Set Them Free

By Jonathan Calenzani

It shouldn’t surprise us, but it does. An August 4 article in The Oregonian reported that seventy-one Oregon public schools are failing, according to federal No Child Left Behind standards.

Oregon’s schools are failing despite an increase in funding of $2,161 per student between 1990 and 2000. Despite more teachers, more funding and more spending per pupil, a record number of public schools in Oregon are failing.

This shouldn’t be surprising. It isn’t surprising to anyone who has been carefully following educational policy over the last two decades. In state after state, and school district after school district, spending per pupil has increased and classroom sizes have shrunk. Neither has led to improved performance.

Consider Kansas City. Under court order to improve funding for inner-city public schools, Kansas City increased total education spending from $125 million in 1985 to $432 million in 1992. The huge increase in funding paid for new computers, gyms, science labs and anything else principals wanted. The student to teacher ratio shrank to 13 to 1, the lowest of any major school district. The per-pupil spending reached the staggering amount of $11,700, the highest of any major school district. By 1997, Kansas City had the best-funded public school system of any major city.

The results of the Kansas City experiment were dismal. Test scores didn’t improve despite millions in new funding. The achievement gap between whites and blacks didn’t narrow, despite dozens of new teachers. All the money in the world couldn’t buy Kansas City good public schools. And all the money in the world won’t buy Portland good public schools.

More money and more teachers won’t save Portland Public Schools; only real, meaningful reform will. In Washington, D.C., the public schools spend over $17,000 per pupil and yet the schools are terrible. In 2003 Washington, D.C. started a small pilot voucher program. The results have been excellent, measuring both student improvement and parental satisfaction. Students who received vouchers do far better than their peers stuck in D.C.’s public schools. The best results have come from letting parents decide where they want their kids to go to school.

Currently, Oregon’s public schools spend over $10,000 per pupil. Rather than trap Oregon students at the 71 failing public schools, shouldn’t we let their parents decide where their children go?

Jonathan Calenzani is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Posted by at 03:00 | Posted in Measure 37 | 8 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • teacher

    Throwing money at a failing experiment has not made it better. But, then, that is the usual answer, by the left, to most problems.
    Why is it that private schools can educate students better for so much less per child? Could it be that the teachers who work for less than half the salary of their pubic opposite do so more for the love of teaching than the love of their salaries? Having worked in both types of schools, I prefer the private school with NO union interference and no government red tape. The children should come first, not the paycheck.

    • eagle eye

      “the teachers who work for less than half the salary of their pubic opposite”

      Some documentation, please?

    • rural resident

      As a teacher, I’m sure you recognize the many differences between working in public and private schools. Public schools must accept all students; private schools can discriminate — not on the basis of race, etc., but in terms of motivation and behavior. Private school students almost always have parents who take greater interest in the children’s education, and are more willing to provide support, resources, and motivation. Private schools can “recommend” that students who are disruptive or are simply not benefitting from the school’s program “move in a different direction” (usually back to the public schools). I’d like to see the effect on achievement levels at various schools if the public schools could pick and choose students the same way.

      Suggesting that paying teachers half as much money is going to make them better teachers is silly. And it isn’t, as so many right-wingers love to say, that teachers unions are the problem. Any school has teachers with a wide range of ability levels and knowledge. My experience is that teachers in all schools do the best they can with what they have to work with. Some are more successful than others, for various reasons. However, suggesting that public school teachers only work for the money and not because of concern for kids tells me that you didn’t pay much attention to the people you worked with in the public schools.

  • Rob DeHarpport

    Amen! If your kid attends a poorly performing school why should you have to settle for that? Thankfully most Oregon Schools are performing quite well. The ones on the list should be totally revamped as specified under the NCLB Act. Sadly the OEA crafted this last legislative sessions bills that will cripple “on-line charter schools”, trust me if my son was in a bad school I would want to take advantage of the on-line option. Rural Districts that perform poorly offer virtually no options for students and parents, thankfully my son’s school is great! Support your school if it is good, scream out loud if it is not. Obama’s education plan is the only plan he is offering that makes sense to me, it encourages innovation and charter schools.

  • Maximillion

    Public schools are failing because of the teacher unions. They stand for nothing that helps any student ever.
    They only stand for less work each year for more pay.
    Most Oregon schools are not performing that well, sadly.

  • UO retired prof

    It’s ironic that an organization as completely ineffectual as Cascade Policy Institute has been over the decades, would be using No Child Left Behind — a federal power grab if ever there was one — to be identifying and enumerating Oregon’s “failing schools”.

  • Oregon Elephant

    I used to live in Utah. They perenially rank last in the country in education spending per capita, but also rank in the top 10 in the country in level of education (% of citizens with a particular education level) and standardized test scores.

    Far more important than money spent on schools is the culture that is prevalent, especially in the home.

    Jim Knowlton
    Oregon Elephant

  • Anonymous

    No U of O professor it is not.
    And CPI does excellent work with honesty and integrity long lost in the the system controlled by the uions. and standards lost in the public schooll system .

    What’s important here is the perpetual crisis and failure the teacher’s union has sentenced our schools to since they infected the system in 1974.
    The parasitic OEA with all it’s left wing deceit has been a detriment to education public.
    The other problems come from the never ending fad experiments like CIMCAM, whole language and whole math.

    Worse yet is the continuous control and decision making by those who have repetedly failed miserably.

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