One of Gov. Roy Cooper’s major pushes against the North Carolina Republican legislative majority is that the state needs to be spending more on public education. It’s a predictable and easy position for Cooper to take, particularly given his desire to increase spending in a myriad of ways.
The thought that more and more spending on education produces better achievement and greater results is hard for many to shake. Somehow even startling graphs like this one do little to move the public opinion or policy needle.
Jay Greene correctly observed in his book “Education Myths” that when it comes to education,“If money were the solution, the problem would already be solved.” Greene, who heads the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, has done excellent work over the years to expose the fallacy in this thinking.
This week is National School Choice Week. Unfortunately education policy is driven too much by ideology. Perhaps that is a statement even those on different sides of the debate can agree about.
However, I started thinking about the importance of school choice primarily because of my own life experiences. My dad was an Air Force pilot and besides for a few years living in Egypt, where I was able to attend an exceptional private school paid for by the taxpayers, I attended public schools. Some of those schools were good and some were poor. Public school in Hawaii, especially in 7th grade where I was bussed off base to middle school, was a disaster. There was racial strife, constant fighting, and pitiful academic guidance. Math class consisted of almost everybody copying each other and constantly grading their own work.
I finished high school in Mississippi, in what was supposed to be one of the better public schools in the state, but constant classroom disruptions and behavioral issues in some classes created too small of a window for learning. It really wasn’t until I had more control over my education in college and graduate school that I was able to excel some in the classroom.
I’m not saying I’d be a neurosurgeon if I had more choice in educational opportunities, (I had to give blood twice for extra credit to pass biology in college), but I know I would have had to do a lot less academic catch up in my life.
The constant and stale debate over more and more spending that produces virtually no improvement in results is a powerful reminder that more choice is critical for results-oriented reform. North Carolina is a great state, with great teachers and citizenry, but it’s not a state that should be trapped merely by a debate over spending. After all, as many school choice proponents note, even a great school is not a great fit for every child.