Measure Outputs Not Inputs

In today’s Washington Post, the editorial page includes An Education Stimulus? It describes some benefits that education is slated to receive under President Obama’s stimulus plan. Many of these are sure to drive conservatives a little bit crazy.

  • …it seems that much of the billions of dollars of new federal spending is aimed at continuing programs and policies that largely have failed to improve student achievement.
  • The plan … proposes to more than double the current budget of the Education Department, with $150 billion of new federal spending over two years.
  • States facing budget shortfalls would be able to tap into $79 billion to avoid layoffs and other education cuts.
  • For the first time, the federal government would play a significant role in the repair and construction of schools.

And then I read this

Nonetheless, Congress will not be getting its money’s worth unless it insists on real reforms in what students are expected to learn and how teachers are compensated. Instead of offering extra money to states for doing what they should be doing under current law, why not put in place tough new national standards and demand that states meet them to get money?

Except for the concept of national standards, this reminds me of No Child Left Behind, a bi-partisan piece of legislation that liberals progressives bashed Bush with over and over. NCLB left it to states to develop their own standards; the reason for this is the 10th Amendment.

Interestingly, FairTest.org’s Joint Organizational Statement on No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act has this to say about NCLB

Overall, the law’s emphasis needs to shift from applying sanctions for failing to raise test scores to holding states and localities accountable for making the systemic changes that improve student achievement.

Now, unless I’m reading things totally wrong, the Post is proposing something that is at odds with the FairTest.org. I’m with the Post on this one. What the Joint Statement is saying, in so many words, is

Don’t Measure Outputs. Measure Inputs (or Intentions or Changes) Instead

This is a classical problem with trying to develop performance goals for non-profit entities such as governments. One reason why these non-profit entities gravitate toward an “unbalanced scorecard” (i.e., unbalanced in the sense that it is dominated by inputs) is that obtaining the measures for inputs is frequently much easier than obtaining the measures for outputs. Who wants to do all that testing?

Here’s what we know. If the stimulus plan floods big education with twice as much money, and if inputs only are measured, you can be sure that the winners will be teachers and bureaucrats, and the losers, unfortunately, will be our children.

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