Like it or not, quality requires money

The Economist article about education “reform,” linked at the bottom of this post, tries to make the point, I think, that teachers’ unions overemphasize the importance of government spending in the development and maintenance of quality public schools. The article, however, meanders around the world and is a bit contradictory.

For example, it cites a couple of success stories in which a crucial factor has been, well, money.

The article identifies four “secrets” of educational success – decentralization, a focus on underachieving pupils, a choice of different sorts of schools and high standards for teachers.

In arguing the importance of decentralization – allowing individual schools to determine what works best for their students – the article applauds the accomplishments of educators in Ontario, Canada, which it credits with having “one of the world’s bestperforming schools systems.”

It also notes that Ontario’s “efforts were not cheap.”

No kidding. Since 2004, according to the article, total funding (that would be government spending) for education in the province has increased by 30 percent.

In praising the importance of “decent teachers” – nothing wrong with that – The Economist notes that an emphasis on better teacher quality is a “common feature of all reforms.”

“Countries like Finland and South Korea make life easier for themselves by recruiting only elite graduates, and PAYING THEM ACCORDINGLY,” the article continues. (The caps are mine. The money comes from government spending.)

I am not going to try to summarize the entire article. But it also praises charter schools without making it clear that those experiments, at least in the United States, have been no more successful, on average, than traditional public schools. And, it notes America’s experimentation with merit pay for teachers, “often in the teeth of opposition from the teachers’ unions.”

The article ends by noting that developing better teachers “should be made the priority.”

What is doesn’t say, however, is that you don’t make better teachers a “priority” by underpaying the vast majority while giving a handful raises or bonuses based on arbitrary standards, such as student test scores, that don’t fairly or fully assess a teacher’s value or contribution.

In Texas’ case, it is preposterous to talk “merit pay” when the average pay for all teachers is a subpar 31st in the nation, almost $7,000 below the national average. And, that was before the new budget cuts kicked in.

The Economist article also neglected to discuss the importance of class size to student learning, particularly in the lower grades, where many Texas classes are now getting bigger because of the budget cuts.

Sure, government funding is a factor in educational quality. There hasn’t been an education “reform” broached yet that doesn’t cost money, in some form or fashion. And, you certainly don’t “reform” education by slashing $5.4 billion from the public education budget, as our state “leaders” recently did in Texas.


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