Adding Value

View from the Nest

John Chubb, the President of the National Association of Independent Schools, has written a follow-up to the Prominent Research Gathering held at NAIS on Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 6-7 (and about which I wrote on Jan. 8) on the President’s blog. Entitled “Research and Ravenscroft,” it takes a look at what other independent schools can learn from Ravenscroft’s work and illuminates some of the themes set at the gathering.

Dr. Chubb writes that “The independent school folks we asked to join this meeting are at the forefront of the movement to use data to inform school decision-making.” As a long-standing day school (it was founded in 1862), Dr. Chubb notes, Ravenscroft has repeatedly adapted to the changing population of the region, thriving through these continually evolving challenges. So far, so good, although we are (for the moment) a little short on details.

Dr. Chubb continues…

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On Inefficiencies and Value Added In Private Schools: A follow up on the Chubb research summit

Bruce D. Baker, Rutgers

A few weeks back I posted a rather harsh critique of a summit convened by NAIS President John Chubb which he described as a gathering of leading researchers intended to generate ideas on the future of private independent schooling. Among other things, I critiqued the chosen researchers’ balance of ideology, knowledge of private independent schools and in some cases, generally lacking substance of their body of work on educational productivity.

John Chubb, as he has been known to do, graciously responded to my critique, pointing out that he would soon blog about the conversations that emerged among these researchers.

Below are two examples from Chubb’s recent blog posting, which I view as entirely consistent with my original concerns. Mainly, that the researchers gathered have weak understanding of private independent schooling, how private independent school leaders view their market and the broader perception of how private independent schools contribute to their students and families in particular and society more broadly.

Chubb summarizes the comments of Marguerite Roza as follows:

Marguerite Roza, an economist with Georgetown University and the University of Washington and authority on the costs of schooling, stressed the opportunity for our schools to deliver high quality within the price range of more families. Research already documents the unsurpassed value of outstanding teachers to the success of students. If schools directed more of their effort and resources toward having the best teachers in town, they might find that other expenditures made to meet parent and student demand are less necessary.

I have written on numerous occasions on my blog about how a handful of researchers and policy advocates have jumped on a fast moving bandwagon pitching the idea that “good teachers” always trump small classes (ignoring any interaction between the two), that teacher pay structure is woefully inefficient (any dollar spent on experience gained or additional degrees being inefficient), and that schools and districts generally spend way to much per child on “extras” including stuff like cheerleading and ceramics. Further, technology is a more efficient substitute for almost anything!

These are frequent messages of Marguerite Roza in particular, and thus I must view her suggestions above in this light. It may be reasonable to suggest that some private independent school somewhere would try to fill a niche of providing tech driven classes of 30 to 40 children, with very highly compensated expert teachers and absolutely no frills (no cheerleading, ceramics, lacrosse, squash, fencing or drama). It may be reasonable to try to convince parents that such a school is worthwhile, despite a dearth of actual evidence to support such an approach.

I’ve personally yet to encounter any private independent school leaning even slightly in this direction. What I’ve seen instead is expansion of what some might consider boutique sports and activities, smart use of technology but coupled with close human/adult contact in small classes, and for the most part, relatively traditional teacher compensation structures. Hey. Go ahead. Give it a try. I’m not buying it either from the perspective of parent or from the perspective of researcher.

Chubb summarized another portion of the two day conversation as follows:

Parents are increasingly demanding better evidence of “the value proposition.” Will my son or daughter be admitted to a more competitive college or university? Will their SAT scores be higher?  The researchers emphasized that the demand for evidence of outcomes will only increase. Again, they emphasized the opportunity. Our efforts to provide test score data are sometimes criticized—“of course your scores are high, you admit only the most academically able students.” But the fact is, we serve all kinds of students, and often do best with average students who may get lost in a public school. With a little R&D, we could develop the tools that would enable our schools to estimate the academic “value add” that our schools provide students with different backgrounds and preparations.

This is an interesting point which raises questions about the differences in how parents versus policymakers and researchers view the contribution of schooling to their children or to society. Further, this raises questions regarding what parents of children in schools of choice view as how the schools they choose might contribute to their children.

