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More reform, not spending, produces Louisiana education gains

Gov. Kathleen Blanco led a cheering session at the Louisiana Head Start Association meeting, at which

Blanco noted that she successfully pushed for a $20 million addition to the state's classes for 4-year-olds -- LA4 -- amid countless studies that show learning gains for students from poor families who take part. “That is why I am such a strong proponent of LA4 and Head Start,” she said. The state spends $55 million per year for public school classes for 4-year-olds. The classes are in 41 of Louisiana's 68 school districts. Head Start services, which were part of the "Great Society" programs launched in the mid-1960s, operate in every parish.

The only problem is, of course, that the evidence contradicts the assertion that Head Start produces any return on investment for most children. As detailed in their No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning, Abigail and Stephen Thernstrom demonstrate that any beneficial effect that Head Start has on student learning almost always evaporates in two years. In other words, the state gets little for its $55 million investment.

Instead, Blanco needs to concentrate on the educational accountability reforms begun under Gov. Mike Foster, which, to her credit, she had left unaltered. But, if anything, she needs to loosen requirements of state control which hamper reform efforts. The Center for Education Reform gives Louisiana a grade of “C” when it comes to the necessary reforms to improve education. This judgment reflects the test scores released last week that show far too many schools fail to meet criteria of acceptability in education.

Or, to put it another way, if one equates improving education with raising teachers’ salaries (a dubious proposition at best unless accountability measures for teachers are instituted as well), with this amount of money classroom teachers would have enjoyed a $1,000 raise. Instead, we labor on with this fiction that more money, rather than more commitment, expectations, and hard work from both teachers and students, will produce better secondary education in Louisiana.

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