"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Educational Reform–The Answer is NOT More Money for Schools

An article by Lyndsey Layton of the Washington Post today reported on test results which show that the racial gap between white and black students in the nation’s urban areas are significant; and that Washington, DC has the most extreme differences.  The answer say DC and national educational authorities is to increase spending on schools in poor, black areas. 

While I accept the figures on the disparity, which don’t surprise me in the least, I am appalled at the conclusion that after decades of government spending in these schools which has resulted in little if any improvement, there is still a call for even more spending of taxpayers dollars.  Only a progressive but dramatic change in the social culture of those neighborhoods in which educational improvement has been so resistant can result in better educational outcomes.

The Post article begins with some background:

D.C. public schools have the largest achievement gap between black and white students among the nation’s major urban school systems, a distinction laid bare in a federal study released Wednesday.

The District also has the widest achievement gap between white and Hispanic students, the study found, compared with results from other large systems and the national average.

The study is based on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress, federal reading and math exams taken this year by fourth- and eighth-graders across the country.

And goes on to say:

The achievement gap has been a stubborn problem and of growing concern among educators, policymakers and civic leaders. With enactment of the No Child Left Behind law in 2002, the federal government made closing the gap a priority and a reason for increased accountability in public education. Many strategies have been deployed by schools across the country to attack the gap, but few have resulted in substantial progress. [my italics]

What the Executive Director of the Council of the Great City Schools, which represents the largest urban school district says is this:

‘You’ve got relatively more well-to-do whites in Upper Northwest quadrants, particularly Ward 3, which score higher than white students nationally, and you’re comparing it with poor, African American students largely in wards 7 and 8’, Casserly said. There are extreme income disparities.’[my italics]

In addition to income, black and white adults in Washington are separated by educational background, said Amy Wilkins of the Education Trust, an advocacy group focused on narrowing the achievement gap.

“D.C. is in many ways a tale of two cities,” she said. “The mostly white parts are among the best-educated in our populace — overeducated people with multiple degrees — people who come here to work on the Hill or for Brookings or wherever.”

Wilkins goes on to say that to narrow the achievement gap, the city should spend more heavily on schools in poor neighborhoods,[my italics] she said.

The following abstract shows just how much is spent on public primary and secondary education: They Spend WHAT? The Real Cost of Public Schools by Adam B. Schaeffer of the Cato Institute (2009):

Although public schools are usually the biggest item in state and local budgets, spending figures provided by public school officials and reported in the media often leave out major costs of education and thus understate what is actually spent.

To document the phenomenon, this paper reviews district budgets and state records for the nation's five largest metro areas and the District of Columbia. It reveals that, on average, per-pupil spending in these areas is 44 percent higher than officially reported.

Real spending per pupil ranges from a low of nearly $12,000 in the Phoenix area schools to a high of nearly $27,000 in the New York metro area. [DC is close to the top]…

To put public school spending in perspective, we compare it to estimated total expenditures in local private schools. We find that, in the areas studied, public schools are spending 93 percent more than the estimated median private school.

Citizens drastically underestimate current per-student spending and are misled by official figures. Taxpayers cannot make informed decisions about public school funding unless they know how much districts currently spend. And with state budgets stretched thin, it is more crucial than ever to carefully allocate every tax dollar.

This is a ridiculous amount of money in any case, but if the investment can show little or no results, it is disastrous. 

The reason why white, affluent children of highly-education parents in Ward 3 of DC do so much better than their colleagues in black, poor Wards 7 and 8 is because learning begins at birth.  It is a constant.  It is integrated into family life and into play long before the child begins school.  Parents begin to convey mathematical concepts – critical notions of number (e.g. 2 is greater than 1 and is part of a group of numbers all of which are greater than 1), or zero.  They read regularly with their children, getting them used to reading and as importantly drawing conclusions from what they read.  Because of the many hours affluent parents spend interacting with their children, these children learn about probability and causality, the keys to critical thinking.  In short by the time these children get to pre-school, they are already well-educated.

This is not the case in poor neighborhoods which are often dysfunctional and characterized by high unemployment (over 25 percent in some areas), significant numbers of teenage pregnancies; high rates of crime, and drugs; extremely high proportions of single-parent (usually women) households, large numbers of incarcerated or former felons, etc.  DC is not unique, and these statistics hold for Detroit, Cleveland, and the other cities cited in the above study.  There is little chance that the education-rich home environment of Ward 3 can exist in Wards 7 and 8.  Even if families are functional – i.e. two employed parents – there is likely to be little time for the interaction necessary for optimum early learning let alone the background and disposition to do so.

If the school system is broken and does not properly educate children from these neighborhoods; and if the community itself suffers from endemic dysfunction, what can be done?  I have written before that what I think is necessary is a gradual but inevitable adherence to majority norms (stable families, intolerance for crime and anti-social behavior, universal acceptance of the principle of high educational attainment, a high value placed on work and achievement). 

This necessary progression can only be obtained if:

* Local community leaders, especially religious leaders, speak out against so-called ‘street culture’ and unwaveringly back social progress and majority norms, even though these may be perceived as ‘white’. Much of the racial discrimination that persists today is based on economic and especially social divides, and the greater the social integration, the greater the racial integration and with it economic progress.

* These same leaders speak out against the culture of victimhood and entitlement, and encourage a sense of individual and community responsibility.

* The traditional one-party alliance between poor, predominantly African-American populations, and the Democratic party must be challenged, if for no other reason than to force politicians away from their stale policies on race, social integration, and economic progress.  The alliance is unholy because black communities knee-jerk the voting lever Democratic; and because Democratic politicians take these communities for granted.  The Democratic party may be indeed the most congenial home for the poor and disenfranchised, but not this current party.

* The culture of white political correctness disappears.  There is no point any longer to skating around the issue of race.  Welfare reform, for example, in which black welfare families are asked to work or otherwise contribute, is not racist – an attempt to degrade and demean black men and women – but a reasonable response to both the current fiscal crisis and to the persistent dysfunction I referred to above.  Cultural and social determinants of poor educational and economic outcomes should not be ignored, and moreover included in the equation.  

* The culture of black political correctness also disappears.  African-Americans should be able to talk honestly of ‘white’ values without social oppobrium.  They should be able to challenge the cultures of victimhood and entitlement, as above.

In conclusion I am distressed but also appalled by the lack of significant improvement in the public schools of the District of Columbia.  I am just as enraged as the contributors to the Post article about the seemingly perpetual consignment of young people to poverty and social isolation; but I see the way out differently.  It is time to stop the reliance on government programs and redirect attention to local communities, local institutions, and local families.

1 comment:

  1. Ron Parlato is 100% right on the Educational Reform article. I do not believe the statictics that come from the Federal Gov't. They lie. I refute any and all numbers (and educators); one can change any survey (I mean any survey) to fit their agenda and justify the end result. We spend more money per student every year in Mississippi as do every other state. It would not make any diffrence if we spent a million dollar on education per child It begins at home; and if your child comes from a one parent home, then why should the taxpayers carry the burden just because somebody wants to change partners or get that welfare child credit money. Spending more money each year on education in all the states is simply a way to buy votes with the Unions with them telling you who to vote for. They should not allow PhDs in Education-what thesis could they come up with to help improve scores that has not already been tried...it is about buying votes through the Unions...

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