“If you think education is expensive, wait until you see how much ignorance costs in the 21st century,” Obama declared July 24 at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. “If we don’t make this investment, we’ll put our kids, our workers, and our country at a competitive disadvantage for decades.”
Obama’s latest demand for even more government spending or “investment” in America’s schools confirms how profoundly and irretrievably he is removed from reality.
As this chart by the Cato Institute’s Andrew J. Coulson irrefutably illustrates, the trouble with U.S. education is not a scarcity of tax dollars thrown in its general direction. The spending curve of government outlays on K–12 education from 1970–2010 is essentially an upward-sloping 45-degree angle. The curves representing reading, math, and science test scores are all 0-degree angles. These commonly are called flat lines.
For all the lavish expenditures that have been lobbed into America’s government schools, U.S. student performance is in its fifth decade of suspended animation.
Liquidating the teachers’ unions, enacting vouchers and other school-choice options, abandoning the exhausted excuses for poor performance, and — conversely — boosting expectations for all students (regardless of background or circumstances) would help solve this perennial challenge.
Also worthy: Intense, focused, private extracurricular programs, such as the Harlem Educational Activities Fund. HEAF works closely with urban children who are largely low-income, often subsidized-school-lunch-eligible, and nearly all black and Hispanic. Voluntarily funded by individuals, foundations, and corporations, HEAF offers its participants first-rate tutoring, mentoring, enrichment, and college-preparation assistance. “Our goal for each HEAF student is a life that is satisfying and fulfilling,” says its founder, Manhattan real-estate developer Dan Rose.
Among the 22 students in HEAF’s Class of 2013, literally 100 percent graduated high school last June. Four of them were in parochial school. One attended a private school; another was at an independent institution. The other 16 were at New York City’s government campuses (seven conventional, five specialized, and four selective/screened).
Fully 100 percent of HEAF’s students, as I explained in an NRO piece last summer, were accepted to four-year colleges for this fall, including Colby College, Colgate University, DePauw University, and Trinity College. Among HEAF’s high school class of 2009, 83 percent graduated college within four years. HEAF’s college class of 2013 received degrees from such campuses as Fordham and Howard Universities and Wheaton College.
Outside of HEAF, 60.4 percent of New York City’s government high-school students graduated on time in 2012, according to the latest data. (For New York State, the equivalent graduation rates were 85.7 percent for whites, 58.1 percent for blacks, and 57.8 percent for Hispanics.) Only 51.6 percent of NYC’s government-school pupils entered two- or four-year colleges within six months of graduating 12th grade in 2012.
From dissolving teachers’ unions, to strengthening classroom standards, to expanding school-choice options, to following HEAF’s sterling example, almost any reform approach would beat Obama’s 40-year-old formula for failure: catapulting ever more tax dollars into today’s K–12 moat.