How To Evaluate a Public School

By dollars, not tests.

Mr. Bush's "No Child Left Behind" program focused attention on the question of how to evaluate a school.  The basic idea was to test each student, add up the student test results, and you had a result for the school.  That sounds good, but rating a school on test scores ignores the reason we taxpayers fund public schools.

We taxpayers spend fantastic amounts of tax money on public schools for one reason only - we expect schools to turn the kids of today into the taxpayers of tomorrow.

Why do we care so much about future taxpayers?  We want someone to take care of us when we get old.

The people who started Social Security hoped that people would have fewer children if their old age was taken care of.  People are having fewer children, but we're getting suspicious that the government won't keep its end of the deal.  Our tax money has been spent.  The only hope that we'll ever get a pension is if schools turn lots and lots of kids into serious taxpayers.

Here's how it should work.  Every June, schools send the social security numbers of all their graduates to the IRS.  Every May, after tax season, the IRS adds up all the taxes paid by all the graduates of each school and tells everybody the average amount of taxes paid by each school's graduates that year.

Your taxes count for your school only if you graduate.  Bill Gates did not graduate from Harvard; his taxes don't count for them, but his taxes do count for the high school and grade school which graduated him.

Before you say that's silly, ask yourself, if you were choosing a school for your kid, wouldn't you like to know how successful their graduates were in real life?  You don't care about science, or language, or sports, or any of the details, you want to know how the kids did when they left school as adult members of society.  Isn't that what you really care about?  And what better measure of success than what they pay in taxes?

Educrats will scream, "What about schools in poor neighborhoods?"  Isn't school supposed to help kids do better than their parents?  If they won't buy that, if we must give schools points for bad inputs, we can ask the IRS the average taxes paid in the area around the school.  If the school's graduates pay more taxes on average than local citizens, the school is helping kids do better than their parents, but if graduates don't pay more taxes than the local average, the school is failing.

But if the school wants extra points for a bad neighborhood, it ought to own up to its failures.  The IRS can report how much tax each graduate pays, the prison system and the welfare system can report how much each kid from the school costs.  We'll subtract the prison and welfare costs from the taxes graduates pay and that's the net worth of the school to society.  Since most welfare kids don't graduate, the school has to own up to each social security number that ever attended the school when welfare and prison compute the down side.

Schools have an incentive to help kids graduate, they don't get any up-side points unless kids complete the course.  Charging schools for the cost of their failures gives them an incentive to help kids become productive members of society rather than cost centers.

Evaluating schools is a piece of cake once you realize why we fund them in the first place.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for Scragged.com and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Economics.
Reader Comments

If life was really so simple.

People of the World like to measure a persons worth by dollars, sometimes in the form of income, other times in the form of material goods.  The author would suggest that money is the way to judge the success of people and therefore their schools.  How silly.

Using the formula proposed,  schools turning out Michael Vicks would be judged superior to ones turning out Mother Teresas.  Is this what we really want and need?

Do we really want schools that produce graduates with great earning power, but no scruples?    I say no.  I'd rather have graduates with character.    How does one quantify that easily.  One doesn't

Life isn't always simple.

September 5, 2007 11:03 AM

CowsNPlows said: "I'd rather have graduates with character.    How does one quantify that easily."

That is precisely the problem.  Where it is very hard for you or I to gauge one's character, the government cannot do it at all.  The only way government CAN place value on its programs is monetarily.

Liberals have been caught in that foolish cycle forever.  Once you assume that education bureaucrats can judge anything fairly, you've already lost.  That is why standardized testing and vouchers were rejected.  Educrats know they are failing and don't want to be reminded of it.

September 5, 2007 11:33 AM

to Cows-

Read the entire article.  From the third-to-last paragraph: "We'll subtract the prison and welfare costs from the taxes graduates pay and that's the net worth of the school to society".  Someone like Michael Vick WOULDN'T end up being higher ranked than Mother Teresa.  His prison expenses would be figured in.  Several million in court expenses alone by the time all his trials and appeals are used up.  Also, you're bound to get exceptions from time to time, but the data over all would be interesting.

