Since Congress is changing hands from the GOP to the Dems in January of 2007, the NEA has its sights on what it sees as potential for change. NCLB* and the ESEA** are up for tweaking and renewal. The NEA also has a whole slew of other proposals that they want to see pushed through, such as giving educators additional tax breaks for the money they spend on their classrooms, initiatives to decrease the drop out rate, increase the graduation rate, increase funding for Title 1 programs, and improvement for their teacher’s salary packages (benefits, pensions etc.)
What I read, when I read through their agenda for Congress this upcoming session, went something like this: More money for blah, blah, blah, and more money for blah, blah, blah, and more money for blah, blah, blah, and more money for blah, blah, blah. More money is great. We all love it when everything is shiny and new. But of course, money does not grow on trees (has anyone mentioned this to congress?) Someone has to pay for all this extra blah, blah, blah–and that someone is the tax payers.
So you have to ask the question–does more money mean a better education? Certainly in some places yes. I’ve written before about inner city conditions, and the need to reduce class sizes (among other things.) The only way to reduce class sizes is to hire more teachers. . .which means you need more money. (This is assuming however, that teachers want to teach in the inner city and that is a different story.) To answer this question, I decided to do some research.
Title 1 Programs
Title 1 Programs are government grant programs that give extra funding in areas that are considered disadvantaged. The funds provide ‘literacy coaches’ to pull kids out of class and help them read better, among other things. I am sure that there are good things Title 1 programs fund however, this has been my experience.
Title 1 provided two tutors to our school that is considered economically disadvantaged. But of course, like all teachers, they are with a union. Which in a six hour work day provides that they get two prep periods (each an hour long) and a lunch (also an hour long). In a 6 hour work day, they worked a grand total of 3 hours. It seems to me that rather than increasing funding to Title 1 programs for more teachers, the ones we have could work more hours.
A 1.5 Million Dollar Experiment
In Austin, Texas two professors from Harvard and MIT respectively, got together and awarded $300,000 for five years (a total of $1,500,000) to 15 schools that were performing poorly, 13 continued to perform poorly at the end of 5 years.
Alternatives to Public Education
Most private schools, charter schools, homeschools, and everything in between, generally spend at least $1,000 less per student than do public schools. Some of this is due to the sheer volume of public schools. But the gap is so large, that the fact still remains that many ’alternatives’ do a better job educating students for less money.
Spending It Wisely
I am absolutely for increasing, or at least redistributing, funds to public schools. However, I think there needs to be oversight into how money gets spent. In theory there is, but if the oversight was working, I think we’d see drastically improved results. The reason we don’t see widespread improvement is because the funds aren’t being spent well.
Remember our experiment in Austin, Texas? It is certainly telling that even with substantial funding increases most schools didn’t improve. However, what is also telling is that the two who did improve, improved drastically. They reduced class sizes, improved their health care facilities which in turn dramatically increased student attendance. They also invested in a curriculum for gifted and talented kids and (gasp) taught it to everyone. They also involved parents in decision making for the school. They prove that well spent funds can make a difference.
So do we need all the funding increases that the NEA is proposing? Yes and no. No doubt that in some of the poorest areas, increased funding would help. (I know of a teacher who actually had to buy her students textbooks one year.) However, the solution is beyond a simple increase. The solution lies in the oversight of how money is spent. One thing is for sure, I will be watching this session in Congress intently to see what they do with NCLB, the ESEA and other issues that the NEA is promoting.
*NCLB=No Child Left Behind Act
**ESEA=Elementary and Secondary Education Act