As I’ve explained on many past blog posts, researchers like to sort out school effect from peer effect, where the research/policy objective is to identify “effective” and “efficient” schools regardless of (rather than because of) the students they serve.  But parents are as interested in capitalizing on peer effect itself as part of the school effect and in many ways, above and beyond the fact that peer achievement is associated with individual achieve (and growth). That is parents are choosing the school both for the programs and services it provides and for the students who currently attend, knowing that both matter academically and otherwise.  Parents selecting a private independent school in particular are seeking the appropriate social, cultural, academic, artistic and athletic match for their child. There may be as much interest in the ability of their child to compete with well-matched peers on the tennis court or in wrestling as there is in AP Calculus.

As John Chubb acknowledges, parents are seeking the value-proposition in the sense that they are seeking to place their child in a school that will provide the greatest long term advantages, but perhaps also the best fitting short term context.

Chubb’s summary, derived from his participants at the meeting then goes somewhat astray. He suggests that (of course) private school reports of test scores are of marginal use because they represent substantial selection bias. Notably, that selection bias itself is a marketing tool.  The assertion that “we serve all kinds of students” is undermined by even a casual review of the percentile bridge between predicted national percentile ranks and percentile ranks on commonly taken private school entrance exams (ISEE and SSAT). The 98%ile student nationally on math is about the 75%ile on math among SSAT takers as 9th grade applicants. Further, many elite private independent schools report average SSAT scores around the 75%ile (meaning their average student is about the 98%ile nationally). In other words, statistically, the distributions of private independent school students and all students are hugely different.

The policy assertion being made by Chubb is that private independent schools might seek to develop “value-added” measures that will allow them to show how they can improve the chances of success for students they serve in general, and by specific backgrounds. Of course, in the competitive pipeline linking private school attendance and college acceptance, one child’s gained advantage is often another child’s loss. It’s all relative and much about jockeying for position among the academic 99%ile.  Further, shedding the most pessimistic light on this proposal, one might argue that having such value-added metrics – were they even statistically feasible – might encourage schools to seek out those students who require the least effort (expense) to add value.

The big issue here, and the big misunderstanding by John Chubb and his advisors regarding private independent schooling, is that private independent schools already think much about the value they add, and in many qualitative and not remotely quantifiable ways, they convey this information to parents their ongoing marketing.

In many cases, the value-added provided by private independent schools actually has little to do with measurable academic value added. In my own recent tours of private independent day and boarding schools, the clearest examples of specific school programs providing value-added to graduates moving on to college relate to athletics and arts (though neither cheerleading nor ceramics).  That is, much of the value-added in private schooling is being added by what Chubb’s advisors would otherwise decry as inefficient, wasteful and counterproductive.

Over the past year, I’ve heard stories of the aspiring wrestler who might otherwise have attended a less competitive regional public university, but by having the opportunity to wrestle in a top boarding school program, landed at a leading elite public university, another student who picked up squash while attending an elite boarding school to find that his squash skills would help him gain admission to a highly selective liberal arts college. And finally, there are the budding thespians at a local day school who’ve found their way after graduation to some of the nation’s leading college theater and drama programs.

It is my suspicion, though at this point based largely on emerging anecdotes that that this apparent focus on developing students’ unique talents toward achieving and edge is quite common – if not central to the philosophy of many NAIS schools. To some extent, academic value added is an aside, or at least assumed. These are all (or at least mostly) academically strong students (the top 80% on SSAT being about the top 20% on other standardized tests). Thus the goal of the school is to differentiate them by identifying and nurturing their talents.

Policymakers and advocates seeking to craft academic value-added metrics for private schools might be wise instead to consider how the individualization and talent development approach of private schools (with access to rich curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular opportunities so often classified as inefficiencies and undermining narrowly measured value-added) might inform policies and practices in public schooling.

