Thursday, January 8, 2015

Look Who Thinks We Should Spend $6.2 Trillion More On Education

Posted By on Thu, Jan 8, 2015 at 9:00 AM

Spend an extra $6.2 trillion on education over the next 20 years, get a return of $225 trillion on the investment. That's what Randall Lane, who edits Forbes, suggests in the magazine's December 15 issue (Hat tip to commenter Michael S. Ellegood for pointing me to the article). That's Forbes, the business magazine.

Lane discusses the costs of five educational policies and estimates the returns on the investment.

The investment required to implement all five would run somewhere in the neighborhood of $6.2 trillion, spread over 20 years. Or $310 billion a year in today’s dollars. And the payoff, as calculated by factoring in all those additional, better-skilled high school and college graduates on our national GDP? Almost $225 trillion, spread over an 80-year time horizon, which incorporates an entire generation’s professional achievement.

Lane didn't create the policy suggestions. They came from a number of educators and people involved in education policy.

I don't have to agree with all the policy suggestions—I don't—or be convinced the costs and return-on-investment figures are accurate—I'm not—to be encouraged that an article in Forbes talks about spending on education as a good investment, not "throwing money" at schools. I'm also encouraged that this isn't an ideological shopping list compiled either by a like-minded group of educational privatizers or progressives. It's an honest attempt to look at ways to spend money on education to get positive economic results, drawing from ideas across the spectrum.

Here's a quick summary of the five policy changes:

1. Teacher Efficacy. Raise teacher salaries to attract top candidates for the job. Adding 50% to salaries would mean most new teachers would come from the top third of college grads. Investment: $4.8 trillion. Return On Investment: $64.5 trillion.

2. Universal Pre-K. Guarantee pre-kindergarten education for every child. Investment: $1.1 trillion. Return On Investment: $38.4 trillion.

3. School Leadership. Give school principals greater roles in hiring and firing staff and managing school budgets. Raise salaries by 26% to attract the best talent. Investment: $11 billion. Return On Investment: $61 trillion.

4. Blended Learning. Put a computer in every student's hand and use them as one way to deliver rote lessons optimized to individual student needs, giving teachers more time for more complex instruction. Investment: $44.3 billion. Return On Investment: $33.1 trillion. (I've added a note on "blended learning" at the end of the post.)

5. Common Core/College Readiness. Create high national standards building on the current Common Core standards. Develop new instructional materials, assignments and professional development. Investment: $185.4 billion. Return On Investment: $27.9 trillion.

That's it. No mention of charters or vouchers or training students to be business ready. There's not even a mention of high stakes testing. This is big picture stuff, worthy discussion starters for people interested in improving U.S. education.

A NOTE ON BLENDED LEARNING. "Blended learning" is one of those terms concocted by PR folks whose purpose is to sell an idea like you sell toothpaste. The privatizers and profitizers created the term to push massive use of computer-based learning programs, often coupled with teacher cutbacks. (Who needs so many teachers when you have all those amazing, student-individualized, corporate-produced-and-sold computer learning programs? Ka-ching!) But all the two words really mean is that education should be a blend of teachers teaching along with other educational resources. Every time a teacher says, "Read Chapter 5 and answer the questions at the end of the chapter," that's blended learning.  A reasonable amount of computer-assisted learning added to the rest of the curriculum—a thoughtful use of high tech "blended learning"—makes perfect sense. Having students spending half their days in isolated cubicles with computer programs and cutting the teaching staff in half makes no educational sense at all.

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