I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Baker vs. Hanushek

The two titans of school fiance battle it out in a Reno newspaper:
Many claims that money doesn’t matter stem from a 1986 paper by Eric Hanushek, who examined numerous studies and concluded: “There appears to be no strong or systematic relationship between school expenditures and student performance.”
Hanushek, an economic analyst of educational issues at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, told Fact Checker: “To be clear, I have never said that money cannot matter. I have only said that the way we have traditionally spent money has not led to better performance. I would indeed pay good teachers a lot more — but I would also pay bad teachers a lot less.”
Asked if, in general, states that spend more on education tend to have better student outcomes than those that spend less, Hanushek said that wasn’t a good way to look at the question.
“It’s absolutely true that if you spend money well, it has an effect,” he said. “But just putting money into schools and assuming it will be spent well isn’t necessarily correct and there is substantial evidence that it will not happen.”
A better comparison, he said, would be to compare the effects of funding changes within a state. He mentioned New Jersey, where a court ruling led to some districts greatly boosting per-pupil spending — “and that has not led to disadvantaged kids doing better in New Jersey.”
Rutgers education professor Bruce Baker said Hanushek’s own work contradicts this, citing a fall 2012 publication by Hanushek that lists New Jersey as a state with “dramatically” improved test scores.
Hanushek responded that New Jersey did have much higher scores but it ranked 14th from the bottom in another survey of 43 states for how much improvement they got for the amount they spent.
Baker said this shows that overall more money does improve outcome but that sometimes the money isn’t spent as efficiently as it could. This is why he also pushes state school finance reform that, among other things, targets funds toward areas where it’s proven to help.
I think we can all agree that spending more money on anything won't help if it's spent badly. Duh.

And I laughed at this:
Hanushek said that spending more for higher quality teachers will lead to better achievement, but because collective bargaining requires uniform pay for teachers, what happens is that districts end up spending more money for both good and bad teachers, leading to the same student performance.
Baker said that yes, more effective teachers teach more effectively (tautology alert!) but there’s been no evidence that spending more to get them is a better use of money than spending the same amount to reduce class sizes. (He adds that smaller class sizes is one way to attract better teachers.)
Hanushek said the reason there’s no evidence is that “unions have completely resisted and fought any efforts to spend money on more productive teachers.” But, he added, other countries with greater performance pay options offer “very suggestive findings.”
Oh, yeah, if there's one thing unions hate, it's more money for teachers...

What Hanushek and the rest of the reformy crowd refuse to do is see their argument through to the end:

  • We should pay the best teachers more.
  • All kids need a great teacher.
  • Therefore...
And then they're silent. But I'll finish it for them: we need to raise the overall payroll of teachers to improve their overall quality. Otherwise, we'll just have a few "good" teachers at the top who take money away from the "bad" teachers making less at the bottom.

That is unless Hanushek has figured out a way to decide which students get the "good" teachers, and which get the "bad" ones. Good luck with selling that to the PTA, Eric!

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