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How To Evaluate a Public School

By dollars, not tests.

By Will Offensicht  |  September 4, 2007

Mr. Bush's "No Child Left Behind" program focused attention on the question of how to evaluate a school.  The basic idea was to test each student, add up the student test results, and you had a result for the school.  That sounds good, but rating a school on test scores ignores the reason we taxpayers fund public schools.

We taxpayers spend fantastic amounts of tax money on public schools for one reason only - we expect schools to turn the kids of today into the taxpayers of tomorrow.

Why do we care so much about future taxpayers?  We want someone to take care of us when we get old.

The people who started Social Security hoped that people would have fewer children if their old age was taken care of.  People are having fewer children, but we're getting suspicious that the government won't keep its end of the deal.  Our tax money has been spent.  The only hope that we'll ever get a pension is if schools turn lots and lots of kids into serious taxpayers.

Here's how it should work.  Every June, schools send the social security numbers of all their graduates to the IRS.  Every May, after tax season, the IRS adds up all the taxes paid by all the graduates of each school and tells everybody the average amount of taxes paid by each school's graduates that year.

Your taxes count for your school only if you graduate.  Bill Gates did not graduate from Harvard; his taxes don't count for them, but his taxes do count for the high school and grade school which graduated him.

Before you say that's silly, ask yourself, if you were choosing a school for your kid, wouldn't you like to know how successful their graduates were in real life?  You don't care about science, or language, or sports, or any of the details, you want to know how the kids did when they left school as adult members of society.  Isn't that what you really care about?  And what better measure of success than what they pay in taxes?

Educrats will scream, "What about schools in poor neighborhoods?"  Isn't school supposed to help kids do better than their parents?  If they won't buy that, if we must give schools points for bad inputs, we can ask the IRS the average taxes paid in the area around the school.  If the school's graduates pay more taxes on average than local citizens, the school is helping kids do better than their parents, but if graduates don't pay more taxes than the local average, the school is failing.

But if the school wants extra points for a bad neighborhood, it ought to own up to its failures.  The IRS can report how much tax each graduate pays, the prison system and the welfare system can report how much each kid from the school costs.  We'll subtract the prison and welfare costs from the taxes graduates pay and that's the net worth of the school to society.  Since most welfare kids don't graduate, the school has to own up to each social security number that ever attended the school when welfare and prison compute the down side.

Schools have an incentive to help kids graduate, they don't get any up-side points unless kids complete the course.  Charging schools for the cost of their failures gives them an incentive to help kids become productive members of society rather than cost centers.

Evaluating schools is a piece of cake once you realize why we fund them in the first place.