- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 29, 2000

"The nation's capital is home to some of the worst-performing schools in the United States. From decrepit public school buildings and schools plagued by violence and drugs to poor academic performance and a huge bureaucracy, the District of Columbia exemplifies what can happen when ineffective management and lack of competition join hands. The result is a bleak future for the city's youth."

So says new research by the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, which has conducted a number of studies on education in general and on D.C. schools in particular. Bad as D.C. schools are, however, the worst news is that they aren't alone.

The Heritage study, "Education: Achieving Results Through Real Accountability," says that "nationally, the longer students stay in America's schools, the more their performance suffers" in math, reading, science and social sciences. The conclusions were based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which the Democratically controlled Congress created in 1969, and other databases, including those compiled by the U.S. Department of Education. The stats compare U.S. students state by state as well as to their counterparts in Denmark, Canada and Russia, to name a few of the other countries.

"While U.S. 4th graders score above the international average in math, 8th graders score below the international average," the study says, adding, "America is the only country whose students' math scores plunge in this way between 4th and 8th grade," and "the performance of U.S. 12th graders (in math and science) is among the lowest in the industrialized world."

Advocates for government-run schools routinely argue that too few educational dollars and high pupil-teacher ratios are the problem here. But more money and smaller class size do not, repeat do not, lead to higher achievement among students. In the 1997-98 school year, Vice President Al Gore's home state of Tennessee ranked 46th in spending and 26th on NAEP. New York ranked second in per-pupil spending ($8,808) yet tied for 20th place in reading scores with two other states that spent about $2,000 less per pupil. George W. Bush's Texas spent $5,482 per pupil, below the national average of $6,168, but its students ranked 16th in reading.

Another defense of the existing system has to do with class size. But consider the case of Colorado. Its per-pupil spending was $5,519, which ranked 33rd overall. Its average class size was larger than the national average, 18.2 vs. 16.8. But its students ranked eighth in reading. So more money and smaller classes aren't necessarily prerequisites for educational achievement.

Washington's politicians really need look no further than the classrooms in the very city in which they spend much of their time. Taxpayers in the nation's capital spent more on average per pupil ($8,376) than all but three states (New Jersey, New York and Connecticut). Yet D.C. students consistently ranked in the lower rungs of every standardized measuring instrument (and that has been the case since the 1980s).

The facts notwithstanding, politicians are urging more and more tax dollars be poured into a government education monopoly that, as the study says, cannot begin to keep up with the fast pace of today's global marketplace or its need for educated and skilled citizens. This "reality," the study says, "should be uppermost in the mind of every candidate who hopes to improve the opportunities America offers its children." And, we add, in the mind of every voter as this election season gets under way.

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