The Global Achievement Gap

March 14, 2014

American students' academic achievement is mediocre compared to students in the rest of the world, says Caroline Hoxby, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Policymakers need to implement real reforms, not simply increase expenditures to improve results.

Rather, by aligning resources with a school's effectiveness (as a private market would) the United States can see increases in student achievement that stick around for the long-term.

  • School choice and competition: The best evidence on school choice models (either charters or vouchers) is that which compares students who are randomly selected to attend choice schools with those who are randomly not selected. These comparisons indicate that charters and vouchers raise student achievement. Moreover, the average charter school spends less than half per student than the average traditional public school. Choice and competition create a demand for the most effective schools.
  • Rewarding teachers based on merit: If all U.S. teachers had the propensity to raise student achievement at the level of the top 10 percent of teachers, the average American student would achieve at the level of students whose parents have incomes in the top 10 percent of family income -- the same level of achievement that the typical Singaporean student achieves. Teacher pay should be aligned with the value that they add, creating incentives for improvement. But pay should also be competitive with alternative jobs that a high value-adding teacher could obtain, and by raising the potential teacher salary, schools could attract degree holders with above-average aptitude and education. Basically, teachers should be compensated in a way that competes with private sector alternatives.
  • Using technology as a substitute for routine instruction and for customization purposes: Technology is no substitute for a number of teaching tasks, but it can substitute for mundane and routine activities, and it can allow students to interact productively with computers while teachers interact one-on-one with other students. Few "hybrid" schools that use technology along with teachers exist in the United States, but Santa Clara County, Calif., has "Rocketship" schools that serve largely poor populations. Students split their time between a computer learning lab and traditional instruction. Not only do they manage to reach some of the highest scores for students of poor, minority backgrounds in the state, but they spend 79 percent of what a traditional public school spends.

All of these methods push schools toward the incentives and rewards that exist in the private sector.

Source: Caroline M. Hoxby, "The Global Achievement Gap," Hoover Institution, March 5, 2014.


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