(It’s time for a periodic “/RantOn.” Sorry, right up front, for the sometimes angry or negative tone – this is a (hopefully) uncharacteristic “no more Mister Nice Guy” moment! A /RantOn is always about a topic that deeply frustrates good classroom teachers by preventing us from teaching!)
For years we all have heard the incessant pleas for “…more funding” as the solution to all of education’s problems. It seemed that nothing more simplistic than throwing millions of new tax dollars at our school budgets was the only answer that teacher unions, parents, and legislators saw as how to turn around the deplorable trends in our schools. “Fix the buildings…” and “…reduce class size” and “put more money into technology” are about as far as our career bureaucrats and legislators seem able to see. And, of course, “…just shoot all the teachers” who were blamed for doing a poor job of teaching our children under a set of bureaucratic mandates that directly prevent even the best teachers from teaching.
Just look at three facts to see how ineffective just throwing money at problems that need systemic policy changes has been:
- Total spending on K-12 education in the period 2005 to 2011 rose more than 250 billion dollars. The 2014 estimated state, federal and local total is expected to be up more than 40% from just eight years ago.
- On average, 25% of state budgets go to education
- Yet, in 2014 ACT and SAT both reported that less than one-half of all students who were tested had a high school education sufficient to let them be ready for college.
Throwing money at the problem – no matter how much legislators love the contributions from supporters of “more spending”, and no matter how much career bureaucrats in DoEs like the guaranteed lifetime positions with no accountability – simply has not worked. The situation has deeply worsened in the last five years. Why? Because it is far easier for legislators and bureaucrats to spend money than it is to actually deal with the real issues teachers face every day in their classrooms.
As one indication of that, I mailed out nearly 50 letters and copies of Lifting the Curtain: The disgrace we call urban high school education, to state legislators in Massachusetts so far. Each mailing had specific suggestions of things legislation could do to help, many with immediate impact, for the most serious issues. Of the eleven recommendations I presented in “Lifting the Curtain,” nine actually reduced funding needs! Yet, not a single Massachusetts legislator or member of the Massachusetts leadership even bothered to reply or acknowledge receipt of the package. My own local legislator, one whom you would think might answer just to curry a vote, could not be bothered with something as unimportant to him as our children’s education. But, of course, none of these legislators had any problem running to events that offered donations from groups requesting more funding for schools.
Changes that help and cost less? Is that possible? Absolutely. Here’s a small sample:
- At least half of PDP courses are a costly farce – adding nothing to a teacher’s ability to teach, and yet required to meet annual PDP mandates.
- We treat teachers as though they were pedophiles if they try to break up a fight before a child is seriously injured and actually bleeding– preferring to avoid the cost of lawsuits for “incidental touching” while stopping a fight, than to protect the children from harm.
- We set such low requirements for a person to “qualify” to be a principal – trivial night courses for someone we expect to run a 15 million dollar corporation with 400 employees, unions, complex DoE mandates, local politics, bullying and lockdown responsibilities, budgets, the safety of 1,500 students – that few principals have anything even close to the experience or training to manage an organization of such demands and complexity.
- We let failing students “make up” an entire failed year of a course with a simplistic two-week, half-time summer school.
- We let those same students miss 12-18 days of “excused” absences, and ignore the learning they never got.
It’s a loooooong list!
But maybe, just maybe, the bow of the ship inching towards a new direction, away from the iceberg that is in education’s path?
I am encouraged by a handful of very small signs. We’ve seen 11,000 visitors and followers of this blog, in just the eight weeks since we started it, almost all by teachers gaining the courage to be heard on the REAL issues, despite the environment of intimidation and cronyism in our schools against teachers who speak out. In Massachusetts, a state teacher’s union that always seemed to be focused only on PAC activities has made an apparent shift in the past three months, under new leadership, to actually discuss educational issues and try to understand what teachers really need to succeed. (Prior to the leadership change, 81% of emails over a 10 month period were to support, donate, or write legislators as part of PAC activities – and the other 19% about simplistic teacher issues.) Websites and blogs that avoided the topic of the systemic failures in education as “too controversial” are now actively covering it and even posting reviews. Every time I see another “share” or “follow” or “like” or review I take heart – because each one is a courageous teacher voice speaking out to help our children. Only the legislators and career DoE bureaucrats continue to ignore the real issues.
More money is not the solution. It’s a greedy, shameful cop out. Indeed, many of the actions that would have the most immediate positive impact would actually cost less. But sadly, each money sink is defended vigorously by those who benefit from a hand in the cookie jar, while teacher voices are rarely heard.