School Head’s Brilliant, Sarcastic Insights on Voucher Policies and Independent Schools

Bruce D. Baker, Rutgers

I’ve been struck lately by what appears to be a general unawareness regarding public education policy issues among private independent school faculty and leaders (not all, but certainly many). I wrote recently about John Chubb of NAIS and his convening of public education policy scholars (& “thinkers?”) to provide insights for private independent school leaders.

Notably, the vast majority of like-minded scholars convened by Chubb are ardent supports of publicly financed vouchers and are more than willing to project their research inferences on vouchers used largely for urban catholic schools, onto all private schools – as willing as they are to rely on Catholic school tuition rates from the late 1990s to characterize private school per pupil costs for eternity. I wrote in my recent post:

For those who have advocated or even actually studied the effects of voucher policies, a) the vast majority of research to which they point on this topic involves voucher models in large urban settings where most children apply the vouchers to Catholic schools, and b) these authors have never considered vouchers awarded at the levels of tuition and expenditure that exist for most NAIS schools.  This is precisely the reason why most elite independent schools have not participated in voucher programs even where such opportunity exists (DC Scholarships). Voucher levels offered generally fall well below 50% of per pupil operating costs for independent schools, requiring the school to provide substantial financial aid to offset costs, thus limiting their capacity to serve voucher receiving students. (quoting myself)?

I had written in an earlier report (2009) a lengthy analysis of the origins of the eternal, mythological $3,500 tuition (oft cited by voucher advocates as the average “cost” of private schooling writ large) as compared to actual (at the time 2006) per pupil spending by subgroup of private school (including a breakout of NAIS schools specifically).


There exists a common bait and switch involved in voucher rhetoric, where the idea of the voucher, or tuition tax credit is presented as providing the option for the kid from the tough urban neighborhood to attend a “better” option,… like Exeter or Choate, or even Calhoun for example. Then the voucher is actually allocated at a level ranging from about $3,500 to a maximum around $8,000.  Further, the voucher is  provided in a marketplace that includes few or no elite private independent schools, or at least few or not private independent schools willing to take any substantial number of kids for the specified voucher rate.

But for all the technocratic geeky explanations on this point I’ve provided over the years – many of which have fallen on deaf ears – this recent Huffpo piece by the Head of School of the Calhoun School in NYC nails many of the same points and in much more entertaining fashion.  Here are a few excerpts from Steve Nelson’s look ahead at 2014 in Education Reform:


The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that several hundred voucher-bearing children from the Katrina-devastated Lower Ninth District express confusion when applying to a prestigious private school and discovering that the voucher covers only 20 percent of the tuition. They also learn that the kindergarten class has only 25 places, 24 of which will be filled by siblings of current students or children of alumnae parents. Five-year-old Ruby Jindal is accepted into the elite school’s class of 2026, filling the one available slot.


Having been rebuffed at every other independent school, several hundred voucher students from New Orleans Lower Ninth District enroll at “Billy Bob’s Bible Barn,” a new K-5 school promising each student a new tablet with all 10 Commandments pre-loaded. New York’s prestigious Collegiate School announces that all 185 seniors are headed to Yale in the fall.

And there’s much more on a range of education reform topics addressed in Nelson’s post. It’s a good read.

My point in sharing Nelson’s comments is to reveal that reasonably informed persons who have spent some (really, any) time pondering the role of elite private independent schools in the broader debate over education policy understand what these schools try to provide to their affluent consumers and why these schools are largely immune to the pressures of “education reform.”But immunity need not mean obliviousness.

They don’t need to play in that sandbox. And thus many don’t and likely never will. But I would hope that more of those involved would become aware of what’s going on in that sandbox, and be more willing to explain where they stand when it comes to choices for their own schools and the children they serve.

If private schools are so fond (as am I) of their Harkness tables to encourage active discussions among classes of 12 to 14 students, why isn’t that good for kids in Newark, Chicago or Philadelphia? Can low income “urban” kids not handle this as well as the affluent? Are they not as worthy? That seems a stretch.