September 5, 2007 11:53 AM

One of the definitions of insanity is to continue what you've done before and hope that the outcome will be different.  We have been arguing over how to evaluate schools ever since the teacher's unions wrestled control of schools away from local school boards.  The whole point of state mandates on schools was to force communities to pay for frills which they otherwise would not want to pay for.  Somewhere along the way, the idea of having to educate the kids got lost.

In the old days, if the parents in a town didn't think a teacher was teaching effectively, the teacher was fired.  It's still done that way in Switzerland.  If a teacher doesn't get a positive vote from 2/3 of the parents of the kids in his or her class, the teacher is fired.  American unions have made it impossible to fire teachers no matter what, so they don't have to teach any more, al they have to do is show up.

Under No Child Left Behind, standardized tests are an attempt to identify failing schools so they can be dealt with.  Again, teacher's unions don't want failing schools dealt with, they want the budget increased so the failing teachers can be paid more and can afford to pay more union dues.  that is why the testing process is so politicized - the special interest groups actually don't want teachers evaluated at all.

Schools consume resources in the form of tax dollars and return resources in the form of taxes paid by their graduates.  Students of really bad character go to jail or go on welfare, so long as those costs are assessed against the school, net taxes paid is a reasonable metric of how the school performs.

Cows is correct in saying that Mother Theresa would not be counted properly for her school, but Mother Theresas are VERY RARE.  In practical terms, we can ignore such cases.  Schools that graduate Mother Theresa will suffer bad luck; schools which graduate Bill Gates will receive good luck.  On the whole, it will average out.

Admittedly money does not measure everything, but it measures schools better than test scores because it's harder for teachers to cheat.

September 5, 2007 12:26 PM

The trouble with this idea is that it assumes that the folks running the schools would EVER consider any evaluation of their work as acceptable.

As for the writer who complains about character - THAT is the root of all of today's school failures.

The schools tried to take over the job of the parents - and now not only are they failing their own mission, they're failing on teaching character as well.

Many of society's negatives went UP when schools decided to play parent - and scholastic achievement went down.

We don't need schools to play parent.

We need them to be SCHOOLS.

September 6, 2007 8:16 AM

By definition, a SCHOOL teaches, which requires imparting knowledge to the students.  Children are naturally curious and learn readily given encouragement, but very few enjoy learning in the rigid, structured atmosphere of a modern classroom.

It is entirely possible to teach reluctant learners, but it's a lot of work.  Real teaching is very hard work; that's why the unions have worked so hard to avoid any form of evaluation of the schools.  

Schools have become bureaucratic.  The bureaucrat's dream is to minimize work, maximize pay, and to retire on full pension as soon as possible.  That's why schools emphasize socialization over knowledge - it's harder to evaluate, although when students shoot each other, it could be argued that the schools can't even teach getting along.

Given the political power teacher's unions have collected over the years, it's going to be extremely difficult to make any changes in  the system.  That's why so many parents are opting out and either paying for their child's education or doing it themselves via home schooling.  

Public schools are required by law, are free to the customer, and are losing market share.  A business response would be to talk to former customers to see why they left.  The bureaucratic response is to try to get the government to beat up former customers and force them back into the system and to move heaven and earth to keep other customers from finding another way.  Look at all the opposition to charter schools, vouchers, and to any form of competition.

Our entire multi-billion dollar education system is failing.  We've been importing computer programmers since the early 1980s because our education system isn't teaching the skills our economy needs, for example.  

Black parents are particularly ill-served; many if not most black children go to schools which are failing abysmally.  But until organizations such as the NAACP make education a major civil rights issue, nothing will change because the bureaucrats like the way the system works now.

September 6, 2007 10:01 AM
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