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America's Woeful Public Schools: Money Not Well Spent

80 cents of every dollar

The percentage of all school expenditures dedicated to salaries for teachers and administrators, according to Education Resource Strategies in a report it released today on improving school efficiency. Teacher compensation (including defined-benefit pensions and seniority- and degree-based pay scales) accounts for 55 cents of every dollar of school expenditure, or 70 percent of school compensation spending.

80

The percentage of increases in teacher compensation in Pittsburgh that are tied to seniority instead of performance or leadership activity. The 13 districts ERS surveyed for its report based 80 percent of pay increases on seniority- and degree-based pay scales, many of which are mandated by state laws. Only Denver bases a significant amount of salary increases (56 percent) on performance and evaluations. By the way, there is no correlation between seniority or degree attainment and student achievement.

50

The number of categorical programs by which Connecticut allocates school operating funds, all of which act to restrict how districts and schools use dollars for improving school achievement. This is greater than the 43 categories California currently uses to hand off funding to its districts.

20

The percentage of school expenditures dedicated to special education classes, many of which have children who have been diagnosed with learning disabilities when low literacy is likely the real cause of their learning issues.

1 in 5

The percentage of Boston students languishing in special education classes, according to ERS. This is above the already high national average of 12 percent. The Los Angeles Unified School District, on the other hand, places only one in 10 students in special ed.

Education traditionalists tend to argue that the more money is spent on education, the better the results. But this isn’t so. Even with annual increases for most of the past decade (including a $31 billion increase between the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 school years alone), the nation’s education crisis remains unabated. Now, as state governments are tightening their budgets and wrangling with at $1.4 trillion in pension deficits and unfunded retired teacher healthcare costs, school spending is coming under the microscope like never before.

But budget-cutting alone isn’t the answer. If anything, cost reductions on their own lead to perverse results such as quality-blind layoffs of teachers. Why? Because cutting spending alone don’t address the systemic problems of how we compensate teachers and use school funding for educating children. The solution lies not with budget cuts, but in overhauling how money is spent in American public education. This includes suggestions made by ERS such as moving away from the Carnegie unit-based approach of providing classroom instruction (which keeps successful students in class beyond the time they need to be in them, while not targeting resources to students on the verge of dropping out), embracing approaches to student-driven instruction such as that pioneered by New York City’s School of One project, and abolishing state laws that mandate near-lifetime employment for teachers and quality-blind layoffs.

Our kids don’t benefit from this wasteful spending and neither do America’s taxpayers. It’s time to spend education dollars more-wisely to ensure that all children can write their own stories.


Read the online version here.

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