by Max Brantley
The Walton U. School of "Education Reform" brought in a well-timed lecturer this week. His subject: School construction doesn't result in better student achievement. It came just days before a Fayetteville tax vote on an expensive new high school. I get the point, don't you?
His work was typical of the ideology masquerading as research at the Walton education unit. He compared statewide spending with statewide test results. He apparently had no specific data to correlate specific districts' spending and results. He had no Arkansas numbers. But the headlines got the preferred point across.
There's little doubt in my mind that teachers are more important than buildings. But really. What kind of positive schooling experience can you have if you don't have a jumbotron and an indoor football practice facility, such as that at Waltonville High.
More seriously. The parents most willing and able to be mobile for school choices -- those families tend to be, on account of economics and their own education, most likely to have kids who do well in school -- often are influenced in school decisions by physical plants. Shiny new facilities in growing districts are far more attractive than crumbling buildings in stagnant districts, even when, on occasion, the crumbling buildings break the mold on student performance. Plus, Iresearch or no research, I still like the odds of better education in schools with adequate labs, up-to-date computer networks and sufficient libraries, not to mention pleasant and safe surroundings.
More on the thinness of this date from NW Ark. Times:
For his study, Peterson said he analyzed amounts spent on school construction by 41 states from 1990 to 1997 and he compared the amount spent by those states to fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math scores on national tests taken by students in those states.
While he admitted he forgot to bring the numbers from Arkansas, Peterson said there was an average of $20 billion spent annually in individual states on school construction for new buildings and renovations. There was no measurable data to provide a link between the money spent on construction and student performance, even when taking a variety of factors into account.
Peterson said he picked the money numbers from data reported to the federal General Accounting Office. One audience member questioned, though, that it would be difficult to determine how that money was actually spent.
... One audience member asked if Peterson had done a specific case study where he measured achievement in a school before and after it had received major facilities updates. Peterson said he had not because he was trying to do a broad study but case studies would be a good complement to the study.