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Educational policy analysis archives
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Educational policy analysis archives.
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Response to John Covaleskie / Andrew J. Coulson.
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1 of 9 Education Policy Analysis Archives Volume 2 Number 12August 10, 1994ISSN 1068-2341A peer-reviewed scholarly electronic journal. Editor: Gene V Glass, Glass@ASU.EDU. College of Edu cation, Arizona State University,Tempe AZ 85287-2411 Copyright 1993, the EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES.Permission is hereby granted to copy any a rticle provided that EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES is credited and copies are not sold.A Response to John Covaleskie Andrew J. Coulson The Center for Applied Abstract: I have no doubt that Covaleskie's commentary was w ellintentioned. Nonetheless, it is seriously flawed. In this response I shall identify the numerous instances of inaccurate and incomplete data, as well as invalid reasoning, upon which his conclusion is based.1. The State of Public SchoolingCiting Berliner and Bracy, Covaleskie claims that p ublic schools are not failing and so are not in need of systemic reform. The two authors draw prima rily from the same sources, so it is sufficient to focus on the work of Berliner. His pr incipal arguments are discussed below. 1.1 Indicators of National Educational Performance 1.1.1 The SAT The SAT-taking population has become increasingly d iverse over time. Based on this observation, it is argued that the sole cause of th e decline in overall average scores has been the participation of increasing numbers of lowerscori ng students. Berliner offers as evidence a table of average SAT scores by ethnic group, for the year s 1975 and 1990. There are three fatal flaws with his argument: the historical SAT scores he cit es are incorrect, SAT scores have declined dramatically at the top as well as on average, and most of the decline in SAT scores took place prior to 1975.To show that the average SAT score has been lowered solely by an increase in the number of non-White testtakers, it is necessary to demonstr ate that the scores of Whites were constant or


2 of 9improving during the given period. Berliner's table does just that, revealing a gain in the mean SAT score of Whites from 930 in 1975 to 945 in 1990 [1]. These scores are not accurate. The mean White SAT score actually fell from 944 in 1975 -76 to 930 in 1990-91 (U.S. Department of Education (1), 1993, p.126). None of the other SAT scores in Berliner's table are accurate either. His figure for the 1990 average score of MexicanA mericans is fully 26 points higher than the true value. It seems that he estimated his numbers from a graph in an unpublished report by Sandia National Laboratories, and it has been sugge sted that the graph was grossly inaccurate [2]. Whatever the cause of the error, the true data show a decline in the average White score, contradicting Berliner's claim.Another important fact which cannot be explained by the diversity hypothesis, and which Berliner neglects to mention, is that SAT scores ha ve fallen not only on average but also at the top. More than 112,000 students scored above 600 on the verbal SAT in 1972, but that number had dropped to less than 72,000 by 1990, even thoug h 3,000 more students took the test in that year (U.S. Department of Education (2), 1993, p. 24 3). In other words the number of top-scoring students decreased by more than a third. This decli ne is approximately three times larger than the decrease in the proportion of White test-takers (U. S. Department of Education (2), 1993, p. 244), and so only a fraction of it can possibly be accoun ted for by changing ethnic composition. From the 60's to the `80s, verbal and quantitative SAT s cores dropped at top-ranked institutions across the country such as Yale, Princeton, Cal Tech, the University of Chicago, Oberlin, Rice, Brandeis, Carleton, Pomona, Reed, Whitman, and Davi dson, to name a few (Sowell, 93, p. 9). Finally, the ethnicity argument fails to address th e most significant period of decline. Between 1966-67 and 1975-76, overall average SAT scores fel l by 55 points (U.S. Department of Education (1), 1993, p.126). The first year for whi ch data on the ethnic composition of test-takers are available is 1975-76. To summarize, the ethnici ty argument is not only contradicted by the decline in top scorers and in the White average dur ing the period for which the relevant data are available, these data only appear after most of the fall in scores had already taken place. 