'Transforming' schools: Too big to succeed?

“At a time when the Tea Party, anti-big-government, pro-Sarah Palin types have the momentum,” can Arne Duncan push through another Washington-knows-best, let’s-fix-our-schools-from-the-shores-of-the-Potomac approach” to education reform, asks Mike Petrilli on Flypaper.

It’s also easy to picture conservative politicians demagoguing the “national testing issue,” like Texas Governor Rick Perry has been doing so effectively.

The “transforming” schools rhetoric may moderate, Petrilli predicts.

I don’t think the rhetoric is the problem. It’s the money.  A lot of Americans think the government is spending too much money. Do they want to spend billions of dollars in hopes of  “transforming” schools?

Update: Senior Democrats and Republicans have announced a bipartisan effort to rewrite No Child Left Behind. Here’s hoping the spirit lasts.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. >I don’t think the rhetoric is the problem. It’s the money.

    Adjusted for inflation, we spend three times as much to school our kids as we did back in the 1950′s. Are we getting a result three times as good?

    It’s the money, all right: public education is awash in it and people are getting fed up with the lack of results and the constant stream of excuses.

  2. The money is the problem. There’s too much of it sloshing around. We can only throw money at a problem when we actually have the money or are able to borrow the money. This recession is the best thing that could have happened to public education. Here in NJ, Gov. Christy chose as his education commissioner Brent Schundler, an agressive proponent of charters and vouchers (former mayor of Jersey City). Christy would never have been elected and Shundler chosen if not for our current economic situation here in NJ. With the highest property taxes in the nation, there is absolute no tolerance amoung the public for increased education spending. Our affluent suburbs produce high achieving students, but our inner city schools, even the extremely well funded Abbott School districts, are awful in all respects. The Abbott districts get special funding – nearly double the state average per student.

    In all respects, the reason Democrats are suffering at the polls is because they are so eager to prop up the failing institutions of the last century, feeding the blue beast as Walter Russell Meade says. Public education in it’s current manifestation must fundamentally change. Everyone knows this. The auto industry, public union membership, the university system, the media. They’re all going to go through painful and necessary changes brought on by our economic circumstances and technology. What an wonderful opportunity for those that have the ideas and desire to push for smart solutions. “Smart” being limited, not an excuse to fold everything into the power greedy and ineffective arms of the federal government. What an opportunity to murder the old patronage schemes.

    I’m sincerely hoping that Christy has the cojones to follow through once the unions and public service sector begins to howl. Only time will tell.

    Sorry for the tangent, but here in NJ what Obama and Duncan do via national standards is definately secondary to local considerations. They are becoming irrelevant because they don’t fully grasp the situation.

  3. Sorry for the many typos above (its not it’s), but the one I really want to correct is Walter Russell Mead without the extra ‘e’.

  4. Rob, I suspect that you and I would find a lot of common ground in questioning the wisdom of changes made since the 50s. However, we have to be honest about the numbers.

    If you are going to be fair comparing 50s money to current money, you do need to factor in special education.

    In the 50s, special education money was minimal, and few really minded if the kids who needed special education dropped out. Now, special education makes up a very significant portion of educational spending.

    As a result, it is easy to exaggerate wildly when comparing the difference between the cost of core academic offerings then and now.

    Further, much of the additional difference is explained by two other changes:
    a) in the 50s, no one expect a high degree of individualization of instruction, so student-teacher ratios could be higher, and
    b) teacher pay was scaled to the then accepted practice of paying women far less than men

    If one wants to argue that we should reverse course on special education, student individualization, or women’s pay, then this should be done directly. But your formulation simplifies the situation into a politically popular slogan that obscures more than it clarifies.

    That said, I have been in teaching for 35 years, have witnessed about 35 reform initiatives, and would be hard-pressed to name one that have turned out to be helpful in the long run.

  5. So — what do we get for our investment in special education?

  6. (Don): “In the 50s, special education money was minimal, and few really minded if the kids who needed special education dropped out. Now, special education makes up a very significant portion of educational spending. As a result, it is easy to exaggerate wildly when comparing the difference between the cost of core academic offerings then and now. Further, much of the additional difference is explained by two other changes:
    a) in the 50s, no one expect a high degree of individualization of instruction, so student-teacher ratios could be higher, and
    b) teacher pay was scaled to the then accepted practice of paying women far less than men.”

    Inflation-adjusted per pupil budgets have more than doubled since the 1970′s. Our State auditor estimates that the mean special-ed per pupil budget is twice the regular-ed budget. From this statistic and total enrollment, sp-ed enrollment, and total budget, one can calculate regular-ed per pupil and sp-ed per pupil budgets. I did this for Hawaii. The regular-ed per pupil budget (2007, the most recent year for which the NCES has complete figures) is higher than the overall per pupil budget of 1997 (that is, regular ed plus special ed).

