My fantastic student Alex Silverman concludes his research project:
Overall, EER has helped identify which educational reforms do not, at least on their own, succeed in making schools effective. There is no strong, systematic evidence to support the vast quantities of resources that continue to be poured into the public K12 education system. The wide ranging, often uncertain and often insignificant results of the economic EER suggest that traditional reforms such as higher teacher salaries, smaller classes, longer school days, etc., are not the most cost-effective use of resources.
For this to be true there must be alternative, more effective uses. Indeed much stronger is the evidence on the importance and effectiveness of contextual factors, such as school organization and environment. By nature, these factors—strong leadership, clear goals, teacher professionalism—cannot be affected by traditional one-size-fits-all policy reforms, especially because of the variations in the characteristics of individual schools, districts, and states. Moreover, school staff need the autonomy to administer education as best fits their own skills and style and those of their clientele (a need blanket policies cannot meet). They need to be able to organically foster the strong leadership, clear goals, and high expectations which research has shown to make a difference. Teachers must have the professionalism to conduct their classes appropriately, and principals must have the ability to hire good teachers and fire bad ones.
In other words, policies need to be such that they allow and encourage schools to be adaptable. While reforms continue to ignore the evidence and waste resources, some districts have begun to acknowledge the importance of allowing schools this autonomy, and school choice has been the preferred reform. Starting with demand side, i.e. allowing students to pick among current schools, the school choice movement has expanded to the supply side, allowing new schools and forms of education to emerge, to collaborate and to test and share ideas. But even these reforms are still created by the democratic institutions of control that inevitably lead to over bureaucratization of schools and the entrenchment of school policies, which discourage, rather than promote, adaptability. Thus they are doomed to fail because new education reformers can garner political influence and restructure the system, to take away the choice that families and schools have been given. Until it is tried out, the success and superiority of a real school-choice based system, can never be proven or disproven.
Alex is fantastic not just because he is bright and works hard, but because he questions everything and examines everything, especially the stuff I teach him! I trust people like him far more than I could possibly trust folks that simply agree with me all the time. Someone should hire Alex. And soon.