High spending, low performing

Camden, New Jersey schools spend $27,500 per student to run some of the worst schools in the state, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Twenty-three of the district’s 26 schools appear on the state’s list of the 70 lowest-performing schools, but the city will spend almost as much per pupil in the current school year as the state’s highest-spending districts, Avalon and Stone Harbor, spent in 2012-13. Camden made headlines earlier this year when the superintendent said only three high school students of the 882 who took the SAT in 2011-12 tested “college ready.”

The district graduates only 49 percent of students.

Camden is a high-poverty city. Special education costs are high.  “There’s no secret to how we got here,” said former school board member Sean Brown, who served from 2010 to 2013. “There definitely was leadership failure going on, high management turnover, and a lot of things we had to spend money on.”

 The district, which has lost 1,000 students over the last five years to charter or out-of-district schools, has gained administrators and staff, increasing spending 10 percent and creating a student-employee ratio of 4-1 and a student-teacher ratio of 9-1.

. . . Of 2,700 district jobs, only 46 percent are held by teachers. School-based non-teachers such as aides and maintenance employees account for 40 percent and the central office for 13 percent, according to district figures.

“In a first-grade general education classroom earlier this month, 11 pupils sat cross-legged on the floor around a teacher who read to them while a second teacher, also assigned to the classroom, sat in one of eight empty desks,” reports the Inquirer. Yet, at one of the high schools, “special-education staffing can be so tight, teachers not certified in special education say they have had to fill in.”

 Classrooms in Camden often come equipped with smartboards, iPads, and laptops. But in the same rooms teachers might lack access to a working printer, the tech support they need to use the smartboard, or a basic set of textbooks requested a year ago.

“We don’t have a lack of resources here. We have an improper allocation of those resources,” the district’s state-appointed superintendent, Paymon Rouhanifard, has said.

U.S. spends big on schools, but results lag

The U.S. “is one of the world’s biggest spenders when it comes to education,” but is not keeping up with other nations, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The United States spends 7.3 percent of its gross domestic product on education from pre-kindergarten through the university level, the fifth highest in the world.  “But other countries have done a lot better at getting their resources where they will make the most difference,” said Andreas Schleicher, an education policy adviser to the OECD.

America used to have one of the highest college completion rates for young adults in the world. It has now dropped to 14th place, behind countries including Korea, Russia, Ireland and Canada, according to the OECD report

The United States also falls behind in early childhood education. Just half of 3-year-olds were enrolled in preschool in 2011 compared with more than 90 percent in nations such as France, Italy and Norway, according to the report.

In kindergarten through 12th grade, meanwhile, the U.S. posts middling test scores, dragged down by the high numbers of children living in poverty whose schools tend to receive lower revenues from property taxes.

“The U.S. is one of the few that invests in a regressive way,” said Schleicher. “Children who need (public funding) the most get the least of it.”

The U.S. spent $15,171 per student in kindergarten through college in 2010 — including more than $11,000 for K-8 students and more than $12,000 for high school students –  more than any other nation in the OECD report.

Switzerland’s total spending per student was close at $14,922; Mexico averaged $2,993.  The average OECD nation spent $9,313 per young person.

Public spending accounts for 70 cents of every education dollar in the U.S., down from 72 cents a decade earlier. Parents picked up another 25 cents and private sources paid for the remainder in 2010.

The average OECD nation spent 84 cents of every education dollar, down from 88 cents a decade earlier.

In the U.S., taxpayers pick up 36 cents of every dollar spent on college and job training, compared to 68 cents in other OECD nations.

The average high school teacher in the United States earns about $53,000, well above the average of $45,500 among all OECD nations. But other countries are raising teachers’ pay more quickly than the U.S.

Public school spending falls for the first time

U.S. public-education spending per student fell in 2011 for the first time since 1977, reports the Census Bureau. Public schools spent $10,560 per student, a drop of 0.4 percent from the year before. Adjusted for inflation, spending per pupil dropped once in 1995, according to the Wall Street Journal. In real dollars, spending per pupil was down 4 percent in 2011 from the peak in 2009.

New York spent the most per pupil at $19,076, followed by Washington, D.C. at $18,475. Utah spent the least, $6,212 per student, followed by Idaho at $6,824. (Both low-spending states have lots of Mormons, which means large families and fewer social problems.)

