Compliance and Measuring Outputs

The Atlantic Magazine explains that simple regulations in one state significantly improved education performance results, in contrast to the rest of the country. The article is called Your Child Left Behind

Overall, it says America is far behind other rich nations, even when you look only at top performers nation-wide:

“The United States does not do a good job of educating kids at the top,” he says. “There’s a long-standing attitude that, ‘Well, smart kids can make it on their own. And after all, they’re doing well. So why worry about them?'”

The exception to this lazy approach is the state of Massachusetts, which has followed a path that found success in other countries. It has directly intervened and introduced compliance:

What did Massachusetts do? Well, nothing that many countries (and industries) didn’t do a long time ago. For example, Massachusetts made it harder to become a teacher, requiring newcomers to pass a basic literacy test before entering the classroom. (In the first year, more than a third of the new teachers failed the test.) The state also required students to pass a test before graduating from high school–a notion so heretical that it led to protests in which students burned state superintendent David Driscoll in effigy. To help tutor the kids who failed, the state moved money around to the places where it was needed most. “We had a system of standards and held people to it–adults and students,” Driscoll says.

Massachusetts, in other words, began demanding meaningful outcomes from everyone in the school building. Obvious though it may seem, it’s an idea that remains sacrilegious in many U.S. schools, despite the clumsy advances of No Child Left Behind. Instead, we still fixate on inputs–such as how much money we are pouring into the system or how small our class sizes are–and wind up with little to show for it. Since the early 1970s, we’ve doubled the amount of money we spend per pupil nationwide, but our high-schoolers’ reading and math scores have barely budged.

There are a million examples of how compliance and regulation can improve results; this is a particularly good one. Simple and inexpensive regulations on education in the US can reduce spending yet generate better output according to standardized tests.

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