The K-12 Implosion

Eagle Forum | May 2013

The Reagan-era report, “A Nation at Risk,” told us 30 years ago, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.” Student performance has improved little since that report shocked America into considering education reform. What has increased is the money being spent on education, which has not resulted in a corresponding increase in learning.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee, argues in The K-12 Implosion that students’ underperformance and government’s massive spending will soon force changes from within the education establishment or market forces will change it from the outside.

“From 1998 to 2008, Wisconsin public schools increased their per pupil spending by $4,245 in real terms, yet did not add a single point to the reading scores of their eighth-graders and still could lift only one-third of their eighth-graders to at least a ‘proficient’ level in reading.” The average total compensation for a teacher in the Milwaukee public school is more than $100,000 per year. Reynolds says, “Wisconsin’s situation is typical of public education around the country … [It is now] vastly more expensive without producing significantly better results.”

Reynolds points to how the money is spent as one answer to the lack of performance results. “Between 1950 and 2009, the number of K-12 public school students increased by 96% [while] … the ranks of administrators and other [non-teaching] staff grew by 702%.”

Parents and other taxpayers are losing faith in public education and are seeking change. Teachers’ unions attempting to retain the status quo are powerful, but there are many more parents than there are unionized teachers. Parents demand vouchers and school choice to better educate their children.

There are two ways in which things can move forward: “new and innovative approaches can take place within the context of publicly funded education. On the other [hand], they can be embraced by parents who are fleeing what they regard as a failing public system.” The second scenario will result in the implosion that Reynolds predicts.

Reynolds says that public education will only survive if it can become cheaper, more flexible, more innovative, and more parent friendly. This is the opposite of what Common Core will achieve, and Common Core is the opposite of what will improve American education.