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Opinion

Opinion

Money not a school cure-all

June 24, 2009

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Some people have certain presumptions — for example, that government is better suited to handling problems than individuals or private entities. And then there are the accompanying assumptions that government, for those who have faith in its supposedly superior capabilities, will always produce the desired outcome.

Nowhere has the failure of presumptions to produce results from assumptions been more evident than in public education. In an essay for the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI), excerpted from their book “Schoolhouses, Courthouses, and Statehouses: Solving the Funding-Achievement Puzzle in America’s Public Schools,” Eric A. Hanushek and Alfred A. Lindseth write that many, including the courts, have blindly accepted the assumption that more money will improve student performance. “Almost no one has seriously examined the empirical evidence to determine its validity.” They have.

The authors look at four states — Wyoming, Kentucky, New Jersey and Massachusetts — where courts ordered the legislatures to appropriate more money for public schools on the presumption that increased spending would improve performance. Their conclusion: Court-ordered funding does not necessarily improve test scores and African-Americans, despite the increased spending, are even worse off.

The authors write that, “Even when judging the effectiveness of their own previously ordered remedies, courts rarely examine the remedy’s effect on student achievement.” They cite the Wyoming Supreme Court’s 1995 ruling that the state’s education funding system was unconstitutional, ordering the legislature to spend whatever it took to make education in the state the “best.”

“Despite these unprecedented increases in school funding,” write Hanushek and Lindseth, “the achievement of Wyoming’s students has largely failed to keep up with the nation or even with its much lower-funded, although demographically similar, neighboring states.” The court has paid little attention to the outcome of its order, apparently because it just assumed it would work.

In Kentucky, the 1989 Rose decision resulted in a court order for structural changes and increased funding. The structural changes were implemented, but they produced no improvements in classrooms. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores, sometimes referred to as the nation’s report card, showed little or no progress in Kentucky public schools.

Of special significance was the impact on black students, who comprise 11 percent of the state’s public school enrollment. The authors write that black students in Kentucky “have fallen even further behind the nation” during the court-ordered remedy.

New Jersey has been wrestling with its education system and court orders to fix it since 1970. There are more than 600 school districts in the state. Thirty-one are known as “Abbott districts,” named after the court case that resulted in $1.5 billion in additional education spending (per pupil spending in New Jersey exceeded $20,000 last year).

The Abbott districts contain about half the black and Hispanic students in the state. What’s the result of all this new spending? The authors write, “The picture we find is a mixed one, with little evidence that the state’s black students have progressed much, if at all, relative to black students nationwide.” They do note that Hispanic students have made “significant progress,” but they don’t see a direct connection between spending and achievement.

In Massachusetts, education spending has increased from $3 billion to $10 billion over the last decade because of a court order, but it has been accompanied by major structural changes that include “a rigorous regimen of academic standards, graduation exams, and accountability.”

The argument for school choice is strengthened when one reads the data and conclusions by Hanushek and Lindseth. African-American parents, especially, should protest in the streets because too many of their children are being denied their right to a good education. Politicians who care more about campaign contributions from the education lobbyists than they do about children should be thrown out of office and replaced with people who put children first and allow them and their parents to choose better schools for a better future.

— Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services.

Comments

Kirk Larson 5 years, 6 months ago

Funny how conservatives always bring up the argument of "You can't solve education by throwing money at it", but then the lowest achieving states correlate closely with the lowest-spent per- pupil states. Hmmm.

You get what you pay for.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 6 months ago

Yea, and you'll never hear Cal suggesting that the Defense Dept. needs to learn to live with less, or that CEO's and other corporate executives learn do likewise.

deskboy04 5 years, 6 months ago

It seems like increased funding for education is also followed by an increase in the number of administrators and how much they are paid. If the money goes to the classroom...technology, materials, teacher salaries, etc. I can see how it would help. Just hiring a bunch of new people for the central office doesn't help anyone.