    Further, schools create a significant part of their sp-ed enrollments through inept instruction. In the 1996 TIMSS, the Singapore fifth (5th) percentile score, 8th grade Math, was higher than the US fiftieth (50th) percentile score.

    We still do not individualize instruction, despite smaller classes. Those high-performance Asian school systems use larger clases.

  7. Schools now have those kids with severe cognitive, physical or psychiatric/sociopathic problems who did not enter the school system until the de-institutionalization movement started in the 70s. It was not that nothing was spent on this population, but the cost of their care was not part of the education budget, so comparisons of spec ed are likely to be camparing apples and oranges. These kids are very expensive, since they may need a full-time aide. Frankly, I’m not sure they belong in the school system.

    I certainly agree with Malcolm that schools are creating spec ed problems, with poor curriculum and poor reading and math instruction. I also think that the majority of the ADD/ADHD diagnoses are unnecessary; normal boy behavior has been redefined as pathology that requires medication. Classroom environments, teaching methods, type of reading materials and type of assignments (much emphasis on feelings) have all become less boy-friendly.

  8. Bill Leonard says:

    We spend a lot of money on special ed kids. But we also spend a lot of money on layers and layers of administration. Exactly what these people all do is not always clear.

    I am a product of K-12 public schools from the late 40s through 1960. I received a good education — a far better education, in fact, than my sons received in K-12 public schools in the 70s and 80s.

    My K-6 education was in the Des Moines school system. There was one principal for every three schools; individual schools had a senior teacher who also actked as assistant principal. There were typically 33 to 35 kids peer class.

    Oh, and did I mention, we also had kids with language problems (and undoubtedly, in some cases, emotional) problems? After WWII, a lot of Europe’s displaced persons were resettled in the north central plains states and in central Canada.

    Gee, and I’ve often wondered how the schools managed to do so well without huge staff and administration…Unions? Hah! But teachers were admired and respected.

    Bill

  9. Public schools have far too many admin, non/teaching types. Many years ago, I remember reading a comparison of central-ofice personnel between DC Public Schools and Archdiocese of Baltimore schools, which had almost exactly the same number of kids. The Archdiocese had somthing like 15 and DCPS had something like 1300+. The academic achievement gap was also vast, but in the reverse direction. DCPS, like a lot (maybe most) urban school systems has been a hotbed of indifference, incompetence, corruption, poor curriculum, poor teaching, poorly-maintained facilities, cronyism, actual danger to both students and staff et al, ad nauseum. They spend far more than most districts and consistently fail to use money in ways to improve facility maintenance, classroom resources, curriculum, instruction and safety. The suburban counties also have huge ed fiefdoms that suck up resources that never make it to classroom level. Their results look better because of the population they serve.

  10. Special Education spending can’t hide the fact that some states with superior test scores spend half of what other states do. More money obviously doesn’t lead to more learning.

    There is a big societal component to this, however. The schools may be wasting a boatload of money, but our society is wasting a lot of opportunity as well.

    When I was in first grade, back in the 1960′s, almost every kid started out on the first day of class able to read at least a little. Nearly all knew their letters and numbers. By the end of the year, 100 percent of us could read, but the teacher started out with much better raw material than would be the case today. Parents were just expected, back then, to start teaching their kids letters and numbers and the rudiments of reading before the kids got to first grade. They were also expected to back up the teacher in matters of discipline.

  11. “Parents were just expected, back then, to start teaching their kids letters and numbers and the rudiments of reading before the kids got to first grade. They were also expected to back up the teacher in matters of discipline.”

    That was then, this is now:

    she called a conference with the parents of a black child because he had severe behavior problems at school. The dad told her, “He don’ have ta take ordas from no white woman!”

    http://martynemko.blogspot.com/2009/06/white-teacher-speaks-out-what-is-it.html?commentPage=2#c7241434083454454822

Trackbacks

  1. [...] 'Transforming' schools: Too big to succeed? « Joanne Jacobs All-around player Burton helps team succeed – SportsUnit 4: how to succeed with on-premise and SaaS | Irregular …How Much Money Would Allow You To Live Comfortably? – Find Answers …Fed agencies work to ensure produce safety | The Money TimesIs it healthy to wash your face or should you let your face clean …GordonandtheWhale.com » Zac Efron to…produce?• Smart Guide of Small Business DIY Payroll Software | My TaxesIntellectual Property Watch » Blog Archive » US Business Calls For …Emptywheel » Toyota Pays Whitewash Firm to Produce UNBELIEVABLY …Nanodiamonds produce 'game changing event' for MRI imaging sensitivity View the Contact Powered by Mobile [...]