Charles Murray's three-part exposition (here, here, and here) on education and intelligence brought into the mainstream an argument that empiricists have been making for a long time.
Essentially, he argues that innate intelligence sets parameters as to what children can achieve, and urges educational reforms that cater to this reality. For anyone who has children, the veracity of Murray's central argument is obvious--while their kids have been raised in the same environment, been given the same opportunities, and have been imbued with the same ideas of morality and purpose, they differ in a countless number of ways. Yes, our children on average tend to be more like one another than one of their classmates chosen at random, but there are countless exceptions. Blatantly obvious.
Yet our public education system is set up on the demonstrably false premise that educational opportunities (specifically money put into the system) creates smarter children. So while educrats clamor for insatiable spending increases, American children continue to perform below their peers in the rest of the developed world. More resources are needed!
In actuality, the reason the US doesn't compare favorably with other Western European and East Asian nations is because over 25% of our population is black or Hispanic, and these groups are on average less cognitively gifted than whites and Asians (this same demographic reality holds true when considering socially pathological ills on a national level). As the Hispanic portion of our student population grows, we are only going to fall further behind, irrespective of how much money or how many labtops each student receives. If only white and Asian American students' test scores on considered, by contrast, the US places near the front of the international pack (usually in third or fourth).
Do those who clamor for more spending have a case, at least domestically? There are plenty of anecdotal examples arguing that they do not. Most prominent among many is that of the KCMO schoool district, which was infamously ordered in 1985 by Federal Judge Russell Clark to spend $11,700 per pupil, causing higher teachers' salaries, adding amenities like a model UN, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and a robotics lab, and bringing the teacher-pupil ratio to 1-to-13, the most favorable in the country. Of course, the district continued to perform dismally and eventually lost accredidation that it is to this day struggling to regain.
How about at the state level? The correlation between per-pupil expenditures and NAEP performance is non-existent, with a p-value of .62. There is no relationship whatsoever. What about paying enough to keep good teachers around? Again, nothing. The relationship is statistically insignificant and actually trends inversely--that is, as teacher salaries rise, performance drops.
If we adjust for cost-of-living, a modest, but statistically significant relationship of .35 exists. For teacher salaries, it remains beyond statistical confidence. But the relationship between a state's standard-of-living and its childrens' scholastic performance is a considerably more rigorous .65. To the extent that greater real spending is associated with better performance, it's a symptom of a smarter, more productive population. A state's standard-of-living, not educational expenditures, is what's important. That's not surprising, given that monetary SoL proxies quite well for IQ.
If the goal truly is to raise academic performance, realizing a more intelligent population is the best way of achieving it. States need to heed the advice of VCU's Professor Michael McDaniel, not the bunk spewed from the mouths of NEA harpies. A merit immigration system, an end to third-world Hispanic immigration, and economic incentives to encourage the affluent to have more children and the impoverished to have fewer, will all do far more to boost the US' scholastic performance than any amount of educational expenditure increases ever will.
Read through Murray's stuff if you have the time, especially the second piece. In it Murray makes the same argument that I, and more persuasively Randall Parker, have been making for some time. Education needs to be customizable, and online classes and video-recorded lectures are a good way of going about that.
It'll cut costs drastically (secondary room-and-board educational costs average $15,500 in-state), obliterate the anti-empirical, anti-Western slant that characterizes academia by allowing the most skilled professors to lecture and instruct potentially millions of students (professors are a full ten times more likely to be leftists than the general public), and business leaders are more than willing to accept the idea--63% of them believe online education to be at least as good as or superior to traditional classroom setups.
Further, vocational schools will spring up allowing less endowed students an early exit from the standard primary educational track that is not going to do them any good so that they can start earlier in life and enjoy a modestly better standard of living than they would as unskilled menials. Relatedly, the most endowed will be able to take courses over the summer and on weekends, so they can blaze school quicker and become productive members of society faster than they are able to now.
Finally, as an aside, I'm often asked why I continue to patronize the DOW Jones news service with a WSJ subscription. For one, it is to insure an endless supply of blog post topics--every time the paper's op/ed board opens its mouth on immigration it lobs the restrictionist movement a softball. More seriously, the paper is the only major print organ in the country that permits the free expression of ideas from the empirical right. In what alternative universe would Murray get to run a three-part series in the NYT or the LAT?