dandelion 5 years, 6 months ago

The other day the supreme court said the parents of a student with ADD could expect the public school to pay for their sons private education, even though they had never tried the public schools special education first. This school charged 5200/month for tuition. The public school was expected to provide the same high quality education with that amount or less per year! Don't tell me that money doesn't help improve things. Of course, I'm sure there are administrators who misspend extra money they get, but don't generalize, Cal boy.

jaywalker 5 years, 6 months ago

If they're gonna throw money around to bolster education it needs to be at the teachers. Get rid of teachers unions and hold teachers responsible for success rates AND then pay them accordingly. The D.C. superintendent of schools has an innovative program in place like this. If teachers give up their tenure and allow their contract to be tied to their results, they have the chance to make 6 figures.

salad 5 years, 6 months ago

It's also false to assume that if you dump money into schools, that it's going to raise teacher salaries, improve classroom supplies, or help the kids. They might get a little, but the edu-crats are gonna find a way to: get their fat little nickel, build more palacial schools, hire more edu-crats, build additional and more expensive sports facilities, hire more expensive football coaches, and put in place programs that follow the latest fad. All so the edu-crat looks like they're "doing something" and "helping the children". It's all BS.

jaywalker 5 years, 6 months ago

Don't have the stats, but the D.C. school system is the standard example of how increased spending doesn't promote education. Last I heard they spent more per pupil than anywhere in the country with little to no positve results. That's why the new super got the green light to implement her program. Schools should be cathedrals and teacher positions should be fought for and coveted. Good teachers who are constantly challenged and put forth the effort to improve each and every year are the answer to upgrading the public school system, just my opinion.

No offense, Liberty, but isn't that just asking for further deterioration in the overall intelligence of our country? Another 10 - 20k per kid/ per year sounds like a sound burden to place on families?

dandelion 5 years, 6 months ago

Pilgrim, can you tell me why the private school feels it needs to charge 5200/month? Would you pay that?

Liberty_One, that's right, we should make sure all those poor people can't afford an education. They're easier to control, right? They'll stop complaining about shining your shoes, and wiping your bottom. I bet you complain because you just can't get good servants anymore.

dandelion 5 years, 6 months ago

farfle, I think a lot of teachers would agree with that, especially if you include getting rid of all the politicians who seem to think they know so much about education.

dandelion 5 years, 6 months ago

Well, I went to a government school, and I was taught that I have free speech and I learned all about my rights stated in the first 10 amendments. What guarantees do you have that a private school would teach the same thing. A private school might teach that the South was brutally victimized for sheltering poor little African barbarians. Maybe you would agree with that view, but it would be a lie; therefore, indoctrination. I don't think anything I learned in school was a lie. They may have left out some things, especially the contribution of minorities and women. Most of my teachers taught me to think and to try and express my thoughts clearly. Could you tell me how they indoctrinated you? Did they tell you smoking was bad? (actually a truth, so not indoctrination). Did they tell you to treat others nicely? Maybe indoctrination, but how is being nice a bad thing? What were you indoctrinated into? You could accuse your parents of indoctrinating you by teaching you English, instead of another language. They made you brush your teeth and pick up after yourself? Were they indoctrinating you into being a responsible person, or were they trying to turn you into a nerd? Give me a break!

Kirk Larson 5 years, 6 months ago

Liberty_One (Anonymous) says… Half of all children are of below average intelligence.

This is one of the stupidest things I've ever read on these pages...and that's saying something. Even if everyone got a top notch education (which you apparently didn't) half would be below average and half would be above average.

Can't remember who said it: "Think about how stupid the average person is and then remember half of everybody is stupider than that."

gogoplata 5 years, 6 months ago

Government schools are great wasters of wealth. The free market could do much better. I'm all for getting rid of the DOE.

jaywalker 5 years, 6 months ago

Cappy, I think it was Carlin, but not certain.

dandelion 5 years, 6 months ago

More money could buy smaller student/teacher ratios which would allow a teacher to challenge their students more. In my experience school districts buy property to build new schools. That might not be your experience, Liberty, but I do know private businesses have confiscated land (racetrack and Legends in Wyandotte county).

