Improving public education in North Carolina is a topic that usually generates more heat than light. One of the reasons is that much of the discussion is dominated by long-held myths about public education. A few of the most familiar myths include:
Myth Number 1: More Money = Better Schools.
- Since 2001, spending on K-12 public education has increased from $5.7 billion to $7.8 billion, while per student support increased from $6,280 to $8,017 per student.
- While spending has increased, test results are discouraging. For the past five years National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) math and science test scores have been flat. Only 27% of schools have met ABC state growth targets.
According to a June 2008 Civitas Poll, 51 percent of respondents thought NC schools were the same or worse than schools in other states.
- Many private and religious schools do as well — or better — at educating students as the public schools, oftentimes at about half the per student cost of public schools. For example, average tuition at many Christian schools in North Carolina is about $3,000.
- Research on effective schools suggests other variables – such as school culture, the quality of the faculty, and the level of parental involvement – to be as important as financial resources.
Myth Number 2: Smaller Classes Improve Student Achievement.
- North Carolina has spent millions to reduce class size in elementary school grades. The payoff is not noticeable in test scores.
- Research results suggest the benefits accrue primarily to disadvantaged students and are not widely distributed to students across population groups.
- Why do many countries (e.g. Japan, Finland, and Singapore) with much larger elementary school classes consistently outscore United States students on international tests where smaller classes are the norm?
- Findings from the Tennessee Project STAR – a study whose results were used to justify billions in federal spending for class size reduction – revealed that when children in the same small classes are taught by ineffective teachers, the impact of smaller class size was negligible.
Myth Number 3: Only Certified teachers are qualified to teach in N.C. public schools.
- Data available from the Department of Public Instruction reveals no discernible link between certification and student performance on state tests.
- The National Center on Teacher Quality found teacher experience – not certification – to be a better predictor of student achievement.
- In 1995, the North Carolina General Assembly approved 12 percent salary increases for teachers with National Board of Professional Teaching Standards Certification. North Carolina has more than 12,000 NBPTS certified teachers, more than any other state. Has national certification made a difference in the schools? A 2008 National Research Council study concluded NBPTS teachers’ impact on student test scores translated to about 1 point on a test with a mean score of 150.
Myth Number Four: School Vouchers Will Destroy the Public Schools.
- School vouchers give parents the opportunity to choose the best school for their child. When parents choose to leave the public schools it is a statement that schools are already failing.
- Often missing from claims that vouchers will result in the loss of millions in state support for public schools, are calculations that include savings that accrue from hiring fewer teachers, administrators and support staff as well as lower capital costs for school construction.
- Research in Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin suggest vouchers actually improve the public schools. A Manhattan Institute analysis of the Florida voucher program found that public schools whose students were eligible for vouchers made significantly larger test score gains than other public schools in the state.
- Vouchers provide powerful incentives for schools to improve. Forcing taxpayers to fund failing schools undercuts the public’s ability to hold institutions accountable.
Myth Number 5: State-provided universal pre-school education is a good investment for students and the state.
- Along with universal health care, universal preschool is very high on the liberal policy wish list. Still, the research shows the benefits of early intervention programs to be largely limited to those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and to dissipate over time.
- Are pre-school programs good for everyone? The Reason Foundation found that children who have spent fifteen hours or more in preschool activity per week were more aggressive and less motivated than other students.
- Over the past fifty years preschool attendance in the United States has increased to nearly 70 percent of students. Still, test results on fourth grade reading, math and science scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests have remained virtually flat.
- Children are quite different in talents, learning style and environments. To suggest that pre-school is good for all because it is good for some limited populations is to mistakenly say one size should fit all children.
- When the vast majority of children are apt to benefit from strengthening parental bonds and additional interaction with parents, should the state be actively promoting the premature separation of all children from parents?