The Proposal (Parent Performance Contracting)

What we call "the public school system" consists of buildings and people, and much more. The system features:

1) Compulsory attendance (truancy) statutes (age 6 to age 18, September to June, Monday through Friday, 0800 to 1430) applied to children.
2) Compulsory education (educational neglect) statutes, applied to parents.
3) Tax support of school.
4) "Public" (i.e., government) ownership of school facilities.
5) Constitutional provisions (in many US States) and laws or policies (in most US States) which restrict a parent's options for the use of the taxpayers' K-12 education subsidy to schools operated by State (government, generally) employees.
6) State-mandated or school district-mandated curricula.
7) Collective bargaining for State (government, generally) school employees.
8) Child labor laws.
9) Minimum wage laws.

Numerous lines of evidence indicate that overall system performance improves with enhanced parent control. Parent control is critical, as parent control places decisions in the hands of those who know children best and are most reliably concerned for their well-being. While charter schools, school vouchers, and education tax credits are steps in the right direction, I prefer a policy I call Parent Performance Contracting.

Parent Performance Contracting

1. Your legislature mandates that school districts --must-- hire parents, on personal service contracts, to provide for their children's education, if the parents apply for the contract.
2. A child is eligible if:
2.1 S/he is at or above age-level expectations on standardized tests of reading vocabulary, reading comprehension (any language) and math as of August 15, the start of the contract year, and
2.2 S/he has not been convicted of any felony or misdemeanor crime against persons or property in the previous calendar year.
3. Make payment equal to some fraction 1/2 < a/b < 1 of the district's regular-ed per pupil budget.
4. Make payment contingent on
4.1 Performance at or above age-level expectations on standardized tests of reading comprehension, reading vocabulary (any language) and Math and
4.2 Remaining conviction-free of crimes against persons or property.
5. Count students educated under this program as enrolled in the State (i.e., government)school which they would otherwise attend.
6. Administer the GED at any age.
7. Allow children who test out of school before age 18 to apply the taxpayers' K-12 education subsidy toward post-secondary tuition or toward a wage subsidy at qualified (e.g., has filed W-2 forms on at least 3 adult employees per sub-adult employee for at least the previous four years) private-sector employer.

Parents could then homeschool, hire tutors, extend daycare to age 18, or supplement the contract amount and send their children to an independent or parochial school.

Parent Performance Contracting (PPC) has several advantages over school vouchers and charter schools.
1. Districts already hire consultants on personal service contracts, so PPC requires no new administrative machinery.
2. PPC includes all currently available options (e.g., homeschooling, charter schools, independent schools).
3. PPC provides greater financial and performance accountability than do school vouchers.
4. PPC requires less intrusive oversight than tuition tax credits.
5. PPC poses less of a threat to the autonomy of independent schools than do school vouchers.
6. PPC is less respectful of current institutions, and so will more likely promote more rapid evolution of the education industry than will school vouchers or charter schools.
7. Since children educated under PPC remain enrolled in State (government, generally) schools, PPC elides the whole Church/State separation argument.
8. Since children educated under PPC remain enrolled in State (government, generally) schools, PPC is immune to the rhetorical attack that it "takes money from public education" or "from public schools".
9. PPC allows incremental implementation, which reduces the financial shock to the current system, and which allows continual assessment and modification.

It's progress when system defenders recognize systematic failure, even if they oppose workable reform options.

EdWahoo writes: " I think that it's going to take a holistic effort: a deep understanding on part of every actor (teacher, parent, administrator, legislator, bureaucrat, voter, community, etc.) that such change is utterly necessary. That at some fundamental levels, Our. System. Is. Broken. And then on top of that there is going to have to be a generalizable, scalable alternative that is unimpeachably superior to the status quo. Then, with some fervered willpower and a little luck... well, who knows, maybe you can conquer the curse of incremental change."

This is a formula for, not failure, but resignation. Too many insiders make a good living from the current system for this imagined unified will to coalesce. Radical change does not require such a consensus, however. It only takes a few success stories to produce a proof of concept.

Updated 2008-12-28-0525 Zulu: "Three adult employees"=>"three adult employees per sub-adult employee" and "five years"=>"four years" in condition #7.


An Economy Based On Greed

The Agenda's author left a comment at EdWahoo, to a post "Money, it's a gas..." (14-Dec.-2005), which the auto-editor truncated. Whether or not that's enough excuse to re-post that comment here, here goes...

