Educational non-solutions – Education (Part 2)

First, I will tell you what the solution is not. Way too many people say the answer is more money. This is definitely the attitude of the teacher’s unions. Politicians garner support by saying they will increase funding for public schools. I can tell you that it doesn’t make a difference. When you are in a classroom there are some students that refuse to learn. They will draw through the class, play on their cell phones, sleep, and quite deliberately ignore the teachers. I have been in classes with students like this, and you can not force them to pay attention. To say that spending $12,000 a year on that student, rather than $9,000, will help them to learn is absurd. Really, tell me, what possible difference could it make?  They want to spend more, and more, and more money, for what?  Why would they suddenly start to care because a few thousand more is being spent on them?

On the other hand, the students who are motivated and work hard – the ones who do their homework, study, and read in their spare time – if you decrease the spending on them it won’t change their attitude one bit. They will still work hard, they will still excel, they will still get into college and make something of themselves. It won’t make any difference if they are using a cheap pencil to write out their homework, or are doing it on a nice, new computer. It won’t matter if the building is old and the plumbing has leaks. It won’t matter if there are 10 kids in the classroom or 100. When I was talking one-on-one with the students who were determinedly not working, they continued to ignore me and learned nothing. When I was talking to a classroom, the students who wanted to learn were listening like they were the only ones I was talking to. In college I had one class with 900 students, most of the classes were 50-200. I learned just as well in the large classes as I did in the smaller classes. That’s why I think the amount spent per student has relatively little effect on what they learn. Certainly less effect than their attitude, the parent’s involvement, and the quality of the teacher.

Let’s delve into the money a bit. School districts in the United States spent an average of $9,138 per student in fiscal year 2006, an increase of $437 from 20053 The amount spent ranged from $14,884 in New York to $5,437 in Utah. I found the SAT data for Utah and New York4. SAT data will only include the students who intend to attend college, so it may not be the best indicator for the quality of education for all the students. But, we can look at the data and see how it does for the students who do want to attend college. In 2008 the average scores for the 75th percentile were as follows:

Critical Reading Mathematics Writing
New York 560 590 560
Utah 640 640 620
Nationwide 580 590 570

From what I can tell Utah students fared much better than New Yorkers, despite the fact that they had the lowest funding of all the states. New Yorkers had the best funding, and they scored right around or slightly below the national average. As I noted, this was just data for college bound students.

Also, about 100 times more students were taking the test in New York than in Utah; this will effect the data since a larger sample size will tend to be closer to the national average. Smaller sample sizes are statistically more likely to have skewed data; however, if you believe the mantra that ‘better funding equals better students’ then you would expect the Utah scores to be significantly below the national average, not consistently above. So I tried to find another source of standardized testing we could use to compare all students, not just those planning on college. The NAEP (The National Center for Education Statistics with the U.S. Department of Education) (yeah, the abbreviation doesn’t make any sense to me, either) published Report Cards for each state. I got data from New York, Utah, and I threw in New Jersey because it has also been a historically high spending state.

Subject Grade Year New York New Jersey Utah Nation Ave.
Mathematics 4 2007 243 (+4) 249 (+10) 239 239
8 2007 280 289 (+9) 281 (+1) 280
Reading 4 2007 224 (+4) 231 (+11) 221 (+1) 220
8 2007 264 (+3) 270 (+9) 262 (+1) 261
Science 4 2000 148 (+3) 154 (+9) 145
2005 154 (+5) 155 (+6) 149
8 2000 149 154 (+5) 149
2005 153 (+6) 154 (+7) 147
Writing 4 2002 163 (+10) 145 (-8) 153
8 2007 175 (+19) 152 (-2) 154

To simplify, I put the difference between the state average and the national average, so we can see at a glance how each state compares. Utah is the only state, of the three, that scored below any of the national averages, but it also scored well above in a few categories. New Jersey was consistently high. But New York, which spent the most, was just at the national average in a few cases and less far above than New Jersey in the rest. I just use this data to illustrate that you can not conclusively link higher spending on education with higher test scores.

