Monday, January 23, 2006

Money As An Excuse, Not An Answer

This timeless piece could have been written today, the mantra of lack of money continues to be the excuse of public schools today. Their problem is reckless spending and lack of accountability. Lack of money is an excuse and not the answer. Many schools are asking for money on March 21, 2006. We must continue to vote down referenda and demand real reform from our legislators. It is time to end tenure, it is time demand results from our public education system and it is time for legislators to stop bowing to every demand of the teacher's unions, service unions and administrators of our public schools. Legislators are to represent all of the people of Illinois not just the special interests groups.

Money As An Excuse, Not An Answer

The Blum Center for Parental Freedom in Education
David W. Kirkpatrick On School Choice, No. 18, January, 1997
By David W. Kirkpatrick

Opponents of school choice, and other basic reforms of public schools, not only argue against real change but generally maintain that what is needed is more money. While no school can operate without funds that does not prove that more money will suffice.

Not that money isn't required, or that teachers shouldn't receive decent salaries, or that some classes may not be too big. But satisfying these needs, if that is possible, cannot and will not do the job, and this has been repeatedly demonstrated.

There are some 15,000 school districts in the nation, ranging from a few students to the million or so in New York City. They also range from districts that are very poor and could effectively use more money to some that spend more than $20,000 per year per pupil. Yet, whatever their size or budget, where is the district that says it has enough money or, wonder of wonders, that says it is spending too much?

Significantly, apologists for the status quo rarely attempt to cite instances where money has led to noteworthy achievement gains, much lower dropout rates, or other proof that money alone works. Nor do they say how much is needed, other than "more."

The standard answers to the present system's faults have been tried and have failed. Incomprehensibly, there are those who should know this who continue to advocate more of the same.

A generation ago John Henry Martin put the platitudes to the test. He was the superintendent of a school district which supported a budget increase of 35%, making possible many changes that are supposed to make for efficient schools and effective education.

Average class size went from over thirty pupils to about twenty. Specialists of all kinds were hired or increased in number: guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists, classroom aides, and remedial teachers. Two full-time remedial reading teachers were assigned to each elementary school in which the average enrollment was 600 pupils.

Teachers with advanced degrees were hired, the curriculum was updated, an extensive in-service program for teachers was initiated, a teacher council was chosen by secret ballot, and dozens of other reforms were introduced. After two years, outside evaluators were hired to assess the results. Students took achievement tests, with the results analyzed by class size, teacher age and experience, and the student's race, sex and family income.

In his 1972 book, Free To Learn, co-authored with Charles H. Harrison, Martin reported, "In the end, the cherished faith died...all that was done to make a difference had made no difference. The panaceas were, after all, only false promises--vain expectations. All the patented prescriptions...that made such a grand appearance in the college textbooks had failed the hard test of reality in the field."

At about the same time, in 1970, former Berkeley, California school superintendent Neil Sullivan told a U.S. Senate committee that his district had also lowered class size, provided remedial teachers, and the like, only to conclude three years later that inner city children had actually lost ground.

One of the most extensive and, given the source, one of the more important tests of the money theory was New York City's More Effective Schools (MES) program, initiated and supported by the New York local of the American Federation of Teachers, begun by the district with much fanfare in the 1960s. Because of the great costs it was introduced into only a handful of the 1,000 or so schools in the district.

MES could more properly have been termed the More Expensive Schools Program, because that was its principal distinction. It succeeded in spending great sums of money, but not in gaining added academic achievement by students.

It was also evaluated and found wanting, despite smaller classes (a teacher-pupil ratio of less than one to twelve), more experienced teachers, greater per-pupil expenditures, better facilities, compensatory education efforts, and all the rest. In only four of twenty-one schools did students average reading at grade level, and these schools contained mostly middle-class white students. The background of the students again appeared far more important than anything the schools did.

Even if MES had worked, a teacher-pupil ratio of one to twelve would not be replicable. Nationwide that would require some 3,750,000 teachers, over a million more than are currently in the schools, an obvious fiscal impossibility. But MES didn't work, and, in the mid-seventies it was ended, with much less fanfare than accompanied its introduction.

This information has been available for years, and has been publicized from time to time, including in my book, Choice in Schooling, published at the beginning of this decade. Yet it is largely ignored or forgotten. Even those who argue that just spending more money is not the answer often do so rhetorically without citing the ample evidence supporting their view.

Many urban districts that are in desperate shape educationally are among the nation's most expensive. Despite spending as much as $10,000 per year per pupil some cannot even maintain clean and safe schools. As Cleveland reportedly does, they may pay custodians as much as $80,000 per year while students have textbooks that are decades old. They then use the deterioration of the buildings, for which they are responsible, as an argument for more money.

Perhaps nowhere is the failure of money more evident than in the ongoing saga of Kansas City, Missouri. Federal district Judge Russell G. Clark took control of the district in the mid-1980s and ordered the state to give the district virtually a blank check.

He accepted the professional educators argument that money could make a difference, and if they were given enough of it they could transform the district, even raise test scores to state averages in about five years. (NOTE: the establishment wants several years to test its reforms, but demands that projects they don't like be declared failures and discontinued if they don't show immediate gains.)

In the decade since then more than 1.6 billion extra dollars have been spent on the fewer than 40,000 students, or about $40,000 extra per pupil. State officials argue that they have been forced to spend 45% of the state's education funds on the 9% of the state's students who are in Kansas City.

As Paul Ciotti noted in the Philadelphia Inquirer last August, " the new magnet schools were an Olympic-size swimming pool with an underwater viewing room, a robotics lab, professional quality recording...and animation studios, theaters, a planetarium, arboretum, zoo, a mock court with a judge's chamber and jury deliberation room and a model United Nations with simultaneous language translation." CBS-TV's "60 Minutes" did a feature presentation on the topic.

The result?

Minority enrollment in the district has increased to 77%, achievement rates have not gone up, the large gap in scores between blacks and the district's few remaining whites continues, while dropout rates are said to have gone up to 55% and are still rising.

In short, "all that was done to make a difference had made no difference." Despite all the changes that money could buy the situation has worsened.

At last, the U.S. Supreme Court, reacting to an appeal from Missouri officials, has directed Judge Clark to modify his approach. It remains to be seen what benefit that will have for students, not to mention teachers, parents, and taxpayers.

The forecast here is that the outlook is grim unless the system is opened up through the introduction of meaningful reforms, including full school choice, that permit the creativity and intelligence of individual teachers, parents and students to be utilized.

Democracy rests on the belief that people make better decisions for themselves than others will make for them, but everyone seems not to have gotten the word. According to Nicole Garnett, writing about the school choice program in Milwaukee in the December 30, 1996/January 6, 1997 issue of The Weekly Standard, although 96% of the students in the program are minorities, and the local African-American newspaper, the Community Journal, reports 90% of the black community supports the program, the Milwaukee National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), argues against its expansion, saying "African Americans and other racial minorities especially benefit from implementation of uniformity of educational opportunity by a government official."


But arguing for more money has one seldom-recognized benefit for the educational establishment. When they fail to make progress they have a ready answer: we weren't given enough money!

Money As An Excuse, Not An Answer

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