I'm not sure what school you went to, but in High School history we learned all the factors that lead up to the Civil War. We also learned that the North did some bad things during the war as well. War is never pretty (oh my god, I've been indoctrinated into hating war by learning about war!). We also studied the whole constitution, and how it was very limited to only certain people, until much further down the timeline. I do agree, we didn't write much in school; which was tough for me when I went to college. But with a class size of 30+, and most of my teachers taught 6-7 classes, with an average load of 150-200 students, not to mention all the other things they were required to do, like coaching, sponsoring clubs, NCLB and accreditation stuff. I can understand why we didn't write that much. At least, college professors have TA's to help them read all the essays and papers. More money could mean smaller student loads, if the administration would allow it to happen. Again, another trickle down theory that doesn't work.

notajayhawk 5 years, 6 months ago

Cappy (Anonymous) says…

"Funny how conservatives always bring up the argument of “You can't solve education by throwing money at it”, but then the lowest achieving states correlate closely with the lowest-spent per- pupil states. Hmmm."

Did the school you went to happen to mention that correlation does not prove causation? There are many other factors that can cause the relationship you mention. Those areas that spend the least on their schools may be severely impoverished areas. Their kids may have less access to computers, the internet, or even libraries. They may have a lower percentage of stay-at-home parenting that sees to it they do their homework. There may be more illness causing more missed days of school, or more behavioral problems or criminal activity causing expulsions. There may be more kids dropping out to get a job so there's food on the table.

It appears the story is referring to a more experimental approach, testing the hypothesis that more funding equals better education. I.e., they gave those underfunded schools more money, and guess what - performance didn't improve. Now, the null hypothesis can never be proven, but in this case, it apparently can't be rejected.

"You get what you pay for."

Did you go to public school?

MyName 5 years, 6 months ago

It appears the story is referring to a more experimental approach, testing the hypothesis that more funding equals better education.

No, the opinion piece is advocating vouchers "[allowing] parents to choose better schools" while claiming that the court decisions that are trying to force legislatures to fund schools at the level the law requires are destructive.

Thomas doesn't talk about why his "better schools for a better future" would do any more than the current system (mostly because they wouldn't do any good for anyone who wasn't already in the middle class), and his idea of "logic" is that cutting a schools budget is the only way to improve quality, because an increase in funding led to a decrease in the student's performance.

In order to improve their performance, what inner city students need most is a shorter summer break and more time in the classroom learning. Parents in middle class and rich families don't let their children waste three months of the year, but students in poor urban districts lose much of what they've gained by sitting out those three months. That's going to require more money and will probably never happen for a variety of reasons, but it is also the reason we are lagging behind the western world in certain areas of education.

The most important thing to understand, however, is that we have public education in this country because it is necessary to have educated people in order to run a working democracy. Education is also the only real way for large numbers of people to get out of poverty. However, inner city schools have been, and always will be, the easiest to cut because the parents of students that go to them don't vote and they don't have a voice.

But hey, you could always listen to Cal's rhetoric and believe that you're entitled to have these better schools and the children of poverty "deserve" what they get and need to have their budgets cut further so that it will improve their performance. Whatever it takes to justify that tax break, right Cal?

MyName 5 years, 6 months ago

nota:

"Did the school you went to happen to mention that correlation does not prove causation? There are many other factors that can cause the relationship you mention."

And yet, that's the same trap that the commentator made with his specious claim that "no one" has "seriously examined" the results of an increase in funding. And his other claim that "an increase in funding does not necessarily lead to an increase in performance".

The problem is that the courts aren't advocating an actual increase in funding. Most of the time, they're requiring an absolute minimum that the state has fallen below. This is like claiming that, just because you've finally stopped being a cheap bastard and had an oil change and tune up on your Ford Escort, your car should now be running like a Mustang and if it's not then the oil change was obviously irrational and unnecessary!

People have studied why some schools lag behind. More money isn't going to solve all of the problems. Having involved parents who help teach their children is the most important thing. But having extra money so that students can spend more time in school, and after school, to learn is going to be pretty valuable as well.

