Thursday, May 27, 2010

21st Century Education

by John Connolly

Despite much good news on the economic front, tens of thousands of teachers are being given pink slips nationwide, over 2000 in Detroit alone. Is that worth a front-page story in the New York Times? Detroit’s Emergency Financial Manager, Robert Bob has rooted out tens of millions of dollars in embezzlement, fraud and theft from the Detroit School system. You’d think the Times would find that worthy of reporting.

When I was growing up, funding for public schools was by local property taxes. School districts were able to accurately forecast how much money they’d need to support their programs and how much would be available for the next school year. At that time, the public schools were owned, operated, and controlled locally. The quality of education in the public schools of the United States was second to none.

In many of Michigan’s urban areas and in some of our more remote rural areas the increases in property values (and property taxes) did not keep pace with those in other areas. Progressives decided that it wasn’t fair that rich school districts should spend more on education than their poorer neighbors. Most Americans agreed with that view. Using the state lottery as a funding device, the State decided which schools were under-funded and gave money to districts that were not collecting enough in property taxes to support quality education. The State then demanded an important role in dictating what should be taught, when it should be taught, and how it should be taught. The State’s intrusion into the business of public education now encompasses when school should (or should not) start, when sex education should start (and what it should include), what classes in diversity should be included and how much math is two year’s worth.

Of course, more state funding also meant less certainty of when and how much state money was going to be available, and what strings were going to be attached. Public schools began the annual ritual of pink slipping a fairly large percentage of employees, knowing that many of them would probably be rehired in the fall. Some of them found another line of work. The quality of education in our schools began to drop off.

As the quality of education in our schools deteriorated, education lobbies and our enlightened administration decided that we needed to “invest” more money in education. The Federal government, under the wise counsel of President Jimmy Carter, created the Department of Education, which has now grown to an annual budget of upwards of $20 billion and more than 20,000 federal employees (not including contract personnel). Federal expenditures on education, training employment and social services increased under the previous administration from $57 billion in 2001 to $91 billion in 2008, and are estimated at $135 billion for 2010. The No Child Left Behind Act provided the largest increase ever in federal education funding, yet most of the money that it provided was swallowed up by the bureaucracy created to manage it, with little of it finding its way to failing schools or failing students. Our schools continued to deteriorate.

Despite the infusion of state and federal money into our schools, educational quality continues to fall further behind the Indian, Chinese, and many European countries in all standard educational measurements.

Instead of continuing to transfer wealth from those that produce it to favored constituencies, we need to begin to behave as though we’re truly concerned about the effect of the more than $1.3 trillion federal deficits of 2009 and 2010.

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