Sunday, March 18, 2007

Getting Down to Facts

Well, we can all rest a lot easier. The root cause of the gross failure of the California education system has been discerned, and the solution is at hand.

A year ago Governor Arnold S. appointed a blue-ribbon commission to take a comprehensive look at the education system. Democrats and Republicans alike say a wholesale transformation of the public schools is essential. “Our system is broken, and only major fundamental change can fix it,” said Chairman Ted Mitchell of the Gov's education committee.

The commission’s findings are being offered as a blueprint for fixing CA schools. In 1700 pages of light reading, "Getting Down to Facts" has all the answers, boiled down to the 3-Rs for education: revenue and revenue and mo revenue.

Just to get an idea of the financial ballpark, let’s look at the baseline. Today CA spends $43 Billion on K-12 education or $11,600 per year on each of its 3.7 million students. Yet California’s education problems are massive, with students ranking 48th out of 50 states in both reading and math.

Something must be done! Drum roll please: According to the report, $1.5 Trillion more each year will be needed to make all California students academically proficient. That’s $1.5 Trillion or $1,500 Billion for all you kids who flunked 5th grade math. That tidy sum works out to a bit over $400,000 per pupil per year. Thus education funding would increase from 50% of the state budget to 95%, each and every year.

Perhaps that figure is a bit inflated says report co-author Jennifer Imazeki, an assistant professor of economics at San Diego State. Her calculation was not a serious proposal for funding but rather an exercise to demonstrate how broken things are. “The relationship between money and performance is weak and noisy in California” she said. I’ll bet she is right!

After the laughter died down, economist Jon Sonstelie of the Public Policy Institute of California reported on a different approach. He interviewed 567 teachers, principals and superintendents and put them in charge of a hypothetical school budget that was, hypothetically, 50 percent higher than in real life. Without raising salaries, interviewees had to decide how to spend the extra loot so as to best maximize achievement. They lowered class size, added administrators, hired a lot more support staff and increased collaboration among teachers. All nice to-do’s.

Sonstelie’s conclusion: School spending would have to grow by $17 Billion for even half of the schools to hover in the 800-point range of the Academic Performance Index, the CA goal. The new spending would be just $16,200 per pupil per year, a bargain compared to $400 grand.

But notice how this result was obtained. Sonstelie conducted interviews, asking school officials how they would spend more money, and to guess how much of an effect it would have. Spend 40% more money to improve 50% of the test scores, based on gut feel, with data pulled out of you know where.

Such studies should be interpreted as political documents not as scientific studies, according to Stanford University’s Eric Hanushek. “The important question for assessing costing out studies is whether they can describe policies and resources that will reliably lead to the new, higher achievement levels. None can.”

Hanushek, who is a “Getting Down to Facts” contributor, examined every scientific study available on the effects of spending and educational outcomes, 163 in all, and found that “dramatic increases in resources have not led to improvement in performance of our students.” One wonders why he was not banished from the commission.

Fortunately there were a few good ideas in the report. More than anything else — even increased funds or more teachers — principals said they needed greater power to fire ineffective teachers. With typical insight, the head of the California Teachers Assn. criticized the focus on ineffective teachers. “Frankly, firing one or two teachers isn't what this is about,” said Barbara Kerr. “It's about big-picture reform. I'm sure if you ask teachers what they want, they would say to get rid of bad administrators. Let's get over this part.”

Hey, here’s an idea: How about if we fire all the bad ones, and ruthlessly reduce bureaucracy (“RRB”) everywhere.

But as with all discussions of education reform in California, the liberals always have the last word. “We already know what needs to be done, and now we have the research and data to back it up,” said Soledad Padilla of the grass-roots group California ACORN. We need money, mo money, really humongous money, and you taxpayers had better give it to us.

Meanwhile, more money is already starting to flow to schools in need as a result of the $2.9 Billion settlement between Gov. Arnold and the California Teachers Assn. Although the money belonged equally to all schools, the parties to the lawsuit opted for a plan that targeted one third of the 20 percent of worst performing schools (not the bottom 6.7%, but that’s another story). LA Unified school board member David Tokofsky called the infusion significant: “This is not permanent money, and this is not a very well thought-out program, but it is being driven by all of our feelings that we can wait no longer,” said Tokofsky.

In lower education, feelings trump everything else.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cheez! Seems to me that getting rid of "social promotion" and "teaching to the test" would help a lot.

Also, I would think that comprehension of English would also make a difference.


2:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a solution – get rid of ALL ILLEGALS out of the system or children of parents who do NOT speak English and then test them – watch the scores soar!!


2:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The solution is simple, privatize the public schools and allocate the current amount and all would be better off!


9:32 PM  
Blogger Free Agency Rules said...


The acronym might be pronounced "Opium" for the Liberals, but it is in reality, "Other Peoples Money", the favorite opium of social engineers.

Conservatives want to fix the world one person at a time starting with themseleves, while Liberals want to fix the world by fixing everyone else with other peoples money!


10:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thirty years ago, Carolyn and I lived in West Covina. Our neighbor Mel was the principal of Mesa Elementary School. Mesa was ranked #1 academically year in and year out. I asked Mel why.

"Simple," he said. "It's the kids and their parents. Education is the top priority in their families. You could keep me here, along with all of my faculty, and trade student bodies with the school that has the lowest performance. The following year, my school would be the lowest performing school and the school we swapped with would be #1."

My sister, who is a school administrator, agrees. "Our goal is to have 80% of our students testing in the top 50 percentile of the nation. We have a good district, but the math of that demand does not work. It only works in highly selective private schools and a relatively few public schools, where, as with your neighbor's school, the families are high achievers and are focused on education. More
money, creative programs, good teachers and merit incentives work up to a point, but performance starts and ends with the kids and their parents. To bridge the testing gap between America, and, say Japan, we would need a cultural reformation."


4:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just think what you could do with 400k per student. Are you sure they’re talking dollars here? Given the math skills of the average American, including economics professors apparently, maybe someone missed by a few powers of 10.

Maybe these were “feelings” dollars. You know, the kind I’d give you if I could. You know, the kind that says I really, really, really, really ad infinitum, feel your need/value/pain.

When did we become the United States of Zimbabwe? With these kinds of numbers being thrown around, it’s just a matter of time. It’s cheaper there to burn the money there than buy gasoline. Oh wait, there is no gasoline there.

Anyway, why don’t you really want to give every child the chance they deserve?

Dr. Dave

9:01 PM  
Blogger Bill Lama said...

Dr. Dave,

I think maybe you have hit on the secret code. I'll bet they were using base 2 math, or some other new math that only schoolies comprehend.

My son suggests giving the $400K to the kid, let him or her hire a personal tutor, personal trainer, massage specialist, financial guide, singing coach,... and get out of the way.

As for "why don’t you really want to give every child the chance they deserve?" Because I'm a fascist pig, of course.

3:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just imagine the economic stimulus such a plan as your son suggests will have. It might even lift those of us who were driven into poverty by the confiscatory taxes required to give the kid the 400k back out of poverty. Who would we take it from the second year?

Also, just think what a 400k per kid payout would do for the fertility rate. We wouldn’t have to import illegals to do the jobs that Americans won’t do anymore. This is 400k per year right? Hell, I’m going to go adopt some kid right now and get in line.


3:56 PM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

Hi Bill. The YR meeting went on at Perry's last night.

This week I have been attacked by a real-live avowed communist! In academia! Check out my blog.

3:42 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home