ALEC: Different Approach Needed for Better Schools

Published July 1, 2000

“If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting.”
Robert L. Woodson, President
National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise

Over the past two decades, taxpayers have made an enormous investment in improving American public education, increasing per-pupil expenditures across the nation by more than 23 percent in real terms.

Yet more than two out of three American eighth-graders (69 percent) are still performing below the proficiency level in reading, according to the 1998 tests performed for the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The 1998 score represents only a marginal improvement over 1992, when 71 percent were found to be below proficient in reading.

That sobering statistic is just one of dozens of pieces of information packed into the 112 pages of the sixth edition of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Report Card on American Education: A State by State Analysis, 1976-1999. Providing basic facts and statistics about public elementary and secondary schools in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, the 1999 Report Card displays over 100 measures of educational resources and achievement in more than 90 tables and 25 figures. These measures and the analyses based on them permit the thoughtful lawmaker to estimate the likelihood of achieving improved educational performance from further investments in educational resources.

The findings of this year’s report call into question the value of several current education policies which, though popular and superficially reasonable, do little to increase student achievement. For example, the report demonstrates no evident correlation between educational achievement–as measured by various standardized test scores–and pupil-to-teacher ratios, spending on school infrastructure, and teacher salaries.

According to the report’s authors–John S. Barry, director and treasurer of America’s Future Foundation, and Rea S. Hederman Jr., a data analyst at The Heritage Foundation–simply increasing spending on education is not enough to improve student performance. They conclude that the keys to educational excellence must lie outside of conventional measures of investment in America’s schools.

“What this Report Card proves is that the current path is not good enough,” said ALEC’s National Chairman, California State Senator Raymond N. Haynes. “We must recognize that it is less important to increase the investment in education than it is to make sure that we are making the right investments.” Haynes urged his fellow lawmakers to “be open to radical new models of reform, regardless of the entrenched interests they may impact.”

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News.