1.1.2 The NAEP The other national educational barometer given as a sign of public schooling's success is the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). This series of tests in a variety of subject areas is periodically given to samples of 9, 13 and 17 year-olds. Taken as a whole, the results of these tests have been constant since they began in the 1970s. There are three reasons to consider this a serious problem rather than a sign of succes s: the SATs indicate that educational performance had already fallen during the 1960's, p ublic school spending has increased dramatically in the past few decades, and knowledge of how to improve academic achievement has been available, yet ignored. Having already dis cussed SAT scores, let us consider rising costs.While the NAEPs have on the whole shown no improvem ent, inflation-adjusted per-pupil spending has tripled since 195960 (U.S. Departmen t of Education (1), 1993, p.52). A rapid rise in costs unaccompanied by gains in quality or outpu t signals gross inefficiency. This inefficiency is manifested in a variety of ways, many of which a re described in my paper (Coulson, 1994). The 33 percent drop in average class size that has taken place during this thirty-year period is one example (U.S. Department of Education (1), 1993, p. 74). As explained in my section entitled "Class Size", reductions in the pupil-teacher ratio down to 15 or even 10, have no significant academic benefits. This policy alone is wasting app roximately $35 billion dollars a year [3]. Enough to pay for a significant number of education ally effective programs, such as the ones described below.


3 of 9Tremendous advances have been made in information t echnology over the past three decades, such as personal computers, electronic databases, a nd high-speed, highbandwidth digital networks. These advances alone could reasonably be expected to increase the effectiveness of teachers, were they more widely used. In addition t o technological innovations, leaps have been made in educational research as well. The combinati on of many new primary studies with statistical survey (meta-analysis) techniques, has produced numerous important findings. It is now clear, for instance, that children can learn ap proximately one third more when they are taught at a speed tailored to their aptitude, than they can in traditional mixed-ability classes (Kulik, 1992). Even more impressively, bright stude nts in enriched and accelerated classes are able to learn between 50 and 100 percent more than they can in regular classrooms (Ibid.). Educational research in peer-tutoring and computerassisted learning also offer the potential for significant academic gains. Little of this research is applied in public school classrooms. Given the dramatic increases in public school spending, a nd the failure to effectively apply technology and educational research, the stagnation of NAEP re sults cannot be seen as a success. 1.2 International Indicators of Educational Performance It is well known that American children perform poo rly on international tests. Berliner's answer to this uncomfortable truth is two-fold: the tests might not be fair, and we can't expect to do any better. He fails to make the case for unfairness. H is argument is that, on occasion, American children have not yet studied a given topic (e.g. g eometry, algebra, etc.) by the same age as their foreign peers, making them unprepared for questions on that topic. If it were only a question of studying topics in a different order from other nat ions, one would expect that American children would come out about average in the subject of math ematics as a whole. In fact, American children perform near the bottom in mathematics (U. S. Department of Education (1), 1993, p. 414-415). In those cases when American performance is above average, it is usually only for the youngest children; the more time children spend in the system, the more poorly they perform. Nine year-old American children placed third of 10 nations in a 1991 science test, but thirteen year-olds placed 12th out of 14 in the same year (I bid, p. 417). It can be concluded therefore that either American schooling is less effective in teac hing most subjects, or that it is slower in covering them than most other countries. These are both indictments of America's school system. Berliner's second contention, that American culture is limiting childrens' performance to the current low levels, is also false. As noted in the previous section, there are numerous practices that have been shown to improve academic achievemen t, but that the public schools have essentially ignored.1.3 Efficiency According to Childs and Shakeshaft, who reviewed 46 7 studies of public school cost-effectiveness, the correlation between public school spending and student performance has been low and declining over the past half-century ( 1986). It has been insignificant (and actually negative) since the 1970's. Similar results have be en obtained in meta-analyses by Hanushek (1986 & 1989). Berliner makes no mention of these r esults in his discussion of the subject. Instead, he describes those who acknowledge the ine fficiency of publicschooling as "uninformed taxpayers and politicians" (1993). Inde ed virtually none of the evidence of public-schooling's inefficiency is dealt with in Be rliner's paper. Rather than repeat all of that evidence here, the interested reader is encouraged to review the "Class Size", "Unproductive Bureaucracy", "Textbooks and their selection", and "Organizational Effectiveness", sections of my paper.


