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Report 2004: American Educational Institutions and Academic Performance

The purpose of this initiative is to address education policy related to government provision and oversight versus private solutions — both within and outside the U.S. public school system — that stresses choice, accountability, and transparency; to include systematic reform options such as vouchers, charter schools, and testing; and to weigh educational equity versus outcomes.

Numerous resident and affiliated fellows take part, including the Koret Task Force on K–12 Education, a group of nationally recognized education policy experts. The members of the task force are John Chubb (Edison Schools), Williamson Evers (Hoover Institution), Chester Finn Jr. (Hoover Institution and Fordham Foundation), Eric Hanushek (Hoover Institution), Paul Hill (University of Washington), E. D. Hirsch Jr. (University of Virginia), Caroline Hoxby (Harvard University), Terry Moe (Hoover Institution and Stanford University), Paul Peterson (Hoover Institution and Harvard University), Diane Ravitch (New York University and Brookings Institution), and Herbert Walberg (University of Illinois at Chicago).

Reforming Education in Texas

At the invitation of Rick Perry, governor of Texas, and the cochairs of the Joint Select Committee on School Finance of the Texas Legislature, the Koret Task Force on K–12 Education presented a series of ten memoranda to the legislature as it was considering education policy issues in 2004. The recommendations, which are contained in the book , address, among other topics, school finance; improving accountability; rewards for schools, teachers, and principals; vouchers for students in urban districts with failing schools; and improving charter schools.

In its fifth year of operation, the task force has thus far produced six jointly authored books: A Primer on America’s Schools; School Accountability; Choice with Equity; Our Schools and Our Future: Are We Still at Risk?; Reforming Education in Texas: Recommendations from the Koret Task Force (all published by the Hoover Press); and, most recently, Within Our Reach: How America Can Educate Every Child (published by Rowman and Littlefield).

A number of other books were also published under the auspices of this initiative. In one highly anticipated decision during its 2002 term, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the school voucher program in Cleveland, Ohio, did not violate the U.S. Constitution’s ban on the establishment of religion. Opponents of vouchers were predictably disappointed but pledged to fight on. In The Future of School Choice, edited by Hoover fellow Paul Peterson and published by the Hoover Press in 2003, a group of distinguished authors examines the meaning of the Supreme Court decision and considers the new political and policy context it has created. Hoover fellows Peter Berkowitz and Terry Moe contributed to the volume in addition to Peterson, as did Hoover fellow Clint Bolick.

Capitalism once did a superior job of providing kindergarten to twelfth-grade schooling in the United States and would do so again were schools to be “privatized” (moved from the public to the private sector), according to Hoover fellow Herbert Walberg and Joseph Bast, who authored Education and Capitalism: How Overcoming Our Fear of Markets and Economics Can Improve America’s Schools. Drawing on insights and findings from history, psychology, sociology, political science, and economics, they examine the reasons past efforts at school reform have failed and show why capitalism can produce safe and effective schools. They also include specific design guidelines for voucher programs that protect the poorest and most vulnerable members of society. Their book was published by the Hoover Press in 2003.

The W. Glenn Campbell and Rita Ricardo-Campbell Uncommon Book Award recognizes the work of a Hoover fellow or other person associated with the Institution whose writing and research reach the highest standards of scholarship on public policy issues. Hoover fellow Bertrand Patenaude received the award in 2003 for The Big Show in Bololand: The American Relief Expedition to Soviet Russia in the Famine of 1921. Based on materials in the Hoover Institution Archives, the book portrays a crucial American expedition that helped mitigate the famine that killed millions. Hoover fellows Annelise Anderson, Martin Anderson, Robert Conquest, Keith Eiler, Kiron Skinner, and Thomas Sowell have received the award in previous years.

School Figures: The Data behind the Debate, by Hoover fellow Richard Sousa and former Hoover fellow Hanna Skandera, presents statistics, analysis, historical trends, and cross-sectional comparisons that provide a clear, factual picture of today’s educational landscape. Organized in a concise and understandable format, the propositions are accompanied by tables, charts, and graphs that clarify the issues and give readers the ability to make informed decisions. Described by Stanford University education professor Michael Kirst as “one-stop shopping for key data surrounding many current education debates,” the book was published by the Hoover Press in 2003.

In Testing Student Learning, Evaluating Teaching Effectiveness, Hoover fellows Williamson Evers and Herbert Walberg compiled and edited a wealth of information not only on how to test but on why testing plays such an important role in education. The book also shows how defective tests and standards and a lack of accountability cause American students to fall behind those of other countries — despite our schools’ receiving one of the world’s highest levels of per-student spending. Confronting common objections to testing and revealing why they are false, the book demonstrates that test results can inform educators and students of progress or lack thereof, evaluate the degree to which programs and practices are working or not working, and ultimately play a vital role in improving American schools.

In College Choices: The Economics of Where to Go, When to Go, and How to Pay for It, Hoover fellow Caroline Hoxby and a distinguished group of economists examine how students and their families make college decisions — how they evaluate financial aid options, how peer relationships figure in the decision-making process, and whether to use mentoring to get through the admissions process. Students of all sorts are considered — from poor students who may struggle with applications and whether to continue on to college to high- aptitude students who are offered “free rides” at elite schools. The authors use the best methods and latest data to analyze the college decision-making process, as well as explaining how changes in aid and admissions practices inform those decisions. The book was edited by Hoxby and published by the University of Chicago Press in 2004.

Hoover fellow Diane Ravitch’s informative and alarming new book The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn, published by Alfred A. Knopf in 2003, describes how pressure groups from the political right and left have taken control of the language and content of textbooks and standardized exams in American classrooms, often at the expense of the truth (in the case of history), of literary quality (in the case of literature), and of education (in general). In this clear-eyed critique, Ravitch unapologetically challenges the ridiculous and damaging extremes to which bias guidelines and sensitivity training have been taken by the federal government, the states, and textbook publishers.