Water into Wine?: Jeb Bush, Cheapistas, and Educational Reform

Jeb is in the building. Another Bush (and his junior) is in the capitol today in Austin to discuss the education miracle that Florida purportedly achieved on the cheap.

As discussed yesterday, there is a cadre of politicians that believe we can get something for nothing. That we can do education cheaper and cheaper. That we can cut billions and billions from education budgets without any impact on our children. What is common in ALL of the cheapistas (new word for educational reformistas who believe we can turnaround education on the cheap) proposals is that we can save the taxpayers a buck and skyrocket test scores if we just adopt X (online education, vouchers, charters etc. etc.). The Jeb Bush posse from Florida has been essentially arguing this logic trail nonstop. Whether it is Jeb’s Education Foundation that was discussed here, or former Jeb underlings that I have encountered— the basic narrative is that Florida turned water in wine— a miracle.

Cloaking Inequity examined the purported test score miracle earlier here. In 4th grade, Florida improved over the last decade and was position in the top ten nationally, but as you move up the grade levels, the longer student stay in Florida schools, the worse their performance relative to the nation. I also discussed the official Florida scholarship evaluation in Florida that showed their scholarship (aka neovoucher) program had not increased the achievement of program participants.

The National Education Policy Center has also looked at the data from Florida and studied the Heritage Foundation’s glowing analysis of Florida’s educational reforms. Their conclusion:

The central analysis compares average test scores of students in the nation versus Florida without considering key group differences, an oversight that leads to erroneous causal interpretations on effects of reforms using purely descriptive data. The report further ignores group differences resulting from the state’s mandatory grade retention policy for the weakest readers in grade 3. This policy-driven increase in grade retention rates spuriously inflated the average scores of grade 4 students on state and national assessments, making racial achievement gaps narrower. The report also fails to examine test score data on all subjects and grade levels, instead relying only on grade 4 reading, which showed the most positive results. Finally, although a great deal is known about the reform policies the report promotes, it neglects this research literature. These serious flaws call into question the report’s conclusions.

Now it is true that the U.S. is typically one of the top three highest spending nations on education, yet our international test scores are only top ten. Check out this infographic from USC. However, we must remember we ask our schools to provide many social services that governments in other nations subsidize outside of schools. We also fund transportation, food service and a variety of expensive extracurricular such high school football. Also, the funding is averaged per pupil— that means that some districts have quite a bit more resources than others to educated their students which foments large achievement disparities. When it comes to teachers, the New York Times reported that international data also show that U.S. teacher salaries compared to GDP are lower than in other countries. So while the common refrain from cheapistas is that the U.S. at or near the top in education spending, its a deceptive statement.

Note to Cheapistas: As my mother always says, “If it is too good to be true, it probably isn’t.”


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