$38000 and Johnny Still Can’t Read…..

Posted: June 25, 2014 in Uncategorized

This is the first part of a two-part report on the Department of Education and the state of the American educational system in general.  Even if you don’t have school aged children, this affects all of us, with BILLIONS spent each year and absolutely nothing to show for it…………….

How many people actually attend their local school board meetings? Few even show an interest unless there is a bond issue put forth that requires a vote to prevent a rise in taxes. But, the local school board is responsible for balancing the annual budget, issuing interim financial reports and reporting to you, the tax payer, exactly where you money goes. We spend as a nation BILLIONS of dollars every year on education. So, where is all this money going? District administrators provide few answers as they are only interested in if the current funding stream lines up with what they have budgeted for individual programs; is there enough to cover the fine arts program this year? Or will they have to cut back somewhere else? The National Center for Educational Statistics is no help either, as they publish data that is as much as 3-4 years old. Government websites (.gov) skew the literacy rate (claiming 99%) while actual studies show that 1 in four children grow up and can’t read. The truth is virtually impossible to find just by skimming the surface. With this lack of interest and YOLO-style accounting it’s no surprise that school districts are able to get away with horrendous acts of overspending and waste.

In the 2010-2011 school year, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics Washington DC spent a shocking $29349 per student. However, in 2013 83% of eight graders in these schools were not “proficient” in reading. These are the schools in our nations capitol, where for decades both parties have been pushing for more federal involvement in education and more federal spending. Unless you search the districts’ actual budgets, trying to find information on the true amount being spent and what its spent on is a lot like herding cockroaches. The Cato Institute reports spending in the 5 largest metro areas, including these same DC schools, average 44% higher than is publicly reported, and public schools spend 93% more than private schools. The numbers vary in any given district, from report to report, by anywhere from $4000 to $10000. For example, DC stated publicly in 2009 that $17542 was spent per child for a less-than quality education. That may sound like a lot but the actual amount according to this same Cato Institute study was $28170 per student, where the NCES ( a government website no less) claimed it was $15842. There’s a big difference between $15000 and $28000. Combine all the districts statewide and the actual numbers can vary as much as 20 million dollars from district to regional level. And what do we get for this?

Under the auspices of the NCES, the federal government periodically tests elementary and high school students in various subjects, including reading and math. These tests are scored through another government agency (National Assessment for Educational Progress) on a scale of 500, and student achievement levels are rated as “basic” “proficient” and “advanced” In 2013, these tests were taken nationwide and, in spite of the ridiculous amount of money the DC district spent on education, they came in dead last. Only 17% of eight graders in DC rated proficient or better in reading. The US ranks 36th in education worldwide. Thirty sixth. Estonia ranks ahead of us and twenty five years ago they weren’t even a country! We’re talking about very basic levels of learning here. Advanced classes rank us even lower.

Let’s look at one elementary school in the DC district, Aiton Elementary. Upon examining the details of their budget that amount the Cato Institute mentions of $28170 per student pays the salaries of teachers making nearly $97000 a year to pass little Johnnie on even though he can’t read in third grade, can’t read in fourth grade, can’t read in fifth grade, and for the love of God don’t give him a math problem! Worldwide, even Russia ranks ahead of us in math. One thing becomes very clear: the teachers in DC are making too damn much money for churning out kids that can’t compete with Communist countries!! When digging into and comparing the budgets of the 2011 and 2014 school year, some interesting facts jump out. In 2011, the principal was allocated $138710 in salary, a figure that for an elementary school with less than three hundred kids enrolled is difficult to justify under any conditions. But, in 2014, that figure jumped to $153425. Upon closer inspection, it seems that something is happening at Aiton Elementary. In 2011, there were 13 full time general education teachers for kindergarten through 5th grade. In 2014, that figure dropped to 9. In 2011, there were 3 pre-K teachers. In 2014, there were only two. This trend continues through the positions of everything from administrative aides to business managers, shaving off one here, two there, turning a full time position to part time. Perhaps this is how the $15215 raise the principal received was funded. The only additions of positions for that same time frame was in special education. The number of teachers went from two to three, suggesting that the number of children with special needs had increased. The standardized test scores coming out of the district certainly suggest that. Could it also be possible that at least some of these “special ed” children had simply never been taught to read?

This problem is not just confined to the DC district discussed here. The need for education reform has been a hot button issue for decades, and yet, in spite of all the rhetoric surrounding it, the teachers’ unions, as well as the Feds, have effectively blocked any attempts at solutions to the problem. Charter schools and voucher programs have met with staunch resistence, and merit based pay is anathema to the unions. Home schoolers, regardless of how much they save the district by educating their own children, have even been targeted by the Left as somehow subversive. Web-based distance learning would also be a viable alternative in some districts in order to save money. Eliminating the slush fund that the Department of Education is would be a solid start, but that discussion raises more than a few eyebrows among the bureaucrats within the department. What about setting up schools in vacant buildings the government already owns instead of spending millions on new facitlities? And what would happen if districts had to provide families with vouchers equal to the amount they spend per child for that family to use on private schools, charter schools, or within the district itself? All of these options have a negative affect on the teachers’ union, however, and are largely ignored by them and the legislators the unions donate to. Yet, until that broader discussion is had and families are given a choice when it comes to education within or outisde of the system, the situation will not improve.

There are a few occupations that most folks will agree do not get paid enough for what they do; firemen, policemen, bomb disposal technicians. And there are a few really well qualified teachers out there working for next to nothing because they truly believe in the nobility inherent in their profession. But, not in DC, ironically, where that discussion needs to start. The DC district, and the small picture painted here of Aiton Elementary, is but a single example of the waste and abuse that has overrun the education system. There is a broader more systemic problem at issue here with the education system and the Department of Education, however, it’s clear in the DC school district, you do NOT get what you pay for.

 

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