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Guest post by Dana R. Casey.
As reported on TownHall.com “The public schools in Washington, D.C., spent $29,349 per pupil in the 2010-2011 school year, according to the latest data from National Center for Education Statistics, but in 2013 fully 83 percent of the eighth graders in these schools were not “proficient” in reading and 81 percent were not “proficient” in math.”
Those outside of education must find this shocking. No doubt it will raise renewed cries attacking all of those incompetent teachers who are solely responsible for our failing schools. Doug Gansler, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Maryland, is currently running ads taking direct aim at teachers, discrediting seniority, and demanding more “skilled” teachers replace those in seniority. Obama made this comment about the firing of the entire faculty and administration of Central Falls High School in Rhode Island:
“So if a school is struggling, we have to work with the principal and the teachers to find a solution. We’ve got to give them a chance to make meaningful improvements. But if a school continues to fail its students year after year after year, if it doesn’t show signs of improvement, then there’s got to be a sense of accountability.”
In other words, if a school is failing, it must be the teachers’ fault. The public has been led to believe that if we only had better teachers and more money, our school systems would be bastions of education filled with loving teachers stuffed full of the latest educational paradigms and joyously leading our youth into a golden future.
Those of us in the classroom are not shocked at all. We know where the money goes and it is not to the students, the classrooms, or the teachers. The following is a breakdown of the unbelievable $29K per student spent in D.C. public schools from National Center for Education Statistics along with an analysis from a teacher’s perspective of where all that money actually goes.
$10,584 per pupil on instruction, which “encompasses all activities dealing directly with the interaction between teachers and students
I assure you that most of this money NEVER makes it to students, teachers, or classrooms. It is spent on consultants, studies, and testing. One colleague of mine who worked at my school district’s central office told me of a $200,000 consultation commissioned by the district to make suggestions for improving schools. The end result of that consultation was, “The schools should be kept clean.” I could have told them that for a mere $50,000. I could not make this up. Who would buy such a story, yet this is an actual study.
The new Pearson tests called the PARCC tests (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), which will soon be imposed on most students in America, costs $30 per test, per student. If a student must retake a given test, it is still $30 a pop. Pearson will be making money on students in grade 1, grade 3, grade 5, grade 8, and likely 4 subject tests in high school. But Pearson does not plan to stop at testing and will soon be sucking up an increasingly larger share of educational funds through online programs; textbooks aligned to Common Core, and packaged lessons, while surreptitiously taking complete control of our children’s education.
Who is Pearson? In a revealing report by Donald Gutstein, a British Colombia professor who is currently researching corporate propaganda, he has this to say about Pearson.
“Pearson plc is the world’s largest education company, with operations on nearly every continent…. It became large by buying up its competitors. It dominates the huge American education market…” According to investment research firm Sanford Bernstein & Co., Pearson is pursuing a variety of growth strategies, including one that will ‘revolutionize how education is delivered to students around the world, starting with the United States.’ It is an ambitious attempt to further commercialize education by claiming its products and services will raise student and teacher performance while at the same time cutting spending. If successful, Bernstein argues, ‘it would make every teacher and school student in the United States a potential customer’ by “personalizing education in U.S. schools through technology and best practices.”
Pearson is not only focused on squeezing every drop of education money it can out of the American taxpayer, Pearson is also determined to decide what your child will learn, what your child will read, and ultimately what your child will think. In the meantime, teachers purchase paper, books, paint, science lab materials, and other necessary supplies for their classrooms out of their own pockets.
“$5,487 on “capital outlays,” which includes “the acquisition of land and buildings; building construction, remodeling,” etc.”
Building construction, remodeling, and land acquisitions go to administrative buildings, principal office remodels, and interior decorators for superintendents while teachers still shell money out of their own pockets to buy posters and bulletin board paper for their rooms. If $5,487 per student, per year were actually spent at the school level, we would have gleaming state-of-the-art buildings full of up to date computer and science labs, libraries overflowing with books, art rooms full of materials, and wonderful gyms with fully equipped workout rooms and fresh locker rooms. Instead we have empty libraries, computer labs with few functioning computers, and locker rooms too disgusting to use.
“$2,321 on “operation and maintenance,” which includes ‘salary, benefits, supplies, and contractual fees for supervision of operations and maintenance,’ etc.”
Once again, if this much money is being spent in the schools, why are so many of our bathrooms dirty, rooms and hallways unpainted for years, toilets broken, elevators not functioning, and school grounds like abandoned city lots?
$2,124 on “interest on school debt
If the money that schools had were being spent wisely, there would be no need to carry such a heavy interest burden and this money could be spent on updated textbooks, new computers, and engaging field trip experiences.
$1,613 on “instructional staff,” $1,546 on “school administration,” $1,404 on “student transportation,” $1,208 on “student support,” $866 on “general administration,” $761 on “food services,” $450 on “other support services.
I cannot see where in this budget are the C.E.O.’s salary, central office staff and supervisors, curriculum specialist (who have usually spent little time in a classroom), field supervisors, district heads, library specialist, and every other over paid idiot in district central.
In my own school district the supposed budget is $15,000 per student, but having been on the budgeting team at the school level I can attest to the fact that the budget per student is approximately $5,000 at the school level. That $5,000 must cover all salaries in the building, all supplies, all computers, all teacher training, anything required in the school building. That $5,000 is also based on the student enrollment on one specific day in September. If the school gets a 100 more students the following day, it will receive no more funds. The school must make do with the budget per student that was pressed in concrete the previous day.
Where is the other $10,000 per student going? It is not going into our schools. The central office does cover operating costs including building maintenance and renovations, electricity, and heating. Out of that $10,000 also comes transportation and other system wide supports, but not $10,000 per student worth. That money goes, as I said before, to useless consultations, to pay for programs never fully implemented or just plain dysfunctional like the mathematics computer learning program Aspire, which actually lowered the scores at my district’s top math school. It goes to cover the cost of the CEO’s personal driver who made more than twice the average salary of a teacher with 20 years of service and a master’s degree. It goes to pay Pearson for testing our students over and over again. Let us not forget the spa days for certain central office employees or luxurious luncheons. It goes to hotels and conventions and per-diems of central office employees who never enter a classroom. It does not go to students, to teachers, to supplies, or to really improve learning for our students at all.
Too many people are sucking off of the teat of education growing fat while the students and teachers struggle on with the watery drops left behind. The public should not be surprised by the money being spent in education, but they should be outraged by where the money is going. We do not need more money to improve education; it will take much more than a budget change to fix the systemic problems of public education in America, but we can start by making sure that the money is actually getting to the students instead of fattening the already fat cats who have discovered the fatted calf of education.
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Dana R. Casey is a veteran high school English teacher of more than two decades in an East-coast urban system. She is a life-long student of theology, philosophy, and politics, dedicated to the true Liberalism of the Enlightenment, as defined by our Founders and enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights.