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WASTED FUNDS AND FAILING SCHOOLS

Image courtesy of Gualberto107 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Gualberto107 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

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Book Review: THE HOMELANDERS SERIES #1: THE LAST THING I REMEMBER by ANDREW KLAVAN

tlirRating: 5/5 Stars

Recommended Audience: 6th grade and up

I just finished Andrew Klavan’s newest book, Nightmare City, and I realized I was remiss in not having up a review of The Last Thing I Remember.

I have mentioned through my reviews on here that I think conservatives need to focus more on the culture. For those that agree with me, Andrew Klavan is someone you must be following. Klavan is an award winning author, screenwriter, and media commentator. Two of his most notable works are True Crime and Don’t Say a Word, both of which were turned into movies. For anyone wanting to learn a little more about Klavan you can check out his website, http://www.andrewklavan.com/, and you also can read the interview that I conducted with him back in December 2012.

The Last Thing I Remember was Klavan’s first foray into young adult literature. It is the first book in the four book The Homelanders seriesI admit the story is a bit over the top, some of the things that Charlie faces are a little unrealistic. It really doesn’t matter because this book is so adventurous and so much fun! It’s a real page turner!

At the beginning of the story Charlie West wakes up strapped to a chair. He has been tortured and battered and someone is about to kill him. Not to go out without a fight, Charlie manages to escape and begins his journey home. Along the way he faces many struggles and problems. 

The reason I really like this book is the unapologetic, pro-American values that Charlie displays throughout the story. If you consider yourself a constitutionalist, then this kid is going to make you grin from ear to ear. 

I loved this passage on p. 76:

“…this was the year I had to take calculus. It was insanely hard, and I worried it would wreck my grade point average. And if it didn’t, there was Mr. Sherman, my history teacher, to worry about. I thought he was out to get me because I argued with him him all the time, and a lot of the time I won. For instance, he stood up in class once and said all these nasty things about America. He said America was racist and violent and greedy. So I just got up and told him that he was wrong and that the facts proved him wrong. I told him, sure, people in America make mistakes because people everywhere make mistakes. But when you came right down to it, there was not one place on Earth where people had any freedom or dignity or human rights and America hadn’t helped it happen or helped it stay that way. I challenged him to name one place-one single place on Earth-and he couldn’t, because there isn’t one.”

We live in a time period where it seems popular to bash our own country. The left just loves to tell the narrative that makes us out to be nothing but villains. Our historical record is not perfect, we’ve made mistakes, but we still should be proud of all the good we have accomplished around the world. I’m glad to see a young adult novel that promotes these ideas in an accessible way. Young adult literature needs more author’s like Klavan.TLWH

ttotm(As a quick note, I have read the second and third books in this series. The second book, The Long Way Home I would rate a 4/5. There was a part of the story that went on for way too long. Unfortunately, it actually causes some of my students to abandon the series. The third book, The Truth of the Matter, is every bit as good as the first. I would give it a 5/5 star rating as well.)

 

 

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INCOME INEQUALITY AND EDUCATION (Hint: Blame the left!)

John Mauldin

John Mauldin

I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but I think it will be worth your time.

I have mentioned before that I am a huge fan of John Mauldin. Mauldin is an investment analyst/economist from Texas. (You can check out my review of his newest book, Code Red.) I think he’s one of the most brilliant guys I have ever read.

He publishes a free weekly newsletter called Thoughts from the Frontline. There are close to a million people that read it. It’s basically Mauldin’s attempt to explain the world as he sees it. No matter whether you care about investing or not, I think Mauldin does an exponentially better job of reporting what is really going on in the world today. He is incredibly well read, and has quite a knack for the written word. Much of his analysis is done through the lens of economics.

Recentlym he had a three part series on income inequality (“The Problem with Keynesianism“, March 9, 2014; “Inequality and Opportunity“, March 16, 2014; and “When Inequality Isn’t“, March 29, 2014). The whole series is worth your time, but I thought I’d dish out the stuff I found most interesting and appropriate for our purposes here. I’m going to underline the parts I found most important.

Equality of Opportunity

In one of the most far-reaching studies I’ve seen, a group of Harvard economists have compared upward mobility – the ability to rise from lower to higher income groups – among US metropolitan areas, as well as among developed nations. Their rather remarkable website and database can be found here. Their one-paragraph summary is:

In two recent studies, we find that: (1) Upward income mobility varies substantially within the U.S. [summary][paperAreas with greater mobility tend to have five characteristics: less segregation, less income inequality, better schools, greater social capital, and more stable families. (2) Contrary to popular perception, economic mobility has not changed significantly over time; however, it is consistently lower in the U.S. than in most developed countries. [summary][paper].

Silence of the Left

Conveniently for the discussion of our topic, John Goodman posted a brief article on Townhall.com this week called “Silence of the Left”:

The topic du jour on the left these days is inequality. But why does the left care about inequality? Do they really want to lift those at the bottom of the income ladder? Or are they just looking for one more reason to increase the power of government? If you care about those at the bottom then you are wasting your time and everyone else’s time unless you focus on one and only one phenomenon: the inequality of educational opportunity. Poor kids are almost always enrolled in bad schools. Rich kids are almost always in good schools.