I would also like to note that when comparing individual schools it should not come as a surprise that schools with higher funding perform better. If we take a nice, posh school located in the middle of wealthy suburbia in New York, and compare it to an public school in downtown New York City, which do you think has higher test scores? I don’t have any data on it, but my guess would be the wealthy suburbia school. Many people might look at that and conclude that the higher funding is reason. I do not think this is a reasonable conclusion; it is not the money spent that causes the students at one school to perform better. Instead, think about why that school has more money. The majority of school funding comes from property taxes. The more expensive school is in the middle of nicer houses paying higher property taxes; the people who own those houses worked hard and have good jobs. They have taught their children to work hard and get good jobs. So, the majority of the students at that school have a higher work ethic instilled in them by their parents. On the other hand, many of the students at the downtown dilapidated building have single mothers who didn’t finish high school surviving on welfare. That is their lifestyle; they aren’t being taught the same morals, values and ethics from their parents (if they are lucky enough to have parents), and so they don’t perform as well in school. I heard a wonderful story from my friend, Jermaine Carroll. He grew up in Southern Maryland, as a racial minority with a single mom. It was a fairly stereotypical situation for a black kid in that area. He didn’t know anyone who had been to college, and so going to college never occurred to him. One day he was at a friend’s house when his friend’s dad showed up for a visit. He was an officer in the military; Jermaine was naturally impressed at how cool he was, and asked how he could become an officer. The father said he would have to do well in school, then go to college, at which point Jermaine cut him off saying, “Oh, well, forget it.” He asked why and Jermaine said, “I can’t go to college.” Then he asked Jermaine why not.

And for the first time in his life he wondered, Why can’t I go to college? To make a long story short, he did go to college. He graduated from West Point, then he graduated from BYU with a JD/MBA (a Law Degree and a Masters in Business). All it took was one person he admired and respected asking him, ’Why can’t you go to college?’ I think that awakening point is what is missing from so many peoples’ lives. Children whose parents went to college, or at least graduated from high school, are more likely to do the same. They grow up with that being the expectation. When I was a child I never wondered if I would go to college. My parents always asked, “Where do you want to go to college?” and “What do you want to study in college?” College was just a fact of life. The children who grow up without this expectation also tend to follow in their parent’s footsteps. For most of them the thought of going to college never even occurs to them. They don’t know anyone who went to college. Everyone they know dropped out of high school, had kids without getting married, did drugs, or lived off welfare. Why would they expect their life to be any different? It is a sad cycle, but the only way to break it is to change their attitudes, which isn’t something that can be legislated or funded. Every child in America is given the opportunity to get an education sufficient to get into college. If they are dedicated and willing to work hard it doesn’t matter if they go to the worst school in America; they can still succeed.

I also don’t think that we need more funding to pay teachers more. I’ve found a very good article that summarizes the findings of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics concerning what public school teachers are paid6. According to the BLS, the average public school teacher in the United States earned $34.06 per hour in 2005. The average public school teacher was paid 36% more per hour than the average non-sales white-collar worker and 11% more than the average professional specialty and technical worker. Teachers also receive very good health and retirement benefits. A 2005 AFT Salary Survey found that teachers make an average salary of $47,602. A PayScale salary survey report in 2008 found that the median salary for Elementary School teachers was $39,343 and High School teachers was $42,0237. Something we need to keep in mind when talking about these salaries is that most salaries are for a year’s worth of work. Teachers work 9 months out of the year, plus they get two weeks off every Christmas, one week every spring and every holiday in between. Many people think it is just a given that they should be able to live off a teacher’s salary, but I don’t know any other careers where you can take almost four months off a year. For most people it is a given that they have to work 12 months a year, so it hardly seems fair to compare the salaries of teachers with other professions and complain that they are lower.

Another non-solution is programs like No Child Left Behind. Programs like this focus on achieving equal results, not on creating equal opportunities. Programs like this hold children with potential back from excelling, because all the focus is on those who are ’behind’. Let’s just think about it logically. The purpose of this program is to make sure every student in the school meets basic requirements. So there is a classroom full of students, and one of them isn’t performing well. He doesn’t do his homework, he sleeps through class, he refuses to take tests. The teacher expends vast amounts of time and energy trying to get him to perform at the very lowest expectation level, because the law absolutely requires that every student pass or she will be punished. Meanwhile, what is happening to the rest of the students? They are hearing the same things over and over, because the teacher has to keep repeating herself to the one student. They aren’t being taught anything new. They aren’t getting individual attention, because they already meet the basic requirements. They aren’t getting the quality of education they deserve. They are also learning that excelling isn’t as important as meeting the minimum requirements, because they can see that is what the focus is on. The purpose of the program is to make sure he isn’t left behind, at the expense of every other student in the room. There are additional problems that have been caused by implementing NCLB.

