New data once again shows that “Parents Know Better” than bureaucracy

Robert Fellner

When parents were given the choice of what school to send their child to, they chose schools that were “specifically effective” at improving the educational performance of their child. Those are the findings of a groundbreaking study published earlier this year by Marco Ovidi of the Queen Mary University of London.

Ovidi made use of extensive administrative data regarding London’s robust school choice program, which requires parents to effectively rank schools when making their selections regarding which schools they would prefer their child attend. The study revealed that parents have unique preferences that diverge sharply from merely ranking schools based on their published test scores and traditional measures of performance. This strongly suggests that parents are making their personalized rankings based on specific judgements about their child’s situation. That these choices then lead to improved student performance led Ovidi to the obvious conclusion, as reflected in the title of his study, “Parents know better: primary school choice and student achievement in London.”

There is no serious dispute that a system predicated on choice and accountability would produce superior outcomes than the one-size-fits-all monopoly of traditional government-run school systems. Unfortunately, Nevada education policy is set by those uninterested in any reform that doesn’t involve raising taxes to generate more revenue for the public school system. The commitment to the fallacy that spending more is the only path to improvement is so strong among these groups that many either willfully ignore or otherwise misrepresent contrary data.

Perhaps one of the most vocal advocates of the “more funding is the only answer” approach is the activist group Educate Nevada Now. The group recently cited a report showing that Nevada’s education spending ranks only 45th nationwide, when measured as a percent of gross state product. This, the argument goes, proves that Nevada must raise taxes to increase school spending in order to improve performance.

Yet, when NPRI pointed out that the nation’s 3rd best performing school system, Florida, was ranked even lower than Nevada when it came to spending, the group immediately pivoted to a different metric. Rather than looking at spending as a percentage of gross state product, the group now wanted to use raw dollars. This response is indicative of demagoguery rather than critical analysis. Which is to say, it reflects an approach wherein the idea that more spending is the only means by which to improve public schools is taken as an a priori truth. When presented with data that undermines this claim, rather than seeking to understand why this might be, the advocate instead is only concerned with finding an alternative dataset capable of demonstrating their assumed truth, which is not subject to falsification.

Nonetheless, raw dollars do not help their case. Despite the group’s singular focus on education spending and being provided with ample resources (records show they raised nearly $80 million over the past decade) to advocate for this cause, the group appears remarkably uninformed about even basic facts on this topic.

Specifically, in their attempt to discredit the implications of Florida’s low spending and outsized performance, the group claimed that Florida spends almost “$1,000 more per student than Nevada does.” This is false. The most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that Florida only spent $301 more per pupil than Nevada, a statistically insignificant difference of three percent. When adjusting for the differences in price levels between the two states, that insignificant difference disappears entirely.

But even if their claim were true, it would still fail to support the thesis that high performance requires high spending. This is because even if Florida did spend $1,000 more per student than Nevada, it would still spend less than most states and outperform virtually every state on a cost-adjusted basis. So, what the heck is going on? Well, Florida is home to what is by far the nation’s most expansive school choice program.

True advocates of education would consider the implications of this fact. Doing so would lead to the relatively obvious conclusion that fixing a broken system requires fixing what is actually wrong with it, rather than simply making it more expensive. Unfortunately, the Nevada Legislature is run by those who prioritize the needs of the unions and public-school bureaucracy over student welfare. Thus, the undeniable benefits of school choice, which are in part reflected by Florida, are likely to be misrepresented when not being ignored.

The vast majority of Nevadans already support school choice. But to bring these policies and the accompanying educational gains they would produce here to Nevada, voters need to start electing representatives who actually represent them, rather than the unions and public-school establishment. A list of lawmakers and candidates who have committed to putting students first can be found at EdFreedomPledge.org. If your representative hasn’t done so yet, ask them to explain why not? Or, better yet, find a candidate to replace them.

Robert Fellner

Robert Fellner

Vice President & Director of Policy

Robert Fellner joined the Nevada Policy Research Institute in December 2013 and currently serves as the Institute’s Vice President and Director of Policy. Robert has written extensively on the issue of transparency in government. He has also conducted legal research and assisted in crafting legal arguments for numerous public records-related lawsuits, including one which prevailed at the Nevada Supreme Court, resulting in a landmark decision that protected and expanded Nevadans’ rights to access and inspect government records.

An expert on government compensation and its impact on taxes, Robert has authored multiple studies on public pay and pensions. He has been published in Business Insider, Forbes.com, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register, RealClearPolicy.com, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Examiner, ZeroHedge.com and elsewhere.

Robert has lived in Las Vegas since 2005 when he moved to Nevada to become a professional poker player. Robert has had a remarkably successfully poker career including two top 10 World Series of Poker finishes and being ranked #1 in the world at 10/20 Pot-Limit Omaha cash games.

Additionally, his economic analysis on the minimum wage won first place in a 2011 George Mason University essay contest. He also independently organized a successful grassroots media and fundraising effort for a 2012 presidential candidate, before joining the campaign in an official capacity.