Satirical 5 years, 6 months ago

logicsound09.... "As dandelion and deskboy mention, the problem is more likely that the additional funding is being allotted improperly, NOT that the additional funding itself is useless..."

Whether the money is being misallocated or not doesn't change his central thesis that additional funding hasn't helped in these circumstances. The reason why the funding hasn't helped is a separate argument from, and does not dispute, his point.

Cal is basically saying: spending more money on ice cream doesn't mean the kids will be eating more ice cream. Your counter-argument is: they aren't eating more ice cream because it is a hot day and it is melting, or someone else is eating the ice cream. But the fact that spending more on ice cream doesn't mean the kids will be eating more ice cream still remains a valid argument regardless of the causes.

While you can validily say, based on this information the causes of why the children aren't getting the ice cream should be investigated so more kids get ice cream, the information in this article is a pre-requisite for that investigation. This information always contradicts the courts, ruling more funding is necessary, that just more funding will solve the problem, i.e. if the courts really wanted to improve the school they need to look at all the reasons the schools are failing (not just assume it is lack of funds), and if they decide to give additional funds, put in place some procedure to make sure it is correctly allocated. Otherwise they are just throwing money away, burdening taxpayers and not solving the underlying problem. So the bottom line is that perhaps the causes of school failure isn't so simple and shouldn't be assumed it is solved so easily, so let's be more careful before we just throw money at a problem.

Kirk Larson 5 years, 6 months ago

Did I go to public schools? You bet! And glad of it. My family is full of teachers and school administrators. I expect to teach, myself. My father, who spent his life in schools or education consulting maintains that private schooling is no better than public. The decisive factor is parental involvement (which makes sense in that if you pay $5000 dollars a year on your kids' school, you might be a bit more involved). There's nothing wrong with public schools that adequate, appropriate funding, dedicated teachers (which is most of them), and involved parents can't fix, let alone make excellent.

Tony Kisner 5 years, 6 months ago

Actually if you use the mean as the average one half, +(-)1, would half less than average ability or intelligence. So on its face this statement by Liberty is pretty much true.

Trying to think the end result of Liberty’s argument, I guess those wanting to educate their children or even themselves would ultimately be the winners. The winners might need to separate themselves from the under educated or under performing one half for a safe society. For example consider the bumper sticker “my kid can beat up your straight A student”. Once separated from the pack the new superior group would then face the fact that indeed one half of them are of lesser intelligence, again eventually forcing a separation from the lesser wanting more and willing to use force over reason. This pattern would continue until there is ultimately one superior person, unless of course the total population was an even number in which there would be two superior persons who would then either battle each other or be killed by the multitudes of lesser wanting what the superior has. Right?

I also agree with Cal, the schools now has cool football turf but my kid can't get to school on the bus anymore? If I am running a business and my customers need me to come and bring them to my place of business, I will make sure that happens. If South Jr. offered bus service and Central does not and I have a choice (which I don't) I would consider the bus service a primary service. - PS the argument about the money was required to be used for facilities falls short, how did you get to this position in the first place? Rome is burning but let the games continue. (and I like the games so don't go there)

notajayhawk 5 years, 6 months ago

MyName (Anonymous) says…

"No, the opinion piece is advocating vouchers “[allowing] parents to choose better schools” while claiming that the court decisions that are trying to force legislatures to fund schools at the level the law requires are destructive."

Another product of the public school system, I assume? Did you read the story, MyName, or just assume you knew what it was about because Cal Thomas wrote it?

The story cites a study done of several states that increased funding for their schools and did not see significant results. That's a better indicator than the correlation Cappy mentioned that throwing money at the problem doesn't always help. There may be any number of reasons for this, including those mentioned by several posters that the increased funding went more to administration than to education, or your own opinion that perhaps it should be used to keep more kids in school for more days. But having a court order an increased level of funding, then just forgetting about it and declaring the problem solved, has not worked.

Nowhere in the story has Cal suggested "that cutting a schools budget is the only way to improve quality" - I don't see where he suggested cutting anything at all. And nowhere did he say "an increase in funding led to a decrease in the student's performance" - he said some students are worse off "despite" the increases, not because of them.