4 of 92. Parent Satisfaction With Local Public SchoolsCovaleskie's second attempt at establishing the hea lth of public schooling is to observe that most parents are satisfied with their local public schoo ls. Far from being a sign of health, this is one of the most pernicious symptoms of the public school m onopoly. In a cross-national study conducted by Harold Stevenson of the University of Michigan, American parents were found to be the most satisfied with their local schools, whi le their children had the lowest performance (1992, p. 72). These same parents were nonetheless aware that American children are generally less well educated than their foreign peers. What m ight account for the fact that parents are better informed about national educational performance tha n they are about the performance of their local schools? The answer is obvious: while our nat ion's dismal results on international tests frequently make the headlines, individual schools a re rarely subject to such comparisons. The public school system simply does not inform parents of individual school failings. This information vacuum is caused by the absence of competition. In a competitive market, each enterprise must demonstrate its own strengths and i ts competitors' weaknesses in order to succeed, so information about the failings of indiv idual businesses is far more efficiently communicated. From automobiles to telephone service s, competitors constantly compare themselves by quality and price. Not only do qualit y and efficiency drop when competition is stifled, but the information flow that would otherw ise convey this decline dries up as well. This leaves us with the sad result revealed by Stevenson 's experiment, a nation whose children are being poorly educated and whose parents don't even know it. Surely not a sign of health.3. Organizational Effects on Human ActionCovaleskie spends a great deal of time criticizing the view that human beings are strictly concerned with their own short term gratification. This criticism is beside the point. The theory of human action I have presented, that human beings pursue what they value, embraces the idea that the well-being of others can have a powerful e ffect on ourselves and our actions. Clearly most people value the health and happiness of their loved ones, and even of strangers. The real issue is how our actions are affected by the incent ive structures of different organizations. Compare a situation in which actions that benefit o thers are injurious to us, versus one in which those same actions benefit us as well. In which of these two situations are people more likely to pursue the actions that benefit others?To take a concrete example, let us turn to the issu e of class size. The statistical evidence shows that smaller pupil/teacher ratios, unless they reac h impossibly low levels, are of no significant benefit to student performance (Odden, 1990). Despi te this fact, and despite the fact that there are many more educationally effective and less costly p ractices, the public school system roundly favors class size reduction. Research shows that sm aller classes increase teacher morale and reduce teacher workload. Because public school teac hers are not rewarded for better teaching--their working conditions and salaries dep end on seniority not performance--they personally lose out if they advocate alternatives t o reduced class size. That is to say, they face lower morale and larger workloads, with no systemic compensation for the loss. The implication here is not that teachers, any more than other indi viduals, respond immediately and uniformly to the systemic incentives of their workplace, but sim ply that these incentives exist and necessarily exert some influence on their decision-making.Compare this incentive structure to that of a free and competitive market. In such a system, the success of a school would depend on its ability to demonstrate the greatest gains for its clientele. With this success would come higher teacher salarie s and better working conditions. Thus, while


5 of 9public sector teachers have to suffer in order to a dopt more educationally effective practices in this situation, teachers in the for-profit sector w ould gain from doing so. The question the reader must answer is: Which of these two scenarios is mor e likely to yield a decision that benefits the students? In answering this question, it should be kept in mind that public schools do in fact support class size reduction, reducing the amount o f money that can be spent on academically useful practices. It must also be noted that in oth er industries the introduction or increase of competition has been shown to increase quality and reduce costs at both the national (Winston, 1993) and the local (Kent, 1987) levels. Finally, t he personal value that teaching professionals place on improving their students' performance is c onstant across these two systems. Another recurrent theme in Covaleskie's reply is th at, because government