Those of you with concerns over Bill Gates’ influence on education policy ought to read Richard Rothstein’s Economic Policy Institute piece.
Rothstein challenges Gates’ statements in a recent Washington Post op-ed, including, “over the past four decades, the per-student cost of running our K-12 schools has more than doubled, while our student achievement has remained virtually flat,” and “spending has climbed, but our percentage of college graduates has dropped compared with other countries.”
I am delighted that Rothstein addresses the spending question and cites the same information that I repeatedly offer here: The cost of educating the regular student without any special needs has not risen much at all. What has jumped is the money going to the education of children with disabilities.
(Which is why the private school spending comparison that many of you offer is fallacious. The per-pupil averages that systems spend include the children with special needs who are costing $25,000 a year or more to educate. And if the parents of those children sought private schools, they would have to look far and wide to find ones willing to accommodate their child and would likely spend $30,000 a year.)
Here is part of Rothstein’s rebuttal, examining Gates’ statements one by one: Please look at his actual piece in the link above, as he goes into more depth:
The only longitudinal measure of student achievement that is available to Bill Gates or anyone else is the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). NAEP provides trends for 4th, 8th, and 12th graders, disaggregated by race, ethnicity, and poverty, since about 1980 in basic skills in math and reading (called the “Long Term Trend NAEP”) and since about 1990 for 4th and 8th graders in slightly more sophisticated math and reading skills (called the “Main NAEP”).
On these exams, American students have improved substantially, in some cases phenomenally. In general, the improvements have been greatest for African-American students, and among these, for the most disadvantaged. The improvements have been greatest for both black and white 4th and 8th graders in math. Improvements have been less great but still substantial for black 4th and 8th graders in reading and for black 12th graders in both math and reading. Improvements have been modest for whites in 12th grade math and at all three grade levels in reading.
Bill Gates says: “The per-student cost of running our K-12 schools has more than doubled.”
Here, Bill Gates is nominally correct, but misleading. When properly adjusted for inflation, K-12 per pupil spending has about doubled over the last four decades, but less than half of this new money has gone to regular education (including compensatory education for disadvantaged children, programs for English-language learners, integration programs like magnet schools, and special schools for dropout recovery and prevention). The biggest single recipient of new money has been special education for children with disabilities. Four decades ago, special education consumed less than 4% of all K-12 spending. It now consumes 21%.
Bill Gates says: “Spending has climbed, but our percentage of college graduates has dropped compared with other countries.”
This is the Bill Gates claim that can properly be called demagogic. It attempts to agitate readers by presenting a positive development in a negative light. A climb in spending should produce an increase in the percentage of college graduates. And it has. In the last four decades, the percentage of college graduates in the United States has nearly doubled. In 1970, 16% of young adults (ages 25 to 29) were college graduates. Today, it is 31%. The improvement has been across the board: the share of African-American young adults who are college graduates has gone from 10% to 19%; for whites it has gone from 17% to 37%. Somehow, Bill Gates saw fit to present this as an indictment.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog.