Obama proposes to double or quadruple spending on existing education programs while creating a batch of new ones. Yet the taxpayers are likely to receive little bang for their buck.
For instance, contrary to Obama's claims of 10 dollars in societal benefits for every dollar invested, his proposed $10-billion expansion of federal preschool programs is unlikely to be worthwhile. A Reason Foundation study found that universal preschool programs in the states where universal preschool has been tried--Oklahoma, Georgia and Tennessee-- has made little difference in student achievement.
One of Obama's chief approaches for improving the much derided No Child Left Behind Act is to replace standardized tests with assessment of portfolios of student work. Alas, in states where that's been tried on a large scale, it's been a costly disaster. A Rand study of Vermont’s portfolio assessment system found that scorers were confused by the guidelines and disagreed among themselves about scoring decisions. And variation in student tasks from classroom to classroom made reliable results impossible.
Even where Obama has made forays into real reform areas, such as charter schools, his proposals are problematic. For example, he wants to increase their funding but also talks about “accountability” strings, which could undercut their very raison d'être.
The spendthrift Bush White House and Republican Congress may have prompted many Americans to vote for change, but we must be aware that the sorts of education changes Obama is proposing will certainly cost a lot but be unlikely to improve education significantly.