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Federalist-Brief 99-33
August 17, 1999

FAMILY IN BRIEF

1999 -- BACK-TO-SCHOOL

"Since 1983, over 10 million Americans have reached the 12th grade without having learned to read at a basic level. Over 20 million have reached their senior year unable to do basic math. Almost 25 million have reached 12th grade not knowing the essentials of U.S. history. .. American 12th graders rank 19th out of 21 industrialized countries in mathematics achievement and 16th out of 21 nations in science. Our advanced physics students rank dead last." --Former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett

In an effort to provide our readers with a macro-perspective on some major issues facing government education institutions in grades K-12, The Federalist publishes an annual education issue, which is compiled by issue sections, including: Education Bureaucracy, Teaching Staffs, Class Size, School Funding and School Choice. This edition also includes a special supplement: Homeschooling.

Government Education Bureaucracy:

American schools, on average, have 52.1 teachers, 15.2 in school staff, 8.6 district staff and 24 county and state level bureaucrats out of every 100 education personnel. In seven states -- Michigan, Oklahoma, Indiana, Mississippi, Florida, New Mexico and Alaska -- more than half of "education" personnel are not teachers. Rhode Island and Hawaii have the highest number of teachers -- 63 per 100 education personnel. In almost all cases, the bureaucrats earn more than teachers do.

Teaching Staffs:

Research affirms common sense that poorly qualified teaching staffs are a major factor in the failure of government education institutions to adequately prepare students for continued education or vocation. A comprehensive study comparing low- and high-achieving elementary school students in New York correlated teacher qualifications with 90% of the student performance variations. More than 20% of math students and 50% of students in physical sciences classes are taught by teachers without degrees in those fields. Nationally, almost 40% of secondary school teachers do not have degrees in their subject areas.

Regarding teacher education and certification, 58% of schools of education are not accredited by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education. According to the National Commission on Teaching & America's Future, almost 25% of new public school teachers lack necessary qualifications for their jobs. Some 27% of new teachers had not completed licensing requirements in their primary teaching areas, 11% of whom were without any licenses and 16% held emergency, temporary or alternative licenses. The study also found that 21% of veteran high school teachers had less than a minor in their primary teaching areas and 59% had less than a minor in their secondary teaching areas.

Class Size:

There is little evidence that smaller classes help students, according to veteran education researcher Chester E. Finn Jr. Yet Bill Clinton is still promoting his "100,000 new teachers" program. Along with Finn, economist Eric Hanuskek of the University of Rochester also concludes, "there is little systematic gain from general reduction in class size."

Student/teacher ratios have been declining for decades -- the national average is now 22/1, down from more than 30/1 in the 1950s -- at immense cost, but with no gain in student achievement. In the mid-1960s, the pupil-teacher ratio in public schools was 24.1 to 1. By the early 1990s, this ratio had fallen to just 17.3 to 1, a decline of 28% in class size. Yet over this same period, average combined scholastic aptitude test (SAT) scores fell from 954 to 896, a decline of 58 points, or 6%.

Hanuskek examined 277 statistical studies on class size and student achievement, finding that only 15% found lower student/teacher ratios improved student performance. However, 13% actually indicated the lower ratio harmed performance, while the majority of the research studies had findings that were not statistically significant.

There are several studies suggesting that a lower teacher/student ratio in kindergarten may be linked with modest test-score gains, says Finn. But Finn contends the $12 billion in new federal spending proposed by Mr. Clinton would be much better spent providing school-choice scholarships for low-income students.

An interesting note: Asian countries, whose students regularly defeat U.S. students on international education assessments, often have between 40 and 50 student-per-teacher ratios.

School Funding:

As with lower teacher/student ratios, higher student/spending ratios have little effect on student test performance, according to a comparison of data from the National Center for Education Statistics and the Census Bureau.

For example, Utah has the lowest student/spending ratio, $3,280 per year, but on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test, Utah students outperform students in New York, which spends $8,162 per pupil.

Education bureaucrats claim the comparisons are unfair because minority students consistently score lower than white students, but the findings hold up even when only white students' test results are compared. For example, Mississippi's white students score almost as high as California's, while per pupil spending in Mississippi is substantially less than in California. Connecticut's white students are the top scoring group (NAEP of 687), but score only slightly better than North Dakota students (NAEP of 678), though the former spends $7,629 per student, versus $4,374 in North Dakota.

And, in the third International Math and Science Study, the U.S. ranked 28th in the world in eighth-grade math. The U.S. spends three times more per pupil than Korea, whose students ranked second in the world. The U.S. took 17th place in science, behind the other leading industrialized nations.

School Choice:

Gallup polling on education reform shows that for the first time, a majority of parents with children in government schools endorse taxpayer supported school-choice programs, including vouchers to private and religious schools. The margin was 55% to 43%. Of particular interest, 73% of black families support school choice. The United States spends more money per pupil on government education than any other nation, but the results are dismal. Parents are demanding school reform alternatives, and states have responded by providing more education choices for parents. Twenty-nine states have passed laws permitting charter schools. Twenty-nine states now permit school choice in some form. There are 33 private scholarship funds that provide full or partial tuition at private and religious schools. There is enormous resistance from teacher unions to school choice, school vouchers and other reform programs because they are perceived as a threat to union member's status quo. The failure of government education institutions has compelled as many as 2 million parents, according to Education Department estimates, into homeschooling curriculums.

Homeschooling:

The largest ever study of home-school students -- now estimated at 1.2 million -- provides a strong rebuttal to critics who suggest home-schooled students are poorly prepared.

Home-educated students, on average, outperformed public school students across all subjects significantly, by 30 to 37 percentile points on nationally normed standardized achievement exams. And home-schooled students' test scores improve the longer they are home-schooled, going from the 59th percentile for those home-schooled for one year to the 92nd percentile for those home-schooled for seven years. And there is little if any "gender gap" in test scores between home-schooled girls and boys.

More than 70 home-schooled high school seniors were selected as semifinalists in the 1998 National Merit Scholarship Corporation's competition.

Of particular interest, regardless of whether mothers (who most often teach homeschool) did not complete high school or held a college degree, their children's standard test scores were between the 80th and 90th percentile. Students taught at home by mothers who never finished high school score a full 55 percentile points higher than public school students from families with comparable education levels.

Homeschooling parents reported an average cost of $546 per year per student, whereas the average per-pupil expenditure by public schools was $5,325, excluding capital costs. The National Home Education Research Institute estimates that homeschooling is increasing at a rate of up to 40% annually.


THE LAST WORD

Back to School...

"Rules of life" that you won't get from liberal government schools from Charles Sykes, author of "Dumbing Down Our Kids."

  1. Life is not fair; get used to it.
  2. The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself.
  3. You will not make 40 thousand dollar s a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice president with a car phone until you earn both.
  4. If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss. He doesn't have tenure.
  5. Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping; they called it opportunity.
  6. If you screw up, it's not your parents' fault so don't whine about your mistakes. Learn from them.
  7. Before you were born your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way paying your bills, cleaning your room, and listening to you tell how idealistic you are. So before you save the rain forest from the blood-sucking parasites of your parents' generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.
  8. Your school may have done away with winners and losers but life has not. In some schools they have abolished failing grades, they'll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer. This, of course, bears not the slightest resemblance to anything in real life.
  9. Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off, and very few employers are interested in helping you find yourself. Do that on your own time.
  10. Television is not real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.
  11. Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.

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