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Educational “reform”

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Robert Samuelson points out [2] that since 1971, there has been virtually no change in educational scores in reading and math at the national level. Then he gives some very useful facts to remember:

Standard theories don’t explain this meager progress. Too few teachers? Not really. From 1970 to 2008, the student population increased 8 percent and the number of teachers 61 percent. The student-teacher ratio has fallen sharply, from 27-to-1 in 1955 to 15-to-1 in 2007. Are teachers paid too little? Perhaps, but that’s not obvious. In 2008, the average teacher earned $53,230; two full-time teachers married to each other and making average pay would belong in the richest 20 percent of households (2008 qualifying income: $100,240). Maybe more preschool would help. Yet, the share of 3- and 4-year-olds in preschool has rocketed from 11 percent in 1965 to 53 percent in 2008.

His explanation for stagnation is a lack of student motivation. That has something to do with it. But the rest of the problem is the top-down design of curricula, textbooks, and the motivation of teachers in a system that does not reward teaching excellence and does not punish teacher mediocrity. Given those realities, what “reform” at the national level has a chance to succeed if those realities do not change?

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