Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Alabama: School funding by the numbers

It is difficult to read a newspaper, listen to the radio, or watch TV news without hearing somebody tell us that our schools are badly under-funded. For the moment, the State will be satisfied with a $160 million tax increase, but indications are that they will soon pursue a $1.4 billion tax increase in order to "make schools adequate." School systems around the state are also seeking local tax increases to bolster their budgets.

We are told that schools need the money because buildings are in disrepair, students don't have textbooks, teachers are underpaid, and some schools have to request donations so that students will have toilet paper to use. Their focus is on educating kids, they claim, and that's where most of the money is spent, but they need more to do a decent job.

Critics claim that much of the money is being mishandled. Reducing waste and streamlining the bureaucracy, they insist, will allow schools to spend more money on actually educating students, and hopefully enable them to do a better job of actually teaching children how to read and write. Maybe public schools can even pull the average ACT scores of graduating seniors above 19.1, they hope.

Let's begin by crunching the numbers for the public schools, as provided by the State Board of Education. The Montgomery County school system spends an average of $5,398 per student each year, while the State education system spends an average of $5,657 per student. If we add the proposed $1.4 billion (or 30%) funding increase, that would increase county and state spending to $7,040 and $7,378 per pupil, respectively.

In order to compare public schools with private schools, I selected three private schools from the yellow pages and started asking questions. Specifically, I was curious as to how much it costs parents to put their kids in private schools, and how well those schools educate their students.

School Per Pupil
State Public Schools $5,657 ($7,378 after $1.4 billion increase)
Mgm County Schools $5,398 ($7,040 after $1.4 billion increase)
St. Bede $3,850
Mgm Academy $6,597
Trinity Presbyterian $5,299

As you can see from this chart, two of the three private schools spent less per pupil than did the public schools, and all spent less then what the per pupil spending would be after the proposed $1.4 billion tax increase. All of the private schools obtained better SAT scores than did the public schools, but tuition ranged from $1,500 less than that enjoyed by the taxpayer-funded schools to $1,200 more. Once the proposed $1.4 billion increase is added in, the private schools will cost between $3,190 and $443 less per pupil than will taxpayer funded public schools. By examining this data, a few things become crystal clear.

1) If most private schools can get better results than public schools for less money per student, then the amount of funding for public education isn't the problem.

2) A significant portion of the funding for public schools must be wasted or spent on items that do not help the schools achieve their overall goal: teaching children.

3) A dramatic increase in school funding will not help the students to learn more or to achieve higher scores. Only a fundamental change in how public schools are run and how public school teachers teach will accomplish that.

Over the past five years, per-pupil spending in Montgomery County schools has increased by 22%, while student performance has either dropped or remained the same. Parents of private school students have the option of removing their children to another school, and thus removing that money from the disappointing or overpriced school. Taxpaying citizens should have the same rights, to remove both student and funding from an education system that has failed them.

As education officials and politicians, led by Governor Seigelman, demand more tax dollars for public schools, taxpayers should be able to demand that the money is spent responsibly, on the actual process of educating students. By examining the performance of private schools, it is evident that children can be educated with less money than the public school system is currently spending, and we should demand that student performance rise with the funding level.

Don't force us to pay more taxes for an education system that doesn't educate our children. Until public schools start doing what their lesser-funded private brethren have shown themselves fully capable of doing, taxpayers should refuse even the barest suggestion of a tax increase.


Australia: Students dumbed down and left out

No wonder our school students are culturally illiterate. If NSW Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt can't tell the difference between Australia Day - which marks the arrival of the First Fleet on January 26, 1788 - and Federation, which marks the federation of Australia as a nation on January 1, 1901, then it is hardly surprising three-quarters of Australian teenagers don't understand the significance of Australia Day, the responsibilities of the governor-general or the symbolism of the Union Jack in our flag.

Ms Tebbutt's embarrassing gaffe aside, the results of the civics and citizenship test, reported in The Australian yesterday, reveal extensive gaps in the knowledge of national history in our schoolchildren. Worse, the news is simply the most recent in a long line of incidents and stories demonstrating the parlous state of our education system. While state and territory education ministers describe their schools as "world's best" and argue that standards are on the rise, the opposite is the case.

Why has this been allowed to happen? The first thing to realise is that those responsible for our education system argue that there is no crisis. At two forums organised this year by the Australian Curriculum Studies Association, concerns about falling standards and the politically correct nature of the curriculum were dismissed as a conservative backlash and a media beat-up.

Alan Reid, an Adelaide-based academic in favour of the much-condemned outcomes-based education model, argues: "We have a conservative backlash in the media which is really pushing us back to fixed syllabuses and a more didactic curriculum which conservative government forces are helping to promote."

At the second ACSA invitational conference, held in August and made up of the usual suspects, one of the educrats reportedly said: "It is all about politics and the influence of parents, lobby groups and media hype that sells papers."

Not only do state and territory curriculum bureaucrats argue there is no problem, the overwhelming majority also believe that process is more important than content and that teaching subjects such as history andliterature is secondary to developing generic competencies and skills, such as being futures oriented and valuing diversity.

While evidence of content-free education could be found at this year's history summit, where the argument was put that "you learn from doing history, not by being taught it" and the intention was to design a curriculum in terms of open-ended questions, it's important to understand that the curriculum has been under attack for years.

In 1975, the Whitlam government's Commonwealth Schools Commission sought to radically change the way teachers taught by arguing: "There is no reason to assume that the traditional subject fields, or high culture, are the only avenues through which thought might be developed or basic skills learned."

In opposition to the belief, as argued by US academic Jerome Bruner, that students must be taught the "structure of the discipline", the schools commission argued: "The skills of assembling evidence in logical argument may be developed through any content about which people care enough, or might be brought to care enough, to exert themselves to use them."

Never mind that skills and competencies do not arise intuitively or by accident and that they are best taught within the context of established disciplines such as English and mathematics. It is also true that not all content has the same value or complexity: Henry Lawson's The Drover's Wife is different from a mobile phone text message.

Since the early 1970s, the new age approach to teaching also has become embedded in teacher training. Georgina Tsolidis, an academic at Monash University, describes the role of teachers: "We were to go into classrooms to teach students, not subjects. We were to instil in our students feelings of self-worth premised on the value of what these students already knew and the value of what they wanted to learn, rather than the intrinsic worth of what we wanted to teach."

The most recent manifestation of education lite - in which, as argued in Shelley Gare's recent book The Triumph of the Airheads and the Retreat from Commonsense, "two generations of experimented-upon young Australians have emerged unable to read, write and think" - is Australia's adoption of outcomes-based education and the vague, generalised way the curriculum is written.

Instead of being given a clear, concise road map of what is to be taught, teachers are told that students, in the words of the West Australian curriculum, must be able to "describe and explain lasting and changing aspects of Australian society and environments", "construct a sequence of some major periods and events" and "categorise different types of historical change".

Memorising important facts, dates, events and the names of significant figures is also attacked as "drill and kill" and the argument is put that the curriculum must be open-ended, as teachers must be free to teach what their students are most interested in.

The flaws in such an approach are manifest. Not only are students disempowered as a result of leaving school culturally illiterate, thus disenfranchised in terms of the public debate, but the common ground on which democracy depends is left untilled.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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