I am pretty good at math. Unsurprisingly, the story about why I am good at math has a lot to do with a few exceptional teachers I had growing up in a small coal-mining town in Illinois.
One in particular was Mr. Nagrodski, my high-school math team coach, who seemed to conjure talented mathematicians out of thin air. In the late 80s, he pushed for a major acceleration in the junior-high math curriculum in our district so that more kids were ready for tough math classes in high school. He convinced the district to let him teach those tough math classes, which hadn't been offered before he arrived. As a result, his teams won state math competitions year after year after year—and not incidentally, turned out far more talented students of mathematics than anyone would have guessed could come from a little town of four thousand. (Among many other accolades, Mr. Nagrodski, was profiled in Fortune magazine back in 1991 as one of “25 Who Help the U.S. Win.")
By the time I was a middle schooler gearing up for Mr. Nagrodski's infamously difficult math team practices, roughly half of my class of 75 or so kids had been identified as gifted and was placed in advanced math courses. I doubt there was much red tape to cut through to get to this point--just a superintendent and a couple of principals to convince.
Not all rural schools work well, but when they do, they
Last week, the Hoover Institution's Eric Hanushek argued in Education Next that liberals and conservatives' optimism about weighted student funding was misplaced. Hanushek argued instead for performance-based funding: schools that drive their students to better performance should get more funding, while failing schools should not be financially rewarded. I'd like to offer a few reasons why education reformers should still be bullish about funding that follows kids.
Weighted student funding is needed for parental choice to thrive.
Choice is no longer simply about charter schools for a small number of children. A few cities like Washington, D.C., and New Orleans are close to majority-charter or beyond. As Paul Hill noted in a recent paper for us on digital learning, our antiquated school finance system can barely keep up with the growth of online schooling, much less provide parents with robust options to piece together an education for their kids from a variety of providers—online, brick-and-mortar, after-school, and even community colleges and four-year universities.
It better aligns resources with needs.
There are certainly challenges to getting every dollar under the control of parents. Hanushek is right that local funds would not follow a weighted formula established at the state level. State formulas could adjust for those local dollars as a temporary measure, however, and more muscular state reform of school finances would not necessarily impinge on local autonomy. (See the case studies in Bryan Shelly's book, Money, Mandates, and Local Control in
Maybe not, is the answer from a recent poll of New York State teachers conducted by the Empire Center. The poll found that 70 percent of public-school teachers would have considered a defined-contribution retirement option had they been given the chance, and a quarter felt they definitely would have chosen a 401k-style plan over a traditional pension. Perhaps more interesting is the fact that most teachers (about two-thirds of those surveyed) felt such non-traditional plans were good retirement options, roughly the same number as approved of traditional pensions.
It's not clear that young workers value a benefit that many of them will never receive.
The cost of providing teacher pensions is on the rise in many states, New York included. It's also not clear that young workers value a benefit that many of them will never receive. Only a minority of educators teaches for a full career in the same pension system and receives the full retirement benefit offered.
The Empire Center poll asked teachers about one possible alternative, a hybrid plan that would provide a basic level of financial security through a small traditional pension, with a 401k-style individual account on top. Raegen Miller at the Center for American Progress has argued for cash balance plans, which are similar to traditional pensions but provide more portability and do not implicitly rob younger teachers by giving them poorer benefits relative to more experienced teachers.
The retirement "time bomb"is not going away,
Expanding access to higher education—and preparing students well for postsecondary challenges during K-12—is a key priority for the nation's economic competitiveness. The last year alone has seen a variety of initiatives to bend the cost curve, including Rick Perry's $10K bachelor's degree and MIT's certificates (or "badges") for online learning. Community college enrollment also boomed during the financial crisis, with students and parents hunting for a decent education at a "Great Recession"-friendly price. Since college costs have grown faster than inflation (or health care!) since the early 1980s, improving access and controlling costs must be linked.
There's nothing "un-American" about choosing an affordable college over an a elite school.
Photo by Chris Barry.
Paul Krugman sees something sinister, even un-American, in all this talk of value for money, however. He quotes Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney on this point as proof that the GOP doesn't care about education:
Here’s what the candidate told [a student worried about college costs]: “Don’t just go to one that has the highest price. Go to one that has a little lower price where you can get a good education. And, hopefully, you’ll find that. And don’t expect the government to forgive the debt that you take on.
My parents are both what Krugman calls
- Stretching the School Dollar
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- Ohio Gadfly Daily
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About the Editor
Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow
Chris Tessone was a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow and the Director of Finance of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. He has strong interests in governance and education finance, especially teacher compensation and school facilities finance.