If, as I’ve noticed, many private independent schools continue to shift toward physics first (which, as a former science teacher, I really appreciate) high school science curriculum, including migrating away from AP courses and adopting a rich array of upper level electives (small, lab courses), isn’t this good for kids in Newark, Chicago or Philly too? Or are common core standards, computerized assessments, classes of 30+ and high school exit exams simply better for kids from disadvantaged backgrounds?

Can only affluent kids play squash, compete in fencing, wrestling and ice hockey or play string instruments?

Private school leaders know that a few thousand bucks worth of voucher isn’t going to coerce them to take on large numbers of low income kids. It’s just not financially feasible. They know that there will be schools providing much lower quality of service which may try to fill this niche, and they know that providing any decent education on 20 to 30% of their own operating costs would be pretty darn difficult, especially for needy children, and especially for more than a few.

I suspect that even though NAIS schools spend on average nearly double public districts in their metro area, they still feel financially pinched – that even they can’t do all they want to do.

These are well understood realities among those involved in elite private independent schools. Realities regarding which the general public has been misled for years and in my view, by those leading the public education policy debate.

In my view, it is incumbent on private school leaders to provide the very sort of clarity that Steve Nelson has provided in his Huffpo piece.

Well done Steve.

Thoughts on Elite Private Independent Schools and Public Education Reforms

I was informed by my brilliant and thoughtful cousin Bill the other day that on Jan 6-7 in Washington, DC., John Chubb, the new head of the National Association of Independent Schools is convening what he refers to as a Prominent Research Gathering, described here:

NAIS will convene leading economists and educational research professionals with a cross section of independent school thinkers on January 6-7 at the association’s DC offices to address the economics of independent schools. The group will identify market trends affecting independent schools, new business models that will drive growth, and methodologies to measure and articulate the benefits of an independent school education.

There are many reasons why this gathering is both interesting and somewhat disconcerting.

First, few of the “prominent researchers” invited have actually done much if any research pertaining to private schools generally, or NAIS and NAIS type schools specifically.

Really, only Peter Cookson has written anything of substance on private independent schools (specifically on elite boarding schools). Others have opined broadly about private schooling writ large, usually in the context of voucher models.  In fact, some (if not many of these researchers often falsely project issues affecting one set of private schools onto all private schools).

In one particularly egregious example, Checker Finn (a member of the panel) recently decried the death of private schooling, implying strongly that private schools invariably were in trouble and unsustainable.

What Checker Finn seems to have missed is that a) overall, private school enrollment shares in the U.S. actually aren’t declining (as evidenced by the American Community Survey), and b) that declining enrollments in private schools where they do exist appear relatively isolated among Catholic parochial schools – NOT NAIS/INDEPENDENT Schools.

Figure 1.Private Schooling as a Share of Population (by Income Group)


Figure 2.Private School Enrollments by Affiliation


A major lesson of public school reform efforts is that, unless you can create a crisis, or at least a feeling of crisis in the air, then you can’t scare enough people into rashly adopting ill-conceived policies that serve your goals (not necessarily theirs). That’s how the crisis mentality works, and that’s certainly the message of this particular group of researchers and those among them posing as researchers.

Note to NAIS leaders who may be graced with this message of impending doom today and tomorrow, the death of private schools is greatly exaggerated!

I might go so far as to argue that some of those on the invited panel have contributed to recent negative affects on public school quality, through their repeated claims that public schools are wasteful and inefficient, must have their budgets slashed (the “new normal”), should reduce teacher compensation and increase class sizes, use test score based models to shed “weak teachers.” Further, that the policies endorsed by many in this crowd have led to decline in support for and funding of public schooling to the point where private schooling alternatives are quite likely to benefit.

Second, the common threads and policy preferences of those invited run in stark contrast with goals and preferences of private independent schooling!

Now, it may in fact be John Chubb’s mission to encourage private independent schools to get on board with the current reform preferences advocated by the members of this esteemed, generally like-minded panel.  I would counter that private independent schools would be better positioned by maintaining their differentiation, and sadly, by capitalizing on the damage many of these individuals have inflicted and continue to inflict on public school systems via their disproportionate leverage with select policymakers.