And nowhere did either Cal or myself advocate a school system for the middle- and upper-classes and another for the poor. Or that the poor "deserve" what they get. As a matter of fact, the entire point of vouchers is to provide those who otherwise not have had the means to attend a private school with the ability to do so. But hey, if it makes you feel better to follow the Party line and solve all the world's problems by taxing the 'rich' and pi**ing the money away on failed methods, more power to ya'.

Satirical 5 years, 6 months ago

OeraLinda… “the problem is america has many poor quality people and they have many poor quality children, you can only do so much with poor genetics.”

I agree. We need to be more proactive about eugenics. As the Supreme Court of the United States said in Buck v. Bell: “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

And if compulsory sterilization doesn’t work to prevent the proliferation of imbeciles, perhaps we could solve the problem by paying them to get sterilized. I wonder how many would sign up if the government offered $5000 for voluntary sterilization : )

MyName 5 years, 6 months ago

Nowhere in the story has Cal suggested “that cutting a schools budget is the only way to improve quality” - I don't see where he suggested cutting anything at all.

He didn't suggest it, but what he did suggest (that increasing funding can lead to students being worse off), can be shown to be invalid simply by showing how the alternative (that therefore decreasing funding could lead to an increase in performance) is ridiculous.

Either there is a correlation between funding and performance or there is not. Thomas claims that there is no correlation, and yet no one would accept that therefore a decrease in funding is just as likely to lead to an increase in performance as an increase in funding. So Thomas could reasonably advocate that position as well if his statement about there being no correlation is valid.

"And nowhere did he say “an increase in funding led to a decrease in the student's performance” - he said some students are worse off “despite” the increases, not because of them."

See previous point about the logical fallacy that Thomas has engaged in.

"And nowhere did either Cal or myself advocate a school system for the middle- and upper-classes and another for the poor."

His position is that public funding is worse than private funding or vouchers, this may not be clear from this article, but it is from his other statements on the subject. The problem with using the court decisions and this study to back his position is the fact that, as I mentioned in my second post, bringing an underfunded program up to baseline is not going to make that program the envy of the world. So his statements that "an increase in funding doesn't always lead to an increase in performance" are invalid because they never really increased the funding to begin with.

"But hey, if it makes you feel better to follow the Party line and solve all the world's problems by taxing the 'rich'... [and using] the money away on failed methods, more power to ya'."

So apparently when I point out the illogical nature of Thomas's ideas on education I'm "putting words into his mouth", but when you engage in empty rhetoric and say I'm supporting things that I've never said you're using a valid argument and not beating down on an empty strawmen. Just want to make sure I understand your position clearly.

MyName 5 years, 6 months ago

Oh and, yes, I have been through (many) years of public education.

Satirical 5 years, 6 months ago

MyName…

I know you comment at 3:48 wasn’t addressed to me, but I couldn’t help but to respond.

You claim Cal is engaging in logical fallacies, but you have grossly ignored your own:

“but what he did suggest (that increasing funding can lead to students being worse off), can be shown to be invalid simply by showing how the alternative (that therefore decreasing funding could lead to an increase in performance) is ridiculous.” – MyName

If Cal said that drinking more than 2 glasses of wine a day doesn’t lead to increased health benefits, is he also saying drinking less than 2 glasses of wine a day does lead to increased health benefits? Of course not. Is he saying you shouldn’t drink 2 glasses of wine a day? No. More = not better doesn’t (even by negative implication) mean less = better.


“His position is that public funding is worse than private funding or vouchers, this may not be clear from this article, but it is from his other statements on the subject.” - MyName

Notajayhawk was responding to your earlier statement, “No, the opinion piece is advocating vouchers…” I don’t think it takes too much of a logical leap to assume “the opinion piece” was referring to this article, and not some previous one. This must have been what Notajayhawk was referring to when he said you were putting words in his mouth. So his contradiction of your statement is valid. But if you want to alter, recant your previous statement, and admit you were putting words in his mouth, that is fine.


