Saturday, December 1, 2012

Education's Value Proposition ... Charter Schools and Vouchers Make Sense

In the name of progress, the government knows best gang and teachers unions always want to spend more taxpayer money to make things better. In other words, their constant concern is that we don't spend enough on either government or public education, and that underspending is a problem.

The other side of the argument, of course, is that we do in fact spend enough, if not more than enough, money to get quality results, but we simply don't get a bang for the bucks we spend.

And besides, the argument against more spending goes, according to government and the teachers unions, no matter how much the taxpayers pony up, there will never be enough money to get the job done right. Thus, they'll say that we always need to spend more.

The progressive government's and teachers unions' strong and obvious implication is that by collecting and spending more taxpayer money, we will create a better society. And it's unfair not to do so. But the emphasis on money spent instead of results attained is just plain crazy, and we'll explain why.

The case of public education is a good example. President Obama advocates that we need to spend more taxpayer money to hire approximately 100,000 more teachers to work in our public schools.

He wants We the People to believe that simply spending more money on our public education system will make it better. However, if we stop and think about it for a minute, that doesn't make sense, let alone pass the smell test. Because if it did, our system of public education would already be great due to past spending programs.

But spending more money won't automatically create better educational outcomes, just as spending less won't make things worse.

My personally preferred definition of a better value proposition is the following: A better value exists when in a competitive market prospective customers are offered (1) a better product or service for the same price or (2) the same product for service at a lower price. A home run is when we are offered a better product or service at a lower price. To me that's a double whammy value proposition. 

That said, there can be no value proposition without competition. Unless there are alternatives, there's no choice involved. And if there's no choice, a monopoly exists and no comparisons are possible. And we can't decide what's better or worse without at least two possiblities to consider. In other words, wonderful and awful, good and better, and bad and worse all mean the same thing unless we have choices between more than one possibility.

And that's exactly what charter schools and vouchers would introduce into education's value proposition --- parents and students being able to make a choice between two or more alternative value propositions.

If we adopted that simple approach in valuing education alternatives, any program which didn't offer a worse educational outcome but did offer a lower cost to taxpayers would represent the better educational value. That seems right to me, even though it doesn't fit the government's or teachers union narrative that the more we spend the better product we get.

Money for Nothing is a short but serious piece on the compelling logic behind expanding charter schools and vouchers in education today:

"The political debate about school choice often centers on whether charter schools and vouchers improve academic achievement and graduation rates. A large and growing body of evidence suggests that they do, but another advantage of these education reforms is that they save taxpayers money.

The U.S. Department of Education reports that Texas outperformed New York in 4th-grade math and 8th-grade math on last year's federal standardized tests. And the high school graduation rate in Texas was 86% but only 77% in New York. That may not seem like a big deal until you learn that Texas is getting these superior outcomes while spending about half of what New York spends per pupil--$10,600 versus $20,400.

This is not to say that high levels of education spending aren't ever associated with high levels of achievement. The point is that there's no correlation between what a state spends and how students perform, despite continuous efforts by teachers unions and the politicians they control to convince us otherwise. Massachusetts spends more money per pupil than all but six states, and its students are regularly among the nation's top test performers. But Washington, D.C., was the nation's top spender in 2011 at $27,200 per student and ranked dead last in graduation rates at 59%.

Nationwide, charter schools spend $1,800 per-pupil less than traditional public schools. And voucher programs in D.C., Florida and Milwaukee save taxpayers significantly more than that per kid. Put another way, there would be a strong argument for expanding school choice on efficiency grounds alone even if it produced no better academic outcomes that the traditional K-12 public school system. Keep this in mind as the opponents of school choice fight to block charter schools in Georgia and voucher programs in Louisiana and Indiana. We all pay if they succeed."

Summing Up

The example of spending and results attained in Texas versus New York is a no-brainer. Better for less.

But everywhere else charter schools and voucher programs are no-brainers compared to the current public education system as well. Because at the very least, these 'choice' programs offer the same results while spending less taxpayer money. And quite likely they offer better results for less money. The double whammy.

Thus, since charter schools and vouchers cost taxpayers less and don't negatively impact educational results, that's the winning way. Same for less or more for less. Either way that's the better customer value.

Although the teachers unions and the politicians they "employ" will hate this common sense based way of determining "customer" value,  it's the right thing to do.

So let's sum it up clearly and succinctly:

(1) If we're not going to get a better educational outcome, getting the same result for less taxpayer money spent is the better value; and

(2) getting a better educational outcome by spending less taxpayer money makes the most sense of all.

While I much prefer #2, even #1 is much better than the status quo monopoly in place today.

Individual choice and free markets go together. And why shouldn't our system of education operate on free market principles?

Thanks. Bob.

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