Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Town Hall Question on Education

What to do about the education crisis? We have seen it coming for decades. Businesses need skilled accountants and planners, laboratories need technicians and scientists. Without those educated to excel in mathematics, science, teaching, and scores of other skills, we will fail to develop the new technologies and opportunities to transform our economy and employ our people. Yet the performance of students in the US has failed to keep pace with expectations and needs.

With school board members in the audience, and our elected state and congressional representatives on the panel, we had the right group to outline the problem and ask the question:

“Recent reports show China ranked first in mathematics, and devotes 2.5% of GDP to education, while the US ranked 25th and devotes 5.7% of its GDP. A National Center for Policy Analysis report showed a chart of reading scores vs state per pupil expenditures that was essentially a randomly filled circle. They titled their report “Increased Education Spending Doesn't Improve Performance”

California's superintendent of public instruction recently stated that evidence from his own department indicates that pouring more money in the current public school system is unlikely to have a discernible impact on overall student performance. In fact, more students on average in the 20 lowest-revenue districts are proficient in English language arts and math (53 percent) than their peers in the 20 highest-revenue districts (48 percent).

Local community funding of schools has changed from 83% in the 1920's to 44% in the 1990's, and supervision of the school moved from the local community to state and federal agencies, with a standard formula for education, where the only answer is to pour more money into it.

President Obama spot lighted in his State of the Union a school that had tried some new ideas that had worked dramatically. It was the first in Colorado to be granted autonomy from district and union rules. This local autonomy gave them the freedom to make the changes to turn their school around in 3 years.

Since we have representatives from 3 levels of government I was hoping perhaps each you could comment on opportunities for improvement of our educational system that leverage simple ideas similar to the Colorado experience that could implemented here.”

The video of the response is available here.

The point of the question was that much research has been done that effectively shows the lack of correlation between “more money” and improvements in the educational results. In later posts I will add the background information and sources that support this observation.

The main point of their response however was the recent announcement by Governor Dayton about his 7 point plan. He made it a campaign pledge to increase education funding every year, and he reiterated that promise in his announcement. So his plan is essentially to continue the path of increased funding as the solution for all the ills of the system.

His points are [paraphrased], 1) increase funding, 2) increase scope of early education (more kindergarten and Pre-K time) 3) increase bureaucracies, like teacher licensing, advisory councils, and standards. Much of the 7 points document seems virtually lifted intact from President Bush's No Child Left Behind, which many democrats bitterly opposed, but has since been re-embraced. The major flaw in the plan is that there is nothing essentially new that has the appearance of a game changing gambit.

Chuck Wiger did bring up including parents, which certainly is a component of a real solution, but is not a part of the 7 point plan. Betty McCollum came up with the best point overall, “there should be an extraordinarily limited role the federal government plays in education it should be about parental and local government control”. Hopefully that's an axiom they really follow! Overall, the main point of the representatives response was the agenda of “throw more money at it” and hope it goes away.