It turns out that homes cost roughly 20% more in areas with good schools. School choice is already in effect because people with more money buy homes in areas with better public schools. Children of families with less money on average tend to be stuck in lower-performing public schools.

Goodman cites a Brookings Institution study that investigated the same phenomenon nationwide:

  • Across the 100 largest metropolitan areas, housing costs an average of 2.4 times as much, or nearly $11,000 more per year, near a high-scoring public school than near a low-scoring public school.
  • This housing cost gap reflects that home values are $205,000 higher on average in the neighborhoods of high-scoring versus low-scoring schools. Near high-scoring schools, typical homes have 1.5 additional rooms and the share of housing units that are rented is roughly 30 percentage points lower than in neighborhoods near low-scoring schools.

Goodman continues:

You almost never see anything written by left-of-center folks on reforming the public schools. And I have noticed on TV talk shows that it’s almost impossible to get liberals to agree to the most modest of all reform ideas: getting rid of bad teachers and making sure we keep the good ones.

Here is the uncomfortable reality:

1. Our system of public education is one of the most regressive features of American society.

2. There is almost nothing we could do that would be more impactful in reducing inequality of educational opportunity and inequality overall than to do what Sweden has done: give every child a voucher and let them select a school of choice.

3. Yet on the left there is almost uniform resistance to this idea or any other idea that challenges the power of the teachers’ unions.

That “socialist” bastion of income equality and mobility – Sweden – uses vouchers for education.

Krugman argues against school vouchers because they might reduce support for public schools. And then he actually writes, “And – dare we say it? – we should in general oppose privatization plans if they are likely to destroy public sector unions.”

We have total academic, bureaucratic, and teachers’-union capture of public education. We are subjecting our children to an education system that that was designed for and that worked remarkably well during the first two industrial revolutions but that is now utterly inadequate for the coming Age of Transformation. The new New York City Mayor, Bill de Blasio, is working to shut down many of the best-performing schools in his city – charter schools – which are hated by teachers’ unions. Rather than ask what is good for the children, he and many others simply want to expand the power of the unions.

If we want to do something about income inequality, perhaps we should think about the data that shows the remarkable correlation between education, educational opportunity, and income.

report from the American Enterprise Institute gives us a good summary. Notice in the chart below that while the income of the highest fifth of the US population is almost 18 times that of the lowest fifth, there is only a 3.5x differential when it comes to the average earnings of the people actually working and making money in the household. It is just that high-income households have more than four times as many wage earners (on average) as poor households.

And married and thus two-earner households make more than single-person households. That seems obvious, of course, but it is a significant factor in income inequality. That doesn’t make the plight of the single working mom any better or easier, but it does help explain the statistical difference. And it does make a difference in lifestyle. Marriage drops the probability of childhood poverty by 82%.

The AEI report ends on this positive note:

Bottom Line: Household demographics, including the average number of earners per household and the marital status, age, and education of householders are all very highly correlated with household income. Specifically, high-income households have a greater average number of income-earners than households in lower-income quintiles, and individuals in high income households are far more likely than individuals in low-income households to be well-educated, married, working full-time, and in their prime earning years. In contrast, individuals in lower-income households are far more likely than their counterparts in higher-income households to be less-educated, working part-time, either very young (under 35 years) or very old (over 65 years), and living in single-parent households.

Take a look at this chart below. It looks at spending by households on various items split out by quintile. It goes back to 1986 because that was when pretty significant changes to the tax law occurred. Noticed specifically the differences in spending on education and reading.

annualexpenditure

At the beginning of this letter I promised you a “solution” to income inequality. Let me offer this one tongue-in-cheek, as an argumentum ad absurdum.

We simply need to penalize the incomes of older people, take away any advantage there is from being married, reduce opportunities for education, penalize people for working more than 35 hours per week, and of course levy a significant tax on any accumulated savings. This will quickly reduce inequalities of income. It has the slight disadvantage that it will also destroy the economy and create a massive depression; but if the goal is equal outcomes for all, then communist Russia might be the model you are looking for. Except that even there the bureaucrats and other insiders did quite well.

If you’re really serious about dealing with income inequality, you need to worry about equality of opportunity in education, and specifically about making sure that the education system is radically reformed by taking it out of the hands of bureaucrats and unions. We need to make sure the economic and legal playing field is level by getting government favoritism and bureaucratic meddling out of the way and making the pie larger for everyone. However, as I demonstrated a few weeks ago, a natural outcome of doubling the size of the economic pie over the coming 15 years will be that there is an even greater differential between those who have next to nothing and those who have accumulated the most. The only way to prevent such an outcome is to keep the total economic pie from growing, and that doesn’t seem like a very good economic policy.

If we truly want to do something about income inequality, we must stop listening to the left talk about it. They are completely and utterly uniformed on the topic. And more then anything else, they probably are the most to blame. They have destroyed our families socially and culturally, and they have destroyed our schools through unionization and bureaucratization.

Andrew Palmer is co-founder and editor of Conservative Teachers of America. You may reach him at [email protected]

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