a plus.
It spends more money. As we have established, that will not produce better results if it is just thrown into the pot. (Maybe this is why Ted Kennedy is smiling?!)
Schools districts must give parents a report card on how each school’s students fare when compared to other districts, graduation rates, teacher qualifications, and other performance indicators.
States are also required to provide a report card on the state’s progress district by district.
School districts that receive federal education resources are required to provide a plan with performance goals to improve. If a school fails to make adequate progress for two consecutive years, the school will receive technical assistance from the district and must provide public school choice. The district must provide transportation for students who choose other district schools and must use up to 5 percent of its Title I money to pay for that option. After a third year of failure to make adequate progress, a school will also be required to offer supplemental educational services chosen by students' parents, including private tutoring. The district must use up to 5 percent of its Title I money to pay for that option. The district may use an additional 10 percent of its Title I aid to pay for public school transportation costs or supplemental services. If a school fails to make adequate progress for four consecutive years, the district must implement corrective actions, such as replacing certain staff members or adopting a new curriculum. After five years of inadequate progress, a school would be identified for reconstitution and be required to set up an alternative governance structure, such as re-opening as a charter school or turning operation of the school over to the state. (NOTE: The failure-to-perform requirements were misstated in the original version of this article.)
States are allowed to design their own method of assessing the state’s progress. This appears to be a good decentralized, conservative approach, yet it is a mistake! We need a standardized assessment for all the states, just like we need a common language/currency for all states. I suspect we will initially see mostly “feel good” assessments, not results based assessments.
English as a second language (ESL) programs have a maximum of three years to teach immigrant children proficient English. ESL bureaucracies have kept themselves fully funded by keeping immigrant children in ESL classes in perpetuity. After California abolished bilingual education, test scores of immigrant children rose 120% in math and 180% in reading!
Students that are attending unsafe schools or who have been school crime victims will be able to transfer to another safer public school. If one is not available then he/she can transfer to a safer private school.
Teacher competency is now defined as subject-area competency as determined from rigorous testing or college degree major (why is this considered so radical?). An education degree is not a qualifier.
Teachers are provided with limited civil litigation immunity, thus allowing them to remove violent and persistently disruptive students from the classroom with less threat to themselves.

I have summarized only part of the “No Child Left Behind Act.” It is not perfect as I noted above, but it does begin to change the focus. Results will begin to matter more than effort. It demands improvements yet leaves the methods for achieving them to the local authorities. It gives parents more information and options to find better schools for their children. It holds teachers and administrators accountable for their school’s results.

It is another step in the school choice revolution. I hope the Bush people practice their own results based approach by giving us annual reports on the results produced by this Act.


Sam T. Harper graduated cum laude from Vanderbilt University.  Following a tour in the US Navy and a stint as Operations Manager at Roadway Express, he earned his MBA from Stanford University Graduate School of Business.  He was a contributor to “In Search of Excellence,” the best selling business book of all time.  Sam was also Manager, Economic Planning & Analysis at Sohio Petroleum, Partner and Chief Financial Officer at investment-banking firm Bridgemere Capital, and Chief Operating Officer of the Institute for Contemporary Studies, a San Francisco Bay Area-based think tank and international publishing firm that specializes in self-governing and entrepreneurial public policy.  Sam was a chairman of the San Francisco Republican party and the GOP co-host of California Political Review on KALW-FM in San Francisco.  Sam is currently the co-owner of the Tennessee based Institute for Local Effectiveness Training, LLC – a management consulting, training, and coaching firm.