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American education gains-but doesn't
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What about the role of spending in forging competitiveness? To try to answer that, the authors looked at educational funding hikes in the 41 states between 1990 and 2009 and found only a weak link. For example, Maryland, the fastest-gaining state, spent much more money per pupil than most states; Florida, the "silver medalist," much less; and Delaware, the third-fastest gainer, about the average amount. (Virginia was No. 10 in test-score gains for the 20-year period even though its per-pupil spending was a tad below average.)
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If government funding isn't the silver bullet to accelerate academic achievement, what is? That particular ordnance is probably nonexistent. But Messrs. Hanushek, Peterson, and Woessmann make this commonsensical suggestion: Study and emulate the nation's top-performing states as much as possible.
"If all U.S. states," they write, "could increase their performance at the same rate as the highest-growth states--Maryland, Florida, Delaware, and Massachusetts--the U.S. improvement rate would be lifted by 1.5 percentage points annually above the current trend line." Over 20 years, such gains would put America near the head of the pack.
While political and civic leaders in the states struggle to improve academic outcomes, parents, grandparents, and guardians of schoolchildren must also do their level best to augment formal learning, standing firm against the seductions of peers and popular culture. It is meaningful, surely, that scholastic performance tends to fall off among older children as these influences gain precedence in their lives.
But the fight--by politicians, business leaders, parents, and others--is worth blood, sweat, and tears. Only a third of U.S. students graduate from high school ready for college or a sustainable career. And the social centrifuge separating the well-skilled and affluent from the poorly skilled and ill-paid is spinning ever faster.
But this isn't just a matter of individual unblossomed lives. Professor Hanushek and his colleagues begin the Education Next article with a warning from a Council on Foreign Relations-sponsored task force co-chaired by former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: "[The U.S.] will not be able to keep pace--much less lead--globally unless it moves to fix the problems it has allowed to fester for too long."
Further evidence that Virginia is doing more things right in pubic education than most states: While SAT scores dropped this year nationally in all three academic subsections, Virginia test-takers posted a 3-point gain in math, tied last year's score in writing, and dropped 1 point in critical reading.