NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 21, 2005

Everyone knows that schools are plagued with a variety of problems, but much of what everyone thinks about education is just a myth, say Jay Greene and Marcus Winters (Manhattan Institute).

To begin repairing America's schools, five myths about money, class-size, teacher-pay, college-access and high-stakes testing need to be cleared away, says Greene and Winters:

  • Average federal and state spending is almost $500 billion each year for public K-12 schools, or about $10,000 per pupil per year; that's more than the $430 billion we spent on national defense in 2004.
  • Studies of class-size reduction show no visible effects; the average student-to-teacher ratio dropped from 22.3 (1970) to 16.1 (2002), yet student achievement didn't improve.
  • In 2002, the average elementary school teacher made $30.75 per hour, which is a considerable amount when compared to other public servants, such as firefighters ($17.91) and police officers ($22.64).
  • The primary barrier to college for low-income and minority students is academic, not financial; about 4 million students enter high school each year, only 2.8 million graduate and only 1.3 million meet the formal qualifications to apply to college.
  • High- and low-stake standardized tests produce similar results; and although high-stakes testing may put pressure on schools to teach the skills required by the test, the evidence suggests that it doesn't encourage any type of manipulation.

Unfortunately, these myths are so prevalent because we think direct experiences give us all the evidence we need; however, they are limited and distorted by our own participation, says Greene and Winters.

Furthermore, these myths do real harm by misdiagnosing our schools' real problems -- and by steering us away from real solutions, says Greene and Winters.

Source: Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters, "Five Myths . . . crying out for debunking, " Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, October 2005.

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