Dr. Matthew Ladner

P.J. O’Rourke once described the early Clinton administration as “running the country by dorm-room bull session.” Some recent discussion among education progressives makes me wonder if they too have fallen back into some old college habits.

Catherine Johnson at the blog Kitchen Table Math, for instance, wrote on Randi Weingarten’s first speech as President of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation's second largest teacher union. Weingarten bashes NCLB, then lays out a vision for the future of public education:

“Imagine schools that are open all day and offer after-school and evening recreational activities and homework assistance … and suppose the schools included child care and dental, medical and counseling clinics, or other services the community needs. For example, they might offer neighborhood residents English language instruction, GED programs, or legal assistance.”

Far out, man!

Personally, however, I’m trying to imagine a system of public schools that could teach 4th grade kids how to read after spending $40,000 or more on their education. In 2007, 34 percent of American public school 4th graders scored “below basic” in reading on the NAEP. If we can’t trust schools to teach kids how to read, why would we want them trying to fix our teeth or resolving our legal issues?

Weingarten has succeeded in getting a number of grandees, some of whom threw away their right-of-center credentials in the process, to sign a petition calling for such a program. These signatories seem to believe that schools can become more effective by becoming less focused on academics.

This is precisely the wrong direction to take. Professor Paul Hill recently conducted a series of studies for the Gates Foundation concerning the stubborn lack of academic progress despite increased spending. After a series of studies, Hill concluded:

“…money is used so loosely in public education--in ways that few understand and that lack plausible connections to student learning--that no one can say how much money, if used optimally, would be enough. Accounting systems make it impossible to track how much is spent on a particular child or school, and hide the costs of programs and teacher contracts. Districts can’t choose the most cost-effective programs because they lack evidence on costs and results.”

Dr. Matthew Ladner

Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president of research for the Goldwater Institute and an expert on educational reform and school choice. Dr. Ladner holds a Ph.D. from the University of Houston.
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