THE BLOG

How Money Can Fix Public Education

02/09/2015 10:57 am ET | Updated Apr 11, 2015

Noted conservative political activist Star Parker recently penned an article extoling the virtues of legislation being offered at the federal level to let education dollars follow students to schools beyond their local public school. The problem is school choice is just another red herring that conservatives continue to offer to fix the manufactured "crisis in education."

So while Parker praises Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Luke Messer for sponsoring what she calls a "courageous proposal" the question becomes what is so courageous about elected officials proposing a bill that pushes a conservative idea that is more than half a century old? Perhaps what she means is that it is courageous for these men to back such a solution when studies find "there seem to be few apparent benefits of school of choice" and "there was no evidence of program effects on math scores."

Of course choice falls in a long line of conservative ideas that don't actually improve education. Ending tenure doesn't increase test scores. Despite what you might have heard, schools win 75 percent of their cases against tenured teachers. In fact data show non-tenured teachers are less likely to lose their job for poor performance than tenured teachers.

Studies show that the majority of charter schools perform at or below the level of their public school counterparts.

Decades of research show that merit pay doesn't improve student perform.

Even though the states with the high teacher union rates get better results than the states with the low rates, conservatives still pretend that unions are somehow ruining public education.

The problem with the conservative agenda regarding public education is that they spend so much time and effort pushing ideas that don't actually improve education that they miss out on things that really do work.

For instance, data show that in schools where 20 percent or less of the students are impoverished the U.S. ranks number one in the world. This suggests that what U.S. schools are doing is working even without choice, charters or a war on teachers. Given that the U.S. is one of the only countries in the world that actually spends less money on poor students than wealthy students, perhaps legislators like Ted Cruz should focus on leveling the playing field or providing extra support to underprivileged children.

Studies also show that when students track their own progress there is a sizable increase in their achievement. This should be an idea that conservatives can get behind since it meets their desire for "personal responsibility."

Research finds that incorporating technology in the education process results in "significant gains in student achievement and boost engagement, particularly among students most at risk." Unfortunately many schools struggle to find the funds as per pupil spending has fallen in recent years.

Some analysis indicate that teacher mentoring programs can help new teachers to become better at their job. Given the impact a good teacher can have this additional support is a superior alternative to the fire and replace method conservative politicians have been offering recently.

For a group who is so concerned about how their tax dollars are being spent with regards to public education it is somewhat surprising that they continue to back ideas that have such a low return on investment. If Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Luke Messer were really courageous they would challenge the decades-old conservative education reform status quo and support changes that are based on academic success and proven by scholarly research.

Of course the real problem here is not that conservatives aren't aware of how little the policies they champion do for children. It's that all of their reform ideas are politically motivated because helping children is far less important that weakening teachers unions that almost exclusively back Democrats and enriching the for-profit education business that mainly donates to Republicans. Take the money out of politics and watch how much smarter politicians become.