Thirty states increased per pupil funding: New Hampshire is spending 6.8 percent more.  Twenty states and the District of Columbia spent less. Illinois cut spending by 7.4 percent.

In the future, more education spending will go to teacher pensions and health benefits, leaving less for instruction, predicts Kim Rueben, a senior fellow with the Tax Policy Center and an expert on the economics of education.

Core standards: It’s not about the benjamins

Democratic state senators in Pennsylvania have come out against Common Core State Standards “without adequate state financial resources,” reports Ed Week.

It’s not about the benjamins, responds Marc Tucker on Ed Week‘s Top Performers blog. Some high-achieving countries spend substantially less per student than the U.S. “Top performers . . . redesign their school finance systems” to provide more resources for hard-to-educate students.

When Florida first proposed to raise its standards years ago, some people objected on the grounds that high standards would hurt the poor and minorities, who would not be able to meet them.  The standards were raised and the students whose scores improved the most were poor and minority students.  When Massachusetts set out to raise their standards, the liberals objected that the poor and minority students would be hurt, because they would not be able to meet the standards.  And–you guessed it–when the standards were raised anyway, the students who made the greatest gains were the poor and minority students.

Years ago, he asked parents in a focus group about standards.  An African-American single mother living on welfare said her middle-school son was getting A’s for coloring in a coloring book. “The kids in the suburbs have to work really hard for their A’s,” she said. “When my child graduates, all he will be good for is working the checkout counter at the grocery store.  I want my child to have the same opportunities they have.  I want him to have to do as well in school as they have to do to earn an A.”

It will be very hard for schools with low-income and minority students to meet the new standards, Tucker concedes. Spending more won’t be enough.

We already spend more money on average than every industrialized country except Luxembourg and Norway.  We will have to do what the top-performers everywhere have done: radically change our school finance systems, academic standards, curriculum, instructional practices and tests and exams.  Not least important, we will have to make big changes in teacher compensation, the way we structure teachers’ careers, the standards for getting into teachers colleges, the curriculum in our teachers colleges, our teacher licensure standards and the way we support new teachers.

Rejecting high standards isn’t an option, Tucker argues. Employers will enforce the standards when they decide who to hire. Selective colleges will enforce the standards when they decide who to admit.

Britain: Spending doesn’t improve schools

“There is no correlation at all between the level of per-pupil funding and educational outcomes,” concludes a Deloitte analysis of British schools, reports The Telegraph. The Department of Education had commissioned the study to provide support  for a “pupil premium” — extra funding — for disadvantaged students.

The report confirms what’s obvious to parents, editorializes The Telegraph: “Ethos is what matters most – and you can’t buy a good ethos. Head teachers who turn around a school are utterly priceless, in every way.”

We’d say “culture” instead of  “ethos” and “principal” for “head teacher.”

There’s evidence that a well-run school will use extra funds to improve, going from good to very good or very good to excellent. But more money doesn’t help if the school lacks strong leadership.

U.S. is big spender on education

The U.S. spends twice as much per student on education as the OECD average, reports BrainTrack.

How Much Do Nations Spend on Students?
From: BrainTrack.com

5 education myths

Robert Maranto and Michael Q. McShane list their five favorite myths about public education, starting with “the cutback myth.”

Most Americans believe that their public schools are underfunded, and struggling to get by on declining resources. . . . In constant dollars, education spending rose from $1,214 in 1945 to just under $10,500 in 2008. . . . What’s far more important is how that money is spent.

“More money means better schools” is myth #2.

While expenditures have been increasing over the past several decades, performance has not. The National Assessment of Educational Progress has been given to a representative sample of U.S. students since the early 1970s, and the results have been basically flat. Similarly, the graduation rate for students has remained stagnant, as well, at about 75 percent nationwide. While some might argue that students today are somehow more expensive to educate, it should be noted that in this time period, rates of child poverty have declined and, in theory, technological advances should have been able to automate and thus decrease the price of some of the processes of schooling.

It’s also a myth that “our schools are going to hell in a handbasket.”  NAEP shows our schools aren’t getting any worse.

Myth #4: Choice will solve everything. Nope.