A new study by researchers at Rice University and the University of Texas-Austin finds that Texas’ public school accountability system, the model for the national No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), directly contributes to lower graduation rates. Each year Texas public high schools lose at least 135,000 youth prior to graduation – a disproportionate number of whom are African-American, Latino and English-as-a-second-language (ESL) students. By analyzing data from more than 271,000 students, the study found that 60 percent of African-American students, 75 percent of Latino students and 80 percent of ESL students did not graduate within five years. The researchers found an overall graduation rate of only 33 percent.8 Some logical reasons for this result were listed: (1) Losing the low- achieving students helped raise the schools scores, which gave the schools an incentive to ’lose’ them. (2) The test scores grouped by race single out the low-achieving students in these subgroups as potential liabilities to the school ratings, increasing incentives for school administrators to allow those students to quietly exit the system. (3) The accountability system allows principals to hold back students who are deemed at risk of reducing the school’s scores; many students retained this way end up dropping out. I have heard that one of the goals of NCLB is to decrease the gap in test scores. I can’t really describe how much this mentality frustrates me. There is nothing wrong with there being a gap! The gap indicates that some students are doing really well. Anytime we try to decrease a ’gap’ in the name of fairness, what we are going to do is hold back the students that could be doing incredibly well. Before you assume I’m wrong, just think about it. What is easier; making a few people do better or making a few people do worse? It’s so much easier to not live up to your potential, it is natural to be lazy. People who don’t want to work, the ones making up the bottom scores of the ’gap’, are going to fight working harder and doing better. It is so much easier for the ones on top to simply be neglected and stop performing as well. The next time you hear someone talking about decreasing the gap between the failures and the successes, know that the result will be less, not more, success. Decreasing the gap is not the American way! The American way is to reward success, to celebrate students who are impressive and smart! The American way is to allow those with potential to live up to it, to accomplish everything they can and give them the opportunity to keep going! Letting one student who refuses to try determine how well everyone else can do is disgusting, sad, and pitifully wrong. Yet, that is the purpose of No Child Left Behind.

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About whyimconservative

I'm a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom with a Biochemistry degree living in Austin. I love my kids, my husband and my country. I want to explain why I'm conservative.

Posted on June 14, 2011, in Education and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I’m glad I found your blog. So far I haven’t read many of your posts, but I do enjoy reading your thoughts on the different issues.
    But on the issue of teachers only working for 9 out of 12 months, That is misleading. I don’t know how it works everywhere else, but I do know that around here many teachers attend semiars and remedial training courses during these times off. They also start their school year a week or 2 before the students and end it a week or 2 after the students. For the most part most teachers might get 4 or 5 weeks off. Albeit more that’s not much more time off than the average person.

  2. I can see that. So, maybe closer to ten or ten and a half months for teachers. There are plenty of other administrative and supporting staff, though. My mother has been a nurse her whole life, and now that she’s getting older she just wants a job as a school nurse, because she will have all the same time off as her youngest children. She also recognizes that school employees may not get paid much, but they get absurd benefits. She could make $50 an hour working as a nurse, but $20 an hour, plus all the vacation and health insurance makes it come out about even. Secretaries, principles, guidance counselors, school board members, school district administrators, bus drivers, teachers assistants, etc. don’t work year round, either. There may be occasional seminars and such that require their presence, but they are working far less than 12 months a year. There are also articles like this – http://www.goldwaterinstitute.org/article/1865 . In Arizona teachers make up 72 percent of private school staff and 49 percent of public school staff. So, over half the public employees in the Arizona public schools are not teachers. Apparently they aren’t necessary, since private schools perform better with less administrative staff, and cost less.

  3. For the most part I’m in total agreement with you. However by ignoring, forgetting or just not taking into account the things I mentioned before and things I didn’t mention you mislead your readers. I am very concerned with the state of this country so I read a lot of news stories,blogs and the comments from others to try and get a feeling for the majority opinion. I see a lot of the same thing when it comes to teachers,”They only work 9 months out of the year”. That’s simply not true. I left out of my previous comment that they show up at the school a few minutes to hours before the students, they work for hours after the students go home grading papers and preparing the next days lesson plan. And many teachers still buy supplies out of their own pocket. All these things need to be taken into account.

    You talk about their pay and use 2005 numbers. Here’s a link for the current numbers, http://www.payscale.com/research/US/All_K-12_Teachers/Salary

    If you take a look teacher pay has only increased around $1000.00 over the last 6 years. That’s not much.

    You mention your mother could make $50 PH as a nurse. If you use an average work year of 2000 hours that’s $100,000.00 a year. Well that is pretty good money, When you take into account the education and training it takes to become a nurse that wage might be commensurate with such. But to the average person that is outrageous. No wonder health care is so exspensive. But back to the topic at hand.

    If you figure a hourily wage for teachers using only 9 months or 1500 hours that would be just about $29 PH for a high school teacher. Wouldn’t that on it’s own be commensurate with eduction, training and experience? But as I said they put in a lot more than 1500 hours per year. I don’t have exact numbers but just for the purpose of discussion here lets say they spend 10 hours per day in performance of their job. That equals one quarter more hours than the average of 8 hours per day in most jobs. So 1/4 of 1500 is 375. That’s 1875 hours they put in in that 9 months. And now the average hourily pay is only $23 PH. And you still need to add in the hours spend in the aforementioned comments. By the time you’re done you’ll see teachers don’t make that much. Granted some of the people you mentioned that are in some way involved in education don’t work a full 12 months. But most work much more than you imply.

    I’m not even going to go into the benifits except for one thing. I would think as a nurse your mother could get pretty good health coverage and retirement she could take care of herself. If she can work for $20 PH then she can put $30 PH into an IRA.

    I think we can agree that there are good and bad in everything and everyone, but I will defend teachers because I was one of the students you speak of. I didn’t apply myself, and if it wasn’t for one of my teachers I would not have graduated high school.

    As I said, For the most part I agree with you. Throwing more money at a problem does little to fix the problem. Not allowing the teacher to punish poor behavior only reinforces that behavior. But teachers get a bad rap and that’s just not right.

  4. I’m not trying to mislead anyone; there are millions of factors and there are thousands of individual teachers who make different amounts of money and make different choices about how much time to put into teaching and how to deal with students. My numbers are old because I wrote this in 2007; I appreciate the updated links. Some teachers are poorly paid; some make an absurd amount for the work they do. Some teachers put in tons of extra time and some work eight hours a day, nine months a year. Any assessment will have to have some generalizations. Way too much of the money going into the school systems ends up in the hands of endless layers of unnecessary administrators. Basically, there is too much information for anyone to include in a single post on the topic. I’m not trying to mislead by leaving anything out, I’m just including what I think is relevant for the points I’m trying to make. Which is that the public school system is an inefficient use of public funds, and there is a better way to educate our children.

    • I’m not impling that you are trying to mislead anyone. I’m only pointing out that saying teachers only work 9 months out of the year is not accurate and therefore misleading. Everything else I can agree with you on.

      This is what I’m addressing in your post,

      “A 2005 AFT Salary Survey found that teachers make an average salary of $47,602. A PayScale salary survey report in 2008 found that the median salary for Elementary School teachers was $39,343 and High School teachers was $42,0237. Something we need to keep in mind when talking about these salaries is that most salaries are for a year’s worth of work. Teachers work 9 months out of the year, plus they get two weeks off every Christmas, one week every spring and every holiday in between. Many people think it is just a given that they should be able to live off a teacher’s salary, but I don’t know any other careers where you can take almost four months off a year. For most people it is a given that they have to work 12 months a year, so it hardly seems fair to compare the salaries of teachers with other professions and complain that they are lower.”

      I can’t see a generalization in any of that. It reads as an assertion of fact.

      This in particular is (to put it plainly) bull crap.
      “Teachers work 9 months out of the year, plus they get two weeks off every Christmas, one week every spring and every holiday in between. ” Has a nice ring to it, but it’s bull.

