Monday, November 5, 2012

I post this knowing FULL WELL that it is going to tick off scads of teachers, many of whom are my close personal friends. And I know that scores of others have tired of political posts most generally. For this reason, actually, I've carefully avoided making mention of presidential debates and candidate rivalries, voter preferance or disdain for political positions. But the truth is that the policy initiatives which get far less play are often the ones most impactful. Everyone argues about who should be president. Few even read the ballot initiatives until they get in the voting booth.

So here goes.

Those who know me, know that there are few things I value more than quality education. My own kids have gotten the very best educational experiences we can afford them...well, actually, we might not even be able to afford it. Their early childhood educations were spendy, indeed. So you'd think that I'd be all over giving money to public schools, right?


Here's the deal: Schools don't actually need more money. Under-performing schools don't benefit from cash. Here's an example:

The Oakland Unified School District had a budget of $602 million for the 2008-2009 school year, according to Katy Murphy, an education reporter with the Oakland Tribune. That budget meant that the district spent an average of $16,270 per student. That's a lot of money. But then, CA residents passed a bond initiative, giving the school even more money. $77M more. Of 707 eighth- and ninth-graders who took the California Standard test for general math: 1 percent tested advanced, 5 percent tested proficient and 94 percent failed by testing below grade level. Of 2,506 ninth- and 10th-grade students who took the California Standards test in algebra: 0 percent tested advanced, 3 percent tested proficient and 97 percent failed the test.

How can this be? How can a district have that kind of money in hand, and still fail 94% of kids?

Because, simply, money has nothing to do with educational quality.

The idea that schools are under-fnded is the stuff of mythology. Over the last four decades, public education spending has increased rapidly in the United States. According to the Department of Education, public schools spent, on average, $12,922 per pupil in 2008, the most recent year for which data are available. Adjusting for inflation, that's more than double the $6,402 per student that public schools spent in 1975.
Despite that doubling of funds, however, just about every measure of educational outcomes has remained stagnant since 1975. Student scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—the only consistently observed measure of student math and reading achievement over the period—have remained relatively flat since the mid-1970s. High school graduation rates haven't budged much over the last 40 years, either.

You also have to look at the cost of educating children in private schools, where per-pupil funding is MUCH lower. Private schools, which generally report much higher graduation rates and demonstrate improved performance on standardized tests, do it for an average of $6780 per kid.

"But what about teacher pay?" you ask. This is another area where data matters more than anecdote.

Recent research undertaken at both the Heritage Foundation and The American Enterprise Foundation have shown that public school teachers receive salaries about on par with private sector workers who score the same on the SAT and other standardized tests of cognitive skill. But fringe benefits — in particular, generous vacation time, pensions and retiree health plans — push total compensation for teachers roughly 50 percent above private sector levels.

I know, I know. Conservative think tanks. Maybe we should look for a less biased report?

The Manhatten Institute did it's own study, and found that teachers make, on average, $34.06 an hour. That was better than 61% of the other occupations the researchers examined, including architects, psychologists, chemists, mechanical engineers, economists, and journalists. Let us remember, too, that thanks to a tenure system, many of these folks have guaranteed employment and benefits. In an uncertain economy, that is a perk no one can deny.

But here's the big, BIG, BIGGEST issue with the bond (3B): 40% of the funds go to 16% of the population. That's right. Nearly half of the funds are set aside for Charter Schools. Let's look at what that means in the St. Vrain Valley School District:
  • It means that your tax dollars are going to pay for schools like Aspen Ridge in Erie. This is a school that so mismanaged its dollars that the School board president, John Creighton, told the school's representatives that their budget amounted to nothing more than "garbage." It's a million dollars of taxpayer dollars that quite frankly aren't being managed, Creighton said. In fact, the school's checking account ledger shows it is spending $45,000 per month with no income. Imagine if that were a business!
  • It means you are paying for St. Vrain Community Montessori, which gives priority enrollment to families who pay for costly private preschool. If you can't afford three years of private Montessori education? You will be placed on a waitlist for the public school while other parents buy access. That is, so long as your child's first language is english, and your child has no special needs or learning disabilities. (These students are excluded from enrolling.) Tuition-free public education? Not really.
The list goes on...I will not. Suffice it to say, however, that there are some real problems with the public education system, and none of them can be best remedied with more money. So, I'm voting "no." Actually, I already did. I voted last Thursday. I thought of my friends as I cast my disappointed they would be...but I also thought of the taxpayer and the students, and I decided I would rather cast a vote for them.

No comments:

Post a Comment