Contributing Editors

Jerome Lyle Rappaport

Jerome Lyle Rappaport
Founder and Board Member
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Edward Glaeser

Edward Glaeser
Professor of Economics at Harvard University
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Stephen P. Johnson

Stephen P. Johnson
Executive Director of Phyllis and Jerome Lyle Rappaport Foundation
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Greg Massing

Greg Massing
Executive Director for the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service
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Alasdair Roberts

Alasdair Roberts
Professor of Law and Public Policy at Suffolk University Law School
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Joseph Curtatone

Joseph Curtatone
Mayor, City of Somerville
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Tim H. Davis

Tim H. Davis
Independent Research Consultant
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Scott Harshbarger

Scott Harshbarger
Senior Counsel, Proskauer Rose LLP
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Vivien Li

Vivien Li
Executive Director of The Boston Harbor Association
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Guest contributors

Monika Bandyopadhyay
Suffolk University Law Student

David Barron
Harvard Law School and former Deputy Counsel for the Office of Legal Counsel in the US Department of Justice

Linda Bilmes
Senior lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Assistant Secretary of Commerce during the Clinton Administration.

Brandy H.M. Brooks
Director, Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence, Bruner Foundation

Felicia Cote
Rappaport Fellow, Harvard Law School/Harvard Kennedy School.

Amanda Eden
Suffolk University Law School student

Sara Farnum
Student, Suffolk Univ. Law School

Kristin Faucette
Student at Suffolk University Law School

Benjamin Forman
Research Director, MassINC

Arthur Hardy-Doubleday
JD/MBA student at Suffolk University Law School and the Sawyer School of Business

Theodore Kalivas
Boston Green Blog, Dukakis Center for Urban & Regional Policy

David Linhart
Student, Boston University School of Law

Antoniya Owens
Research Analyst, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.

Susan Prosnitz
Senior Advisor, TSA, Washington, DC

Ben Thomas
Boston Green Blog, Dukakis Center for Urban & Regional Policy

Matthew Todaro
Student at Boston College Law School

Alexander von Hoffman
Senior Researcher, Joint Center for Housing Studies

Brett Walker
Student, Boston College Law School

Margarita Warren
Student at Suffolk University Law School

How Republicans Might Improve Education

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010
By Edward Glaeser

The Republican Party historically achieved electoral success by championing both limited government and national security, and they will have to do that again in 2012. During the 2010 election, the Republicans and their allies raised the powerful specter of national decline.

I, too, worry about the future of a nation whose 15-year-olds scored in the bottom quarter of participating nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in one major test of “mathematical literacy.”

To recapture the presidency, the Republican leaders will have to convince voters that they, and they alone, can help create a visibly stronger America, and to do that they will do well to align their party as closely with education as it once was with military strength.

National prosperity today rests on the bedrock of human capital. Across countries, an extra average year of schooling is associated with a greater than 30 percent increase in per-capita gross domestic product, my colleague Robert Barro and his co-author, Jong-Wha Lee, estimate.

The national relationship between education and earnings is much stronger than the individual relationship between these two variables, which probably reflects what economists call human capital externalities.

Having 10 percent more adults in a metropolitan area increases an individual’s earnings by 7 percent (holding that individual’s education constant), perhaps because better-educated people are more likely to become successful entrepreneurs who then employ their neighbors.

Government also gets less corrupt and more democratic when voters are more educated. As Thomas Jefferson famously said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

Republicans, including John Boehner, the House minority leader and expected speaker of the House, have a long track record of supporting education reform.

During the Reagan era, the “Nation at Risk” report set off a flurry of educational activity that seems to have achieved some significant success. My colleague Joshua Goodman found that African-American children who were exposed to an extra year of math education because of Nation-at-Risk-related changes saw their subsequent earnings increase by 5 to 9 percent.

Before 9/11, President Bush wanted to be known as the Education President, and the No Child Left Behind legislation that Mr. Boehner helped pass was a signature achievement of the president’s first year.

Any Republican education agenda must be both plausible and distinct from Democratic strategies, such as Race to the Top – one of the Obama administration’s finest moments. Race to the Top embraced the three key ingredients in any education reform: better teachers, constant innovation and measuring results.

A vast body of research now illustrates the remarkable variety of teacher effectiveness in improving student test scores and even in improving earnings in later life.

The Republicans must be even more focused on attracting better educators into the system and prodding the less productive teachers to find work elsewhere. They must also emphasize innovation and measurement.

But there is still plenty of room to develop an education strategy that is clearly Republican: a choice, not an echo. A Republican approach to schooling must have a far greater focus on private education providers, and that fits well with Mr. Boehner’s past support for school choice.

Indeed, Republicans can credibly argue that America’s most successful industries thrive on the genius of private entrepreneurs, but our education system has declined relative to the world because it has been entrusted to a public monopoly.

Many charter schools have achieved stunning successes. Others have had worse results, but the great advantage of a well-functioning competitive system is that the underperformers generally get weeded out over time.

And charter schools are only one way in which entrepreneurship can improve education.

Private after-school and summer programs can help, as can technological innovators who provide support for the classroom, such as the School of One program, which uses electronic learning to cater to each student’s needs.

Republicans can also differentiate themselves by turning the focus of education reform away from saving failing schools to improving the whole system at every level. America has an obligation to create opportunity by expanding the educational options of the disadvantaged, but national strength relies on improvements at every level.

Republicans should focus on strengthening education at the top and bottom of the income distribution and everywhere in between.

Another Republican edge in educational reform is that Republicans are less afraid of income inequality than their Democratic opponents, and a bit more income inequality among teachers is something devoutly to be desired.

The best way to ensure an improvement in teacher quality is to pay superb teachers sky-high salaries and to give far less to poorly performing educators. Republicans are natural champions of pay-for-performance. Perhaps teachers’ unions could be persuaded to accept stronger ties between compensation and achievement in return for large increases in education resources.

Even the Republicans’ occasional reputation for hard-hearted toughness can be put to good use. Schools are only going to get better if we expect more of students, teachers and parents. Charter schools succeed, in part, by imposing much longer hours.

The same Republicans who are comfortable being portrayed as Scrooges for opposing extensions of unemployment benefits should be comfortable taking on the Scrooge’s role in requiring longer school days and saying, “Bah, Humbug” to long school vacations.

We need a little more investment and a little less consumption, not only among our adults, but also among 10-year-olds.

The Republican Party can position itself as the party of national rebirth, but only if it champions both economic freedom and education – the two critical ingredients of successful, entrepreneurial economies. They will have two years in charge of the House to develop a distinctly Republican approach to education, which differs sharply from the more state-oriented, more egalitarian reforms pushed by President Obama.

Americans could do with a bit of partisan conflict in which both parties try outdo themselves improving our children’s education. 


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