Thursday, August 12, 2010

Educational Reform and resources

This was an interesting suggestion on educational reform proposed by Dana Goldstein (h/t Matt Yglesias). He comments:

Rather, I'm imagining something like what the best public, private, and charter schools are already doing: a mix of additional instructional time and mealtimes with small group break-out activities like reading clubs, sports, board games, supervised computer time, library browsing time, and art and music lessons.

As a practical matter, to make this happen schools need extra labor: more hours from teachers, as well as specialized, perhaps part-time instructors in the arts and athletics.

Now I don't want to guarantee that this is a good idea. However, in a world of two working parents, a longer school day could be welfare enhancing and it's not impossible that it would have the effects on childhood obesity that are suggested by Ms Goldstein.

But there is one feature of this plan that I think it really makes sense to consider -- Ms Goldstein is discussing increasing the resources directed at schools (via meal subsidies, extra staff and additional funding) in order to improve outcomes. Could it fail? No questions. But it differs from a lot of education discussions by not trying to link a reduction of resources (e.g. removing tenure as a form of compensation) to improved outcomes. Instead, it argues that putting more resources into schools could result in a net public good.

That is a much better starting point for discussion (i.e. is this the best use of scare public resources) than the argument that removing resources will improve outcomes (so we can pay less and have a better school system).

In terms of the obesity argument, I suspect that much of this will hinge on the ability of the school to control eating and activity patterns. If students have snacks and/or school meals are not healthy then this seems less likely to work. In the same sense, putting together an activity program that succeeds in getting students to become active is not necessarily trivial.

But it certainly is worth an open discussion.

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