What are some of the specific policy messages from this relatively like-minded collection of individuals?

Many have written repeatedly that small class size simply doesn’t matter, it’s too expensive and wasteful

Matt Chingos called class size the “most expensive” reform, albeit never actually providing legitimate cost comparison to anything else.  (in my view, when you say “most” you really have to compare to something). Hanushek and Hoxby too have claimed on numerous occasions the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of class size reduction and lower pupil to teacher ratios.  In each case, claims rest only on lack of statistical relationship to tested student outcomes (and discarding strong evidence to the contrary).

The work of these individuals has been used repeatedly to justify increases to class size in major urban districts to levels unsupported, and unsupportable by any legitimate research!  (for summary of research, see: )

But visit nearly any prominent independent school web site and you’ll often see specific reference to small class size.  Notably, most Harkness Tables are made to seat about 12 students.

Accepting Hanushekian and Chingosian preferences, we might just have to start making Harkness Tables to seat 30+ students. I suspect most Independent School leaders realize how utterly foolish such a move would be.

Alternatively, we might just follow Checker Finn’s adoration of the Rocketship charter school model, which instead of those cumbersome Harkness tables that actually encourage students to face one another and engage in intellectual debate, place students in cubicles with computers or tablets!

Figure 3. From Harkness to Rocketship


I suspect that’s just what every parent seeking an individualized, rich, balanced education for their child is looking for, right?

What do we know about Private Independent School pupil to teacher ratios (for lack of specific, comparable class size data)? Well, back in 2009 when I did my report dissecting the private school market place by affiliation, I found that NAIS and NIPSA schools tended to provide pupil to teacher ratios slightly greater than half that of public districts.

Figure 4. Pupil to Teacher Ratios


Now, I also suspect that independent school leaders view small class size as contributing to more than just marginal gains in measured standardized achievement scores. Marginal production of test score gains is the narrow perspective to which Chingos, Hoxby, Hanushek and others speak when they cast doubt on cost-effectiveness of class size reduction policies, based on what they characterize as weak statistical evidence and modest effects.

More broadly, small class sizes provide a unique learning environment, provide the opportunity for teachers to keep closer track of student learning, and also serve as a beneficial working condition for recruiting and retaining teachers. And small class size remains “marketable.” Prospective private school (and current public or private school) parents seem relatively unconvinced that their child would be as well off in a class of 30 with a “great” (albeit really hard to measure) teacher than in a class of 12 with an “average” teacher. Of course, private independent schools can (at least attempt to) lay claim to providing both “exceptional teachers” and small classes.

Many have argued that public school districts simply spend too much, are under-productive, inefficient and wasteful

Professor Hanushek in particular has made a fine living providing testimony that public school districts – regardless of how much money they already have or spend, simply have and spend too much. They are inefficient and wasteful and should not be provided any additional resources until we change the way the operate (Increase class size, impose merit pay, deselect bad teachers).

Such is the nature of his testimony recently provided to the Kansas courts, but thankfully the 3-judge Kansas panel wasn’t having it!  Specifically, regarding Hanushek’s premise that because money is spent so inefficiently, cuts imposed could do no harm, the 3-judge panel opined:

This is simply not only a weak and factually tenuous premise, but one that seems likely to produce, if accepted, what could not be otherwise than characterized as sanctioning an unconscionable result within the context of the education system.

Now, if public districts are so woefully inefficient in their exorbitant spending, driven largely by small class sizes, I shudder to think what Hanushek would think of NAIS school spending, were he ever to take a look at it.

Private Independent DAY Schools tend to spend per pupil nearly twice as much as per pupil as local public districts in their same labor market! Much of this expenditure is a function of relatively low pupil/staff ratios involved in providing rich and diverse secondary school curriculum.

