Money for nothing

New Jersey courts ordered the state to spend a “huge amount of money” on failing urban school districts, writes Myron Magnet in a City Journal article on power-hungry judges. The “Abbott” money hasn’t equalized results.

The 31 Abbott districts received more money than the rich districts, because inner-city kids have greater needs. The court funded all-day kindergarten, half-day preschools for three- and four-year-olds and transition programs to work or college, plus money to build or update school buildings.

What are New Jersey taxpayers accomplishing with the $22,000 to $27,000 they spend per pupil each year in the big inner-city districts? On test scores and graduation rates in Newark, the needle has scarcely flickered.

As the E3 education-reform group’s report Money for Nothing notes, high schools in the state’s biggest city can’t produce substantial numbers of juniors and seniors who can pass tests of eighth-grade knowledge and skills, and the report quotes testimony to the same effect before the state legislature about Camden’s schools.

Urban high schools hire security guards — 20 for one Trenton school — rather than creating a school culture that encourages students to want to learn, Magnet writes.

(Inner-city students)  need teachers rewarded for merit, not longevity, and a curriculum that stresses skills, knowledge, and striving, not grievance and unearned self-esteem. They need a school culture that expands their sense of opportunity and possibility strongly enough to counteract the culture of militant ignorance and failure that surrounds them in the narrow world they know.

Without that, money doesn’t make much difference.


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  1. Has there ever been a problem in the educational universe where the answer wasn’t “more money”? Has there ever been a time when it worked?

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    Without security guards, not much is going to make any difference.

  3. Stacy in NJ says:

    This problem is exacerbated in NJ by affluent folks in the leafy suburbs who send their kids to the excellent public schools in their area or private schools and are okay with paying ridiculous property taxes. Our property taxes are the highest in the nation, in part to support the Abbott project. The working class and middle class are the victims. They struggle to pay their taxes and are increasingly moving south and west, leaving the state altogether, having been priced out of decent neighborhoods.

    The upper-middle class/affluent are glad to pay-off, guilt money style, the disadvantaged in the crappy urban areas forcing the working class/middle class to pay along with them. As long as they’re paying off these folks via Abbott, they feel little responsibility to actually affect change – out of sight out of mind. They are also the largest impediment to charter and voucher programs. They have excellent schools, so why fuss with all that?

  4. Michael E. Lopez says:

    If your school requires security guards, its mission has already failed.

  5. Urban high schools hire security guards — 20 for one Trenton school — rather than creating a school culture that encourages students to want to learn

    How can administrators create a culture among the student body?  It comes to school with what it receives at home, which includes both mutable elements like culture, and immutable elements.

    Central to the issue of culture change is motivation.  A population which is subsidized at every turn and told it isn’t responsible for what it has become has zero motivation to change a thing.  All of that will have to be turned around, which means not just an end to the judicial reign of error, but of Political Correctness.

    • There are schools that manage to create a culture of learning and among kids identical in every way but the school they attend to the kids who go to school where there isn’t a culture of learning.

      • Most of those are schools of choice (e.g. KIPP), where the culture is determined by self-selection and not by majority rule or heckler’s veto.

        • Disproven by studies that tracked both the winners and the losers of lotteries used to determine entry into some of those schools. The school matters as any reasonable person would expect and just like the professionals they employ, some schools are better then others.

  6. no the culture is not created by self selection, but it is consciously acted upon and reinforced every waking moment. Every autumn is a re-immersion in culture; every new school opening is a critical junction to set the trajectory of progress.

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    Yeah. Spend enough money and the thugs who are supposed to be in school, and those who aren’t but find the pickings good and get in one way or another will instantly become enthusiastic members of the Dead Poets Society.

  8. For $22,000 per pupil, I think you could run a boarding school that got the kids away from their toxic home culture. But I suspect there’s a second toxic culture involved – centered in the administrative offices and the teachers’ union.

  9. Apparently, the idiot judges in NJ forgot about the grand experiment in Kansas City which was ORDERED by the federal courts to spend upwards of 2 BILLION dollars to improve schools (i.e. – throw more money at it syndrome). Well, after all that money was spent, achievement actually went downwards.

    Here is the URL for everyone to get a good laugh out of:

    This was back in the mid-90’s folks (here is a summary):

    Kansas City spent as much as $11,700 per pupil–more money per pupil, on a cost of living adjusted basis, than any other of the 280 largest districts in the country. The money bought higher teachers’ salaries, 15 new schools, and such amenities as an Olympic-sized swimming pool with an underwater viewing room, television and animation studios, a robotics lab, a 25-acre wildlife sanctuary, a zoo, a model United Nations with simultaneous translation capability, and field trips to Mexico and Senegal. The student-teacher ratio was 12 or 13 to 1, the lowest of any major school district in the country.

    The results were dismal. Test scores did not rise; the black-white gap did not diminish; and there was less, not greater, integration.

  10. Correction, the changes in Kansas city happened from the time period of approximately 1985 to 1997. Here is another gem on educational spending (nationally) from 1965 to 1990:

    Between 1965 and 1990, said Hanushek, real spending in this country per student in grades K-12 more than doubled (from $2,402 to $5,582 in 1992 dollars), but student achievement either didn’t change or actually fell. And that was true, Hanushek found, in spite of the fact that during the same period class size dropped from 24.1 students per teacher to 17.3, the number of teachers with master’s degrees doubled, and so did the average teacher’s number of years of experience.