Public Education Study Offers Insights on Health Care Reform

Article excerpt

A recently published Heartland Institute study of public education's failure to live up to expectations also offers insights that shouldn't be lost on those who think federal health care reform is a good idea.

The essence of this analysis by Herbert J. Walberg, a University of Illinois-Chicago research professor and expert on educational productivity, is that bigness has worked against educational progress.

As Walberg points out, inflation-adjusted spending per elementary and secondary school pupil rose more than 500 percent nationwide from 1940-1990, to $5,292 from $878. Despite this outlay of more per student than any other in the industrialized world, Americans have become increasingly critical of their public education system over the years for what they see as a lack of satisfactory student achievement.

Walberg blames three developments for America's disturbing gap between education spending and student performance.

During the 1940-90 spending explosion, the number of school districts declined 87 percent, to 15,367 from 117,108. Meanwhile, the average number of students in each district increased by more than 1,100 percent as the number of schools fell by nearly 70 percent. During this period of consolidation, states increasingly raised and equalized expenditures, which diminished the power local taxpayers could exert over their school systems.

These events, Walberg claims, weakened local control over schools and thus reduced the ability of parents to influence school policies.

The trade-off, of course, was supposed to be greater efficiency achieved by "economies of scale." The experts said a more centralized delivery of education to larger masses$of students would reduce costs and improve results. …