The Corner

The Value of Better Teachers

Greg Mankiw points to an article showing how much the education system in America would improve and how much of an economic boost the country would get if only we had better teachers:

. . . replacing the bottom 5-8 percent of teachers with average teachers could move the U.S. near the top of international math and science rankings with a present value of $100 trillion.

This issue of the poor performance of U.S. schools has gotten a lot of attention recently. As you may know, China made its debut in international standardized testing, and the results of the OECD exam showed not only that students in Shanghai outscore their counterparts in dozens of other countries, in reading as well as in math and science, but also that students in the U.S. were barely reaching the middle of the pack. 

Contrary to universities, K-12 schools in America are in pretty bad shape, especially if compared to other countries. Of course, we always hear that this is because other countries spend more than we do, that we need more money to improve performance, or that we could improve the quality of education if only teachers didn’t have such overcrowded classrooms. All these excuses are myths. What the country’s K-12 system needs is more competition between schools, more competition between teachers, and a connection between student performances and teacher pay.

Last week, I talked about this issues and some of the myths surrounding poorly performing public schools with Carol Massar and Matt Miller on Bloomberg TV:

The data that I find the most striking was provided to me by Andrew Coulson of the Cato Institute. It shows that over the last 40 years, per pupil spending in real dollars has tripled. However, long-term trends on NAEP (the “nation’s report card,” with data stretching back to the early 1970s) shows flat achievement for 12th graders (graduating seniors) for reading, math and science. In other words, there is no correlation between how much money is spent and achievement in the classroom. You can see the chart provided by Coulson in the TV clip — it’s striking.

But the official data doesn’t even tell the whole story about how much we spend on education. Adam Schaeffer recently looked at a sample of school districts from all over the country, and he found their actual spending was, on average, 44 percent more than the officially stated amount. That’s because things like buildings and renovations are frequently considered off-budget

The bottom line is that we are paying more and more on education for the same quality service. We would not tolerate such an outcome in any other area.

Veronique de Rugy — Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

Most Popular


Is Tribalism Really on the Rise? Meh.

‘By now we all understand that America is in the grip of political tribalism,” Yale professor Amy Chua wrote in the February 22 New York Times. “We lament and condemn this phenomenon even as we voraciously engage in it.” It’s a familiar refrain, is it not? Chua’s widely discussed new book on the ... Read More
Economy & Business

Two Conservative Causes, in Conflict

Conservatives have argued for decades that the capital-gains tax should be indexed to inflation. When George H. W. Bush was president, some conservatives argued that he could interpret the tax laws in a way that let him adopt this policy without a vote of Congress. Now that Larry Kudlow is director of the ... Read More

If Amy Wax Is Wrong, Let’s See the Data

Regarding the kerfuffle Jason Richwine addressed here earlier, the economist Glenn Loury has posted an impassioned plea to his Facebook page. Loury, you may recall, hosts the video blog where Wax made her controversial claim that black students at Penn Law School rarely graduate in the top half of the ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Nazis, Rap Songs, and McDougals

In 1991, Edwin Edwards, a Democrat, and David Duke, a Republican, ran for governor of Louisiana. There was a memorable bumper sticker: “Vote for the Crook, Not the Nazi.” The crook, in fact, won -- beating the Nazi (and Klansman) by about 61 percent to 39 percent. I thought of this when contemplating ... Read More
Politics & Policy

San Francisco Bans Fur Sales

San Francisco has banned the sale of fur. From the CBS-SF story: San Francisco has become the first major U.S. city to ban the sale of fur clothing and products. Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a measure that prohibits the sale of fur clothes, accessories, even souvenirs in stores and ... Read More