The “most insidious and dangerous myth” is that “schools don’t matter” when it comes to educating disadvantaged children, they write.

“It’s poverty, stupid!” the familiar refrain repeats.

. . . This is simply not accurate. We know, as a result of the measurements imposed by No Child Left Behind, that there are hundreds of schools across the country that are succeeding in educating poor students – charter schools, private schools, traditional public schools. And, if you ask them how they do it, as we asked the leader of one of the most successful systems of charter schools in America, they’ll say, “good teaching, and more of it.”

This is not to say that poverty does not play a major role and that broken homes and dangerous neighborhoods do not present serious hurdles that students need to overcome in order to learn. What it does tell us is that those hurdles are not insurmountable.

American public education has started to foster innovation and reward excellence, conclude Maranto and McShane, authors of a new book, President Obama and Education Reform: The Personal and the Political.

Spending skyrockets, scores don’t

While spending per-student has “taken off like a moonshot ,” SAT “scores have stayed the same or declined, reports Neal McCluskey at Cato @ Liberty. The fact that more students are taking the SAT doesn’t account for “the overwhelming lack of correlation between spending and scores,” especially as National Assessment of Education Progress scores also have flatlined.

Conservatives are incoherent on federal education policy, McCluskey adds, criticizing Rick Hess and Andrew Kelly of the American Enterprise Institute for their analysis of federal micromanaging. An addiction to spending federal money and a love of ”standards and accountability” leads to “a great big refuse heap of squandered money, red tape, educational stagnation, and political failure.” Yet Hess and Kelly don’t call for the feds to get out of education policy.

Fordham: Spend smarter on special ed

Spending more on special ed simply may not do much for kids,” writes Checker Finn on Gadfly, citing Boosting the Quality and Efficiency of Special Education, a new Fordham report by Nate Levenson. By emulating the staffing levels and practices of efficient districts, the high-spending districts could save $10 billion — and improve quality, according to the report.

Special Education

Special education has been “downright hostile” to “innovation, efficiency, or productivity boosters, writes Finn. It “remains fixated on inputs, ratios, and services,” rather than student outcomes.

. . .  the same basic dysfunctions that ail general education afflict special education too: middling (or worse) teacher quality; an inclination to throw “more people” at any problem; a reluctance to look at cost-effectiveness; a crazy quilt of governance and decision-making authorities; a tendency to add rather than replace or redirect; and a full-on fear of results-based accountability. Yet the fates (as well as the budgets) of general and special education are joined. In many schools, the latter is the place to stick the kids who have been failed by the former—a major cause of the sky-high special-education-identification rates in many states and districts.

. . . To its discredit, federal law bars the teams that develop Individualized Education Programs for disabled pupils from considering the cost of the interventions and services that they are recommending.

Improve general education so fewer kids end up in special ed, Levenson urges. If special ed is necessary, design cost-effective interventions. Above all, end maintenance-of-effort requirements that assume students are being served if dollars are being spent, regardless of whether the money is being used to help students learn.

PDK poll: Pull the trigger, balance the budget

Seventy percent of Americans think parents should be able to take over low-performing schools, reports the annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll. I was surprised to see “parent trigger” support running so high.

Also surprising:  Balancing the budget is more important than improving education quality said 60 percent,  even though most said schools need more funding.

In 1996, 25 percent chose balancing the budget and 64 percent chose improving education writes Rick Hess. “This year, independents chose balancing the budget by a 2-to-1 margin. This suggests just how tough the road ahead may be for those clamoring for new federal edu-dollars.”

President Obama’s education support is slipping, Hess adds.

Thirty-seven percent of respondents gave him an A or a B on education, while 34% gave him a D or an F. This is down dramatically from ’09, when the comparable figures were 45% and 21%. Independents were more negative than positive, while Republicans were hugely critical–with just 7% giving him an A or a B, and 61% a D or an F. (So much for the notion that the President’s education efforts enjoy bipartisan support.) In the horse race on education, Obama leads Romney by a modest margin, 49-44; this is dramatically smaller than the 17-point advantage Obama enjoyed on John McCain in ’08.

As in past polls, Americans gave higher grades to their local schools — almost half gave an A or B — than to the nation’s schools, which earned a C from nearly  half.