Figure 5. Per Pupil Spending(1) Nationally


Figure 6. Per Pupil Spending (2) Within Metro


Many have argued that schools should rely more heavily on student assessment data to evaluate & remove bad teachers

This argument is perhaps most attached to Hanushek – who crafted a nifty hypothetical simulation showing how if U.S. schools simply used value-added estimates to annually fire the bottom 5% of teachers, we could become Finland (at least in terms of test scores) in a decade! Several writers have challenged the logic of Hanushek’s assertions as well as the usefulness of this approach as an actual Human Resource Management tool. (Yes, even in private sector business)

Really, any thoughtful private school leader understands just how ill-conceived this approach is, especially when applied in the context of the typical private independent day or boarding school.

First, I suspect many parents would be less than thrilled at the prospect of the annual – spring/fall – standardized (weeks on end) testing in every subject, every year for every student required to estimate the optimal deselection statistical model.
Second, and this is true even in public districts, a good manager only seeks to shed his/her weakest link if he/she has some confidence that the weak link can be replaced with someone “better.”
Third, personnel decisions are complex and involve figuring out not just what a teacher might contribute to test scores in one content area, but how that teacher contributes to the community as a whole. This is especially true of private independent schools and a seemingly foreign concept to many on this esteemed panel!

Many have argued that technology can be an efficient replacement for brick and mortar classrooms and living/breathing teachers

As mentioned above, the folks at TB Fordham Institute during the reign of Checker Finn (and likely still) certainly had a love affair with models like Rocketship Education and online learning more generally. But as per the pictures above, these models are in stark contrast with current preferences for private independent schooling, and I can’t see these approaches being in high demand among the parent population current seeking out NAIS schools.  For more thorough analysis of the costs of online learning alternatives, see this report!

Of course, among the “researchers” in this mix, claims about costs and cost effectiveness of online learning range from suspect, to completely made up!  Heads up to anyone attending this event, please see this completely absurd claim by Marguerite Roza regarding the supposed efficiency gains achieved by implementing “technology” solutions.

Many have in their writing advocated the virtues of publicly subsidized vouchers for private schooling

For those who have advocated or even actually studied the effects of voucher policies, a) the vast majority of research to which they point on this topic involves voucher models in large urban settings where most children apply the vouchers to Catholic schools, and b) these authors have never considered vouchers awarded at the levels of tuition and expenditure that exist for most NAIS schools.  This is precisely the reason why most elite independent schools have not participated in voucher programs even where such opportunity exists (DC Scholarships). Voucher levels offered generally fall well below 50% of per pupil operating costs for independent schools, requiring the school to provide substantial financial aid to offset costs, thus limiting their capacity to serve voucher receiving students.

To extend Hanushek’s usual reasoning regarding public school spending, offering vouchers at the cost of private independent schooling would clearly be inefficient and wasteful. Why would anyone allocate a voucher at twice the average public district expense, simply to give kids access to small classes, which of course don’t matter?

Notably, at least some involved on this esteemed panel are prone to stretching their findings regarding the benefits of vouchers (see here, and here).

Many have found that peer effects matter!

Hanushek, Hoxby, Zimmer have each found that who you go to school with matters – that is, the composition of a student’s peer group affects how and how much each student learns.

I suspect that most private independent school leaders already get that!

To conclude

I suspect that heads of leading private schools will see that the proposals forwarded to them by this supposed esteemed research panel simply aren’t a good fit for the typical private independent school.  For those seeking a new marketing niche, might I suggest my fully research-based school about which I wrote some time ago. I would strongly assert, and other prominent scholars seem to agree, that these proposals aren’t a good fit for public districts either.  Nor are they representative of leading research on education, education interventions, public and private schooling productivity, cost and efficiency.

In fact, the now decades long hoisting of these strategies onto public districts may just be the best thing going for private schools. Heavy handed standardization of public schooling, over-testing, resource deprivation, and the broad political campaign to undermine the teaching profession are quickly rendering public districts both less desirable places to work, or attend, making teachers, parents and children on the margins who might not have otherwise considered private schooling give it a second look. [the one potential threat being the emergent quasi-private suburban charter school]

Additional Readings:

For a better concept of private schooling distribution, labor markets and spending behavior, I encourage reading my 2009 report (based largely on 2006-2007 data).

