Education reform in the US


Cato's Andrew J. Coulson blogged yesterday about spending on education in Washington DC. His figures certainly seem to put paid to the idea that private schools only perform better because they have more money to spend.

Coulson found that:

  • DC's K-12 school spending was $1,291,815,886 in the 2008-09 school year.
  • At the same time, 44,681 students were enrolled in those schools.
  • If that number excludes the 2,400 special needs students that have been placed in private schools, then DC's total per pupil spending is $27,400.
  • If those 2,400 students are actually included in the figures (it's not clear), then DC’s correct total per pupil spending is $28,900.
  • Meanwhile, the average tuition figure at the private schools serving DC voucher students was just $6,600 (according to the US Department of Education).
  • After three years, voucher-receiving kids are reading two grade levels ahead of their public school peers (also according to the Department of Education).

These figures are remarkable, albeit not that surprising: the ability of the private sector to provide more for less is well known and well established, even in education. The key factors driving this difference are greater accountability, the freedom to innovate, the absence of heavy-handed bureaucracy, and the weakening of the teachers' unions.

That last one is crucial in the US context and is, I would suggest, the answer to Coulson's question: why did President Obama kill the DC voucher programme? To put it simply, Obama just cares more about his friends (and donors) in the Unions than he does about disadvantaged school children.

P.S. I wrote an extended blog about "Why the private sector succeeds where the state fails" here a few weeks ago.