Economic models of education are all the rage these days, especially among proponents of remaking public schooling into one large laissez-faire market. But for the most part, these models are incredibly one-sided, focusing on the costs of schooling and on reforms such as lowering class size or introducing universal pre-Kindergarten without examining their benefits. In a day and age when 22% of African-American men in their thirties have prison records, while only 12% hold college degrees, one needs to compare the costs of not investing in education and proven reforms against the costs of making such an investment. An informative economic model would examine both costs and benefits of various educational programs.
In this vein, the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education at Columbia University’s Teachers College has just published a study by four leading educational scholars on The Costs and Benefits of an Excellent Education for All of America’s Children. Columbia University’s Hank Levin and Peter Muennig, CUNY’s Clive Belfield and Princeton’s Cecilia Rouse look at the potential benefits of a number of proven educational reforms, and conclude that with investments in these areas, the United States could save as much $45 billion annually in increased tax revenues and in reduced public health and criminal justice costs if we reduced the drop out rate by 0ne-half, a feasible target. “Educational investments to raise the high school graduation rate appear to be doubly beneficial,” the study’s authors write. “The quest for greater equity for all young adults would also produce greater efficiency in the use of public resources.”
Among the investments which could improve high school graduation rates are:
* Universal Pre-Kindergarten along the lines of the Perry Pre-School in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Perry provides children with 1.8 years of a center-based program for 2.5 hours per weekday, offering a child-to-teacher ratio of 5:1; home visits; and group meetings of parents. The researchers estimate that, implemented on a broad scale, Perry’s benefit-to-cost ratio would be 2.31 to 1, and that it would create an additional 19 new high school graduates per 100 students.
* Parenting Programs such as the Chicago Child-Parent Center Program, a preschool program with parental involvement, outreach and health/nutrition services, based in public schools. This approach would achieve an estimated benefit-to-cost ratio of 3.09 to 1 and create an additional 11 high school graduates per 100 students.
* Comprehensive school reform centered on small learning communities, such as First Things First, a program that includes dedicated teachers, family advocates and instructional improvement. FTF would achieve an estimated benefit-to-cost ratio of 3.54 to 1 and create an additional 16 high school graduates per 100 students.
* Class-size reduction. This approach – based on the parameters of Project Star, a four-year, randomized field trial in Tennessee – would include four years of schooling (from kindergarten through third grade) with class size reduced from 25 to 15. The researchers estimate that, implemented on a broad scale, class-size reduction along these lines would achieve a benefit-to-cost ratio of 1.46 to 1, and that it would create an additional 11 new high school graduates per 100 students.
* Teacher salary increase of 10 percent for all years K-12. This approach would achieve an estimated benefit-to-cost ratio of 2.55 to 1 and create an additional five high school graduates per 100 students.