For a thorough discussion of how and why money, class size and other resources matter in education, see:

Finally, for a discussion of the lack of research, and weak assumptions behind many of the proposals advanced by these scholars (and pseudo-scholars), see:

Posts in which  I mention

Matt Chingos

Eric Hanushek

Marguerite Roza

Center on Reinventing Public Education (Robin Lake)

Checker Finn

Response from John Chubb:

Dear Prof. Baker,

NAIS will be posting more details of the research meeting later this week. I think you will find that the meeting has a very different aim than you suggest.

The purpose of this meeting is to help NAIS develop its own robust research agenda that will best serve the interests of its members. In surveys of the top issues facing independent schools, members have asked NAIS to research financial models, new ways to demonstrate the value that independent schools add to students’ lives, and emerging issues that will inform schools’ strategic planning.

This meeting convenes researchers and thinkers who have experience in different areas (economics, education, etc.). Our intent was to bring together people whose diverse opinions and expertise could challenge NAIS as we determine which research topics will help independent schools thrive long into the future. We have been discussing what we should research, but also how we can gather the most useful information from various research projects.

For me, day one of the meeting has confirmed that brainstorming with people outside your own industry not only helps inspire new ideas, but it also helps articulate and reinforce the core values and attributes (many of which you mentioned) that matter most to members.

John E. Chubb

My Reply

I appreciate your response and look forward to what comes of this meeting.

However, I would assert that the group you’ve convened is anything but diverse in terms of its views on effective and efficient resource allocation in education. Notably, few of these individuals actually work on financial models or resource allocation to begin with, but for their frequently stated views on class size, teacher compensation and overall spending, which clearly relate to resource allocation choices. Those on this panel who do focus on resource allocation more explicitly have a tendency to promote completely unfounded approaches (see:

Thanks again. I look forward to hearing more about the outcomes of this meeting.


Money and the Market for High Quality Schools

School Finance 101

This post is a revised version of my previous post – If money doesn’t matter…

Here is a draft set of slides to accompany this post: Resource Heterogeneity across Sectors

The theme du jour is that reform (very narrowly defined reform), not money will fix our schools. We’re already spending a lot, the pundits say. Too much in fact, for what we’re getting. We need more charter schools – which obviously do more with less – we need to treat teachers like workers in the private sector (?) by publicly ranking them based on their students’ test scores – and in general, we need to adopt “market” oriented strategies. But…

If money doesn’t matter then why do private independent schools (market driven schools?) spend, on average, so much more per child than nearby public schools?

First off, I am a supporter of private independent schools and former teacher in…

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Private Choices, Public Policy & Other People’s Children

School Finance 101

I don’t spend much if any time talking about my personal decisions and preferences on this blog. It’s mostly about data and policy.  There’s been much talk lately about whether a Governor’s or President’s choice to send their children to elite private schools, or where Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg or prominent “ed reformers” attended school are at all relevant to the current policy conversation around  “reforming” public schools.  When those choices have been questioned publicly, they’ve often been met with the backlash that those are personal choices of no relevance to the current policy debate – just dirty personal attacks about personal, rational choices.

I have no problem with these personal choices. But, these personal choices may, in fact be relevant to the current policy debate.  I do keep in mind my own personal choices and preferences as I evaluate what I believe to be good policy for the children…

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The Death of Private Schools is Greatly Exaggerated (& Misrepresented!)

School Finance 101

As I’ve explained on previous posts, specific to New Jersey, claims of the dying private sector in education are grossly over exaggerated.

These days, such claims are often over exaggerated with the purpose of framing some broad policy interest in supporting private schools. That is, some need for immediate public policy attention to the problem – some reason to consider how to better integrate our private sector schools into the provision of the public good of elementary and secondary education.

It is argued broadly that the loss of our ever important private sector of schooling is a threat to educational excellence – or even national security. That this loss is of particular concern for our middle and lower income populations who have now lost access to private sector schooling.

In short, policymakers must act swiftly to stabilize this “too big to fail” sector of schooling that is critical to…

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