provision of schooling ostensibly results in "presumptive obligations to i mprove the conditions of the disadvantaged", it should be preferred to a private system. This argum ent ignores the fact that a competitive educational market in which poor families are given vouchers, shows just as much concern for their welfare as does the institution of public sch ooling. The primary change is simply the means of delivery. In fact, such a system would show a fa r more genuine concern for the welfare of the disadvantaged because it would provide them with a better quality of education than the current system is capable of offering. Public schools have failed the inner city. The problems I have enumerated in my paper are at their severest in dis tricts serving the poor and disenfranchised. The situation has gotten so bad that many of this c ountry's poorest families have been scraping together enough money to pay for private schooling for their children, often when the only private schools available to them are of a differen t faith. These problems, as I have argued, are not incidental to government provision, they are ca used by it. In order to truly improve the education of the poor it is necessary to substitute the demonstrably more effective competitive market for the current bureaucratic monopoly.4. Competition vs. MonopolyCovaleskie attempts to refute the benefits of compe tition by arguing that, while capitalism has lead to higher standards of living than alternative social systems, it does so at the expense of the poorer members of the population. He claims that, The fact remains that under unregulated capitalism, the rich do get richer and the poor do get poorer". This is false. While there has never been a completely unregulated capitalist economy, the United States is among the least regulated. Let us take as an exampl e, therefore, the changes in American income distribution over time, adjusted for inflation. The period between 1929 and 1957 is perhaps the earliest for which reliable information is availabl e. In 1929, 41.5 percent of households earned less that $2000 a year (incomes are given in 1950 d ollars). In 1957, only 17.3 percent of households earned below that amount. While only 20. 6 percent of households were earning more than $4000 in 1929, 54.6 percent were doing so by 1 957 (U.S. Bureau of the Census (1), 1975, p. 300). These figures reflect a substantial real incr ease in earnings at both high and low income levels; much of the population that would have been considered poor joined the ranks of the middle class and the wealthy. Furthermore, this per iod was not exceptional. Similar gains were enjoyed between 1947 and 1970 (Ibid, p. 290), and t hey have continued, though far more modestly, from 1970 to the present (U.S. Bureau of the Census (2), 1993, p. 457). This broadly-enjoyed increase in economic welfare is in stark contrast with the fate of former Soviet citizens who suffered under an uncompetitive, centr ally planned economy. As the reader is no doubt well aware, that system reduced virtually all its citizens to poverty. A second economic fallacy presented by Covaleskie i s that "there is ongoing competition in capitalism only because of government intervention in the market". In general, the converse is


6 of 9true. The reduction of government intervention, thr ough deregulation and privatization, has been shown to increase competition, reduce prices, and i ncrease efficiency. Those readers wishing to see the evidence first hand are encouraged to read the works by Kent and Winston already cited, which in turn reference numerous corroborating stud ies. The root of Covaleskie's misconception is probably the idea of technical monopoly, in which inherent characteristics of an industry make it dif ficult or impossible for more than one producer to operate simultaneously. In practice technical mo nopolies are rare (Friedman, 1982, p. 28), and the conditions for technical monopoly do not exist in the education industry, where entry costs are relatively low and the basic resources (instruc tional materials) are widely available.5. ChoiceCovaleskie's primary argument against choice is tha t some parents may chose unwisely. Were there an alternative system peopled by supremely wi se and intelligent decision makers who not only knew each child as well as his or her parents, but also sought what was best for each and every child, this argument might have some credence No such alternative exists. The choice is between fallible parents and fallible civil servant s, where parents generally care more about their own children than civil servants care about those o f others, and in which the responsibility for raising children belongs to the parents and not to the State. For these reasons the decision must be left to the parents, unless they demonstrate neg ligence in some recognized way. Even if Covaleskie were correct in believing that p ublic school employees are somehow wiser and more wellmeaning than parents, it would imply a shift