Letters To The Editor
I find little to disagree with in John Pagen's list of factors leading to school success, at least at the level of generality that they are presented (Letters, Nov. 23). I am quite willing to believe that good teachers, effective leadership and management in the schools, and involved parents are key factors to success. However, I should note that my acceptance of these generalities is not based upon any research or any new revelations about the educational process that have come from either researchers or practitioners. Professionals and nonprofessionals alike would accept such general notions without debate.
On the other hand, I and others were quite willing in the past to believe that higher expenditure levels, smaller classes, and more educated teachers would lead to higher student performance. On these bits of conventional wisdom, we were simply wrong. None holds up under closer scrutiny.
Deriving any useful implications for school policy does require systematic study and research because there is a wide variety of opinion about how schools can be organized to ensure a favorable educational experience. My commentary, which comes from the findings of sophisticated and painstaking research into school operations, had two messages. First, there is substantial evidence that school systems' ability to increase student achievement is unrelated to the level of funds available. Second, there are many current and proposed policies that inhibit school systems from effectively managing resources to gain the best possible education for students.
From these observations, I am led to a position that Superintendent Pagen seems to support. School administrators appear able to identify success when they see it. Yet, identifying success is not the same as describing in operational terms just what led to success. The problem from the perspective of policy is to provide an institutional structure that permits such knowledge to be used in an effective manner.
Without detailed knowledge about the specific aspects of teachers' backgrounds, styles of presentation, classroom organizations, and so forth, that lead to higher student achievement, it is exceedingly difficult for people outside the school to develop mechanisms for transferring success from one school to another. Therefore, administrators should be given more latitude to exercise real leadership in the schools. Of course, administrators should also accept responsibilty for the outcomes of their decisions.
As Mr. Pagen clearly indicates, the general problem is not insufficient resources but using the available resources in the best manner possible. Therefore, I do accept his support--coming as it does from an administrator who is on the firing line--in responding to my critics who believe that simple answers such as reducing class sizes, hiring teachers with advanced education, or increasing overall expenditures will have any perceptible effect on teacher achievement.
Eric A. Hanushek Director, Public Policy Analysis University of Rochester Rochester, N.Y.