No correlation between budgets and education

Jan. 20, 2010

There was a time, not so long ago, when California schools were the standard for all American schools, and California students excelled. Today, California hovers near the bottom of the heap.

What happened?

Until the 1970s, schools had well-stocked libraries. Most schools had a cook who prepared the daily lunches, and a school nurse who fixed boo-boos, gave vaccinations and sports physicals. There were music teachers and enough musical instruments for band and orchestra students.

Schools also had only one principal and vice principal, and not the six or eight vice principals currently in charge of “discipline and safety,” “public services” or “parking.”

And, if some students were not ready to move to the next grade, they were held back to repeat the year.

Governor Schwarzenegger is proposing to cut administrative costs in public schools by 10 percent, as well as maintenance costs, stating that he is trying to keep cuts away from the classroom.

School administrators and consultants are screaming that cuts will be felt in the classroom, create safety hazards and predictably, will create additional impediments to teaching.

California schools have transformed from focusing on educating children, to a bureaucratic structure with the priority placed on teachers, administrators, pay scales, retirement packages and tenure. Public schools have become yet another state government agency, complete with labor union representation for employees. School structure outweighs educational need or purpose.

Because the days of holding underperforming and struggling students back are long gone, colleges and universities are now finishing basic high school curricula for first-year college students. Remedial reading and English, and basic math classes are packed each year with ill-prepared students fresh out of high school.

However, the most damaging developments of public education are the increasing costs of the government-run public institution that seems only to level the playing field of social disadvantage, and the ongoing “educational reforms” that emphasize minimal competencies.

Teaching to the lowest common denominator has become the standard.

More money does not equal better proficiency or higher test scores.

According to Vicki Murray, Ph.D., Associate Director, Education Studies at Pacific Research Institute, (Cal Watchdog’s parent organization), average student proficiency rates in English language arts and math at California’s bottom 20 revenue districts averaging $8,900 per student, are actually higher than proficiency rates at the top 20 revenue districts averaging more than $19,200 per student. Yet State Schools Superintendent Jack O’Connell, the California Teachers Association and teachers and administrators consistently claim that spending more money per student will improve California public school performance.

How can educators, administrators and unions ignore the evidence?

Secondary school students in 32 industrialized countries are better at math and science than ours according to Dr. Walter E. Williams, Professor of Economics at George Mason University. “In 2004, the U.S. spent about $9,938 per secondary school student. More money might explain why Swiss and Norwegian students do better than ours because they, respectively, spent $12,176 and $11,109 per student. But what about Finland ($7,441) and South Korea ($6,761), which scored first and second in math literacy? What about the Slovak Republic ($2,744) and Hungary ($3,692), as well as other nations whose education expenditures are a fraction of ours and whose students have greater math and science literacy than ours?”

According to Williams, American education will never be improved until the delicate problem of overall quality of the people teaching our children is addressed. Dr. Williams finds “students who have chosen education as their major have the lowest SAT scores of any other major, and who have graduated with an education degree earn lower scores than any other major on graduate school admissions tests such as the GRE, MCAT or LSAT. Schools of education are home to the least able students and professors with the lowest academic respect.”

Williams recommends that if America is serious about improving education, we should eliminate schools of education. And one example is how far “educators” have strayed far from the educational basics of math, science, history and English, instead now teaching courses called “Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers,” with the topics of “Sweatshop Accounting,” “Chicanos Have Math in Their Blood” and “Multicultural Math.”

Public school educators spend classroom time teaching students about racial profiling, the war in Iraq, and environmental activism, while many students cannot even pass the high school exit exam by the third attempt in as many years.

Parents are increasingly pursuing both home-schooling and private schools, as well supporting as school vouchers, tuition tax credits and other school choice programs. With 12 of the top 15 public schools in California charter schools, the same free market principles that support a healthy economy go a long way to supporting education.

However, the correlation between low educational standards in California and the highest-ever membership levels in the CTA cannot be overlooked.  Lowering expectations serves only those who are doing the exploiting.

According to the California Dropout Research Project, each year of high school dropouts costs the state $46.4 billion over their lifetimes because dropouts are the most likely to be unemployed, turn to crime, receive welfare and state-funded health care, and they pay few taxes.

At least shrinking budgets will be the catalyst for stopping schools from continuing to pass failing students — and some good old fashioned competition won’t hurt either.

–Katy Grimes

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