towards privatization, not a maintenance of the current governmentrun system. In all thirteen of the cities studied in a 1984 survey, public school teachers were significantly m ore likely to send their children to private school than the average parent (Boaz, 1991). In Chi cago, the rate was more than double. The flaw in his argument becomes clearer yet when we re alize that there is no substantial distinction between educational choices and many other importan t choices in a child's life. If parents should not be allowed to make the educational decisions fo r their children, there is no reason to allow them to choose their childrens' diets, religions, o r even to make the decision to have children in the first place.This unfounded advocacy of government rule over edu cational choices continues in Covaleskie's prediction of scholastic junk-food peddlers. While he expects hordes of individual parents to seek out such shoddy schools, "the polity", compose d of none other than these very same individuals, is predicted to "have good reason to n ot want to invest in this sort of school". There is no magic spell which mysteriously grants heighte ned intelligence to collective decisions. Majority rule is a tool for compelling conformity w hen it is necessary for the survival of a society, such as in foreign policy or laws restrict ing the use of physical force. As I demonstrated in "Human Life, Human Organizations and Education", the coerced conformity of public schooling is not only unnecessary but has actually been inimical to the health of our society.ConclusionCovaleskie's commentary fails to address virtually any of the evidence presented in my paper. He ignores the dozens of statistical research studies cited therein, and cavalierly dismisses them as "the anecdotes [I offer] to suggest systemic failur e". His few attempts at countering the evidence are based, as I have shown, on false or incomplete information and invalid arguments. My conclusion to this response is therefore identical to the conclusion of my original article:


7 of 9The same voluntary cooperation and free competition which have raised the standard of living of free countries the world over should b e harnessed for the benefit of this country's children. Such a system, when coupled wit h educational vouchers to assist families with limited means, could provide a higher quality of education for every child, not simply for the wealthy. Footnotes 1. The SAT data collected by the College Entrance E xamination Board, and published by the National Center for Education Statistics, is usuall y given by scholastic year (e.g. 1975-76) rather than calendar year (e.g. 1975). Berliner, however, uses calendar years for his data. An ambiguity therefore arises as to whether 1975 refers to the 1 974-75 or the 1975-76 scholastic year. This ambiguity is resolved by noting that SAT ethnicity breakdowns were not available prior to 1975-76.2. Berliner cites the third draft of the SNL report as his source. The published version (Carson et al, 1993, p. 274), contains a reasonably accurate g raph that diverges sharply from the figures in Berliner's table. Berliner is out of the country as this article goes to press, and unavailable for comment. Gene Glass, editor of EPAA, has suggested in a personal communication that the data presented by Sandia National Laboratories in their third draft was erroneous, and that it was corrected in the published version. Unfortunately, no mention of changes to the data appears in the Preface to that publication.3. In 1990-91, public school instructional staff nu mbered 3,051,000. The average salary of instructional staff was $34,410 (U.S. Department of Education (1), 1993, p. 51-52). The total salary cost for instructional staff was therefore a pproximately $105 billion. If class size had remained constant, the instructional staff would be only two thirds of its present size, for a difference of approximately $35 billion dollars a y ear. Bibliography Berliner, D. (1993). Education Policy Analysis Arch ives. Educational reform in an age of disinformation. Education Policy Analysis Archives, vol. 1, no. 2, Entire issue. Boaz, D. (1991). The Public School Monopoly: Americ a's Berlin Wall. Liberating Schools. Washington, D.C.: The Cato Institute. Pp. 1-49.Carson, C.; Huelskamp, R. & Woodall, T. (1993). Per spectives on Education in America, An Annotated Briefing, April 1992. The Journal of Educ ational Research, vol. 86, no 5, Entire Issue. Childs, S. & Shakeshaft, C. (1986) A Meta-Analysis of Research on the Relationship Between Educational Expenditures and Student Achievement. J ournal of Education Finance, vol. 12, no. 3, p. 249-263.Coulson, A. (1994). Human Life, Human Organizations and Education. Education Policy Analysis Archives, vol. 2, no. 9, Entire Issue.Covaleskie, J. (1994). On Education and the Common Good: A Reply to Coulson. Education Policy Analysis Archives, present issue.Friedman, M. (1982) Capitalism and Freedom. Chicago : University of Chicago Press.


