School district and teacher union leaders need to embrace serious education reform or go the way of the Stegosaurus.
My post last week concerned itself with the fact that some or even many teachers might lose their jobs come June due to the dire financial straits in which many school districts find themselves. The Los Angeles Unified School District alone sent Reduction in Force (RIF) notices to over 4,000 teachers, advising them that they may be laid off at the end of this school year. I made the point that many of the cutbacks would not have been necessary had the districts not over-hired in the first place.
Upon hearing the news of the RIF notices, John Deasy, the man who very shortly will take over as LAUSD Superintendent, whined, “The state of California does not support children. Period.” This ridiculous statement was a response to the fact that out of necessity, the legislators in Sacramento – hardly a flinty bunch – will be making cuts in education spending.
Then A.J. Duffy, president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, the second largest local teachers union in the country, came out with a statement which outdoes Deasy’s. “UTLA is here to speak in favor of our students. Our children get one shot at a good education. Every time class sizes are raised … you put a dagger in the heart of public education.” (Actually, union leaders know a thing or two about putting “a dagger in the heart of public education” — they have been lacerating public education for years by fighting against every kind of meaningful education reform.)
What Deasy, Duffy and their ilk refuse to acknowledge is that there are other ways to address budgetary issues in education. For example, reformers have repeatedly pointed out the tremendous benefits of giving parents a real choice of where to send their kids to school. In Sweden, parents choose a school that’s right for their child — public or private — and tax money earmarked for education follows the child. In fact, the Swedish system is working so well that even the Socialists are in favor of the privatization aspect! This type of competitive system substantially lowers costs, saves teachers’ jobs and dramatically improves the quality of education. Our antiquated system has the state sending money for every child to government run schools and then sentences the children to attend them.
The current “let’s throw more money into education no matter the results” days are numbered. A look at an internationally standardized test, the results of which were released a couple of months ago, gets right to the heart of the matter. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which measures educational achievement, was jointly administered to 15-year-olds in schools around the world. The U.S. came in 23rd – the middle of the pack – with a performance indistinguishable from Poland, Ireland, Norway, France and several other countries.
In the March 2011 issue of Reason Magazine, Veronique de Rugy addresses the PISA results. While the American 15-year-olds’ performance is mediocre, American education spending is right at the top. “With the exception of Switzerland, the U.S. spends the most in the world on education, an average of $91,700 per student in the nine years between the ages of 6 and 15. But the results do not correlate: For instance, we spend one-third more per student than Finland, which consistently ranks near the top in science, reading, and math.”
In another example of more money not translating to better educated students, she uses information from the National Center for Educational Statistics which shows that since 1970, education spending has tripled (in constant dollars) while reading, math and science scores have remained flat.
De Rugy goes on to say that increased spending typically translates to hiring more teachers. In fact, “…the number of students per teacher in U.S. public schools fell from 17.4 in 1990 to 15.7 in 2007.” Again, there was no increase in educational outcomes.
The bottom line is that throwing more and more money at a public school system which is barely treading water is the path to educational mediocrity and financial ruin. The alternative is getting serious about real education reform – most importantly by giving parents a choice as to where they can spend their education dollars. Only then will any significant change occur.
At that point, we will see the Deasys and the Duffys of the world follow their dinosaur ancestors into extinction.
About the author: Larry Sand is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan,non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.