      I can see by your reply that you are offended by my criticism, but I assure you that my intent was not to offend.

      It’s just that making the claim that teachers only work 9 months out of the year is something that I happen to disagree with.

      The real culprit in all this in my mind is the public unions and the touchy feelly liberals that perfer being their kids best friend to being a parent..

  5. I appreciate all the additional information. Anything that makes the information on my blog more accurate is important. I think that there are some teachers that do not work anywhere near 12 months a year, as well as administrators, secretaries and nurses. I brought up nurses because I know they don’t work any more than just the school days and don’t need to be there early or stay late. A lot of the public school government paid positions are like that. Anything you want to add is wonderful; I don’t want anyone to read the information I’m trying to disseminate and disregard it because they think it’s inaccurate or incomplete.

  6. thanks for another good post. i was wondering about the 9 months thing too, but i figured on my own you were generalizing. No one mentioned absent days or field trips. but, i guess its irrelevant anyway. If teachers took that time off during summer to prepare themselves for the next school year in whatever way they do, and when they do teach, they’re AWESOME, then it was time well spent off.

  7. Several more good points in this post. I particularly like, “The gap indicates that some students are doing really well. Anytime we try to decrease a ’gap’ in the name of fairness, what we are going to do is hold back the students that could be doing incredibly well.”

    When I was a student I sought to make the gap between me and everyone else as big as possible. Does that make me part of the problem?

    You are exactly right on this point. As I rant about reading textbooks, note-taking, doing homework assignments on time (and before the test) instead of in the last week of the semester in the hopes of getting a D-….. or as I once again discuss how not mastering basic reading and learning skills will effect their futures I can see the looks from my students. The highest performing ones are saying, “Duh, we got that when you told us ten times ago (or when our parents told us this years ago).” Then there’s the kids who are doodling in their notebooks and writing letters to their friends (well, trying to text them without getting caught these days). I’m just hoping to convince one more student to buy in to education. My favorite classroom activities are the ones where my brightest students can be unchained from those who are wasting their own time and the community’s money. I’ve always said that I never really teach those kids much. I just point them in the right direction and watch them learn.

    The whole 9 months thing and pay thing seems to be wrought with pitfalls. I confess that I get four weeks off in July (though I usually spend much of it relaxing with some good books–oddly enough all related to social studies). My work week varies from 10-18 hour days (depending on the season, coaching responsibilities, and how big an assignment I am grading). I’m thankful for Sundays off to attend church, to work in a small town where I generally get Wednesday nights off for Bible study as well, and that I don’t have to ever work on a major holiday (though I do sometimes have to practice on breaks and there’s always some work to be done at home). My wife is thankful for these things too!

    I do earn less than any of my friends with an equal amount and value of education. That is generally true for the best teachers out there. I find my work so much more inspirational though. In Missouri (outside of Kansas City and St. Louis where unions muck things up) I pay for 10% of my health insurance but that varies from district to district. Our district pays less than most of those I know about as many other districts pay 100% of the teacher’s premium (family always costs extra). I contribute 14% of my salary to the public school retirement system. I know that some states require nearly no contribution from the teachers themselves. I groan that it is so high and is mandated but I’m sure going to be thankful for it when I retire.

    This is the crux with much of the data you are using here. Each state has it’s own system and most states leave a lot up to the local school districts. Demographic variations, cost of living variations, and a plethora of legal variations make your data substantially less reliable. I would expect New York to spend a lot more on it’s schools because it costs more to live there than it would in Utah. My salary would be considered high in some states and low in others. That said, I’m not heading to New York any time soon for a big raise.

    ” In Arizona teachers make up 72 percent of private school staff and 49 percent of public school staff.”

    Now here’s an interesting piece of date to me. Why do public schools need so much more administration? Well, more assistant principals are needed to deal with discipline and the paperwork that complying with state and federal law requires (private schools don’t need paperwork other than expulsion papers). We have several staff members in my small district to manage special services so that our special education teachers (and regular classroom teachers) have time to teach. We also have all the NCLB testing to administer, analyze, and respond to. It’s not a big deal in my district but I’d also mention that in districts where it is difficult to fire poor teachers, it’s easier to promote them into administration and hire a better classroom teacher in their place!

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