Eric Hanushek

Eric Hanushek

Eric Hanushek is the Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and a member of the Koret Task Force on K-12 Education. He is best known for introducing rigorous economic analysis into educational policy deliberations. He currently serves as chair of the Board of Directors of the National Board for Education Sciences. He has produced some fifteen books and over 200 scholarly articles. His newest book, Schoolhouses, Courthouses, and Statehouses: Solving the Funding-Achievement Puzzle in America’s Public Schools, describes how improved school finance policies can be used to meet our achievement goals.

Gov. Jerry Brown made two important statements about K-12 education in his State of the State speech on Wednesday. First, it is very important to have a strong accountability system that makes student achievement the focal point of our schools. Second, within that accountability system, local districts should have discretion to decide how to provide a quality education. Both represent an encouraging move toward improving the embarrassing state of California schools.

California educates one-eighth of all students in the U.S., and its ranking at the bottom of the states in terms of math and reading helps to explain why U.S. students are not competitive internationally. In global terms, California ranks at the level of Greece and Russia – hardly a level of performance that can fuel the innovation of Silicon Valley in the future.

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“We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time,”President Obama said in his State of the Union address this year. “We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and outbuild the rest of the world.” Yet despite the economic crisis facing the country, the U.S. educational system remains frozen in place, unable to adapt to contemporary global realities.

As all schoolchildren know, water freezes to solid, barren, cracked ice at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. So maybe it is more than a mere coincidence that 32 percent of U.S. public and private-school students in the class of 2011 are deemed proficient in mathematics, placing the United States 32nd among the 65 nations that participated in the latest international tests administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The United States ranks between Portugal and Italy and far behind South Korea, Finland, Canada, and the Netherlands, to say nothing of the city of Shanghai, with its 75 percent proficiency rate.

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(photo credit: Saint Francis Academy)

What is the worst way one could think of to deal with school district budget problems?  Of all of the options, reducing the length of the school year must be the absolute worst – at least from the perspective of students.  But California, always proud of being a leader, has written into law that this is the preferred option if districts face budgetary shortfalls.

Let us look at what is happening, since this might be a direction in which other states consider moving.  As most people are aware, the budget problems in California were clear even before the recession put added pressure on the state.  The traditional California way to deal with these budget problems has been to shroud them in smoke and mirrors – doing budgetary manipulations that make it look like the budget is balanced but that only move the problem into the future.

Continue reading Eric Hanushek at EducationNext

(photo credit: Christopher Webb)

 

Class size is again in the media across the country, this time because of increases in class size related to fiscal cutbacks.  Instead of discussing the achievement gains that would come from class size reduction, the current commentary has focused on the calamity for public schools that will necessarily follow from increases in class size.  The discussions, while ever-tinged by politics, ignore the fact that increases are not symmetric to decreases.

The rhetoric of class size policy has been virtually constant for the decade-and-a-half before this year.  If one carefully culls the research literature, it is possible to find a set of studies that conclude that achievement will improve with smaller classes.  It did not take much of a sales pitch to convince parents, school officials, and legislators that everything should be done to bring class sizes down further, resulting in a steady decrease in class size.  And with the help of federal stimulus funds, most districts managed to keep prior reductions, even as state fiscal conditions deteriorated.  Handing out pink slips to teachers in the spring (and rescinding them later) was the perennial political maneuver to ensure that education takes small if any funding cuts.

Continue reading Eric Hanushek at EducationNext…

(photo credit: velkr0)

An expanding list of states has joined in legislative battles over the future character of collective bargaining, a territory that was completely uncharted six months ago.  A combination of state fiscal crises plus newly elected Republican legislatures and governors, has emboldened the legislatures in the traditionally union-friendly states of Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio.  They are joined by states as diverse as Idaho, Alabama, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.  But, what is it all about?  Or, more interestingly, what should it be about?

The headline story has been fiscal issues – salaries, retirement and health benefits, and the bargains agreed to by legislatures past.  But these issues have morphed into issues more fundamentally threatening to the unions – the right to strike, the ability to bargain about nonsalary issues, and the like.  In response, the teachers unions have mounted a concerted counter-attack aimed at restoring their prior position.

The fiscal issues are important, but I do not think they are the most important ones.  In a recent article in Education Next, “Valuing Teachers,” I presented evidence about the huge economic impacts of highly effective teachers.  A parallel calculation also reveals the huge costs to highly ineffective teachers.  To me, this is what we should be talking about.  The quality of our teaching force determines the level of student achievement, and student achievement directly determines how our economy will develop in the long run.

Continue reading Eric Hanushek at EducationNext

(photo credit: mar is sea Y)

Valuing Teachers

For some time, we have recognized that the academic achievement of schoolchildren in this country threatens, to borrow President Barack Obama’s words, “the U.S.’s role as an engine of scientific discovery” and ultimately its success in the global economy. The low achievement of American students, as reflected in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) (see “Teaching Math to the Talented,” features, Winter 2011), will prevent them from accessing good, high-paying jobs. And, as demonstrated in another article in Education Next (see “Education and Economic Growth,” research, Spring 2008), lower achievement means slower growth in the economy. From studying the historical relationship, we can estimate that closing just half of the performance gap with Finland, one of the top international performers in terms of student achievement, could add more than $50 trillion to our gross domestic product between 2010 and 2090. By way of comparison, the drop in economic output over the course of the last recession is believed to be less than $3 trillion. Thus the achievement gap between the U.S. and the world’s top-performing countries can be said to be causing the equivalent of a permanent recession.

Continue reading Eric Hanushek at EducationNext

(photo credit: Tim Ellis)

Looking for a Friend in Court

State budgets this year face huge revenue losses, thanks to the recession and the end of federal stimulus money. Each threatened interest group has mobilized to try to escape any impact but none as effectively as schools, which have a special weapon: the courts.

The argument in the courts — playing out now in New Jersey and likely soon in New York — is simple: The state Constitution protects us from taking any share of the pain of the fiscal calamity. This kind of logic may indeed spread to other states.

The common public line is that, because of budget pressures, class sizes will rise to the extent that learning is virtually impossible. In reality, until this year, class sizes across America have fallen for the last 15 years, to new lows. This ploy is simply part of the political bargaining that is designed to separate schools from any budget problem.

Continue reading Eric Hanushek at EducationNext

Saving the schools

State budgets this year face huge revenue losses, thanks to the recession and the end of federal stimulus money. Each threatened interest group has mobilized to try to escape any impact but none as effectively as schools, which have a special weapon: the courts.

The argument in the courts — playing out now in New Jersey and likely soon in New York — is simple: The state Constitution protects us from taking any share of the pain of the fiscal calamity.

The common line is that, because of budget pressures, class sizes will rise to the extent that learning is virtually impossible. In reality, until this year, class sizes across America have fallen for the last 15 years, to new lows. This ploy is simply part of the political bargaining that is designed to separate schools from any budget problem.

Continue reading Eric Hanushek in the New York Post

(photo credit: Cindy Seigle)