Monday, June 1, 2015

Of course Money Matters in Education

In this interesting bit of commentary from a retired teacher, Frank Breslin makes a case for "Why America Demonizes Its Teachers," and he offers plenty of information for why students struggle and why some schools are still "failing." Additionally, he notes certain areas in which it can be argued schools and public education are still underfunded.

The issue of teacher responsibility for student performance must be placed within this broader social context of what has been happening outside the American classroom for the last 30 years. Only in this way will the discussion about student learning become more realistic, and honest, and why singling out teachers alone distorts the true nature of both the problem and its solution. When there are too few teachers in a school, and those few are overwhelmed by large classes and have no time to provide individualized attention for students -- many of whom come to school deeply troubled and alienated with all sorts of problems having nothing to do with the school -- is it any wonder that students find it hard to focus and learn? The emotional, familial, and social problems of many inner-city students are often so deeply embedded and, in many cases, treatable only by professional help that the paltry resources of the school cannot begin to address them. These underfunded schools often lack even the essential services of counselors, social workers, and nurses because of draconian budget cuts. What makes matters still worse is that these same schools are now set up for additional failure by being annually denied billions in vitally needed tax revenues diverted to charter schools, with no accountability, as part of a right-wing political agenda. 

When I posted the column to Facebook, I did receive one comment which criticized the article for the standard response from "the Left" that it's always about needing more money. While I do concede that the calls for more education funding can be redundant, the issue is certainly more complex. More money will not fix countless problems in schools, and more money poorly spent will do nothing for students in need. Yet, there is plenty of data that supports the idea of more funding leading to better educational outcomes. This is especially true in the areas of graduation rates - but not always so clear with standardized test scores. Increased funding does have long term positive effects on success later in life, especially when tracking adult incomes.

Our findings provide compelling evidence that money does matter, and that additional school resources can meaningfully improve long-run outcomes for students. Specifically, we find that increased spending induced by SFRs positively affects educational attainment and economic outcomes for low-income children. While we find only small effects for children from nonpoor families, for low-income children, a 10 percent increase in per-pupil spending each year for all 12 years of public school is associated with roughly 0.5 additional years of completed education, 9.6 percent higher wages, and a 6.1-percentage-point reduction in the annual incidence of adult poverty.

And, to my point from earlier posts that Bill Gates should focus on fixing "a school," with his billions, rather than "fixing schools" with across the board reforms like Common Core. If we targeted spending on support systems like child care in disadvantaged neighborhoods, we could "fix schools" one neighborhood at a time. That's what millionaire Harris Rosen did in the community of Tangelor Park, Florida. 

Twenty-one years later, with an infusion of $11 million of Mr. Rosen’s money so far, Tangelo Park is a striking success story. Nearly all its seniors graduate from high school, and most go on to college on full scholarships Mr. Rosen has financed.Young children head for kindergarten primed for learning, or already reading, because of the free day care centers and a prekindergarten program Mr. Rosen provides. Property values have climbed. Houses and lawns, with few exceptions, are welcoming. Crime has plummeted.

Money invested in neighborhoods that need it will do far more to "fix schools" than any nationwide standards and curriculum movement or any state and federal education legislation.

So, reformers, buck up the money and "fix a school."

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