“So his statements that “an increase in funding doesn't always lead to an increase in performance” are invalid because they never really increased the funding to begin with.” – MyName

So, increasing funding isn’t really increasing it if you are just trying to reach an arbitrary “baseline” created out of thin air? But even if that really isn’t an “increase in funding” shouldn’t there be an improvement from below baseline funding up to baseline? Isn’t that the purpose of “baseline” funding? Isn’t that Cal’s point?

Satirical 5 years, 6 months ago

Logicsound09… "Well, his actual point is not merely that additional funding hasn't helped, but rather that the instances he cited can be taken as proof that additional money doesn't help, as a matter of form.”

If these studies are true, then wouldn’t it also be true that if other jusidictions did the same thing the result would be the same? Isn’t that called inductive reasoning? Perhaps the reasons more money didn’t lead to a better education are different for every state, but so far there is little evidence to the contrary. Again, pointing out the possible causes for its failure in these states, doesn’t show it will succeed anywhere else.

Also, and most importantly, it shows the problem isn’t so simple, so the solution of throwing money at the problem isn’t a logical conclusion. Maybe we should figure out why the kids aren't getting the ice cream before we just assume handing out more ice cream to the state will solve the problem.

Satirical 5 years, 6 months ago

Oh, just in case someone is keeping count, I was public edumicated as well.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 6 months ago

It all depends on how it is spent. For instance instead of a $15-20 million USD 497- Chamber PLAY project USD 497 taxpayers could have gotten school building maintenance:

http://www2.ljworld.com/polls/2007/oct/how_should_school_district_pay_20_million_maintena/

notajayhawk 5 years, 6 months ago

MyName (Anonymous) says…

"He didn't suggest it, but what he did suggest (that increasing funding can lead to students being worse off), can be shown to be invalid simply by showing how the alternative (that therefore decreasing funding could lead to an increase in performance) is ridiculous."

Um - try reading slower. He did NOT suggest that increasing funding can lead to students being worse off. One more time - correlation does not prove causation. He reported on the fact that some students had regressed DESPITE increased funding, not that the increased funding led to that result.

"So Thomas could reasonably advocate that position as well if his statement about there being no correlation is valid."

Twisted logic aside, perhaps he could.

He didn't.

You did.

"So his statements that “an increase in funding doesn't always lead to an increase in performance” are invalid because they never really increased the funding to begin with."

[Sigh]

Are you that foolish? Really? Please tell me where YOU went to school so I make sure my children never go there.

Your childish attempt at an argument is that because they didn't increase funding enough it wasn't really an increase? Really? If there was a correlation (and perhaps you should have someone explain to you what that means), performance would change together with funding both above and below this arbitrary 'baseline' of yours (as I notice satyrical has already pointed out). Really - please get a clue, you are seriously embarassing yourself.

"So apparently when I point out the illogical nature of Thomas's ideas on education I'm “putting words into his mouth”, but when you engage in empty rhetoric and say I'm supporting things that I've never said you're using a valid argument and not beating down on an empty strawmen. Just want to make sure I understand your position clearly."

I somehow doubt you understand your phone number clearly.

You claimed that Thomas said increasing funding hurt performance. He didn't. You claimed he said that cutting a school's budget improves performance. He didn't. You claim he believes poor kids are getting what they deserve. He didn't say that either.

Gee, where did I get the idea you were "putting words in his mouth." (Not that I said that either - you did.) Good thing you're not using empty rhetoric to claim he's supporting things he never said.

"Oh and, yes, I have been through (many) years of public education."

Those seven years of third grade musta' been he**.

notajayhawk 5 years, 6 months ago

logicsound09 (Anonymous) says…

"No, because then you would be guilty of assuming that correlation equals causation."

Not exactly - you can't correlate with nothing. That is, the point of the study that was cited is that increasing funding does not correlate with increased performance. In other words, changing "A" had no statistically significant effect on "B." While you are correct to say that does not prove it would have no effect elsewhere (the null hypothesis can not be proven), the correct interpretation of the results would be to say there is no evidence to suggest that increasing funding elsewhere would increase performance.

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