Imagine you were the CEO of something called “American K-12 Public Schools” and it was the annual Board meeting. With everyone assembled, the firm’s Chief of Research distributed this one-page “progress” report (Chart prepared by Andrew Coulson of the Cato Institute and derived from the US Department of Education “Digest of Educational Statistics,” and NAEP tests, Long Term Trends, 17-year olds):
In a nutshell, and in constant 2013 dollars, the cost of a K-12 education in 1970 was $57,602; the same education in 2010 was $164, 426 all the while employment in education rose sharply and school enrollments remained flat.
Clearly, if our hypothetical firm was a real business, it would have long vanished.
So, what is this Board to do? Heed President Obama’s admonitions to “keep investing in the future”? Or, at the other extreme, follow Libertarian advice and privatize all education. What about banning unions and empowering parents? Or applying a newfangled electronic gizmo? Or, do we pump yet more money into educational research to finally discover the magic bullet miracle?
Sad to say, all (and much more) of these suggestions are, as the graph depicts, futile though “miracles” do occur, at least until examined more closely. We’ve “invested” hundreds of billion in our children for decades, and nothing helps. Nor have the libertarian-minded reformers done much better with their free-enterprise charters and vouchers. That said, are we just doomed to spend more and more with little to show other than creating yet more jobs?