As a rule I enjoy Kevin Drum’s blog at Mother Jones. But his occasional forays into education generally descend into naysaying and pessimism–Kevin’s one all-purpose insight on the subject is that education policy is hard and as such not worth trying to solve. For example:
But to some extent education is a zero-sum game. If we invest more money in inner-city schools, it means less for the suburbs. If we try to attract the best teachers to urban schools, it means that suburbs get weaker teachers. If we do it anyway, suburban parents will start sending their kids to private schools. And the point at which public support for No Child Left Behind evaporates is the point at which suburban schools start “failing” in large numbers. That isn’t something suburban parents will tolerate, and they’ll simply vote out of office anyone who tries to make them.
First, education isn’t a zero-sum game. It’s not like there’s an immutable fixed quantity of teachers out there–we can improve training and recruitment, among many things. Moreover, there’s a very consistent pattern in the research: whether you’re looking at class size, teacher quality, or various other generally agreed-upon interventions, student sensitivity to education quality varies with educational need. If you’re a well-off suburban student with two college-educated parents and an enriching home environment, class size doesn’t matter that much. If you’re a low-SES student with none of those advantages, class sizes matters a lot. This is common sense: the more the rest of your life deprives you of educational opportunities, the more what you get in school matters. A straight redistribution of resources from the current state of things (where wealthiest students get the most resources) to resource equity or even providing the neediest students with more would create a net increase in aggregate education outcomes.