8 of 9 Hanushek, E.A. (1986) The Economics of Schooling: P roduction and Efficiency in the Public Schools. Journal of Economic Literature, vol. 24, n o. 3, 1141-77. Hanushek, E.A. (1989). Impact of Differential Expen ditures on School Performance. Educational Researcher, vol. 18, no. 4 (May), 45-51.Kent, C. (1987). Entrepreneurship and the Privatizi ng of Government. New York: Quorum Books.Kulik, J. (1992). An Analysis of the Research on Ab ility Grouping: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Storrs, CT: National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, the University of Conneticut.Odden, A. (1990). Class Size and Student Achievemen t: Research-Based Policy Alternatives, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, vol. 12 no. 2, p. 213227. Sowell, T. (1993). Inside American Education. NY: T he Free Press. Stephenson, H. (1992). Learning from Asian Schools. Scientific American, vol. 267, no. 6 (December), p. 7076.U. S. Bureau of the Census (1) (1975). Historical S tatistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970, Bicentennial Edition, Part 1. Washington, D.C. U. S. Bureau of the Census (2) (1993). Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1993 (113th edition.) Washington, D.C.U.S. Department of Education (1), National Center f or Education Statistics (1993). Digest of Education Statistics 1993. Washington D.C.U.S. Department of Education (2), National Center f or Education Statistics (1993). The Condition of Education 1993. Washington D.C.Winston, C. (1993). Economic Deregulation: Days of Reckoning for Microeconomists. Journal of Economic Literature, vol. 31, September, p. 1263 -1289.Copyright 1993 by the Education Policy Analysis ArchivesEPAA can be accessed either by visiting one of its seve ral archived forms or by subscribing to the LISTSERV known as EPAA at (To sub scribe, send an email letter to whose sole contents are SUB EPAA y our-name.) As articles are published by the Archives they are sent immediately to the EPAA subscribers and simultaneously archived in three forms. Articles are archived on EPAA as individual files under the name of the author a nd the Volume and article number. For example, the article by Stephen Kemmis in Volume 1, Number 1 of the Archives can be retrieved by sending an e-mail letter to LISTSERV@a and making the single line in the letter rea d GET KEMMIS V1N1 F=MAIL. For a table of contents of the entire ARCHIVES, send the following e-mail message to INDEX EPAA F=MAIL, tha t is, send an e-mail letter and make its single line read INDEX EPAA F=MAIL.The World Wide Web address for the Education Policy Analysis Archives is


9 of 9Education Policy Analysis Archives are "gophered" at To receive a publication guide for submitting artic les, see the EPAA World Wide Web site or send an e-mail letter to and include the single l ine GET EPAA PUBGUIDE F=MAIL. It will be sent to you by return e-mail. General questions about ap propriateness of topics or particular articles may be addressed to the Editor, Gene V Glass, Glass@asu.ed u or reach him at College of Education, Arizona Sta te University, Tempe, AZ 85287-2411. (602-965-2692)Editorial Board Syracuse UniversityJohn CovaleskieSyracuse UniversityAndrew Coulson Alan Davis University of Colorado--DenverMark E. Thomas F. Alison I. Arlen Gullickson Ernest R. Aimee Craig B. Howley u56e3@wvnvm.bitnet William Richard M. Jaeger Benjamin Thomas Dewayne Mary P. Les Susan Bobbitt Anne L. Hugh G. Richard C. Anthony G. Rud Dennis Jay Robert Robert T.