Several points...
1. The economist Eric Hanushek contends that, above a rather low level, money doesn't matter much to school system performance. We see this between districts within States, between States across the US, and between countries: the top spenders (per pupil) are not the top performers. We see this inter-temporally: per-pupil funding, in inflation-adjusted dollars, has more than doubled since the 1970s, and performance (as measured by mean SAT or top 10th percentile SAT) has improved marginally or not at all.

2. While State (government, generally) school financing varies considerably from (US) State to State, local property taxes have not contributed 50% or more to the total, across the US, since before 1990. Across the US, within States, the correlation (district enrollment, $/pupil) is positive in all but three or four (US) States with five or more districts over 15,000 enrollment (or 20,000, depending on which year of the Digest of Education Statistics you use). Across the US, within States, the correlation (district % minority enrollment, $/pupil) is positive in every single State. The myth of the under-funded, inner-city minority school district (Jonathan Kozol's Savage Inequalities) is a lie (scroll down 4 titles). Kozol may not have known better, but school district financial officers must. Kozol is cited as a (the) source of this assertion as to fact in numerous Ed. school textbooks which promote this myth. The Digest... says otherwise. Dilapidated buildings and obsolete textbooks are not due to insufficient taxpayer generosity; the bureaucrats steal taxpayers' money and poor kids' life chances.

3. Local control matters more than money. The correlation (%20K+dist, score) is negative, where "%20K+dist" is the percent of a (US) State's total State school enrollment assigned to districts over 20,000 (or 15,000, depending on which year of the Digest... you use) and "score" is NAEP 8th grade Math score. Large districts drag scores (and students) down. You can use composite scores, Numbers and Operations scores, or Algebra and Functions scores. You can use percentile scores, proficiency scores, mean scores, or mean scores by parents' race and level of education. With one exception, mean scores of children of college-educated White parents, district size is negatively correlated with student performance. 10th percentile scores are more negatively impacted than are 90th percentile scores, by increasing district size. Black mean scores are more negatively impacted than are White mean scores. Districts which surrender local control for "equity" will see increased costs and greater inequality (as measured by the difference between 90th and 10th percentile NAEP Math scores, or the White-Black mean score) of result. Political control of school harms most the children of the least politically adept parents ("Well, duh!", as my students would say).

4.1) Across the US, the correlation (%20K+dist, rate) is positive, where "rate" is juvenile violent crime arrest rate.
4.2) In Hawaii, juvenile arrests --fall-- in summer, when school is not in session. Beth Clarkson, a PhD candidate at Wichita State U. Math Dept., found a similar result in Wichita, Ks.

5. Inflexible district-wide salary schedules inflate costs. It makes no more sense to pay elementary school teachers, high school Physics teachers, Biology teachers, History teachers, English teachers, and Electronics Shop teachers the same salary, just because we call them all "teachers" than it does to pay bicycle mechanics, auto mechanics, a/c mechanics, and jet engine mechanics the same, just because we call them all "mechanics".

6. School in the US has become an employment program for dues-paying menbers of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel, a source of padded contracts for politically-connected contractors, a source of campaign support for cooperative politicians, and a venue for State-worshipful indoctrination. If this is not so, why cannot any student take an exit exam (the GED will do) at any age, and apply the taxpayers' K-12 education subsidy toward post-secondary tuition or toward wage-subsidized OJT at some private-sector employer (call it "school-to-work")? It does not take 12 years to teach a normal child to read and compute.

The correlation between parent SES and student performance is higher than the correlation between per pupil budget and student performance. Beyond some low level, taking money from parents and transferring it to schools --reduces-- overall system performance. US taxpayers spend --too much-- on school. Taxes drive both parents into the workforce, and taxes drive mothers of young children back into the workforce earlier than is healthy for children. The correlation (age start, score) is positive; States which compel attendance at age 7 have --higher-- 4th and 8th grade NAEP Reading and Math scores than States which compel attendance at age 6.

The $400 billion/year K-12 budget is a small part of the total cost of the US "public" (State) school system. Who gets the wretched schools in the US? Blacks and Hispanics. Who's overrepresented in prison in the US? Blacks and Hispanics. Who gets the wretched schools in Hawaii? Hawaiians and Samoans. Who's overrepresented in prison in Hawaii? Hawaiians and Samoans. The total cost of the US "public" school system includes reduced life expectancy, losses due to crime, and the cost of prison for the poor kids whose lives we trash.