Our high-school and college dropout rates are appalling, and the achievement levels of those students who remain in school don’t come close to matching the levels of students in other developed nations. Too many American high-school graduates can’t read, and too many college graduates can’t appreciate nuanced writing. Baird, economist and academic, details the problem of low standards in American public schools, then goes beyond the statistics to address why it is that the standards are so low. Why do so few elementary schools insist that students begin to learn algebra and geometry rather than wait until high school? She laments that education policies and reform are aimed at the symptoms rather than the root causes. Baird begins with a historical overview of how public education policy has been developed and goes on to detail the social and economic cost to the nation of having such low academic standards, including lower productivity and greater wage inequality. Baird offers specific solutions, including reforming governance of school systems to reduce bureaucracy, setting high national standards, providing support to schools serving disadvantaged students, and providing strong incentives to students to work hard.
)Dr. Baird’s work is an ambitious synthesis of factors contributing to a problem affecting all of us. It is one she has not only elucidated, but also meticulously documented in a clear and highly readable style. The reader is brought along with summarizations; each premise builds on the last. It is a monumental effort that deserves the attention of educators at all levels. The next phase—i.e. the implementation—requires Dr. Baird’s deft hand as well.
(New York Journal of Books
)The latest addition to the swelling chorus singing the tune that ‘governance is a major part of what’s wrong with American K–12 education’ is University of Washington economist Katherine Baird, who has just published a perceptive and worthwhile book on how to harmonize our discordant school system. The author brings some unique economics-style analysis to bear, including identification of the ‘two principal shortcomings’ of today’s governance structure, which she dubs the ‘Principal-Agent Problem.’ The ‘Principal’ is ‘society as a whole, but parents and students in particular’ (that is, those who benefit from the system), while the ‘Agent’ is the mix of adult interests, structures, and organizations that run the system. The Agent is supposed to advance the interests of the Principal but mainly doesn’t, in part because the Agent has way too many levels, components, and competing interests. Baird’s remedy is to raise standards radically—national standards—and decentralize control of the system to the building level.
(The Education Gadfly Weekly
)Baird (economics, Univ. of Washington, Tacoma) presents the major reasons for her conclusion that US public schools are "trapped in mediocrity" and less than "world-class." As an economist, she focuses on economic policy and governance issues. Baird favors a national approach to solving education dilemmas, despite constitutional commitment to state-level control. Above all, she criticizes low academic standards and expectations for students and the "perceived high costs and low benefits" of US schooling....This book is worth reading for the important questions it raises. Summing Up: Recommended. Undergraduate, graduate, research, and professional collections.
)This roadmap to raising aspirations, improving delivery and aligning governance and funding with improved performance builds on the experience of today's highest performing and most rapidly improving education systems.
(Andreas Schleicher, special advisor on education policy to the OECD's Secretary-General and OECD Deputy Director of Education)Baird challenges us to overcome educational mediocrity by setting powerful goals and creating the incentives and policies to achieve them. She demonstrates that the cost of educational mediocrity and failure is much higher than is conventionally acknowledged and provides a reasoned and energetic strategy to attain educational success for our students and society.
(Henry Levin, William H. Kilpatrick Professor of Economics & Education, Columbia University)Katherine Baird has given us a lucid account of what is wrong with k-12 education in the United States and what we can do about it. She avoids the common temptation to focus on one problem and one magic bullet that would fix it, instead showing how the various issues are intertwined and how other countries have found solutions. Unless fundamental structural defects are addressed by promoting both school-level autonomy and common national standards, she points out, simply raising the competence and status of teachers or improving curriculum will not produce the dramatic improvements that are needed.
(Charles L. Glenn, Boston University)
About the Author
Katherine Baird is associate professor of economics in the Politics, Philosophy, and Economics program at the University of Washington, Tacoma. She received her PhD in economics from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and also holds an MS in agricultural economics from Michigan State University and a BA in economics from the University of California, Berkeley. In 2008 she was a Fulbright scholar in economics at the Universidad del País Vasco in Bilbao, Spain.
Prior to beginning her career as an academic, Katie spent five years working in the field of agriculture and agricultural policy in Africa; during three of these she lived in a small rice-growing village in Mauritania’s Senegal River Valley. She also spent two years working in Washington, DC, for the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Department of State, and a private firm providing consulting services to federal agencies.
In addition to teaching, Katie also writes a regular column on public economics for Washington State’s second-largest newspaper, Tacoma’s The News Tribune.